WASHINGTON WATCH ROUNDTABLE: Tyrese Challenges Celebrities To Fight Voter Suppression And The Legacy Of Rep. Donald Payne (VIDEO)

This past week, we saw the reenactment of the Selma to Montgomery march. Rev. Al Sharpton. Singer-actor Tyrese joined the march, and made an interesting comment. He challenged all of his celebrity friends by saying, “Why don’t y’all jump on y’all private planes, like y’all do to the All Star* game, and come down here and march for votes?” He also called upon them to step up and say something about voter suppression going on in this country and the need for Black folks to get registered.

MR. MARTIN:  Folks, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

This week, we saw the reenactment of the Selma to Montgomery march.  Rev. Al Sharpton.  I saw Ben Jealous, Pastor Jamal Bryant* — many of us out there.  Even a[n] eight-year-old girl has been participating in this march.  But what caught my attention was the singer-actor Tyrese.  And he joined the march, and he made a comment.  He said to all his celebrity friends – he said, “Why don’t y’all jump on y’all private planes, like y’all do to the All Star* game, and come down here and march for votes?”  He also called upon them to step up and say something about voter suppression going on in this country and the need for Black folks to get registered.

And I – and I thought about that after my recent interview with Harry Belafonte and others.  And let’s talk a bit about your perspective on do we have celebrities today who are that willing to speak to this kind of issue?  Or, are they afraid of that check and potentially losing it?

MR. WILLIAMS:  No, I don’t think people – I – I mean I know – somebody may not like what I’m going to say.  I – I don’t even st- — I don’t know the significance and the impact that these marches have anymore.  I don’t understand whether or not there’re enough people that are listening and watching to – whether a march is going to encourage someone to be aware of whether – the issue of voting, or whatever they’re talking about.

I think celebrities make a lot – contributions to many things that are very important and vital in their communities.  I don’t think you can judge them by, necessarily, whether they go and participate in a march, or whether they fly out in their –

MR. MARTIN:  [Crosstalk]- —

MR. WILLIAMS:  — private planes.


MR. LEON:  To – to –

MR. MARTIN:  — go ahead.

MR. LEON:  — Armstro- —

MR. MARTIN:  Go ahead.

MR. LEON:  — to Armstrong’s point, I – I do agree, and – and many will be shocked when I say this.  I think a lot of what you said made sense, but –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. LEON:  — the problem between, say, the ’60s and today is today, the march is something in and of itself.  In the ’60s, the march was part of a larger program –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. LEON:  — and what is missing now –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. LEON:  — is the larger program.  And so –

MR. MARTIN:  Sort of the “what’s next?”

MR. LEON:  — part of “what’s next?” – and what are we doing right now?

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. LEON:  So, to march in and of itself without that being tied to a grassroots effort – a sustained, sustainable, grassroots effort that is going –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. LEON:  — on outside of just the 2012 election – that is where so much of this is missing.

MR. MARTIN:  But I appreciate the qu- — Tyrese raising the question because –

MR. LEON:  Oh, absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — in 2- — in 2008, we saw folks like Mary J. Blige, we saw Beyoncé, we saw Jay Z, we saw Diddy, we saw so many other folks who were wrapped up in this campaign of Pres. Barack Obama.  They literally, on voting day, during primaries, were going to polling places, encouraging people not to get out of line.

But what happened after the election?

MR. LEON:  There you go.  Where’d they go –

MR. MARTIN:  And so –

MR. LEON:  — afterward[?]?

MR. MARTIN:  — and – and so I think that one of the points that Tyrese is sort of raising is – is that when you have 34 states across the country that have actually passed voter I.D. laws, when you have potentially folks being – who are young folks, Black folks, Hispanic, elderly – not being able to vote, what he is saying is, “Use that celebrity voice when it comes to this issue,” and, “Where are you in this battle?”

MR. MADISON:  George Clooney once said to me, when we were involved in the whole Darfur, Sudan issue, that celebrities have something called a “celebrity credit card.”

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. MADISON:  And we just got through talking about credit cards.  And they can use that credit card to draw attention.  You know, let’s get real.  Ma- — if – I once had Coretta Scott King say to me, “If I had a nickel for every Negro that said he was on, or she was on a march with Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she’d be a millionaire.  The majority of people did – never marched.  It was always a few thousand.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. MADISON:  We make it look, in that small television screen, like it was the majority of people.  The – it wasn’t the majority of celebrities.  And oftentimes, the – the celebrities – they weren’t like the Harry Belafontes, or the Tony Bennetts –

MR. MARTIN:  Or Dick –

MR. MADISON:  — that went out –

MR. MARTIN:  — Gregorys.

MR. MADISON:  — there – or, the Dick –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. MADISON:  — Gregorys.  They did it often quietly, behind the scene[s], making contributions.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. MADISON:  Bar- — Harry Belafonte used to bring them to their house because they paid a price.

You always say it.  I say it.  “What’s the difference between a movement and” –

MR. MARTIN:  And a moment.

MR. MADISON:  — “a moment?”  And I’ll tell you what Dr. Ron Walters once said to a group of students at Fisk.  “Sacrifice.”  Sacrifice.  People who are part of a movement make sacrifices.  Too often, what happens is that we get involved in the moment, and there’s no sacrifice.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.



MS. ROSS:  Well, I mean we also have to take into account that in a political season like the one we’re in, typically the celebrities get engaged late in the game – especially Black celebrities, because Black voters are not courted actively until late in the game, when their bodies are needed for the turnout, to be the margin of victory in select places because they’re not large enough as a population –

MR. MARTIN:  But I – I’m –

MS. ROSS:  — so they –

MR. MARTIN:  — just sa- —

MS. ROSS:  — sway the vote.

MR. MARTIN:  — I just think, to – to Tyrese’s point, don’t just show up –

MR. MADISON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — when it’s that election, when you’re –

MS. ROSS:  Well –

MR. MARTIN:  — on camera.

MS. ROSS:  — well, now –

MR. MARTIN:  And I – and I think he’s raising imp- — an important point, because I’ve seen him and others in terms of step[ping] up over the last several years on other –

MS. ROSS:  — well –

MR. MARTIN:  — issues.

MS. ROSS:  — marches are one thing, but –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ROSS:  — let’s get back to what Joe is talking about.  Who’s giving money?  Who are the donors?  There’ve –

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MS. ROSS:  — been several serious fundraisers –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ROSS:  — for Pres. Obama –

MR. MADISON:  Y- — you know –

MS. ROSS:  — recently –

MR. MADISON:  — what I –

MS. ROSS:  — and a lot of celebrities have attended those and –

MR. MARTIN:  I need t- —

MS. ROSS:  — been donors to his campaign.

MR. MARTIN:  — right.  And I’m just simply saying let’s go beyond just the fundraising.  Get involved on the issues.

I do want to go – get – go to this point, because we lost Congressman Donald Payne this week – 77 years old, died of colon cancer.

And, Joe, a lot of people – you know, they – they hear these other people on these Sunday morning news shows talking about foreign policy, but this was somebody who was very involved when it came to foreign policy – Ireland, but also the continent of Africa.

MR. MADISON:  He was Mr. Africa.  There was no if[s], ands or buts about it.  You could sit down with Donald Payne, and he could tell you the name of every African head of state on that continent.  He knew the issues.  [The] last time I saw Donald Payne was at the independence day of South Sudan.  And I have said this publicly.  There would not be a new country of South Sudan had it not been for Donald Payne – long before George –

MR. WILLIAMS:  And let me —

MR. MADISON:  — Clooney –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — just say this.

MR. MADISON:  — got involved in it.  He was on Darfur.  He –

MR. MARTIN:  And you –

MR. MADISON:  — was –

MR. MARTIN:  — worked closely with –

MR. MADISON:  — oh, man.

MR. MARTIN:  — him on that issue.


MR. MADISON:  You want to talk about missing somebody!

MR. WILLIAMS:  Donald Payne is someone that I – [chuckles] – would say I had a very good relationship.  I remember when Bush was involved with Africa, how Donald –


MR. WILLIAMS:  — Payne was a –

MR. MADISON:  He was part –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — part of that –

MR. MADISON:  — of that.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — legislation, that billion-dollar plan.  He didn’t care about the politics.  He cared about the issues.  He cared about advancing the causes in Africa.

I remember when he told the story about when he was – where – in Darfur –

MR. MADISON:  Darfur –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — and –

MR. MADISON:  — right.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — the President encouraged him not to go.  And they were on the tarmac, and – [chuckles] – these crazy rebels started fighting – firing guns, shooting up –

MR. MADISON:  Oh, that was –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — their plane.

MR. MADISON:  — I think, Somalia or –

MR. WILLIAMS:  Somalia.  And –

MR. MADISON:  — Ethiopia – yeah.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — he almost died.  He was willing –


MR. WILLIAMS:  — even after the President and the State –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — Department said, “Don’t go,” he was willing to sacrifice his life for what he believed in.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, that’s why we wanted to give Congressman Donald Payne his – his due –

MS. ROSS:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — the – the first African-American member of Congress from New Jersey, the only African-American, and so he certainly will be missed.  And that’s why we wanted to honor him here on “Washington Watch.”

MS. ROSS:  He also was willing to talk to reporters about Africa –

MR. MADISON:  Yes, he was.

MS. ROSS:  — policy in a way –


MS. ROSS:  — that a lot of people did not in this town, and that was vital.