Rachel Maddow: “Activism is a very specific and technocratic thing.”

Rachel Maddow’s interview with Ezra Klein on her life and HIV/AIDs activism for prisoners has this amazing extended riff starting around minute 53:

“What I tried to do as an activist was to approach each thing I wanted to get as a math problem.

So, here’s a thing that I think should be different in the world: I want people who are dying of AIDS in prisons to be allowed to die in secure hospices rather than dying in jail infirmaries. That’s what I want. Me just saying that and expressing the moral righteousness of that is not enough.

Who is the person who can decide to make that happen? The hospices need to be good with it, so, okay, let’s go to the hospices. Who is the person who makes the decision about who goes to the hospices? Well, there’s a category of decision-making here that is for people who do not have life sentences; they’re susceptible to these kinds of decision-makers. And then there’s a whole another category of decision-makers who say as a matter of policy … so let’s change the local decision-makers; now let’s change the law.

And just doing it piece by piece by piece, why won’t this law change? Because the committee chairman who is responsible for this as an issue doesn’t care about this. What does he care about? He cares about golf. Okay, let’s find whoever he golfs with’s wife, and find who his pastor is and talk to her about this.

…Activism is a very specific and technocratic thing….

On a lot of the activist issues I worked on it was very important that we get no press. And I think, from the outside, one of the things people assume about activism is that you’re trying to consciousness-raise around an issue, and get public discussion and raise public awareness and raise the profile of an issue–not if you’re talking about the comfort of death row prisoners. You don’t actually want that subjected to a popular referendum, because that’s going to be a kneejerk, regressive response.

And so sometimes what you need for people to be brave is to limit their risk, and some of the ways you limit risk is by keeping things quiet. And that has ended up being an interesting thing to know and thing to believe in, given that I’m now a person who’s in the business of making national news of that stuff.”

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