Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone. Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger.
Colin Seeberger: And I’m Colin Seeberger. I feel like spring is in the air, Daniella.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, and in my eyes, and in my nose, and in my throat, and all over my car. My child and I, we are like the walking poster children for allergies and the need for medication. It’s terrible right now.
Seeberger: It is bad. It is bad.
Gibbs Léger: And speaking of spring, I cannot believe that it is already April, which means that it’s also Second Chance Month. And in honor of that, I spoke with Sheena Meade, executive director of the Clean Slate initiative, this week about what’s needed to help justice-impacted individuals reenter society.
Seeberger: I’m excited to hear it. But first, let’s get to some news, because there have been some big stories this past week.
Gibbs Léger: Yes, there have. And to start, I am sure everyone by now has seen that a right-wing district court in Texas has overruled multiple decisions from the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] on the safety of abortion medication. Now, we previously previewed this ruling a few weeks ago on the podcast. It’s a decision that clearly puts the ability of doctors to make medical decisions for their patients in jeopardy. And it has implications for every single person living in the country regardless of age or gender. Because drug approvals should be based on science and safety and not politics.
Seeberger: How novel.
Gibbs Léger: I know, really. Now, a judge in Washington state also ruled last Friday night to protect mifepristone access in 17 states and the District of Columbia, where Democratic attorneys general filed their suit. But these cases are almost guaranteed to go before the Supreme Court because they’re conflicting rulings. The Department of Justice also recently filed a motion to keep mifepristone on the shelves as these challenges work their way through the courts. But despite these efforts, medication abortion access is now in jeopardy in this country, thanks to this extreme opinion.
Seeberger: Yeah, you know, if we look at Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s record—the judge who ruled in this Texas case—it’s clear that this is really all about asserting MAGA politics on people against their will. It’s clearly not about safety. Mifepristone has been found to be safer than Tylenol or Viagra. Nobody is rushing to the courts to try to strip Viagra from the shelves.
Gibbs Léger: God forbid.
Seeberger: Right? This is a medication which has been approved for decades. It’s been proven safe and effective by the FDA time and time again. Judge Kacsmaryk previously worked for a right-wing group—First Liberty Institute—that focuses on bringing legal challenges to restrict abortion access. This is just clearly another extension of his agenda. His rhetoric throughout the decision attempted to shame both women and doctors who provide care. It’s clearly part of a deliberate plan by MAGA extremists to bring these types of legal challenges before right-wing courts that they’ve stacked with their own extremist judges. So yes, there are steps that the Biden administration can take here, but this Texas case will still have to work its way through more extremist courts. We know it’s likely to go before the 5th Circuit, which is the most radical, far-right court of appeals in the country. But ultimately, it’s likely to go all the way up to the Supreme Court, where, sadly, we’ve seen how the MAGA majority of the court views long-held rights and precedent when it comes to abortion access.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, the Supreme Court at this point seems pretty hell-bent on ripping away any rights that they can from us. So, I’m not too optimistic there. One more point I want to make is that the same medications that are being challenged in this case are often considered part of the best form of care for miscarriages. So, this is going to cause more confusion on the ground and more medications being denied by providers who aren’t sure what they can and cannot prescribe. And imagine that you’re a patient who’s going through a miscarriage and you’re not able to get the care that you need at that time.
Gibbs Léger: So, we know this is a concern, because even pharmaceutical companies are speaking out. The CEO of Pfizer and other industry leaders signed on to a letter expressing concern over the ruling and supporting the FDA’s authority to regulate medicines. And I am rarely out here agreeing with Big Pharma, but I am with them on this. Extreme right-wing groups shouldn’t be able to challenge the availability of any medication they want by bringing a case before a radical judge. What’s to stop them from challenging any drug they decide contradicts their beliefs? It is a slippery slope, especially when we know that abortion isn’t the only human right MAGA Republicans are threatening. In the Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] decision last year, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called for the court to overturn rights to contraception and consensual sex. The list of rights and freedoms these extremists are targeting grows every single day. We cannot allow extremist courts to upend precedent and enact a radical agenda that is so extreme they can’t get it done legislatively.
Seeberger: I hear you, D. And this actually brings me to something else we should talk about, which is that MAGA Republicans are really sliding into some dangerous territory this week in terms of racism and government overreach.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, it’s been astonishing to watch, Colin. So, in case folks missed it, last week, three Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee participated in a peaceful demonstration against gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at the Nashville Covenant School. It was organized by their constituents to demand commonsense gun reforms, and they did their jobs. They listened to and stood with the people they represent. Well, the MAGA Republican majority in the Statehouse didn’t like that. They expelled two of these lawmakers. And would you believe it, Colin? They expelled two Black representatives while allowing Representative [Gloria] Johnson, who happens to be a white woman, to remain in her seat.
Seeberger: Oh, well, I can’t imagine what that could have been about.
Gibbs Léger: I know, what a shock. Even Johnson herself called this out and said, “Yeah, it’s because I’m white that I’m still here.” Now, I’m happy to report that Representative [Justin] Jones has been reinstated by the legislature after the Nashville City Council voted to put him back in his position. And as of this recording, county commissioners are scheduled to vote on potentially reinstating Representative [Justin J.] Pearson. But nonetheless, I have to ask, how on earth is this acceptable? The incident is shocking. It’s racist. It’s incredibly anti-democratic, and it sets a dangerous precedent. Will MAGA Republicans now consistently expel anyone who voices an opinion they don’t like?
Seeberger: I wouldn’t put it past them. We’ve seen in the past couple of weeks that MAGA Republicans only really care about the interests of a very small minority of Americans. They only care about catering to their base that’s motivated by extremism. Take, for example, [Gov.] Ron DeSantis [R-FL]. He has a new immigration proposal in Florida. Time and time again, he relies on really tired and false stereotypes of immigrants as criminals who are just here to steal American jobs. I mean, it is all the more dumbfounding if Ron DeSantis actually talked to the people of Florida, many of [whom] have escaped communism in Cuba or Venezuela or fled their countries in the wake of natural disasters that ripped people away from their homes. So, it’s just maddening that he’s stoking those racially motivated fears among his supporters in an effort to pass what would be the cruelest immigration law you could actually imagine. His proposal would force hospitals to ask patients for their immigration status and report it to the state, basically ensuring that undocumented immigrants can’t get lifesaving medical care for fear of being detained.
Gibbs Léger: Awful.
Seeberger: Yeah, it’s outrageous. [It] would also make it possible to charge people with a felony for sheltering, hiring, or transporting undocumented people. The proposal even wants to strip undocumented students and DACA-eligible individuals from being able to pay in-state college tuition rates. This package is being criticized not just by advocacy groups, but by business groups, faith groups, because [of] just how cruel the laws are. Critics across the board agree that they could really increase incidents of racial profiling, making it harder for people to have access to reliable housing. It could force more people out onto the streets, potentially leading to increased levels of violence. It’s just so perverse and so hateful in its motivations. So, this is what I’ve honestly come to expect from MAGA Republicans, pushing their agenda at all costs, even when those costs include blatant racism, racial profiling, and ripping away basic humanity and much less human rights.
Gibbs Léger: I know. Honestly, all of DeSantis’ policies make me wonder if we’re living in 2023 or 1823—banning books on slavery, encouraging racial profiling. He is a poster child for the MAGA types that no longer care if they look racist because they’re emboldened by openly racist followers. They just don’t care anymore.
Seeberger: It’s frightening. That’s all the time we have this week for the news. If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod. That’s @TheTentPod.
Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Sheena Meade in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Sheena Meade is the CEO of the Clean Slate Initiative, a national bipartisan coalition to advance policy that automatically clears all eligible arrest and conviction records across the U.S. Prior to that, she helped found the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, where she led efforts to return voting rights to people experiencing felony disenfranchisement. She sits on the boards of the Public Welfare Foundation, the Policing Project at NYU [New York University] School of Law, Live Free USA, and the Florida Coalition on Black Civic [Participation]. Welcome to “The Tent,” Sheena. Thank you so much for joining us.
Sheena Meade: Thank you for having me. I appreciate being on here, and especially during a month like Second Chance Month.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, so I definitely want to dig into Second Chance Month in a moment. But you know, I want to start with your personal story, your background, and your journey is so inspiring. So, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and what led you to your work with the Clean Slate Initiative?
Meade: Yes, so, I appreciate that question. And it’s kind of fitting that you asked this question and that we’re doing this podcast today, because earlier today, I’m getting ready to do a TED Talk. And a part of a TED Talk, you have to go do fact checking. And I’m going to be sharing my story about how I received my first arrest in 2004. And actually, today has been a little bit of a struggle, because when I think about my journey and I think about my first arrest, I went back to look at the actual documents that the state of Florida had filed against me. And as I was reading it, it brought me back to a Wednesday afternoon when my children were coming home from school. And they were home, around the house, and police officers knocked at my door. And [they] had a warrant for my arrest for a worthless check for $82.76. And usually, when I tell the story, I say I had wrote a check for $100 because that’s how I remember it. But today, just looking at the paper that said $82.76, and at the bottom of the document, the district attorney had said, I do hereby state that I am instituting this prosecution in good faith. And what type of good faith is that, that they will use these resources, that they will lock me up, that they will arrest me in front of my children for basically not having enough money? Because that check I had written, it was to feed my children. And it just really kind of like dug deep.
And I’m in this work trying to liberate people who have a criminal record and who have had barriers set before them. But today, when just going back, reflecting on my own story and reading it, it kind of fueled my fire a little bit. But it just also grounded me about why we’re doing this work. And so, I came into this work, not right after I got that charge, because one, I didn’t really know how jacked up the system was. I wasn’t an advocate then. But really, when I started getting in on this journey was 2012, when I got married to my husband, Desmond Meade, and we started advocating for voter rights to reenfranchise people in Florida who have felony convictions, because they were not allowed to vote. And I started hearing thousands of stories across the state. And that really kind of just started piquing my interest around: How can we changed the system? How can we change people’s lives? How can we allow people to be seen as humans, seen as people, and not someone who’s defined by their record? And that has brought me to the Clean Slate Initiative.
Gibbs Léger: That’s really an inspiring story. And an aside, I was today years old when I put it together that Desmond Meade is your husband, because I have followed his work as well. I think sometimes having kids, just my brain doesn’t function sometimes. But that’s really phenomenal. The work that you two are doing is incredible. So, let’s talk about April being Second Chance Month. Tell our listeners what this month is about and why it’s so important.
Meade: I’m going to say what this month is about to me, because Second Chance month could be a lot of things for a lot of different people. But when I think about Second Chance Month, I think about a moment where we’re able to say, “Let’s just pause for a minute and think about the people who have not had sometimes a first chance. Let’s think about the people who may need a second chance. And let’s see them as people. And let’s think about all the second chances that we have wanted for ourselves, for our children, for our community, for our neighbors, for people that we love, and giving people access to having a second chance.” And so, this month, for me, is a moment of reflection; it’s a moment to be able to really lift up the barriers that people face—that a lot of folks I think don’t really understand that people have who have a criminal record [deal with]. For instance, there are folks who cannot get certain occupational licenses and certificates to do their job, as simple as washing hair. I think they have now changed that law in Oklahoma, but there are a lot of laws that are on the books that prohibit people with a criminal record or someone who has an arrest or conviction to be able to pursue different dreams or different trades that they want to do. There are barriers for folks to get housing because it’s legal to discriminate against people who have a record. And so, this month, to me, is a moment for us to think about all the second chances that we have wanted for ourselves and that we should want for others as well.
Gibbs Léger: And so, when we think about people who are reentering their communities, what is it that they need the most in order to succeed?
Meade: You know, that’s a great question. And one point of clarity, some people have never left their communities. There are people who have arrests and have convictions on a record who have never left their communities. They have always still been a part of the community, but yet they still face those same barriers. And so, the first thing that I think folks need is access to jobs, access to housing, access to education. It’s like, how do you want folks to come back home and do better or reenter into society when they’re banned or barred or there’s a barrier every step of the way? You know, when does their sentence end? A lot of people’s sentence[s] don’t really start until they come home.
Gibbs Léger: So, you know, we’ve talked about this, and it’s clear with things like your—your conviction—and it should be clear for our listeners, overcriminalization in this country has left between 70 to 100 million people, or 1 in 3 Americans, with a criminal record. And while many people are eligible to have their records cleared, the vast majority don’t get the relief they deserve because of how our criminal justice system works or doesn’t work. And that means, like you said, they often can’t find a good job, housing, or get an education, and are much more likely to relapse into criminal behavior. However, if you were to turn on Fox News, which I don’t recommend, you’ll hear all these nonsense arguments that we as a country are somehow not tough enough on crime or on former criminals. And like, the real solution to our problems is to lock more people up. So, can you talk about why the people who spew this nonsense on Fox News are wrong, but also talk about the benefits that we would see in our communities when it comes to public safety if more people were able to get a clean slate?
Meade: Well, let me say this. No matter what news channel that you turn on—whether it’s Fox, CNN, MSNBC, whether it’s progressive, whether it’s conservative news—there is a “tough on crime” narrative, or there is a rising crime narrative that is out there. That is what the media is putting out there. But let me just say this: One thing that I do know is that America is a country of second chances. The reason why I say that is because every state has laws, just about, that allow a person with a criminal record to petition to get the record cleared. But the problem is there’s so much red tape. It’s so complex, it’s so costly. And a lot of folks don’t know about it that most folks—there’s about 30 million people who are probably eligible today out of that number that you just named, out of that 110 million Americans—but they don’t pursue it because they either don’t know that it’s possible or that it’s just so complex. And so, you know, that is why, at the Clean Slate Initiative, we have been pushing to automate record clearance.
We are making sure that people who have been crime free for the amount of time that has been deemed by their state—crime free and [who] are eligible—are able to access removing those barriers. There is a bipartisan welcoming around clean slate laws. There’s a lot of issues that, yes, get polarized within the criminal justice system. But what we have seen when it comes to clean slate laws, and around automatic record clearance, [is that] it has been a policy that people say that is a commonsense policy that people can get behind. And a lot of support has been there. We’ve been able to pass this issue in red states, blue states, and purple states. And definitely with partners like CAP, we’ve been able to do this as well. So, I don’t like to get caught up in what is being spewed on the media and the narrative, but I’m looking forward to us—and that goes back to Second Chance Month—controlling our narrative, leaning on our narrative that this is a public safety issue. And that when people are able to have access to housing, jobs, and access to education, that we can lower recidivism.
Gibbs Léger: So, let’s talk about that bipartisan success that you’ve had because I think that’s something that in today’s political climate, people would be very surprised to hear. Ten states thus far have passed clean slate legislation. And at the federal level, I know there’s a new bipartisan group in Congress that was set up to help lower the country’s recidivism rate and create more economic opportunity for people with a conviction record. So, as you think about the work that you have coming in the coming weeks and months, what do you hope to accomplish at both the state and national level when it comes to both clean slate legislation and other reentry-related policies?
Meade: When it comes to the state level, I want us to be able to continue to move forward passing these clean slate laws and making sure that they’re implementable and that they’re, again, implemented in a way that’s having an impact on the people that we’re trying to help. I’m also looking forward to other states [that] are trying to pass clean slate laws or may be interested in passing clean slate laws, that they’re meeting with other stakeholders from other states, from the courts, from stakeholders, from advocates to directly impacted people to see how they’re able to also advance this in their own state.
And on a federal level, I’m hoping that they are paying attention at the momentum that is moving on the state level, because there is no mechanism to get your record cleared on the federal level. And I’m excited that there has been a bipartisan task force or a caucus that has come together around second chances. And I’m hoping that the administration will pay more attention to this issue around second chances. I know that the president just recently did a proclamation around second chances. But you know, I want to see some more action. I want to see policies actually passed. I want to see that people have a pathway to get their record cleared, to remove those barriers that are in front of them. And so, one thing I will say is that we can’t build back better when we’re leaving 70 to 100 million people behind.
Gibbs Léger: That is a very excellent point. We like to end these interviews on a positive note when we can. And in recent years, we’ve seen some steps forward on criminal justice reform. And obviously, there’s still a lot of work left to do. And you and the Clean Slate Initiative have had a huge impact and helped clear over 7 million conviction and nonconviction cases thus far. So, as you think about the future, what excites you and what encourages you about the space? And if you’re somebody who’s listening and you’re not involved in politics like I am, but you believe in this work, what kind of advice would you give that person to maybe get involved and to help?
Meade: So, the first thing I will say is, to answer your first question—what am I most excited about—I’m excited about in this moment, in this movement, that we are seeing people who [are] closest to the pain leading people into the solution. So, I am a person, as we started with, [who] has an arrest and also […] a conviction on my record. And I take honor in being able to lead the Clean Slate Initiative, to be able to have impact on other people like myself who have lived experiences. And so, I believe that is a moment, there is a shift, where we’re seeing people who are impacted who are leading their own issue, and in a very genuine, authentic way, and that folks are supporting that leadership.
The thing that I will say for people [who] are at home, [who] are not into politics, [who] are like, “I don’t like politics; I don’t like all that policy stuff,” I just want to say that you still have a place in this movement. And I always just leave them with this. It is Second Chance Month. Think about the moment that you wanted a second chance, whether it was from your spouse, your teachers, your children, or even your community, and taking that spirit and applying that to the folks [who] we’re trying to help. So, think about the second chance that you have been given and think about the second chance that we could give others by passing clean slate laws. I will leave folks with that.
Gibbs Léger: Well, you know, that is a great piece of advice. And again, I want to not just thank you for coming on “The Tent” today. But I want to thank you for all of your hard work on this initiative and all the great work that you and your team have done and for taking a very personal story and using it as fuel to help so many, many other people. So, Sheena Meade, thank you for joining us on “The Tent.”
Meade: Thank you so much for having me.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Before we go, I believe Colin has some things to say about this Taylor Swift breakup.
Seeberger: I am the resident Swifty on the pod, and Taylor and Joe Alwyn broke up, it seems. And as a lover of Taylor’s album, “Lover”—I am obviously sad for her—I will say selfishly I am looking forward to an upcoming sad-girl album. She is so talented, and hopefully, she is able to channel her emotions and feelings from this breakup into her performances on the Eras Tour that has been ongoing now for, what, about five weeks or so and will be going through the summer. So, I am still on the hunt for my Eras Tour tickets.
Gibbs Léger: Good luck to you.
Seeberger: So, I guess if I’m able to nab them, I will be getting a taste of sad-girl Taylor. So, we will see how that goes. But I hope both of them are doing OK in these difficult times, and good things are ahead for them.
Gibbs Léger: I’m sure that that is very true, and I echo those sentiments. I don’t dislike Taylor Swift, but I’m just not a Swifty.
Seeberger: You’re forgiven.
Gibbs Léger: Oh, thank you. But when the news broke, I was like, “She’s dating someone?” And then my second question was, “Who the hell is Joe Alwyn?”
Seeberger: Mr. Cornelia Street! Okay?
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, sorry. Sorry, my age is showing. All right, we have to talk about “Succession.” I knew this was coming. If you haven’t watched this episode, stop listening. Like, turn this off. Log off right now. And honestly, I don’t know how you’ve managed to make it to this day and not know what’s happened, what has happened to—OK, take a beat—what has happened to Logan Roy. Oh my God. I cannot.
Seeberger: I’m still devastated. I mean, this has been what we’ve been waiting for for four years. I mean, literally, from the very first episode.
Gibbs Léger: They have previewed and showed his illness and his health and everything.
Seeberger: And a succession was coming, right?
Gibbs Léger: Hence the title of the show.
Seeberger: We are here.
Gibbs Léger: But the third episode of this season?
Seeberger: That ain’t right. I was not prepared.
Gibbs Léger: Honestly, top three: Top three television episodes I have ever watched. It is up there with “The Sopranos: Pine Barrens” and with “Breaking Bad: “Ozy[mandias]”—whatever it’s called, I can never pronounce it—but, like, just epic screenwriting, just the dialogue, the acting.
Seeberger: The costumes. Gerri? That hat?
Gibbs Léger: Gerri looked phenomenal.
Gibbs Léger: I think we’re coming into a Gerri era. It’s coming.
Seeberger: I’m ready for it.
Gibbs Léger: I’m always ready for it. The fact that Shiv went to her brother’s wedding with her hair tied in a rubber band as if she was going to the gym? It just shows how little they care about Connor. And the fact that they’re talking about this, I’m like, “Is someone going to go get Connor and tell him that his dad has passed?”
Seeberger: You know, maybe he might get some public sympathy, and it might keep him above 1 percent in the polls.
Gibbs Léger: He might jump to 1.5 percent. It’s true. Like, I’ve gone on all the deep dives about this episode and how they managed to keep it hidden and the fakes that they were doing. But they did a lot of that episode in one take, because of the cameras that they used and the shots that they were getting, they were so close into the characters’ faces that they just kept going. And that, to me, is just remarkable. And it shows how talented these guys are. Oh, and the hug that the three of them had, that was not scripted. Oh, it’s just such a good episode. The fact that they did not show that man’s body for, like, 45 minutes. We were all kind of like, “Roman, maybe he’s not dead? I don’t know.”
Seeberger: Yeah, I would say most people I talked to about the episode, they were all like, “OK, we’re waiting for Logan to be like, ‘Haha, gotcha,’” which would be very true to form. But I will say, I had that question too in the back of my mind. But after 10 minutes had passed or so of that storyline, I was like, “No, it would be even too gimmicky.” The show is too good for them to try to be that gimmicky.
Gibbs Léger: Right. And also, Tom is like—he’s a bad person, but he’s not that bad of a person to be able to go along with that charade and do a good job of it. Tom intrigues me so much because he’s clearly, like, not a good person. None of these people are good people. He’s not a good person. He’s smart, but he’s a doofus. It’s just very complicated.
Seeberger: I mean, clearly, he is not the brightest because to be poor Tom or poor Greg right now. They are on the outs.
Gibbs Léger: They’re up a creek without a paddle.
Seeberger: They sure are.
Gibbs Léger: So, it will be very interesting to see how this powerplay plays out over the next couple of weeks. But just an incredible episode. And Kendall—I love Jeremy Strong. I don’t care what anyone says about him or his methods. I love him. And he was so just amazing. And like that final scene …
Seeberger: Can I get the best airplane doctor? It was just so real, right? People, when these kinds of things happen, like, you enter this drop-everything, nonsensical, kind of mental state. And it was just incredible.
Gibbs Léger: It was so real, and to read the people who were responding and all the comments and on Twitter who dealt with sudden death like that, and it’s so true to form. It’s exactly how they reacted.
Seeberger: I need all the facts. What’s happening? Right?
Gibbs Léger: Right. Or like when Roman was like, “I can’t, like somebody else needs to take the phone.” It was just so good.
Seeberger: We could go on.
Gibbs Léger: We could, but we won’t. But seriously, it’s just amazing. And I have to say, “Succession” is amazing for a whole bunch of reasons. But it’s the writers who give the actors the dialogue. And for folks [who] don’t know, there may be a writers’ strike coming. I know this because my sister is a member of the WGA [Writers Guild of America], and she’s very concerned about this. So, to the extent that any big studios are out there listening to this podcast, please stop screwing over your writers and come to a fair contract so we can keep having more awesome shows like “Succession” and episodes like that. With that, thank you for listening. It’s allergy season, and COVID is still out there. So, take all the precautions that you need so that you can have a safe and healthy spring. We will talk to you next week.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger, and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. And Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.