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Can a Grassroots Movement Take on the American Gun Lobby?; Egyptian John Stewart, Bassem Youssef

Aired December 20, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I`m Christiane Amanpour.

A day of mourning is upon us. Tomorrow, one week after the Sandy Hook school massacre, the state of Connecticut will mark the grim milestone since 20 of America`s youngest and six of their teachers were slaughtered in their classrooms. There will be silence at the precise moment the tragedy unfolded.

All week, America and much of the world has talked of little else, has thought of little else. But the alarming notion that the media could revert to type and turn its attention elsewhere again is a very real possibility.

We will continue to follow this story with a view to holding to account the promises made in the aftermath, because just listen to what pure grief sounds like. Look at the stunned dignity of Neil Heslin, telling Piers Morgan how much he misses his 6-year old, Jesse.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF JESSE LEWIS: My little boy said something the night before to me. And he said, "Dad, this is going to be the best Christmas ever."

And he was going on about it. And I said, "Jesse, you know, it`s -- you know, we`ll make it the best we can." And I don`t have much family. So it`s kind of a quiet time for me. And he makes -- made Christmas happy for me and joyful and he made it what it was.

And I said to him, "Jess, we`ll make it the best we can." And the next day, this tragedy happened; it occurred. And I thought to myself, boy, was he wrong about that.


AMANPOUR: And he said Jesse wasn`t just his son but his best buddy. And of course, every family out there feels that way. And yesterday President Barack Obama tried to reform gun laws. It`s said that change must come from the top. But it must also come from the bottom.

And tonight I`m speaking with a woman whose fierce will fueled by her own grief literally changed the world.

We told you briefly about Candace Lightner last night, about how she lost her daughter, Cari, to a drunk driver, and how in response she started MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a small operation that originally was based in her daughter`s bedroom, an operation that grew into a worldwide movement and sparked changes in attitudes and then laws and then lives, untold thousands of lives saved by one woman`s grit and determination.

So can the same thing happen with the deadliest guns and rifles? Tonight, Candace Lightner joins me here in the studio to tell us how to build a grassroots movement and how to marshal national will for change.

But first, a look at some of the other stories we`re covering tonight.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): In the land of the Sphinx, a funny new face.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It`s SuperMorsi.

And some say the world is coming to an end. But Russia`s President Vladimir Putin says nyet unless your name is Assad.


AMANPOUR: We`ll get to that in a bit. But first, Candace Lightner. She shares an unbearable bond with the parents of Newtown, Connecticut, and this is her first television appearance since that shooting.

First, welcome to our program.

CANDACE LIGHTNER, MADD: Thank you for inviting me.

AMANPOUR: And obviously, I want to know how you felt the moment that you heard about what happened in Connecticut.

LIGHTNER: Oh, I cried. I joined millions of other people around the world, I`m sure. I watched it; I wept and I couldn`t watch any more.

AMANPOUR: And did it bring back, at that moment, the memories of what had happened to you?

LIGHTNER: It did, I -- the pain, the grief and the loss, I knew exactly what they were going through. I know what they`re going to go through for a long period of time. I understand the pain of the loss and I understand the anger of what happened.

AMANPOUR: And how does the anger get marshaled? Was it anger that marshaled your resources?

LIGHTNER: Oh, no question about it. I was so outraged that this man that killed my daughter had been released from bail two days before for another hit-and-run drunk driving crash, had been arrested numerous times before and was still driving on a valid California driver`s license.

And then in killing my daughter, probably wouldn`t go to jail, much less prison.

AMANPOUR: At the time, did you think that there was anything that you could do about it? I mean, how did it -- how did you take that and create MADD?

LIGHTNER: Well, I think the first thought I had was that I didn`t want this to happen again. I`m not sure if you know this, but it was the second time that my children had been affected by a drunk driver. The first time my mother was injured and the other twin was injured.

And so I had a real fear that it would happen again. So my first thought was to protect my children and anyone else from seeing this happen. My second thought was to punish the man who was responsible for the crime. The third thought actually was to change the system that I felt allowed this man to continue to drink and drive.

AMANPOUR: So at the time, drinking and driving was socially OK.

LIGHTNER: Absolutely. I called it the only socially acceptable form of homicide in this country. Unlike gun violence, which has always been abhorred, drunk driving was joked about, talked about, accepted -- everybody did it, judges did it, district attorneys did it, legislators did it. So my biggest uphill battle was in changing attitudes.

AMANPOUR: I want to play one of the PSAs, the public service announcements, that you ran as MADD, once you organized, to put a human face on this tragedy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband went to the scene and came back to tell me that our only son was dead. It`s just as if we stepped into a nightmare that we can`t get out of. It`s something that stays with you forever. You want to forget and you can`t.


AMANPOUR: Now obviously the television pictures of what happened at Sandy Hook and all the grief of all the families is out there.

Is the challenge to put a human face on it? Is the challenge to mobilize will? Is -- what is the major challenge that these parents are going to face?

LIGHTNER: I think the challenge is going to find solutions that, A, work and, two, can be implemented.

We had a strategy when it came to drunk driving: deal with it at the local, state and national level. Locally, we formed task forces to talk about the issue, see what we could do; statewide, we went to every governor and asked them to do task forces to look at how we could change attitudes, did we need to change laws?

Nationally, we went to President Reagan and asked him to form a presidential commission on this issue. We brought in the pros, the -- I mean, we had the alcohol industry involved. We had everybody involved that we considered a stakeholder on this issue.

AMANPOUR: So you had President Reagan -- today it`s President Obama - - you had the alcohol industry; today it`s the NRA.


AMANPOUR: Do you think that President Obama yesterday did enough to launch what you finally were able to harness?

LIGHTNER: With all due respect to the president and to Vice President Joe Biden, whom I`ve worked with in the past, I do not. I honestly believe that we need to do much more.

I truly, truly believe in the whole concept of a presidential commission that brings on the NRA, handgun control, citizen activists, mental health professionals, the movie industry, everybody who is a stakeholder in this issue, to come together and form some common solutions that everybody can buy into and everybody can pass. I`ve heard wonderful suggestions on this show and other shows over the past few days. They`re going to into the Ethernet, Christiane. They`re not going to go anywhere unless you get all of these people together and you actually make a plan to adopt these solutions.

And not everybody`s going to agree to everything. The alcohol industry didn`t buy into raising the drinking age to 21; we did it anyway. Saved thousands and thousands of lives. But if you can get them to agree to most of it you will get them passed and you can move forward. But you need everybody involved.

AMANPOUR: Before I ask you to walk me through the various achievements that you did get in terms of changing the law, we talked about how drunk driving was socially acceptable, how gun violence and gun crime is obviously not.

But the difference is the constitutional right, the 2nd Amendment, the framing of this debate of being able to possess semi-automatics and the worst kind of military-style rifles as a -- as a -- as an act of American freedom. That surely is as difficult to crack as the social acceptance around drinking and driving.

LIGHTNER: Yes, everybody -- everyone thought it was their right to have a driver`s license, their right to drive, their right to own a car. Therefore, nothing should happen to them as the result. And we had not the same battle because we didn`t deal with an NRA.

And the alcohol industry, I have to say, cooperated with us on almost everything except nickel a drink, taxing alcohol, and except raising the drinking age to 21.

But they initiated server training and all other kinds of programs. Our battle probably was when we wanted to suspend everybody`s licenses immediately upon arrest; before there was a conviction, what we call administrative license revocation or impound the vehicle after there was a conviction.

But you know what? You don`t let those obstacles stop you. You find a compromise or you move forward, or you generate enough public opinion and enough public support to get the things passed.

AMANPOUR: And we just want to put a graph up, because the results have been absolutely phenomenal since 1980, when there was a spike of more than 20,000 deaths over drunk driving. It`s come down at 2010 to just under half of that.

That`s results. That is real results.

I was speaking to some of the victims of gun violence, the relatives, and they actually, when they heard I was going to be talking to you, they want to be in touch with you. They don`t quite know how to harness, how to marshal, what would your advice to them be today?

LIGHTNER: Yes. Well, the first thing you need -- and they have it now -- is the passion, the passion and the belief in what you`re doing.

The second thing you need, though -- and this is hard to understand in the beginning -- is to be practical and realistic.

The third thing you need is public support. And we were able to generate that. And they have that right now. And so you go with the momentum. But you have to look at realistic, practical solutions that are going to be implemented.

The fourth thing you need to consider -- and I keep hearing about laws; everybody keeps talking about laws -- we need to talk about personal accountability. Why would you bring guns into a home? What is it that you need as a parent to do if you have a problem with your child? This is where the mental health professionals come in.

To me, it`s like leaving your keys around the house when you have an alcoholic in the home and the keys to the car. I mean, you also have to look at changing attitudes. Societal responsibility, you know, what is it that we can do as a society to make a difference?

You have to look at education. You have to go into the schools. I mean, there are a number of things. But you have to have a strategy first, which is what we did.

AMANPOUR: Was there -- what was the first step of your strategy? Was it a media strategy? Was it -- what was it?

LIGHTNER: To call on Governor Brown, who was governor at that time and is today --

AMANPOUR: Of California --

LIGHTNER: -- that`s correct -- to form a task force in California to solve -- always to solve the problem of drunk driving. And if you know the history, you know that he wasn`t agreeable to that in the beginning. It took some persistence and, thanks to the media, in large part, who supported us, in that movement, he finally came around and did it.

And we passed the first mandatory jail laws in the country in the state of California. And in the first 51/2 years of MADD, while I was there, we passed over 700 laws and we reduced death and injuries by drunk driving by over 20 percent.

AMANPOUR: It`s remarkable.

Do you think this is what will happen now? Do you think this moment will be seized?

LIGHTNER: I do, but I`m concerned that without a commission, a presidential commission that`s going to continue to focus attention on this issue over a period of time that people will lose the impetus and go on to something else.

I`m very concerned about that -- until the next tragedy, until the next massacre, and then we`re all going to sit there and say, why didn`t we do this? And why didn`t we do that? Because that`s how this country operates. We`re a nation that operates as a -- by crisis and not by prevention.

AMANPOUR: Well, you`re living proof that change can happen and grass move -- the grassroots movement can make a difference.

LIGHTNER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Candace Lightner, thank you very much.

LIGHTNER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Why does it take the killing of children to change hearts and minds? Four years before Candace Lightner`s daughter, Cari, was struck down at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, three children were killed by a hit-and-run driver there. The culprit was an IRA fugitive fleeing the police.

The women in this picture said the violence had to stop. Mairead Corrigan on the right and Becky Campbell (ph) on the left formed Women for Peace, a grassroots movement that brought them the Nobel Prize and eventually helped bring an end to generations of sectarian violence. It can be done.

And when we come back, we`ll turn to another troubled land, Egypt. They`re voting again this week on the controversial constitution. But a sense of humor may be even more essential. And we`ll explain.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. For years "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has been one of the most influential shows on American television. And the world has taken note. Similar programs have popped up all over the globe and now it`s Egypt`s turn.

Bassem Youssef, a trained heart surgeon, started the satirical show from his flat and posted his work on YouTube. It got so popular that a major Egyptian channel picked it up. His show is called "Al Bernameg," or "The Program," and Youssef isn`t scared to take on anybody, even Egypt`s new president. Just take a listen.

BASSEM YOUSSEF, "EGYPT`S JON STEWART": This declaration put all powers in his hands. The president now has the legislative, the executive and is giving a cold shoulder to the judiciary. Those are the right decisions! A cut in the face is irreversible! Decress (sic) issued do not bounce back! That`s why he`s no longer called President Morsi...

His name is SuperMorsi!


AMANPOUR: And with so much political turmoil in the country now, Youssef`s mission is to make Egyptians laugh and to inform them at the same time. And he joins me right now from Cairo.

Bassem, welcome. So tell me something. It is not usual to take on the president. How has that gone down? Are you OK? Are you immune? Is SuperMorsi amused or mad?

YOUSSEF: I hope he is fine. I hope that he doesn`t think that we are the Kryptonite for Super (inaudible) for Superman. But I think there -- the president and everybody else is accepting it quite well.

And I think this is actually the best time to have a political satire program in Egypt. Basically we are the drama queen of the world, with everything happening. We`re kind of the international soap opera, political soap opera. So it`s a great time and era to have a political satire to comment on everything that`s happening.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, you bring it up. Obviously, many Egyptians are divided over this constitution. This soap opera, as you say, is playing out all over the world and people are pretty worried about it.

Are you worried about the constitution and how do you deal with it on your show, particularly what people say is just too much religion in it?

YOUSSEF: Well, using or putting religion into the political forum is not unique to Egypt. I mean, you can find it everywhere, even in the United States. You can have extreme right-wingers in the Republican Party or Tea Party. Sometimes they put religion into it, especially supporters of George W. Bush or anybody basically who`s -- who runs against Obama.

But the problem is that in Egypt, it`s kind of -- in America, it`s a more established democracy. So even if you are radically, there`s a constitution and there is a political and democratic life that prevents the potential abuse of the powers of a constitution.

This is what I`m worried about, about the constitution. The constitution in itself, article by article, is not the biggest disaster. But there is -- there are many articles with an area of a potential abuse, which in the wrong hands, they can actually take the country in a little bit of an unstable political discourse.

AMANPOUR: So, Bassem, I mean, as you know, formally, there`s a separation between church and state in the United States, although there is religion all across the political board.


AMANPOUR: But in Egypt, this idea of blasphemy, this idea of speaking against Islam, that`s already becoming an issue. There are people who are saying that, you know, they`re being accused of being anti-Islamic for any number of reasons.

Is that going to have a chilling effect on a show like yours, much less, you know, the rest of the country?

YOUSSEF: Already we`ve been faced by accusations that we are against Islam, we are against sharia. Over and over again, we present ourselves as the voice of reason. We do -- we have our differences with people on political agenda, on political grounds.

I`m -- myself, I`m proud to be an Egyptian and a Muslim. But my religion tells me that you should not segregate against certain group of people because of Islam or use Islam to have political gains. That`s the way I interpret my religion.

And any religion, you will have people who will use it to the extreme, and you`ll have people who would respect that religion in its course. Our battle is not with religion but with the people who misuse and abuse religion for their own political agendas.

AMANPOUR: So you say you`re not there to criticize but to satirize and to really sort of poke fun at these sort of sacred cows, so to speak.

How is this going down with people? Is it popular? I mean, I understand your mom`s a little bit concerned.

YOUSSEF: My mom is always concerned every time I go on TV. She`s afraid that I`m going to be caught and put in prison. But you know, that`s what moms do. She`s afraid every time I`ve gone to the car or go out of the room or go out to my house.

But I satirize. I mean, the way it goes down with people, many people are actually accepting it. And actually, it`s empowering a lot of people that they think that this program -- that it speak on their behalf.

On the other side, there are a lot of people that naturally do not accept that they will be satirized. They will be put like in check for what they say and what they do and, of course, you will use any way possible to defend yourself, including calling the other person who criticized or satirize you that you`re against religion.

AMANPOUR: Right. Well, let`s ask you about Jon Stewart, because obviously he had a big influence on you. I know he`s your sort of comedic hero. And you appeared on his show here in the United States.

How did you come across Jon Stewart? And what do you think about him?

YOUSSEF: I was actually -- I was sending my regards and my request to see him with every single soul leaving Egypt going back to the States, hoping that one day that I will meet him. I like -- I like him a lot and I actually like him; I respected him much more when I met him in person.

I think he is 10 times more genuine in real life than he is on his show. He`s amazing, whether in his show or the way he handles the -- his political satire. He and his team are maybe some of the best people that I met in the business and --

AMANPOUR: Well, you know what --

YOUSSEF: -- I continue to be inspired by him.

AMANPOUR: -- he has become almost more powerful -- in fact, more powerful that most so-called serious anchors. He gets to the President of the United States and everybody on his show. Have you extended an invitation to President Morsi? What would you ask him?

YOUSSEF: I did extend an invitation to the presidency and I wanted, of course, to get -- to get him. I met with the speaker of the house; I called on speaker of the house. I mean, it was a very friendly meeting.

And I would love to have him on my show. I would love to have all of the people who are bothered by my show on my show and we -- and maybe my message will be, you know, with satire and with actually making fun of our political agendas, maybe it will ease the tension between us. And I hope it gets through.

And I`m very happy that only after four episodes, we`ve been having a striking effect on the people. People who were in the lines of the -- for the referendum, they were speaking about the show the night before. So we are reaching there. We are getting there.

AMANPOUR: All right.

YOUSSEF: And hopefully, our effect will get bigger.

AMANPOUR: Well, it`s a new Egypt indeed, and Bassem Youssef, thank you very much for being part of it and for joining us tonight.

YOUSSEF: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Good luck to you.

And we`ll be right back with a final thought after a break.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine it`s the end of the world -- or maybe not. According to this ancient calendar of the Mayan civilization, the world is coming to an end tomorrow. And while doomsday druids are busy preparing for oblivion, today in Russia, Vladimir Putin was asked about it at his press conference.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I know when the end of the world is going to come and when is it and 4 and 5 billion years the sun reactor, so to speak, is going to extinguish. And the sun is going to turn into the wide war. And the life is going to end.


AMANPOUR: So there it is, white dwarves and all, the world isn`t ending, says Professor Putin, unless, of course, your name is Assad. For months, Russia has been the Syrian strongman`s staunchest supporter.

But at that same press conference, President Putin spoke for the first time about a post-Assad regime, quote, "We are advocating the solution that would prevent the collapse of the region and the continuous civil war, not retain al-Assad and his regime."

With those words, Russia`s president may indeed be saying the sky is falling on the 40-year reign of the Assad family.

That is it for tonight`s program. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.