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Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMorrow spoke with John Yang about her powerful floor speech this week in which she defended herself against false accusations of “grooming” children from a GOP colleague. McMorrow spoke passionately about her responsibility to defend people who are less privileged as a white, Christian woman – and why that made her a target.
And speaking of our political and cultural divides, a clash that erupted at the state level this week went viral and captured some of the national debate around these issues.
John Yang has the details.
Amna, this all began late last week when Michigan state Senator Lana Theis, a Republican, delivered an opening invocation that said children are under attack. Three Democrats walked out of the chamber, including Senator Mallory McMorrow.
On Monday, Theis sent out a fund-raising e-mail that included the unfounded allegation that McMorrow wants to groom and sexualize kindergartners. Theis also attacked her for what Theis called race-based education.
The next day, McMorrow took to the Senate floor to fire back.
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow(D-MI):
So, who am I? I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism somehow means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense.
I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white, and Christian.
Videos of the speech were posted on social media and have gotten millions of views.
Senator McMorrow joins me now from her home in suburban Detroit.
Senator McMorrow, thanks for joining us.
I want to break down a couple of things you said in your speech. You said that you represent what you call the biggest threat to the hollow, hateful scheme of Republicans — you say the Republicans are carrying out.
Help us understand, what you mean by those two phrases?
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow:
So, these attacks we have seen about grooming or marginalization, they impact the LGBTQ community, the Black community. It is really targeting marginalized groups, marginalized people.
And what I meant when I said I am the biggest threat is, I am not a member of a marginalized community. I am a straight, white, married, Christian, suburban mom. And if more people like me, who are not in a minority group, who are not under attack stand up and call it out as hateful, hollow nonsense, then we take away its power.
And talk a little bit about how you decided to respond and how you decided to respond in this way.
So, I really — I sat on it for a day.
I read about the fund-raising e-mail in the morning and then really took the day to put all of my thoughts together. And, initially, I was just disgusted. And you want to kind of hit back in the moment. But I just thought about, if I felt as horrible as I did on Monday, how much worse it must feel every single day if you are the parent of a trans child, if you are a member of the gay community who gets called a pedophile or a groomer every single day.
And I realized that we have to do a lot more.
Why do you think the Republicans are doing this sort of thing in general? And why do you think they're singling you out?
It is — it's pulling this language from QAnon conspiracies.
It started in the darkest corners of the Internet, this idea that the government is run by a satanist cabal of pedophiles. And we saw what happens, when a gunman opened fire at a pizza parlor in D.C., believing that there were pedophiles there trapping children in the basement, based on this lie.
But now this conspiracy is being pulled out in the open. And it is being used by one of our country's two major political parties as the official policy, the official attack, the — and we have to stop it.
So, why me specifically is, yes, I'm one of the people who walked out of the speech, but, also, I'm not particularly shy about expressing my opinions about these things. I host a livestream every week. And I talked about why I walked out of the invocation.
So I think it was a signal to anybody like me who dares to stand up with the marginalized community that: We're going to paint you as one of them. You're no longer one of us. You are one of them. You are something dark and dirty and evil. And we have to take our identities back.
You talked about the incident here in Washington, D.C., where someone did show up with a rifle at a place where conspiracy theorists had these unfounded allegations that there was a child trafficking ring going on, a pizza restaurant in Washington.
Are you concerned at being singled out in this way? Are you concerned about your safety?
You have to be.
And I think that was one of the most hurtful things about the e-mail that went out about me, is, clearly, there was no thought from Senator Theis as to what the consequences might be. And that was really scary for my friends and my family.
But, again, I am generally OK. I'm doing well. My family is happy and healthy. We have resources that I know a lot of others don't. And there's a sense of privilege to be able to use my position for people who are regularly under attack, who don't have the protections that I do, who are in real danger if people like me don't take a little bit of that risk and take the hit and try to push back.
Since you have gotten a lot of attention for your pushback, Senator Theis tweeted: "While Senator McMorrow is on MSNBC preaching to her choir, I will keep my focus on Michigan parents, who Democrats are seeking to undermine as the primary decision-makers in the education of their children."
What do you say to that?
It's so — it's just sad. It's sad and pathetic that she's doubling down, when other parents — I am a parent saying that you do not speak for all parents.
And I know that there are thousands, if not millions, just like me, who don't want our kids to grow up in a place that is hateful and malicious towards anybody who is different.
Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow, thank you very much.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
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