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Renowned Physicist Stephen Hawking Dies at Age 76; Pennsylvania Special Election; U.K. Deadline for Moscow Response Passes; Fight against Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 00:00   ET


[23:59:56] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: That is why despite -- regardless of the outcome Republicans at the end of tonight are going to be incredibly nervous across the country.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And our coverage is going to continue with Don Lemon and "CNN TONIGHT" in New York.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Isha Sesay.

We want to bring you up to speed with the breaking news just reaching us here that Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest scientists of the modern age, has died at the age of 76.

VAUSE: He was one of the greatest scientists. He would be remembered along with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He's a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author shaped our understanding about the universe. He did not let a rare disease stop him from doing pretty much anything. His vision of humanity was profound.

SESAY: Yes. His family has released a statement now confirming the very sad news. And it reads, "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. He once said 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love'. We will miss him forever."

VAUSE: Well, Professor Hawking inspired millions of people around the world. His was a life of challenge. It was also one of legacy.

Here's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: By any measure Stephen Hawking's life was incredible. Even more so because in the 1960s, he was diagnosed with ALS or motor neuron disease and given just a few years to live. This rare form of motor neuron disease left him virtually paralyzed, unable to express his profound vision of humanity and science without a voice synthesizer.

STEPHEN HAWKING, PHYSICIST: At one point I thought I would see the end of physics as we know it. But now I think the wonder of discovery will continue long after I am gone.

CHANCE: But this was never a man bound by his own physical limitations. He reveled in zero gravity flight freeing him, he said, from the confines of his wheelchair.

He also wrote a series of children's books about space with his daughter Lucy. He had two other children and three grandchildren.

For more than three decades he was a professor at Cambridge University's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics specializing in the study of black holes and revered as a member of the academic elite.

But Professor Hawking also did much to popularize science playing himself in "Star Trek".

HAWKING: Recessed in the opposite direction.

CHANCE: In "The Simpsons".

In 2014 his life and romance with wife Jane Wilde was depicted on the big screen in the acclaimed film "The Theory of Everything".

EDDIE REDMAYNE, ACTOR: The universe getting smaller and smaller, getting denser and denser, hotter and hotter.

FELICITY JONES, ACTRESS: And you rewind back the clock?

REDMAYNE: Exactly. Wind back the clock.

CHANCE: Hawking consulted on the bio-drama which earned five academy award nominations and a Best Actor win for Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of the physicist. Hawking's most famous work "A Brief History of Time" remains ones of the bestselling science books ever written. And he was deeply concerned with humanity's survival.

HAWKING: I see great danger for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully.

But I'm an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries our species should be safe as we spread into space.

CHANCE: He was, as ever, looking firmly to the future.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SESAY: A remarkable, remarkable character. Stephen Hawking passed away dead at the age of 76; according to his family passing away in his home in Cambridge.

VAUSE: He was diagnosed with that crippling disease when he was 21 years old. At the time he was expected to live just two more years. Of course he went on for almost half a century, about half a century, defying human spirit in some ways.

SESAY: He did and became this familiar sight, you know, moving along Cambridge streets in his wheelchair when he finally relented to using that wheelchair, flying over those cobblestones and just someone who embraced life. And as Matthew well said didn't allow the limitations of his physical body to hold him back.

VAUSE: It wasn't just his genius as well. It was, for those who knew him they talked about his incredibly wicked sense of humor that he had and the voice synthesizer too --


[00:04:54] VAUSE: -- because he got that, you know, obviously when that first came out and then when that voice could change to have sort of a more normal sounding voice if you like he stuck with the synthesized voice because he thought that no one would recognize his voice if he changed it to something else. That's why he kept that sound to the very end.

SESAY: He accepted his condition without ever letting it hold him back. And that is a challenge that few people are able to overcome.

VAUSE: Absolutely. And he also had a lot of warnings too for us as a race, as human beings. He said he was concerned about artificial intelligence. He was also deeply concerned about climate change.

SESAY: Yes, he was.

VAUSE: He encouraged space travel because he thought that that was the only way that the human race will ultimately survive as a species.

SESAY: And when he embraced his work, you know, initially (INAUDIBLE) -- not to underplay the shock of the diagnosis when he received it at 21, it was incredibly shocking but he eventually came to a point of saying he was going to embrace his work and he was going to make that his mission to understand the universe and why we're here and why the universe is as it is. That became his raison d'etre and he fully embraced it.

VAUSE: And the thing is true about the disease is that you know we see him in that wheelchair and obviously it was a great struggle for him. But it also, in so many ways, it boosted his popularity.

SESAY: Absolutely.

VAUSE: He was this incredible mind trapped in this body in this wheelchair who did incredible, incredible things. SESAY: And he had a loving wife, he had children, he had a full life

you know. He had a full life and reached great heights of academia and will be forever remembered for pushing the boundaries of what the body can do, what the mind can do and introducing millions of people to science and making it accessible and enjoyable.

VAUSE: And popular.

SESAY: And popular, yes.

VAUSE: Yes. Ok.

And we will, of course, have a lot more on the life of Stephen Hawking coming up in a moment.

But right now we continue to follow breaking news out of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania where it all comes down to absentee ballots in a cliffhanger special congressional election.

SESAY: Yes. Democrat Conor Lamb is trying to win a House seat in the district Donald Trump won by some 20 points back in 2016 and it is an absolute dead heat with Republican Rick Saccone. Election officials are counting more than 1000 absentee ballots that will make all the difference in this race. We're going to bring you these numbers as they come in to us.

VAUSE: Now, a victory for the 33-year-old former Marine Conor Lamb would be a big blow to the U.S. President who campaigned over the weekend for Rick Saccone. It could signal deep trouble as well for Republicans in November's midterm elections especially in those Republican-held districts which were once considered safe.

Ok. Also ahead we will be marking My Freedom Day. It's a worldwide student-driven event to raise awareness in schools and communities about modern day slavery and human trafficking. CNN correspondents will show us how various communities across the world are now working to try and stop it.

SESAY: And later this hour, CNN's Anna Coren will introduce us to students in Hong Kong who are fighting against human trafficking. And our own Becky Anderson will take us inside a classroom in Abu Dhabi to show us how students there are trying to improve labor laws and school safety.

You can join in as well by letting the world know what freedom means to you. Share your story on social media. All you've got to do is use the #myfreedomday.

VAUSE: Ok. Well now, a deadline has come and gone for Moscow to explain how a Soviet era nerve agent poisoned a former Russian spy and his daughter when they were on British soil.

SESAY: Moscow says there won't be a response until it receives samples of the chemical substance.

This, as we learned that another Russian exile has died in the U.K. Police say the death of Putin critic, rather, Nikolai Glushkov at his London home is unexplained. But he did know other Russians who have died under suspicious circumstances in Britain.

VAUSE: Several authorities say there is no evidence linking Glushkov's death to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The Kremlin denies involvement in the Skripal attacks.

SESAY: Meanwhile British Prime Minister Teresa May is talking to allies including the U.S. President Donald Trump believes the U.K. government's view that Russia was likely responsible but he did not condemn the country.

VAUSE: CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley joins us now live from Moscow. Sam -- Moscow continues to be defiant here -- a warning that there will be a response to any action taken by Britain.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's going to be very interesting over the next 24 hours to see what the British can put in place that would both satisfy quite considerable domestic pressure to be seen to be doing something about yet another death blamed on the Kremlin on British soil.

And at the same time keep the Britain's allies alongside particularly those within the European Union at a time when the United Kingdom is leaving that international trade and political organization.

And then at the same time do something that may mean that the United States under Donald Trump may have to get much more critical of Russia, may have to deliver or join Britain in delivering some form of sanction, and I mean that term in the broadest definition, against the Kremlin which is something that hitherto the Trump administration has been very reluctant to do.

[00:10:12] So, an awful lot of eyes will be gazing towards what's going to come out of Parliament and White Hall in the United Kingdom at this time. But in the meantime the Russians are sticking defiantly to the terms of international agreements on the -- designed to get rid of chemical weapons which in the Russian interpretation means that they should have been given ten days to react to this allegation that a very rare nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union was used in attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter.

The United Kingdom, of course, set a deadline of midnight last night London time. That is now passed with the Russians already ahead of time saying, as Sergey Lavrov the foreign minister saying is absolutely not going to be bounced (ph) into observing artificial deadlines.

So John -- it's very much a kind of waiting game to see really what the British can come up with that will both result in serious pressure on the Russians but also be able to drag a much more fractious group of allies alongside with them -- John.

VAUSE: Ok. Yes. Sam -- as you say, an interesting 24 maybe 48 hours still to come. It's been a fairly interesting couple of days already. We appreciate you being with us live -- thank you.

SESAY: Well we want to go back now to our top story -- the death of legendary physicist Stephen Hawking.

Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California- Berkeley joins us now to talk about the man himself and the legacy. Professor Muller -- thank you for being with us.

First of all, just your reaction to the news that acclaimed physicist and popular scientist Stephen Hawking is no longer with us.

RICHARD MULLER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY: Well, intense sadness. It's a great loss. And it's -- I guess it's not a shock. But it's a cause for great sadness and a sense of loss.

Hawking was a great man. He was a hero. There aren't that many scientists that you can say were both great scientists and heroes. But he was certainly one of them. Against enormous difficulties and odds he managed to make enormous contributions to science. And it's a very sad day that he's no longer with us now.

SESAY: Professor Muller -- I mean that is high praise. He was a great scientist and a hero.

Talk to me about for you what it was about Stephen Hawking that made him heroic, that made him rise above most others.

MULLER: Well, just the fight that he put on in order to contribute. His intensity and his willingness and his push to make major breakthroughs in science against the enormous difficulties of his illness is heroic in my mind. He made great contributions.

Our understanding of the world enormously progressed by what he did. I think we call Hawking radiation is a fundamental insight into the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics that has been an inspiration for great deal of work.

So this could be the breakthrough. We're still working on it. We don't have that combined theory yet; but this and other things that he did in physics which is enormous but done under a difficulty, a hardship that nobody else has experienced.

SESAY: And what is remarkable about him -- what was remarkable about him to see him interviewed and, you know, to obviously see the reenactment of his life in the film "The Theory of Everything" is how he through it all maintained a wit and humor and, you know, again was just very personable. His personality was very much alive regardless of the constraints of his body.

MULLER: Yes, that's a third dimension to the man. So he's someone that I think is universally-admired, has great achievements and will never be forgotten. But I think his legacy in physics may be what stays with us for -- we're not talking now about remembering for five years or ten years. We're talking here about eternity.

[00:15:02] Hawking will always be with us because the contributions that he made were so seminal in understanding the relationship between two of the major forces of the universe, the sense of gravity which dominates the large-scale universe and then how quantum physics fits into this.

And the Hawking radiation which we now believe causes black holes to evaporate. That's an incredible insight that helps us to understand things at a level that we never had before. So it's a really sad day to lose him but I think we have to take joy in the fact that he never gave up. And thanks to that we've had progress in physics that we might not have had for a long time.

SESAY: And as you make the point, he will be remembered for a very, very long time. So in that will be with us for a very, very long time in spirit and in thought.

Professor Muller of U.C. Berkeley -- thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

MULLER: You're very welcome.

VAUSE: There was a great quote on the screen "Those who live in the shadow of death are often those who live the most", which certainly applies to Hawking.

SESAY: And you know, back to the point that because his legacy will be with us forever probably, you know, for a very long time it's certain that he will be with us you know.


SESAY: And I know for those who were fans and who have followed his work, that is very comforting.

VAUSE: There are very few people who occupy that place in history.

SESAY: Exactly. Exactly.

VAUSE: All right. We'll take a short break.

When we come back, CNN is shining a light on human trafficking across the planet with help from our young and energized student partners. We'll show you how they're raising awareness in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi in just a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. Our breaking news this hour Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our modern age has died at 76. He was at his home in Cambridge, England.

SESAY: He did not let a rare disease stop his vision of humanity. And with great humor and sharp wit he shaped and expanded our understanding about the universe. His family released a statement saying "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man. His work and legacy will live on for many years." VAUSE: "His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor

inspired people across the world. He once said 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him forever."

That's the end of the statement.

We're marking My Freedom Day here at CNN. It was seven years ago this month when CNN International began its fight against modern-day slavery with the launch of the CNN Freedom Project.

[00:20:04] SESAY: This year it evolved into a worldwide event driven by students to raise awareness about the impact of slavery and human trafficking.

Watch as students in Seoul, South Korea explain how they're trying to spread the message.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think art is a very powerful form of expression. And I think through using art we can definitely create social changes and political changes because I, like was so in the dark about it and just realized that it's such a huge thing. I want to help that, help other people have that realization, too.


SESAY: Well in the coming hours our correspondents will be out there across the globe including myself. I'll be there in a school here in L.A. And also we'll bring --

VAUSE: There's your photo -- you'll be there.

SESAY: I will be there. We'll be bringing you stories about how the world is working to combat slavery and human trafficking, a crisis impacting more than 40 million people.

VAUSE: Not much sleep for you tonight.

Ok. This hour CNN's Anna Coren is with us from Hong Kong. So Anna -- what have you got there?


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John -- there's a great energy and enthusiasm here at Hong Kong International School -- they've really embraced My Freedom Day, the CNN initiative and made it part of today's curriculum.

We're inside the library where behind us a panel discussion which is led by the students is taking place. They're discussing cases of modern-day slavery which sadly is alive and well here in Hong Kong, one of the world's wealthiest cities, one of the most sophisticated cities. But it operates due to a migrant workforce made up of more than 330,000 domestic workers mainly from Indonesia and the Philippine.

Now, by and large these people, they are treated well. But there are many, many cases of abuse and exploitation. The latest global survey on slavery says that 29,500 people were trafficked here to Hong Kong.

So the domestic workers, some are abused by their employers. They're exploited by their employers. And it's these cases that deserve attention so that laws can be changed. Sadly here in Hong Kong, they do not criminalize trafficking. So that is something that certainly the community here in Hong Kong and the students here in Hong Kong want to change.

Now I want to introduce you to some really inspirational students here at Hong Kong International School. I've got Sueven Sheti (ph), Irene Park (ph) and Hiroko Kowasi (ph). Now, you guys brought My Freedom Day to CNN. Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well first of all we understand that this is a really big global problem and we wanted to let others know in our school that we wanted to raise awareness about this. And we believe that this could help solve the problem.

COREN: And are people getting on board? Are they excited?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they certainly are. The whole -- since this is also school spirit week we kind of have like a community vibe in our school so that everyone's gathering together by like, for example, wearing pins today and are participating in the (INAUDIBLE) seminar and working together to solve this issue and raise awareness.

COREN: And Sue, tell me what does freedom mean to you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well freedom means to me to have the right to speak up and say what you want to say without being judged or penalized for doing so.

COREN: And we know that we HAVE huge workforce of migrant workers here in Hong Kong; many of them live in our homes, look after our families. But we know that so many of them are mistreated -- that modern day slavery is happening right here in Hong Kong.

Do you think enough people are aware?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I guess that's the whole point of doing this with CNN My Freedom Day is to let others in Hong Kong know that this problem also exists in Hong Kong. And we wanted people to take action as well.

COREN: Because I think some people think of slavery as being elsewhere, not in our own backyard. So when you talk about it and discuss the issues and you realize that there are cases, that there are people who were trafficked here, that are exploited and abused, how does that make you feel?

Well, I mean when people say slavery we always think back to civil war or like other place outside of Hong Kong but when we really do realize that it's happening in our backyards and in our society it like encourages us and motivates us to make a change in the world because even if we're only middle school students we still have a voice. And My Freedom Day is also about using that voice to raise awareness.

COREN: Giving a voice to the voiceless. Sueven, Irene and Hiroko -- great to talk to you, and thank you for bringing My Freedom Day to your school.

So John, Isha -- kids here are certainly trying to make a difference. Back to you.


VAUSE: Ok. Anna -- thank you. And tell those kids -- we appreciate all their efforts.

SESAY: Absolutely.

Many more are (INAUDIBLE) from children all around the world as they raise their voices on this issue. Students at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi also taking part in My Freedom Day.

[00:25:06] CNN's Becky Anderson takes us inside their classroom to show us how they're trying to make a difference over labor laws and school safety.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Youngsters in an ordinary classroom. They hardly look like your typical activists. Teaming up though with CNN, these kids are hoping to change our world, ending an age-old poison -- slavery.

They're here in Abu Dhabi, a city like many in this part of the world often criticized for labor abuses. To each of them freedom means something different but to all of us it means everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means the ability to innovate and participate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means having my basic human rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom to me is the right to speak freely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To not worry about my safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Becky Anderson helped us to more understand that issue as she put us in sort of situations and made us think about what if you were this kid with no freedom?

ANDERSON: It's up to you guys as much as it is up to an organization like CNN to raise awareness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some of our questions are like why --

ANDERSON: with games, performances, debates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any country labor laws because they're not citizens of that country.

ANDERSON: Students here mapping out making a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Island of Koz that's what my dad told me where we needed to be.

ANDERSON: last year, most of these young minds focusing on the freedoms of those who have lost their own homes.

This year it was a lot closer to home -- the freedom just to stay safe in classrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the ones that I think struck many of us right away when it happened was the #neveragain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirteen concussions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seventeen injuries.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you guess it? Parkland, Florida -- 14 injuries, 17 deaths. You've guessed it. It's at school every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Waiting for the day to end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just glancing at the clock feeling like time just stops and slows while the impatience grows and they wait to go home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never again. They didn't hear him coming down the hallway. They weren't prepared. People never are.

He came in with a gun that was bought across the street. They hid under their seat waiting --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For someone to save them.

Never again. This happens every day, every city, every state. It's time we have it our way. We want change. This school isn't a shooting range. This won't happen ever again.

ANDERSON: Take part with us all day, wherever you are watching in the world.

Becky Anderson, CNN -- Abu Dhabi.


VAUSE: It's not too late to join in. Tell the world what freedom means to you. Share your story using #myfreedomday.

And we'll be back right after this. [00:27:50] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back, everybody, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour:


VAUSE: Back at the White House, another day of upheaval. President Trump announced on Twitter that he had fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

SESAY: Tillerson's ouster didn't come as a major surprise, given the number of times the president has clashed with him on issues. But the timing of it adds to the perception of an administration in utter chaos. Jeff Zeleny reports.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bad blood between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally reaching a boiling point, Tuesday as the commander in chief fired his top diplomat in yet another staff shakeup at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things.

ZELENY: That hardly does justice to the rollercoaster relationship between Trump and Tillerson that repeatedly spilled into public view over the last 14 months.

TRUMP: When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.

ZELENY: The president announced his decision to the world on Twitter and didn't speak directly to Tillerson until more than three hours later.

REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I received a call today from the president of the United States a little afternoon time from Air Force One and I've also spoken to White House Chief of Staff Kelly to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead.

ZELENY: The move caught the secretary off-guard which was clear as he briefly spoke from the state department. He took no questions and didn't thank President Trump. TILLERSON: What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges.

ZELENY: The former ExxonMobil CEO once praised by Trump as a world- class player, had only arrived in the U.S. at 4:00 am, called back early from a trip to Africa. CNN has learned White House Chief of Staff John Kelly did call Tillerson last Friday to tell him the president planned to replace him but didn't say when.

The president tapped CIA director Mike Pompeo for the post, praising him for being perfectly in sync on policy and personality.

TRUMP: We're always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good and that's what I need as secretary of state.

ZELENY: The president suggested today more changes are coming.

TRUMP: I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.

ZELENY: To lead the CIA, the president nominated Gina Haspel, currently deputy director of the spy agency. Lawmakers say her role in the CIA's controversial torture program 15 years ago will be explored at her confirmation hearings.

And another shakeup today, Johnny McEntee, an aide at the president's side throughout the campaign, also fired. The Department of Homeland Security is investigating him for financial crimes, CNN has learned, unrelated to the president.

But it was quickly announced McEntee was appointed senior advisor to the Trump 2020 re-election campaign.

Secretary Tillerson said he would surrender his authority at midnight and would officially resign at the end of the month. It certainly raises questions though here in the U.S. about who is going to be next in terms of a staff --


ZELENY: -- shake-up. The president, of course, indicating he has almost all of his officials in place but certainly eyeing more changes, all this as the world is watching and wondering if the U.S. government is stable -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


SESAY: A lot going on --



SESAY: Let's take a quick break. The #MeToo movement is renewing the push for the Equal Rights Amendment. What is it exactly?

And why hasn't it been added to the U.S. Constitution?

I'll talk live with the head of the ERA Coalition -- next.




VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

The world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died. He was confined to a wheelchair but Hawking explored the properties of black holes and other mysteries of the universe.

He wrote a lot of books, including his most famous, "A Brief History of Time," which has sold more than 10 million copies. He was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a degenerative disease. That diagnosis came when he was just 21 years old. He was given just a few years to live.

On his website, he said he tried to lead as normal a life as possible and not think about his condition. Stephen Hawking was 76.

SESAY: And, of course, the world is reacting to the news of Stephen Hawking's passing and we'll have a lot more reaction in the hours ahead, so stay with us for that.

But moving on for a moment, it has been a month since 17 students and teachers were killed in the Florida school massacre. Prosecutors now say they will seek the death penalty for the confessed 19-year-old shooter. And in a few hours, students and teachers across the U.S. will once again demand gun control reform.

Activists with the Women's March are organizing a national school walkout. And the #MeToo movement has brought the focus back to the Equal Rights Amendment, which states that rights may not be denied or abridged on the basis of sex.

The amendment almost became law in the 1970s, when Congress passed it but not enough states ratified it. Jessica Neuwirth is the president of the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition. She joins us now from New York.

Jessica, good to see you. You have written that the ERA would provide a constitutional backbone to gender equality here in the U.S.

Can you explain to our viewers exactly what you mean by that?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH, ERA COALITION: Yes, thank you. The Equal Rights Amendment is really important for two primary reasons. One, it would give women more effective legal remedies for all forms of violence and discrimination than we currently have under the law, where we don't have constitutional protection or a guarantee of nondiscrimination.

And secondly and equally, if not more importantly, the ERA and putting equal rights for women into the Constitution would send a very clear and strong and much needed message to all Americans, that women's equality is a fundamental human right.

SESAY: What do you say to critics, though, because there are critics of this, who say there are already laws --


SESAY: -- in place that protect women against gender discrimination, that we don't need more legislation?

NEUWIRTH: Well, I think it's fair to say that our laws aren't working. They're not working for equal pay issues, they're not working for violence, against discrimination. They're certainly not working sexual harassment, which is why we have this explosion of the #MeToo movement.

And so I think what we need is to strengthen our laws we don't have a constitutional guarantee of equality or a prohibition of sex discrimination, which almost all other countries have. So I think it's something that we do need.

And I actually don't think there's that much opposition to it. Our polls indicate that more than 90 percent of all Americans think we should have a constitutional guarantee of sex equality.

SESAY: Your poll also found that 80 percent of Americans don't know that women are not guaranteed equal rights in the U.S. Constitution. Just talk to me, first of all, as someone who works in the space how surprised you were by that finding.

NEUWIRTH: Yes, it's interesting to see that so many Americans think we already have this. I think the assumption is, well, we must have this kind of a fundamental and basic human right.

We've actually pushed other governments, like the government of Iraq and the government of Afghanistan, to put the same provision in their own constitution. But we don't have it.

So I think it is surprising. And I think people just assume we must have something like that, as I mentioned, most people think we should have something like that. So I think we just really have an information gap. And it shouldn't be very difficult to put this in our Constitution.

SESAY: It shouldn't be very difficult. But, you know, it was passed some 35 years ago; 35 states passed the amendment. It fell three states short of the 38 required for ratification. Talk to me about the plan to get this across the line now. I believe there's something called a three-state strategy.

NEUWIRTH: There are several strategies to get this across the line. The three-state strategy, which you mentioned, is to try to remove the deadline that expired in 1982. And there's congressional legislation pending to do that. And then three more states would be needed to ratify.

In fact, it's now called the two-state strategy because, last year, the state of Nevada voted, to much surprise, very suddenly, to ratify the ERA. And it was the first ratification vote since the 1970s.

So it's really now the two-state strategy. And the other strategy is to start again and pass a new one. And that strategy is championed by Congresswoman Carol Maloney, who thought, well, if we're starting again, let's put the word "women" in the Constitution.

And she's added a sentence to say that women shall have equal rights, to put that word in the Constitution.

SESAY: Jessica, I've got about 30 seconds left. But I do want to ask you, if you could just sum up what the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements mean to this effort to pass the ERA?

NEUWIRTH: I think #MeToo is an explosion of pent-up rage. I think there was an intentional exclusion of women from the Constitution more than 200 years ago. And it's almost 100 years since we got the right to vote. And I think that, in some ways, the call to put women in the Constitution is really like a first or a precursor of the #MeToo movement.

And I think that the #MeToo movement is looking for very concrete ways to create change in a systemic way that's sustained. And the ERA Is a really great step in that direction. It answers the cry for, what can we do next?

SESAY: Well, it is change that is long overdue. Jessica Neuwirth of the ERA Coalition, we're grateful, thank you for joining us.

NEUWIRTH: Thank you.

VAUSE: It's My Freedom Day and young people around the world are joining the fight against modern-day slavery. Thousands of students are raising awareness about these hideous, often hidden crimes.

Earlier CNN International's executive vice president and managing director, Tony Maddox, explained what motivated this initiative.


TONY MADDOX, CNN INTERNATIONAL: The engagement with kids, with the idea that so much of this human trafficking and slavery affects other children or certainly teenagers, who get caught up in the sex trade or they're used in bonded labor, so there's a real sense of empathy.

And the thought that, oh, here's maybe 14-, 15-year-old kids sitting in my classroom on my computer, talking about this, some other kid's in slavery somewhere. So it really resonates.

But if you really want a story to resonate nowadays, you want to get it into the social media and into the social conversation. Because they'll do the resonating for you. We can do the reporting. They'll take care of everything else.


VAUSE: Be sure to join in, tell the world what freedom means to you, share your story using the #MyFreedomDay. This is the big day.

SESAY: So we hope to hear from lots of you. And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. We'll have a lot more on the death of Stephen Hawking coming up in about 15 minutes from now. But first, stay with us for "WORLD SPORT." You're watching CNN.