Gaslit Nation Featurette: Pass a Law

In this special episode of Gaslit Nation, Andrea interviews her mother Tanya Chalupa who championed the child carseat law and the seatbelt law in California, as well as working on other child safety bills. She explains how to get a law passed even if, as she was, you're an outsider with very little experience. 

And yes, the big news of Manafort Monday is broken down - the explosive Guardian scoop - and Russia's escalation of its invasion of Ukraine. Next week, we'll be back to unpack the latest developments of these stories and more. There's never a slow news week in Gaslit Nation. 

Welcome to a special featurette of Gaslit Nation. My name is Andrea Chalupa. I am a writer, filmmaker, focused on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and the producer and screenwriter of Agnieszka Holland’s upcoming Soviet Thriller, Gareth Jones, about the journalists that risked their lives to expose Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine in 1933.

[Theme music]

Andrea Chalupa: Sarah and I were hoping for a bit of a quiet week following Thanksgiving, but of course with Trump as President, we have no more quiet weeks. So, this featurette was envisioned as sort of a standalone follow-up to the historic midterm election, and an important look ahead, and getting us positioned for the fight ahead. But we are forced to comment on the last 24 hours of dramatic news, namely coming out of Ukraine, but of course Paul Manafort, everyone’s favorite ostrich leather model, makes an appearance in this very intense news cycle, so we have a lot to sort of open this featurette with in terms of the news roundup.

Sarah will be back with me next week, and we’re gonna dive into all of this further, and this of course will give us some time for a lot of these big stories to develop. It’s building off of what we already cover in the show, which is simply this: when you have a kleptocrat in the White House, that gives free range to all the other kleptocrats out there to behave badly, and that’s what we certainly have been seeing with Russia’s blatant, open attack against Ukraine in Ukraine waters.

Okay, but first, very exciting bombshell from The Guardian: Paul Manafort. I really want to start with Paul Manafort, because this is exciting and there’s a lot to unpack here. According to The Guardian, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign. Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015, and in spring 2016, during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March. March, of course, was when Manafort officially joined the Trump campaign. A big question for the FBI: who was the intermediary between Wikileaks and the Trump campaign? Who curated the leaked DNC email so that they would inflict the most damage? How did Roger Stone know it would soon be John Podesta’s time in the barrel? Roger Stone and Paul Manafort are old friends and longtime business partners. Was Paul Manafort Roger Stone’s Wikileak source? Was Paul Manafort the intermediary between Wikileaks and the Trump campaign? Did Paul Manafort, who has made a living discrediting his clients’ political opponents, did he advise on which emails would be most damaging, and help get them ready to, for instance, distract from the Access Hollywood “grab them by the pussy” tape? As soon as that tape hit the news, John Podesta’s stolen emails were released hours later, as though locked and loaded and ready to go. All of this took coordination and expertise. Was Paul Manafort at the center of it? This is his wheelhouse.

Another interesting detail of The Guardian story: in June of 2016, Wikileaks emailed the GRU via an intermediary, seeking the DNC material. After failed attempts, Vladimir Putin’s spies sent the documents in mid-July to Wikileaks, as an encrypted attachment.

Now, that timing is interesting. Assange, who wanted the Trump campaign to win, because, like Putin, he feared Hillary Clinton and being held accountable for his alleged crimes by her administration. In June, Assange was ready to go. He wanted those emails. He didn’t receive them until mid-July. What happened in June?

Don Jr., Manafort, and Kushner met in Trump Tower with representatives of the Kremlin. That’s the meeting where the Kremlin likely needed to be reassured that if they helped get Trump elected, in return the sanctions crippling Russia’s economy would be dropped. The hacked materials weren’t delivered to Wikileaks until mid-July, around the time of the Republican National Convention, where the Republican Party platform watered down its support for Ukraine, including providing defensive aid. Republicans and Democrats were strongly united in providing defensive aid to Ukraine, and suddenly the Republican Party stripped this language from their party platform. Days later, on the eve of the Democratic Convention, Wikileaks released the stolen DNC emails, carefully curated to show that leaders of the DNC were supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary. This set off a bomb, dividing Trump’s opposition, causing chaos for the DNC. Sensitive details about their donors were also released.

I was inside the Democratic Convention the night Hillary Clinton accepted her party’s nomination. A giant sign held up by the protesters at that historic moment said, “Wikileaks.” These are the kinds of dirty tricks Manafort and Stone built a business on for decades.

Finally, let’s look at the years Manafort visited with Assange: 2013, 2015, 2016. 2013: Putin passes anti-gay laws. Many in the West speak out against this. Celebrities boycotted Russia over this. What did Trump do in 2013? He brought Miss Universe to Moscow. He had no problem with the anti-gay laws. He hung out in Moscow in 2013 on his trip with Aras Agalarov the Russian billionaire who set up the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

In 2013, the Steele Dossier claims the Russian FSB collected kompromat on Trump during his trip sufficient enough to blackmail him. So, 2013 was a very active year for Trump, the Kremlin, and Trump’s longtime friend Paul Manafort, meeting with Assange, an associate of the Kremlin’s who had his own talk show on Kremlin-funded RT. At the same time, another important Kremlin conduit, accused spy Maria Butina, was busy infiltrating the Republican Party and NRA, so the groundwork, which would help Trump win the election was already being laid in 2013.

Okay, so 2015 is significant because Russia had already annexed Crimea and invaded Eastern Ukraine. In June 2015, Trump officially announces his candidacy. That same year, a Russian-provided missile shot down commercial jet MH-17, killing all onboard. The sanctions, international pressure against Russia... It was all increasing, the heat was being turned up. So this increases Russia’s motivation to stop Clinton and elect Trump, and just to get rid of these sanctions crippling its economy.

Then of course 2016’s significance, as we already know, as we already went over, is very clear. The same time Manafort is officially brought into the Trump campaign, he’s going to London to the Ecuador embassy to meet with Assange. Very interesting. And then, a few months later, the Trump Tower meeting happens, and then a month later, Assange gets the stolen emails from the Russians. Another question: what about Manafort’s longtime collaborator in Ukraine, the liberal strategist Tad Devine? He and Manafort were communicating with a former GRU agent indicted by Mueller, Konstantin Kilimnick, who’s now in Russia. As Malcolm Nance likes to remind us, there’s no such thing as a former GRU agent.

Devine was Bernie Sanders’ chief strategist. Now this is absolutely nothing against Bernie or his movement, which we desperately need to bring corruption and money, big money, out of politics. A lot of what Bernie did in 2016 inspired this “Blue Wave” generation to run for office, building their campaigns on small donations, so this is all important. What progressives need to accept is that we have to confront these questions because we don’t want our strategists taking blood money from abroad. We want to get this out of our politics as well.

So Devine worked for Viktor Yanukovych for years, alongside Manafort. They were consultants for him. Yanukovych, of course, was one of Ukraine’s most corrupt and violent presidents, which is saying a lot. He was overthrown in a revolution which cost the lives of many dozens of Ukrainians. Did Devine advise Bernie Sanders in any sort of fashion that furthered the divide between Trump’s opposition? Was this part of a larger strategy orchestrated by his old friend Manafort? Did Devine know Manafort was meeting with Wikileaks all those years and not say anything? Well, certainly he’s cooperating with the FBI now. As we know, he’s agreed to testify against Manafort, so hopefully all this information comes out.

So this Guardian bombshell raises a lot of interesting questions which we will hopefully get answers to soon.

Now, Ukraine.

So, this was a very scary escalation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which happened this week. According to Black Sea News, the initial ramming by a Russian ship of a Ukrainian boat was done in Ukrainian territorial waters. Three Ukrainian vessels fled when this happened for international waters but were stopped just before escaping. According to Hromadske TV, a leading independent news source in Ukraine, three of the wounded Ukrainian Naval officers captured are in a hospital in annexed Crimea, while others are being questioned by Russian investigators. The Ukrainian Parliament, in reaction to this, voted to introduce martial law for a period of 30 days in ten regions of Ukraine in total: eight regions bordering on Russian territory, including unrecognized Transnistria, as well as two on the Azov coast. This martial law would not impose on constitutional rights of Ukrainians, and the presidential election for March 31st is going on scheduled as planned.

Now the difference of this attack is significant, because in the past Russia tries to hide what it’s doing. When it annexed Crimea, these little green men, as they were called, were showing up. They did not have Russian flags on their uniforms. They were known as the little green men without insignia. That’s how Crimea was done. And then in Eastern Ukraine, you have the so-called Russian-backed Rebels, which is really just the invasion by Russia, as many independent sources have documented. Boris Nemtsov—the Russian opposition leader—before he was gunned down in the shadow of the Kremlin, he was coming out with evidence supposedly given to him by a Russian soldier’s family of Russia’s occupation of Eastern Ukraine.

So now Putin’s not trying to hide it; he’s openly attacking Ukraine, because he clearly thinks that he can and get away with it, just like the Saudi crown prince got away with killing—butchering—a leading journalist. So very scary times indeed.

Putin also clearly wants to influence the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine, scheduled for March. He’s throwing around his weight to show how weak the current president is, giving his rivals, including more Kremlin-friendly rivals, something to rail against in this upcoming election, which will be very heated. Putin can also now simply do what he wants. We remember that smile on his face when he met with Trump in Helsinki.

Putin looked like he could not believe his luck. This escalation is very bad news for Ukraine’s economy; Russia is openly threatening to close off a major trade route for Ukraine, when Ukraine’s economy is already crippled by Russia’s invasion and the ongoing fight against corruption. The average monthly salary in Ukraine is around $200. A siege by Russia of a key sea trade route would be devastating for Ukraine’s economy. So all of this is very significant.

So that is just the last 24 hours of major news that we like to cover here on Gaslit Nation. Again, we will be going further into this and how it’s all playing out in the next episode of Gaslit Nation when Sarah is back on the show.

So for today’s special, which we all desperately need right now because it’s one of great optimism building on this already optimistic “Blue Wave” month of November 2018 where we saw democrats win the House with the largest margin of victory in history for either party, ever. That’s according to NBC news. We still have one more House race to be called, which is looking like it could go to a democrat, and that’s a California race, and we’ll discuss that further on the next episode. And so if that race goes for the democrats, then that is a 40 seat pickup in the House. My goodness.

So this Blue Wave was primarily driven by grassroots power built by quality candidates—many women, many women of color. In honor of this historic election and in honor of the countless superhero women who drove this victory, we have a superhero woman on the show today to tell us another way we can build a more progressive union: we can create grassroots movements to get laws passed in our states. If you want your state to aggressively pass a law to combat global warming, to ensure animal welfare on factory farms, to secure our elections, to require presidential candidates to release decades of tax returns before they can be on the ballot in your state, whatever your dream is for your country, you can create it by passing a law in your state.

To tell us how that’s done, I would like to introduce our very special guest today, my mother, Tanya Chalupa, who, as a young mother, when she was pregnant with me, built a grassroots coalition to pass the child car seat law in California. She also championed California’s seatbelt law, so if you have to strap your kid into a car seat in California, that’s because of my mother. If you ever got a ticket for not wearing your seatbelt in California, that’s because of my mother. And her message today is if she could get a law passed, you can get a law passed, and here’s how it’s done.

Welcome to Gaslit Nation, Mom.

Tanya Chalupa: Thanks, Andrea. I never thought of myself as a superwoman, though.

Andrea Chalupa: Yes you are, and superwomen like to create other superwomen, and build them up, and that’s the example you set for me and my sister.

Tanya Chalupa: Well one thing for sure, I do believe in grassroots effort. I saw that for myself. And you wanted me to talk about how it got started, and car seats saved your sister’s life.

Andrea Chalupa: I also want to point out that your story is significant because it’s an immigrant story. You were born in a refugee camp.

Tanya Chalupa: I was born in a displaced persons camp in Heidenheim, Germany, after the war—post-war Germany.

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, so your early childhood years were in a displaced persons camp, you were completely dependent on a U.N. organization for survival, and you came by ship to New York City. And what was that—what was the—the first sight, your very first sight of America was the Statue of Liberty. As a five-year-old girl you looked up from the ship and saw the Great Grey Lady welcoming you there. Stephen Miller’s worst nightmare. And now from my street in Brooklyn, every time I leave my apartment I walk down the street and I can see the Statue of Liberty across the harbor, and I think of you.

Tanya Chalupa: Oh, that’s so sweet. Yes, I tear up when I see the picture of the Statue of Liberty, or I see the Statue of Liberty when I’m in Manhattan across the bay there. It was very powerful. I remember standing with my mother, and there was a sunrise or sunset—I don’t know which one—but there was a red sky, and the shadow of it was just so moving and so powerful. It left an impact on me.

But let’s talk about the grassroots, because I’m really anxious to get to that.

Andrea Chalupa: Sure, but I also want to point out you grew up in the slums of the Lower East Side. Because I think your story is important, because there’s immigrants right now being held on the border seeking asylum, and your family was seeking asylum. Your parents escaped the Soviet Union through the Hell of World War II, and they did everything they could to come to America. They fought their way just like so many asylum seekers today who are being gassed on the U.S. border, and so you came here with absolutely nothing. Your family could have been considered parasites and looked down on as poor, worthless people, as Trump’s base and the Trump administration sees these asylum-seekers now. And you came here, and you’re the classic immigrant story of fighting and making this country better. As they say: immigrants, they get the job done.

So you grew up in the South Bronx, which very much shaped you. And you and Dad moved to California. Dad got a PhD at UCLA in neuroscience; you started off his career being a dutiful wife of that generation. At UC Davis, Dad was a young professor at UC Davis. You at that time had had my older sister, known to the public as Alexandra Chalupa, who risked her life and career to expose Paul Manafort. So, if you’re wondering where my sister and I get this from, it’s from my mother! We have my mother to blame for this sort of fearless determination to improve the world. So your story, your sort of big moment came—which I’ll hand the mic to you so you can talk us through this—Dad was at Cambridge for a year, and Ally was around five years old.

Tanya Chalupa: Two and a half.

Andrea Chalupa: Okay, two and a half.

Tanya Chalupa: Well, I don’t remember why I believed car seats were important. I just want to add that my parents, who helped me out—they moved when they retired, moved to Davis, California and lived a couple blocks away from me—I caught them a couple of times holding Ally and the car seat was in the back. And of course, I took her away from them, and I scolded them, and I was very tough. I said, “You may not see my granddaughter again, you may not have her, unless she’s buckled up.”

I don’t know where I got that information, because I just want to point out all I knew was that car seats were important for infants, but I didn’t know all the facts yet. And then when we were living in Cambridge, England, someone told me when we were going to travel that in Italy they had a law that a child had to be buckled up in a car seat. It turned out Italy didn’t have a law, but I believed it did, and when we were traveling through the Alps, Ally wanted to get out of her car seat, she was crying, and I was going to put her in front and buckle her in with me, not knowing all the facts. For example, that she would have been an airbag for me, and would have died. But because I believed there was a law, I said, “No, the police would arrest your daddy and your mommy, and you have to stay there.”

A short while later, it was raining and there was some oil slick or something that your father lost control of the car, and the car was totaled. The stick shift was gone, my seatbelt didn’t function well that I was taken to a hospital where nuns held me down while somebody sewed up, stitched up my scalp. It was a very bad accident, but when your father and I turned around, and we saw Ally crying, it was the happiest moment of our lives. It was like somebody gave us a second chance, and I remember thinking, like, this happened for a reason. I don’t know what the reason would be, but it just felt very strongly that something would come out of it.

Then when we returned to the States—I’m gonna skip a lot here—I got into this organization called the California Children’s Lobby. It’s now defunct, unfortunately, but it was wonderful. It was bipartisan. It had people on the board that would be best friends of the governor’s wife, for example. It had members of committees that headed hospitals. And they would all come in in Sacramento—this was all in Sacramento, headquartered in Sacramento—they would come in, take off whatever hat they were wearing professionally, and talk about what the problem was with children, what the welfare is, what can California do to improve it. And they had a sister organization called the California Children’s Research Institute which got money from foundations to do research. So one was a lobbying arm, and the other was a research arm. And together…they basically were the same people, but the records were kept separately, and it functioned very, very powerfully.

I was the only person they said that ever walked through the door, because it was very elite, and somehow I pushed my way in. And they finally said, “Okay, we want you to do product safety,” and there’s this law that they were trying to push to get brochures to parents. And I said that’s not enough, and so I managed to get a legislator to support it by organizing meetings. There already were resources. If you’re grassroots, if anybody out there’s interested in, let’s say climate change or immigration issues, there are groups there already working on it. Just unite them into one. You need like one source, and so that’s what I did.

Andrea Chalupa: You need like a Paul Manafort, to be like the busy bee pollinating the different factors of the coalition and bringing them together.

Tanya Chalupa: Is that a compliment? [laughs] But I guess so, but a good guy. I mean, Paul Manafort could have done great things for the country. Instead he chose to go the other way, unfortunately.

But anyway, so there were resources available there, and I united them together. I worked. I had to learn the facts of child passenger safety, because I had a lot of misinformation. I knew nothing about lobbying, and as we were approaching, the legislator I got was Nicholas Petris from Oakland. Really wonderful, very highly respected individual. He was a state representative, a state senator.

He almost dropped the bill because the little army that I pulled together would all be calling him up individually and giving their two cents, and they couldn’t handle it. They said to me, “Look, Tanya, we can’t do this, because our office is beseeched by your group. Either organize them or we drop the bill.”

So I called everybody, and I said, “You only can go through me.” And eventually I was able to reach every legislator at the state capital with twelve phone calls. That’s how well we became organized. Now, that surprised me. I didn’t know I had the skill, but it worked.

But then there was another problem. The California Children Lobby had to kick me out because they didn’t have the money. They thought that I would do this slowly, that they would have time for the Children’s Research Institute to hit the foundations for funding, but here we were, ready to go January—what was it, ’82 I believe? I was pregnant with you, Andrea, seven months. I remember traveling—my mom was with your sister—sleeping early in the morning, and saying, “What am I doing? This legislator thinks I have this great army, which I guess I do, but I don’t know anything, and they think I know what’s going on. I’m all they have!”

To walk the halls, this pregnant woman, I felt very insecure, but I figured, “Well, what the heck?” I knew there were 40 senators, I knew there were 80 assemblymen, and I just learned as I went along. I asked questions all throughout, and when I gave birth to you, for example, the senator’s office was laughing, because I was calling them up from the hospital saying, “Has the ways and means committee set a meeting yet on the bill?”

So there was a rough time. My mother passed away during this period. She died two months before you were born, so that was painful, and my dad used to bring you around to the Capitol. There was a bench in the front where I would breastfeed you. I don’t think the bench is there anymore; I didn’t see it the last time I was there. I would change your diapers in the senator’s office. I did what I could.

And it got passed. It went into law. That was the first law that I ever got passed. I did others afterwards for children in a similar fashion, but then I was doing my own research.

Andrea Chalupa: I thought it was interesting how the bill you introduced was a very strong version of the bill, and then as it was going through the process of trying to collect the votes you needed to get it passed into a law, it kept getting watered down. But then you ended up somehow with the strongest version getting past. Could you talk about that?

Tanya Chalupa: Yes. My whole intent was to keep it alive. I figured we’d have different groups—one came in that was kind of an insurance company, lobbying they wanted something taken out because their clientele or customers didn’t like it—and I just went along as long as it was alive. And in the end it got stronger, and it ended up the way it started. I was laughing about that, that it’s almost like a miracle the way it started strong.

I didn’t mention that—Tennessee was the first in the country to pass this law, and I modeled the law Tennessee had, California’s law after Tennessee. Rhode Island had a law, but it was kind of like a Mickey Mouse law that at the time wasn’t very strong. When California came out, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it, signed the bill, we were one of the five states—I forget all the states, but Massachusetts, Florida, California, maybe Texas—there were certain states that if they passed this type of a law, the rest of the country just follows. And I got calls from Colorado, I remember, from all over the state, asking how did we do it. And I worked with them. I explained how it was done, what we did, our problems.

By the way, we had in Los Angeles—I want to give a shout out to Byron Block—he was a reporter on safety with NBC News in Los Angeles, and that’s a big viewing population we were able to reach, and he was a great, great friend to us. I got to know his family, and then Byron is now in Maryland, so we’re back to being friends. I connected with him and his wife, and your dad, we all went out, and he’s still working in automotive safety, unlike me. I moved on to other things, but I formed friendships through that.

That’s a personal thing to me. It doesn’t matter, but—

Andrea Chalupa: No, but it does matter, because we’re always saying on Gaslit Nation when you choose hope over despair, when you choose to fight instead of doing nothing. It transforms your life, and it brings all these amazing friendships into your life, lifelong friendships. You know Sarah Kendzior and I, my cohost of course, we met through speaking out and screaming about Trump and his many Russia connections. We were attacked viciously in the press together, and that really has bonded us for life. You know, Sarah and I always say we’re stuck with each other. It does transform your life in beautiful ways and bring you these wonderful friendships that help sustain you to keep fighting. And that is a very important detail.

And I also want you to talk about how the California of this time, the California of 1982, was different to California today. Today, you know California just had this incredible Blue Wave. Orange County—Reagan County—is now entirely Blue. But back then when you were operating, it was different.

Tanya Chalupa: This is a terrible thing to say, but I think it’s the way—California’s mostly Texas. That’s the way we were. You would see a lot of pickup trucks with guns in the back, hanging, and people, even people that worked at the university where your dad worked were saying like, “Who are you to do this?” And they would laugh at me and get annoyed. And one friend one time called me up and she said, “I will never laugh at you again,” because she was at school dropping off her child, and she saw a kid fall out of a car in the backseat and almost be run over by the mother. And she says, “Oh no, now I understand what you’re doing.”

It was very important. It was a personal thing to me. What kept me going was all the time remembering how your dad and I got a second chance in life with your sister, and I wanted to give that back to other people.

But let’s go back to the grassroots. What else can I tell your listeners that’s important? One is look at the resources that are out there already. Afterwards, the state government looked me up years later, and they asked me to write grants and they trained me in social marketing, so I did a lot of that on my own. When I did that, one of the things: location. I was fortunate enough to be near the state capital. Davis, California is what? Fifteen miles or less from the state capital? So that was an advantage, if you live near a state capital.

Or you can do something locally. For example, when the law was signed, a child passenger safety group in my county approached me to help them, and we set up a loaner program for the poor in the county. The medical society donated money. We talked the businesses to lowering their prices on car seats, and one young woman told me, whose husband was a graduate student, she got a car seat for five dollars that normally would have cost 60 or 70 dollars. Because they were expensive, car seats. Not everyone could afford it, so we were focusing on making them available. We were, by the way, people say if you make them available someone will take them, you know, go to Mexico with it. And who cares? You know, a child is a child. We said, “We don’t care!”

Andrea Chalupa: I think it’s important for you to also talk about the economics of it, because if you’re trying to get anything done, money talks.

Tanya Chalupa: Yes. Here’s what I learned in doing laws: I did find, there’s another law that I worked on. I found that, in the government you have the foxes watching the chickens. But in economics, the money counts. I had to show that this law would save money. It would save the hospitals money. It would save money for the hospitals because an ICU at that time was $2,000 a day for a person. I don’t know what it is today; it’s probably a lot more, maybe tripled, quadrupled. Then of course car seats bring money—you sell, it’s a product, so it’s a business. So you have the business aspect of it. Even for the loaner programs, you increase the product as such.

Money does talk. You think of legislators as caring about saving lives. They pretend to. They look at the dollar sign in the end. And so, when you do, for example, global warming, show them how economics will be better off, because that’s one of the things they came out with a report, if you noticed. They said, “We will lose a lot of money. The United States will lose money. Everybody will die, but we’ll lose a billion dollars. We can’t let that happen.”

Andrea Chalupa: And you also shared a funny story about how secretaries of some of these state representatives can be a secret weapon.

Tanya Chalupa: Yes. No one... when you go to offices, never put down a person. It doesn’t matter what they do. They can help you. I remember one time a secretary or someone, a receptionist, it was a receptionist, said to me, “You know what, his wife wants this bill.”

So when we were in committee hearing, that legislator was giving us a hard time, but I turned to my senator and I said, “His wife wants this bill.” And so he knew how to address the issues and concerns that he had.

Andrea Chalupa: And you got that important intel from his secretary.

Tanya Chalupa: Yes. Without her, you know, I wouldn’t have known.  

Andrea Chalupa: So, what I love about—I grew up hearing all of your stories about how you passed the car seat law, your first big law. And how when you were pregnant with me you used to waddle through the halls of the California state capitol chasing after state representatives, and saying, “Are you gonna vote for my bill? Are you gonna vote for my bill?”

Tanya Chalupa: Yes, and keep in mind this was before social media. Anyone working on any issue today has an easier time. We didn’t have the internet when I was working on the bill, and the computer I had was like straight word processor, so when I had 80 legislators to reach—alone—how do I do it? So I sent out one letter to all of them asking for an appointment on such-and-such date at this-and-this time. I didn’t have a secretary; I was doing this all on my own. And then the phone calls came in, and I figured, “Well, who’s going to want that date? I just threw it out.” And of course, most of them wanted another date for an interview, but then I got a couple that wanted that same date that I asked for, and one of them called and said, the secretary said, “Well, don’t you want the date? Why are you hesitating?”

And I was suffering with a migraine at that time, and I wouldn’t take any medicine when I was pregnant with you, and I said, “No, not really. I don’t want the date. I just want to know how he’s going to vote.” And I knew this particular legislator, Art Torres, would have voted for the bill. He was good friends with my senator who was the sponsor of the bill. Or no, I was the sponsor; he was the author of the bill. So she said, “Let me ask him.” And of course, she came back and said, “Oh, he’ll vote for it.”

But that’s how I had to do it. I had to send one letter to everybody, asking for one date, one time, but today it would be much easier, I think. With the computer, with the system you have more flexibility.

Andrea Chalupa: And it’s expensive to drive, even from Davis to Sacramento, so how did you finance yourself during this as a volunteer.

Tanya Chalupa: Well okay, but after the Children’s Lobby kicked me out I basically did it out of the—well, they didn’t kick me out. They couldn’t kill the bill. It’s now defunct; the organization no longer exists, unfortunately, but I believed in it very strongly. But they couldn’t support it. They didn’t have the money. So…

Andrea Chalupa: So you had to go independent.

Tanya Chalupa: Well, I didn’t go independent, no. I never let them go. It was always the Children’s Lobby, their name. I never went like “Tanya Chalupa.”

Andrea Chalupa: But what do you mean they kicked you out then?

Tanya Chalupa: Well, I had this, I was trained in management there, and they had a book, and they said, “No, we can’t afford this bill. If you want to do it, go on your own and do it.” But of course, I could still use the Children’s Lobby name. But I had to work out of my kitchen. I could not use their Xerox machine, their resources. I would have to pay for mailings, for the stamps, for all of that. Fortunately, one of the people in my committee was a pediatrician, Bob Venets, and he had contact to the American Pediatric Society. And they raised money. They raised money for the California Child Passenger Association, and they raised $4,000 for me for the Children’s Lobby to do the bill. So, the money went to the Children’s Lobby, $4,000, and what I spent I would get reimbursed by the Children’s Lobby. But everything I did would be done in Davis in my kitchen. I would go to Kinko’s to Xerox things there, and then save my receipts and submit them. So, you know, that’s what it cost. $4,000. Of course, my time was free, so if I was a professional lobbyist working probably I would have added another $50,000 or $30,000, I don’t know. But it can be very cheap because all you need is really transportation, and you need postage, and you need Xeroxing, regular office things.

Andrea Chalupa: And so that underlines the importance of having a committee that fundraises for you.

Tanya Chalupa: Yes, that’s right. You made a very excellent point, because otherwise, my husband, your father and I, were prepared to pay for it, and we weren’t that well off. He was just starting out as an Assistant Professor and money was tight in the family, but we were prepared to do it. So if you don’t have the money, do look for resources, people that support your cause. In this case, pediatricians knew how serious the issue was and how important the law would be.

Andrea Chalupa: Wow, so all of that is a wonderful immigrant story that any of us could replicate if we have a clear goal in mind and we’re determined to get over any of the hurdles, including our own insecurity and trying to navigate a new system. But as your example shows, we can do it.

Tanya Chalupa: Absolutely!

[Theme music]

Andrea Chalupa: Since November 2018 is also a historic month because it marks the 85th anniversary of Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine, a genocide that my grandfather, your father survived. He babysat me while you were busy working on all those laws. He was the world to me growing up, and shortly before he passed away he wrote down his entire life story in Ukrainian on a Ukrainian typewriter of surviving Ukraine under Stalin, and he left that for me. And I, when I got old enough, I saved up money and I backpacked in Ukraine with his memoir. I got it translated, and the pages inspired my screenplay that Agnieszka Holland just directed in Europe, and that is Gareth Jones, based on the true story of the young, Welsh, independent journalist who risked his life, risked his career, to sneak into Ukraine and visit the famine-ravaged countryside in the region of Ukraine where my grandfather was and interview survivors and expose it to the world. He was an important independent source from the West who verified: yes, Stalin was mass-murdering millions of people with this man-made famine. Through all the edits that my script went through, a scene taken directly from my grandfather’s memoir, a horrendous scene, survived, and that is in the final film. And that’s a story that has absolutely transformed my life working on it all these years. And that was thanks to your father, thanks to my beloved grandfather.

And one incredible revelation that our family had was that Grandpa gave testimony to the U.S. Congress on the famine and their investigation of the famine, and we found that out through Ann Applebaum’s brilliant book Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. And when that book was released in Poland, in Polish, I was invited by the leading Polish Newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, to provide an interview about Gareth Jones, and about how Anne Applebaum was such an important scholar who influenced my work, and what that personal discovery of my grandfather’s testimony, which she used as a source in Red Famine, what that meant to our family.

And what’s even more incredible is that there was audio of Grandpa testifying to Congress, so all these years later we got to hear Grandpa’s voice. So that was such a special gift. So because it’s the 85th anniversary of The Holodomor, Stalin’s genocide-famine in Ukraine, we’re going to end on that interview that I did in Poland about Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine, because it’s an important month to do that, and especially important that the day after Ukraine officially commemorated The Holodomor nationally as a nation and came together and mourned its millions of victims, immediately the next day, Russia blatantly, openly attacks Ukraine, a reminder of the many centuries of the Kremlin’s painful oppression of Ukraine, and it’s determination to keep it in its orbit.

The past is never past, so here’s my discussion of Gareth Jones and why this story matters today.


[Audio clip] Andrea Chalupa: The story of Gareth Jones versus Walter Deranty is very much a story of how important it is to have a free and open internet. Back then, information was held in the hands of the few, and so if you had a big story you would have to go through editors. Today, if you have a big story, you know, Gareth Jones could have put his story on Twitter, on YouTube, and that would have gone viral. Gareth Jones’s career was rising; he was just going up, up, up, up. As he was riding on the airplane with Hitler, Gareth wrote, “If this airplane should crash, the entire course of European history would be changed.”

Gareth knew exactly where the world stood in that moment; he captured it in his writing. And he takes on one of the most celebrated, influential journalists of his day, Walter Deranty, the Pulitzer-prize winning Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times. This is a man whose nickname was “Our Man in Moscow.” He was so influential that he spent hours with Franklin Delano Roosevelt when FDR was running for President. And they spent hours together, and FDR said, you know, about that meeting with Deranty, it was one of the most fascinating meetings he ever had. Walter Deranty was a huge celebrity in his day. Whatever he said, that was truth. Whatever he wrote, that was the record. There’s no disputing it.

So of course, when Gareth stumbles on this big story and exposes that Stalin, this great hero who’s going to save mankind with this wonderful experiment of Soviet socialism, when Gareth actually said, “No guys, Stalin is mass-murdering millions of his own people, deliberately,” that just seemed like, you know, saying, “Hey, aliens have just landed on the planet.” It’s like you couldn’t believe it. “Walter Deranty wasn’t telling us that. How can this possibly be true?” It wasn’t. And so Deranty was able to quickly take control of the situation and orchestrate a cover up with the Soviet censors and Gareth was essentially buried. His story was buried.

Gareth wasn’t afraid to be hated, and so he was able to stand alone and just stand for what was right, and he paid a very big price for that. Imagine how painful, how much that must have stung, where the entire respected media establishment that were the voices of what was happening in Moscow turned against you and made you look crazy.

Anne Applebaum was, you know, a historian that I read—I read Gulag, her Pulitzer Prize-winning book. She was somebody that I always looked up to and admired. It was through Red Famine that I discovered that my grandfather gave hours of testimony to the U.S. Congress and their investigation of the famine. I had no idea that he did this, and I found this out because my grandfather is cited in Anne Applebaum’s book. He had left behind hours of audio through this congressional investigation. [End audio clip]

[Theme music]

Andrea Chalupa: Gaslit Nation is produced by Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa. If you like what we do, leave us a review on iTunes. It helps us reach more listeners. And check out our Patreon; it keeps us going.

Our editors are Karlyn Daigle and Nicholas Torres. This episode was edited by Karlyn Daigle. Original music in Gaslit Nation produced by David Whitehead, Martin Disenburg, Nick Farr, Daven Arriaga and Karlyn Daigle. Our logo design was donated to us by Hamish Smith of the New York-based firm, Hoarder. Thank you so much, Hamish. Gaslit Nation would like to thank our supporters at the producer level on Patreon: [names] Thank you so much. We could not produce this show without you.

Andrea Chalupa