The G Word with Adam Conover (2022) s01e06 Episode Script


I'm gonna be honest, you know as a TV host, there's this expectation that you're supposed to be authoritative.
Ask a big weighty question then beam into your living room or your bathroom while you're on your phone and deliver a nice neat answer in 27 to 34 minutes.
Whatever the algorithm prefers.
With this topic though, the more I learn about the government the more questions I have.
Like okay, the obvious message to end on would be "We're all a part of the government.
So, if it's not working, pitch in and raise your voice and help make it better!" And I believe that.
Most of the time.
But there's also times when I wonder if it's maybe kind of bullshit.
Like, okay in our money episode, we talked about how the government needs to help average Americans instead of just bailing out big corporations.
But let's be real, the public has been raising our voices about that since at least 2008.
And sure, in our weather episode, we tried to expose the deep structural issues that have made FEMA so ineffective, but, is exposing them really going to change anything? I mean hell, I've known FEMA was messed up ever since Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in '92 and my grandmother went without clean water for a week.
My grandma pooped in a bucket because of FEMA! A lot of grandmas did! We were pissed about it then, we're pissed about it now and yet FEMA is still out there FEMAing.
And what about the real concrete harm our government does? You know what we haven't even talked about on this show yet? The fact that every day, as we speak, Americans are being hurt or killed by the same Criminal Justice System that's supposed to be protecting us and yet after literal decades of protests No peace! No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace! little has changed.
So yeah, I know it's my government and I need to pitch in.
That's why I voted, I've protested, I've tweeted and hashtagged and written so many emails to my Senator that last week they just replied unsubscribe.
And it doesn't seem to be doing the trick.
So what I want to know is this, how can we change our government when it is so big, and we're so small? How are we supposed to have any hope that things can actually change? Wait a second.
Hope, change, wasn't there somebody who Of course! How do I get in touch with Gerald Ford? Adam what are you doing here? It's 1:00 a.
Are you still working on your taxes? Actually I'm almost done.
I'm just missing uh W-2's, some 10-99s.
And I did this form in green ink, so I have to start over.
Hate to tell you this, but if you don't earn money from paddle boarding, it's a hobby, not a small business.
Secret Service! Intruder! Okay, get audited if you want.
Hey, you know, something's been weighing on me.
Maybe we talk about it.
But I have to get a snack.
Do you like peanut butter? Yeah.
I'm very particular about how you make a PB&J.
Oh yeah, do you still make your own sandwiches a lot? No.
That's an extremely precise spread.
You have to get every corner.
When you do slice, horizontal or diagonal, or You gotta maximize surface area, so diagonal is best.
You don't cut the crust away, do you? - No! God no! What are you talking about? - I'm just saying.
- Are you kidding? - Look at that.
I I mean, that's a pretty - well-constructed sandwich.
- Okay, now why am I Yeah, I'm a mess, you're doing great.
- Yeah.
- Do you have a napkin? I'm sorry.
Dude, look at you, man.
That's cause you put too much jelly on it.
- There you go.
- This is what Thank you.
- Grab a seat man.
Hold on a second.
- Great.
Michelle gets really mad when I leave the You gotta put the little twist tie back on.
little twist thing.
Alright, so how did everything go? - With the show? - With the show! I'll be honest with you, we have found all of these ways in which the government improves our lives, saves our lives.
- Right.
- We've also seen a lot of ways in which it is working on behalf of other interests other than the American people, or even that it's hurting people.
How are we supposed to feel like the government represents us in that case? Well look, first of all, we have to remind ourselves that it's a human institution, like every other one, which means there are going to be screw-ups, there are going to be people who are doing things for the wrong reasons.
The second thing about government is, it's an ocean liner and not a speedboat.
So for you to change direction on anything means it's going to take some time.
But there's also issues that you know, we're talking about on the show that we uh people have been demanding change on for a really long time.
Criminal justice, police violence.
It's hard to take, "Hey change Hey change is sl Long arc of history.
" - I've heard it, you know.
- I know.
I have heard it and I believe it.
But then sometimes, - I'm still frustrated by it.
- Yeah.
Well but Are you Do you ever feel that way? Of course you're frustrated by it and you should be.
And the reason it gets better is because people are impatient.
The only thing we can't do is lapse into cynicism, and say, "Well, because this hasn't changed at the pace that it should, there's nothing we can do about it.
" Because each time we vote and elect people who are more responsive, there's a window of opportunity for us to make some changes and typically it's not gonna be a 100% of what we want.
But you know what? If we make things 10% better Yeah, but 10% for climate change isn't enough.
When you ran in '08, you were the change guy.
- I, you know I was - I'm the hopeful change guy.
And you didn't run on, "Hey if we make things 10% better", you know? You ran on and I'm not - No, - I get it.
Once you're there that's completely fair.
I picture you there in the White House going, "Yeah, this is pretty fucked up, right? Like this is fucked up.
It's fucked up what that department is doing.
" And yet we didn't see change despite that being in my lifetime, the biggest mass movement for change that we've seen in the country.
Except it turns out Mitch McConnell was elected too.
Right? Precisely because the country is a big diverse complicated place.
Look, here's the thing that we have to remind ourselves.
By design - change is hard in this country.
- Yeah.
I guarantee you that there's no president who was ever elected, who doesn't at some point think, "Ah, you make me, you know, king for a day "and I can just you know, issue my edicts.
" We don't want a situation where an all-powerful, all-knowing individual or small set of individuals are able to make decisions for everybody.
- Yeah.
- So we're going to disperse power.
Which means things happen slower, which means that people have to compromise.
The alternative is, we opt-out.
That's when the selfish, the greedy, the mean, that's when they fill the void.
And I tell you, they thrive in that kind of environment.
I read your book uh, and non-fiction, right? You say, uh You know, activists might have wanted me to say push for a public option or - push for single-payer.
- Right.
But you know, when you're sitting in the chair there are constraints.
- Right.
- And I get that.
But, then part of me always asks, "Well, why should we accept those constraints?" Like you started your career as an activist.
Activists get to be uncompromising.
Is there a part of you ever that regrets going into politics as opposed to activism because of that lack of freedom that politicians have? Absolutely.
Look there there's There's a prophetic voice in each of us that just wants to speak the truth as we know it.
And so every movement involves at some point confronting the fact that not everybody agrees with you, and it's navigating that space between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
That's the province of all of us who want to get something done, whether we're activists or politicians.
Now what is true is you have different roles.
And so I'm sitting here as a comic, - Alright.
- I've identified a problem.
I'm yelling about it on national television for everybody to hear.
How the hell do we start fixing? - When it's that big? - Well then, look I mean you find the thing that you're passionate about, that angers you, that frustrates you and then you try to get some like-minded citizens to start changing it.
And you also have to remind yourself that government isn't just the federal government.
Government is State government, government is City government, government is County government.
So, a whole bunch of decisions that are being made aren't being made by the president.
They're being made by somebody who's probably elected by a thousand, ten thousand voters.
This is a very obvious thought now that you're saying it.
Thank you very much.
- Can we eat our sandwiches now? - Come on.
- That's delicious.
- Mine is terrible.
- Thank you for the sandwich.
- What's wrong with the peanut butter? Have a great day.
Thank you so much for your time.
Good luck with the taxes man.
I'll see you later.
Can peanut butter like spoil? I don't get it.
Look, I've spent this entire series hammering home how important the federal government is.
And it is, but it's also so big and so resistant to change.
But, there's another form of government that you and I can have a much greater impact on.
And that has immense power over every waking moment of our daily lives.
This meeting of the Ci uh, City Council will be called to order.
I'd like to have the clerk note that we have broken our attendance record of two.
Okay, I know it doesn't seem that impressive.
But in reality, local politicians wield some serious power.
Item one: The water you drink.
All in favor of switching from city water to river water to save money.
What the Item two: The roads you drive on.
All in favor of lowering the infrastructure budget.
Come on, who's in charge of this? Item three: What buildings get built.
All in favor of replacing affordable housing with a strip mall.
The yawns have it.
Okay! I gotta start going to these meetings! In a second, I am kinda hungry.
But it doesn't end there.
Some local politicians wield an enormous amount of power.
Take the Clark County Commission in Nevada.
Myself and my six little-known associates oversee the entire Las Vegas strip.
In 2019, our County's casinos generated 22 billion dollars in revenue.
That makes us little nobodies arguably the most powerful politicians in the state of Nevada.
It's my pleasure to inform you that your new casino permit is approved! That just happened.
The system works people.
Some local officials have so much power, it affects the entire world.
Like us, the Texas Railroad Commission.
Except I'm not a railroad man, I'm an oilman! That's why despite our name we three Commissioners actually oversee Texas' enormous oil and natural gas industry.
Which accounts for about 5% of the entire world's crude oil production.
Now let's see, should we cut back on drilling, and fight climate change? Nay.
How wild is that? I mean, these are elected politicians who have massive power.
Yet most of us have no idea they even exist.
I can literally name more members of the 2004 Red Sox than I can council members of the city I live in.
I mean, Jason Varitek, great catcher but the dude does not affect my life.
These officials though, ugh, they're the cause of and possible solution to some of our biggest problems.
Especially our broken and discriminatory Criminal Justice System.
What do you got in the bag? - Wings.
- Did you say weapons? What, no.
How did you even get that from what I just said? America imprisons more people than any other nation on Earth.
We have just 4% of the world's population, but close to 20% of its prison population.
Mass incarceration on that scale just makes no sense.
So who's responsible for it? Well, it turns out that almost 90% of incarcerated people are held in state and local jails and prisons.
That means that the politician most responsible for mass incarceration isn't the president, or your Senator, or your congress person.
It's me, your local district attorney.
In the criminal justice system, District Attorneys have incredible power to decide who gets charged and what they get charged with.
This is their story.
This kid is 18 years old, first-time offender.
We could send him to counseling with a warning or charge him with a life-ruining felony.
You're the DA, it's completely up to you.
Quite the moral quandary.
Just kidding.
No it isn't.
I ran on being tough on crime.
And that means that the best way for me to get reelected or become governor as my Pappy wanted, is to throw the book at everyone I see.
See? He's jumpy.
It's a clear sign of guilt.
I'm gonna give it to you straight, kid.
Around 95% of criminal cases don't even get to trial.
They're determined through plea bargains.
Effectively making DAs like me judge and jury.
Now, you were accused of robbing a liquor store with a deadly weapon.
But I wasn't even there! I was buying wings! See? I got wing sauce on my face and it is spicy.
Can I get a napkin or Yeah it looks like blood to me.
You eat your victims.
Oh my God, you're dumb.
Well, the mandatory minimum is 20 years.
So you could take a risk at trial with your little alibi, or you can plead guilty and make a deal! Seven years.
This blows my mind.
You know, researchers believe that since the 90s one of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration has been the power District Attorneys have to impose harsh sentences.
And we the voters have been voting for it.
But, that also means we have the ability to change it just by voting differently in local elections.
There's just one problem though, almost none of us actually vote in them.
You know every four years the presidential election gets massive media attention while local elections get almost none.
Live from Rutherford B.
Hayes High School, it's Public Access television with this year's local election debate.
Good evening.
I'm Madison, vice-chair of the journalism club, and the only reporter left in this town since Facebook killed our local newspaper.
First question, Council member Appleton, why should voters vote for you? Honestly, most of them don't.
A recent study found that only 15% of eligible voters cast a ballot in local elections and cause media barely covers our races, most of them don't know anything about us.
For instance, I'm openly having an affair with my secretary's horse and no one's even written a blog post about it, so.
I don't know, vote for me because my name comes first.
- Ow.
- Sorry.
Uh Why am I even here? My election is just a formality.
Interest in these races are so low that in cities fewer than a million people, the majority of district attorney races have a single unopposed candidate.
So vote for me for DA, or don't.
It doesn't matter, I'm literally the only choice.
We done here? Yeah? Okay.
There you go.
She's great.
Uh Turning now to the subject of young people.
Young people are an essential part of the electorate, yet we are even less likely to show up for local elections than for National ones.
Hello is it question time? Not Not yet ma'am.
I'm It's Stuff it, Zoomer! People over 65 are seven times more likely to vote in local elections than those under 35.
So what we want matters more than what you want.
And what we want is less rap music and more fudge.
We'll get right on that ma'am.
Well that's all the time we have.
The polls are open.
Go vote.
And remember, E pluribus unum.
How depressing is this? You know there is a bright side though.
Turnout in these races is so low, that makes our votes incredibly powerful.
Well, if no one else is going to, I guess I'm voting for myself.
Hey I win! But look, I get it, local politics is confusing and boring and following it requires free time and resources that a lot of people just don't have.
This stuff is hard to give a shit about.
But what would happen if we did? How would our cities, towns, and country change if we all started participating in a system those in power are counting on us to ignore? I believe that we will win! - I believe that we will win! - I believe that we will win! - Hey how's it going? I'm Adam.
- Hey Adam, how're you doing? Rick Krajewski, State Representative for 188th district in west, southwest Philly.
Nikil Saval, I'm the State Senator for the first Senate district, which is Center City and South Philly.
Nikil is a co-founder and I was actually an early member of Reclaim Philadelphia.
Did Reclaim get founded to get a progressive DA elected? Was that the reason for it or A lot of us came out of the Bernie Sanders campaign in Philadelphia in 2016, and we wanted to root ourselves in our neighborhoods.
- Yeah.
- Yeah.
We did analysis to really be like okay like, what is an election that we can zero in on that will have a significant impact for Philadelphia? And we realized like, okay the District Attorney's race.
You know like, this is the most impoverished and most incarcerated big city in the country.
So if we wanna you know, really make a statement like this is our opportunity.
Four years ago, I was proud to stand as a volunteer to knock hundreds of doors and recruit dozens of canvassers to knock thousands more for then Candidate Larry Krasner for District Attorney.
Four years later, Krasner and we with him have moved mountains.
We demanded limits to cash bail, an end to the war on drugs, an end to unaccountable policing.
And Larry Krasner has delivered.
You guys like changed the city that you live in.
But none of you guys are professional politician-like type people, right? - Now.
- Until recently.
Not until you became elected to office yourselves, but like, Ricky you told me before you were a software engineer, and I was a journalist.
What did that feel like? I may have leapt into your arms.
- Yeah, really, yeah.
- Yeah I know, like I really Cause it wasn't just that we won, we got twice as much as the runner-ups.
So like we kicked their ass, like you know? Yeah! We beat them up and that was so powerful for us because it meant like, oh, we're on to something.
You know? - Yeah.
- Like it is mind-blowing, - cause it gives it gives you hope.
- Yeah.
We are clear with the work that's required and the last five decades worth of useless, fake-ass politicians.
- Come on! - You are on notice! And we're coming for you.
Half of this crowd is gonna end up running for election someday.
This is so inspiring to watch, to see people come out, and like really work to make this change.
- Do you feel that way about it? - Oh, most definitely.
This system, what people keep calling a broken system, it's not a broken system.
It's been built to do what it's been doing all these years.
- Yeah.
- All these decades.
- Is to put our people behind cages.
- Yeah.
So what we need to do is start breaking the system down and by doing that, we have to start putting the right people in the right places.
- Yeah.
- People that's for us.
People that's for the people and if God is willing, I plan to run for I'ma start low.
- You're gonna run? - Yeah.
I wanna run for some'n because we need people like us.
Somebody that's been through what I've been through can talk to me.
- What do we want? - Justice! - When do we want it? - Now! - What do we need? - Justice! - When do we need it? So - Now! please, get everybody out and let's go bang on some doors.
Peace! So, tell me about canvassing, is this like This is how you do your work.
Like what's so important about it? You know, people get tons of political mail, they get TV, all of that stuff that really connecting You know, it's not just about ideology, not all of us share those ideologies, but a lot of us share interests, a lot of us share stories.
We share that we have kids in the school district.
All of that is where you connect with people.
And then at that point, we move to the larger political picture.
And this really works to like create change? Like all you're doing is like talking to your neighbors? Yeah.
Dozens of people knocking hundreds to a thousand of doors over the course of months.
It's a transformative thing in a big city.
The Philly Parade is here.
This I love about the city.
Ah shit! - Ahh! - Woo! - What's going on? How is your cheesesteak? - That's a pretty good cheesesteak.
- Yeah? - Yeah.
- Do you wanna play some basketball? - No, okay.
- You sure? - Yeah, I'm really bad, but Okay.
Close enough for me.
- So uh Can I ask you guys a question? - Sure.
So I open this episode by asking like, how do we make change in the government when the government is so big and we're so small? People get fixated on national politics.
And of course, understandably, it's very consequential.
But actually the things you can impact, and the things you're impacted by are often local.
That government is smaller, it is us, it looks like this.
And like all of these things ripple across the country, these local races, these local changes.
And all of that is grassroots.
That's like, that is literally the definition of grassroots change.
And so that allows us to think about okay, now what do we have to do on the congressional level, senatorial level.
Those are necessary ingredients for thinking about the large-scale picture.
- Incredible, amazing.
- Yeah.
Why don't you take one last shot? Okay.
How's my form? You got it.
Arc, remember the arc.
Arc! Okay, obviously I didn't really hit that.
It was an editing trick.
But how incredible are those folks? I mean, not only did Reclaim help elect a new District Attorney who's fixing criminal justice in their city, they inspired a nationwide movement of people doing the same.
Including where I live, in Los Angeles.
Yeah no, it's not just a backdrop for reality shows.
It's a real place with real problems.
Now in 2020, I got so sick of obsessing over the national politics I saw in cable news, I decided to focus on my own community instead.
I started calling into boring-ass City Council meetings to give public comment.
I joined a neighborhood group on homelessness, an issue I really care about, and I volunteered for a city council candidate who pledged to fight police violence, the housing crisis, and climate change at home, in our city.
Seeing that I could have a real impact on the government of my city made me realize we are not helpless.
We actually can create big change if we start small.
You know what the problem is with the G word: Government? It sounds so big.
So monolithic, so far away.
When in reality, it's right here at home.
And, just like Soylent Green, it's made of people.
People who wake up every day and go to work for no other reason than it's their job.
And it's a job that needs doing.
People who go to absolutely nauseating lengths to keep others safe.
People who never stop trying to serve their community, no matter how badly the system is rigged against them.
People who dive in and work to change that system for the better.
People like us.
People like you.
And you know, people aren't perfect.
I mean I for one am an idiot and I'm not the only one.
So, our government is far from perfect too.
You know I've really struggled with how to summarize everything I've learned making this show.
Our government is powerful and democratic and caring and destructive and discriminatory and cruel.
It's everything all at once.
Because we the people are all those things too.
But a better world is possible and on its best days our government is a tool that we can use together to build that better world for ourselves and each other.
Should we choose to.
And for that reason, it's worth fighting for.
And, done.
You know folks, on this show we've had a lot of fun with the idea that I struggle to do my taxes, but, that was just acting.
In real life, I'm amazing at them.
And you can be too.
If you use the helpful tools found at IRS.
gov They can even help you file for free.
Subtitle translation by: Anu Akiyode
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