TT with HD: Aimee Smith
[Ed. note: More information on meeting times and the Ten Key Values of the Green Party can be found
on the Huron Valley Greens website.]
HD: Let's see I guess I actually need to scoot back.
AS: I'm on the very edge.
HD: You can scoot forward some if that's more comfortable, and I can scoot up. Okay the first order of business is to get the standard commemorative photo taken.
AS: [laugh] Okay.
HD: So lets pause the teetering just for a moment. [Ed. note: photography ensues] So we can resume teetering now. Is this going to work for you?
AS: I think so.
HD: So welcome to the teeter totter, and also sort of welcome to Ann Arbor. You haven't been here that long.
AS: No, not too long.
HD: About a couple of years or a little less?
AS: Coming up on two years, yep. Two weeks shy of two years.
HD: And you came most recently from Cambridge, Massachusetts?
AS: Mmm hmm.
HD: On your campaign website from when you ran for Cambridge City Council, you talked about the fact that wearing the head covering that you wear, the hijab ... that it's been an eye-opening experience to be perceived as a Muslim woman, when you're not in fact Muslim. So I wondering if you see any difference or distinction in that perception in Cambridge, Massachusetts as opposed to here in Ann Arbor, Michigan? Have you noticed differences between the two communities and geographic locations in those terms at all?
AS: I think a little bit. It's a little hard to say. I was in Cambridge for quite some time and was pretty active in my university setting and in the community, and also I lived there a long time without wearing the hijab. So when 9-11 occurred and I started to wear it, for most people they saw a transition, as opposed to when I came here, people had never known me before. It wasn't clear that it was an activist thing, so that makes it a little bit hard to compare. But I think there are more Muslim people in this area, as far as I understand, and so I guess I feel a little bit more of a pressure to, if you wear the hijab, to try to go the rest of the way in terms of Islamic ideas about covering. Whereas in Cambridge I would wear short sleeve shirts, and people just seemed to understand, That's her. I expected that people would think it was no big deal, just because there's a lot more Muslims, but there's still definitely people who stare and have a kind of a negative attitude, knowing nothing about me other than the fact that I'm wearing this.
HD: Is it mostly kids who do the staring, or ...
AS: ... no, I'd say more adults. I think in Cambridge there were more kids who did the staring [laugh] or were curious or whatever. I think people here are more used to it, but at the same time, there's a lot of intolerance in Ann Arbor, in spite of its reputation as a very liberal and tolerant place.
HD: You mentioned 9-11 as the watershed date for the hijab. Was it actually 9-12 that you began wearing it?
AS: I think it was more like 9-15! Something like that.
HD: And just the nuts and bolts of that, is it something you can go out and buy, or do you just have to go to a fabric store and sew it, or?
AS: Well, another convenience about being in this area is there are Islamic dress shops. In Dearborn, there's several.
HD: Oh really, okay.
AS: So you can buy these one-piece washable, dryer-safe gadgets, which are pretty cool. Before I moved here, I have some scarves, and I would just put it on in my own way. Different people or friends showed me ways to pin it and things. There's a whole bunch of different styles, and when I would ask some Muslim friends, How do I do this right? They would be like, There's no right way, it's however you want, it's like a hairstyle or something. You know, a personal choice.
HD: So how would you characterize your run for Congress this last election? Was that a lot of fun? Was it just an exercise in futility? I mean last weekend you had the final event associated with that, the Thank You for all the people who helped?
AS: My dream expectation for votes was 10,000. My dream. And we got pretty close to that. Nine thousand four hundred something. So I feel we did quite well. In spite of John Dingell having no Republican opposition, he still spent well over a million dollars, and we spent under 2000. The point really, in this particular case is to give people an alternative that was clearly standing up for a more just and a more humane policy towards the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people. Because [Dingell] had taken great pride in getting 300 billion dollars to Israel in his career. He also blamed the invasion of Lebanon on Hezbollah, which is the resistance that was born out of having to defend Lebanon from the first Israeli occupation. And in this case as well, it was the force that was defending the country and actually repelled the Israeli invasion. So to blame the war on the resistance is actually pretty dehumanizing, because it implies that if you're an Arab, you don't have a right to protect yourself. That's really a problem with our whole discourse in this country, that any time Arabs do anything to defend themselves or to protect their land, they're seen as terrorists. No matter what Westerners do--whether they're American, Israeli, British, European--however egregious, however aggressive, that's just seen as 'foreign policy'. So that's really the heart of an alternative we wanted to try to put out there for people to vote for. And that is what we did, knowing that we had modest means, modest numbers. We were just trying to reach out to people who had been in the streets this summer knowing how horrendous and ugly the invasion of Lebanon was. We're talking about the use of kinds of weapons that haven't even been sorted out yet: what kind of chemicals, possibly radioactive materials, cluster bombs in the final days just as some kind of retaliatory genocidal measure. Is this the means that Israel and the West are going to use to clear out the land the way the land that we're teetering on was cleared out? They used different technology back then. They have new technology now. But is it really part of the same mentality, that we want control of this area, and we don't need the people?
HD: It's our manifest destiny?
HD: So for you, for this Congressional race, the Palestine issue was far and away more important than, say, environmental issues?
AS: When you run a campaign, you're stuck in this box, where you have to first of all differentiate yourself from other candidates. You really only get to have three issues. They're not going to be paying attention to read a list of twelve points, you know?
HD: Right, right.
AS: So that's true. In terms of the goal of this campaign, which was to give people--particularly Arabs, who were very upset this summer and protesting in the streets--a chance to vote for someone who actually respected their humanity. As opposed to someone who was justifying what happened to them and their family members. That was a focus to translate the protests into something political at the ballot box. So yes, you could say it pushed out some other issues. But really when you look at what the Green Party stands for, and the Ten Key Values, you see that these really hang on each other, you know?
HD: So the Green Party has a national level party organization, correct?
HD: Okay, and the reason I ask is that I remember reading in the paper over the summer, there was an article somewhere, where Henry Herskovitz was quoted as saying that he was thinking of running for the 5th Ward City Council seat as the Green Party candidate. There was some talk around town to the effect that, Oh, gosh, now Henry and his synagogue vigilers, they're hijacking an innocent organization, the Green Party, and they're using it to further their Palestinian cause. And I was actually a bit surprised, when I sort of dug around a bit, that it's not really a matter of hijacking the Green Party. The Green Party itself already is quite explicit about addressing the Palestinian issue, on the national level as well as the local level. But I wonder what your thoughts are on the Green Party becoming more identified with that issue as opposed to the issue that its name suggests?
AS: Well, I mean, I didn't succinctly answer the previous question, but let me just wrap that up and say that to deal with the catastrophe that we're facing in terms of the environment, we have to figure out how to work together as human beings. We have to figure out how to not be divided and conquered, whether that's along Western versus Muslim, whether that's along Western versus Eastern, white versus people of color, all kinds of divisions that you can point out. But if we're going to let those divisions mean that we can't work together, that we can't respect each other, we can't create a world together, then we're always going to be ineffectual when it comes to getting most of the world's people to decide that we need sane policies, that we need a sane way of living in the Earth that isn't at the expense of the one Earth we have.
HD: So in terms of priorities, then, it's sort of like addressing environmental concerns, we can do only really when we have social justice?
AS: Basically. It's not exactly priorities, but they all hang together. You've gotta have them all at once. If you want to talk about, just environmental catastrophe, like in Lebanon, Iraq: putting depleted uranium everywhere? Are you going to be able to grow food in that Fertile Crescent ...
HD: ... you're alluding to something I guess I'm not boned up on. Depleted uranium?
AS: Okay. The U.S. uses waste material from nuclear fission to create an armor-piercing coating for shells. And the U.S. used that extensively in the First Gulf War and, as far as we know, is still using that. That is believed to be one of the main causes of the Gulf War syndrome. There's a lot of symptoms that are common to both Gulf War vets as well as Iraqis in terms of birth defects of children, sickness ...
HD: ... okay, so when you say 'putting depleted uranium everywhere' you're talking about using these shells, as opposed to taking a big truckload and dumping it.
AS: Yeah, when you use the shell--this is kind of interesting from a technical standpoint--the reason it's armor-piercing is that it's self-sharpening, as opposed to becoming blunted on impact and melting. It oxidizes on impact and vaporizes as it's penetrating the metal, and that means it's creating a dust. It's creating this oxide dust that goes everywhere: into water, into the air, into the soil. So when you use this munition, you're spreading it everywhere. People who clean up or handle this stuff now, they have all these health and safety guidelines and they wear suits. If you have to wear a suit to handle something, you shouldn't be using it in a manner that's going to spread it everywhere, unless you have a genocidal mentality and an eco-cidal mentality against that part of the Earth. That's just one detail about the catastrophe of war against the environment, but it highlights the point that war is just incompatible with the idea that we have one planet and we can't replace it. You know, if I go into the lab with one sample, I'm very careful about the tests that I'm going to do with that sample. We have one planet to sustain all living things, and if we have policies that completely disregard the future of that one planet?! If you look at the 10 Key Values of our Party, especially as you you work in the Party and you work with others who care about these values, you see how they hang together. And you need them all. You need democracy to actually have the sane side of collective interests prevail over isolated interests of a very small minority? So you might argue that you can't have social justice without democracy, and there's a good argument for that. These are two different values, but you need them both. And you need an environment that's respected to have social justice, otherwise that means that some people don't get clean water, some people don't get clean food, and that's not just.
HD: So when you talk about the materials science behind armor-piercing shells, this is not something that you know about just from reading pamphlets about it. You actually have the academic credentials to speak to that. You have a PhD in that from MIT--which I have to say, I find a bit intimidating to be sitting across the teeter totter from an MIT PhD. But you mentioned that when you take a sample into the lab, you're very careful with it, so I was wondering if you could talk about what your dissertation research was like? Is it possible for you to explain that, say, the way you would explain it to a really smart four-year old?
AS: Well, first of all I have to say that when you do a PhD, basically you're doing something very narrow [laugh], so you shouldn't be intimidated. People have the things that they focus on, and we need everyone's experiences, background, thoughts, all of that. So if someone has some specific expertise in some very narrow field, that's good in a very very narrow range. When you need that person, you go get them. My research was relating to solar cell material. I was interested in trying to improve solar cell efficiency and the the effective yield from manufacturing through transition metal contamination control. Basically, you set up this device so that when the sunlight hits the device, it generates a free electron that does work ...
HD: ... this is the photo-electric effect?
AS: Um, it's not exactly, because the photoelectric effect ...
HD: ... actually makes the electrons fly out of the material?
AS: That's a good question, I don't remember that off hand. But the photo-electric effect, if I remember correctly, was first demonstrated in a metal. And this is demonstrated in a semi-conductor. Basically that means when you generate this electricity, it's easier to get work out of it. That's why there's a lot of focus on semi-conductors for the solar cell application.
HD: So silicon is a semi-conductor?
AS: Right, which means that you need to put in a fair amount of energy to get it to the usable conductive state. And that's what the sunlight does. So you basically kick out this electron, which can then wiggle around the material and do work, get into a circuit and do something. It has energy above a resting state, like when you carry a bucket of water up, or carry anything up, you're giving it energy. What the transition metals do, is they help that freed-up carrier go back to a resting state more easily. So they undo what the sunlight did.
HD: What's an example of an transition metal?
AS: Iron. So it's everywhere [laugh]. It's in stainless steel, it's in pieces of equipment in different parts of the fabrication facility for the solar cells. That's a really bad contaminant, because it's a very effective at harming the efficiency. It's very mobile. If it gets on the surface of the material, and then you heat up the material to do a certain process, you drive it right into the material. So that was the main focus [of the dissertation], because it's a very present-everywhere kind of contaminant. So basically you're trying to understand ways and tricks to treat the material, and have surface treatments and all kinds of things designed into the device that stil give the functionality of the device, but also mitigate the presence of these transition metals or get them to go into places that are less harmful.
HD: So it's less about making a perfectly pure silicon disk or whatever, and more about once you've got that pure disk, keeping it pure?
AS: Yes. Because basically in the silicon solar-cell industry, there's a lot of dependency or cooperation of using the technology from the integrated circuit industry. But in the integrated circuit industry, the amount of money you get for devices from one wafer is huge. So you can afford to have the most pure material going in and all these precautions along the way to keep contaminants from getting in. But in the solar cell industry, you're trying to get the cost down as much as possible to be competitive. So you're trying to be tricky to find other ways to deal with the contaminants other than spend tons and tons of money to make sure that they never get in.
HD: So from what I read in the popular press, one strategy for getting perfectly pure material is go for these molecular assemblers at the nano-scale? And I was wondering if you had any thoughts about how feasible that might be as applied to solar panels.
AS: Well, I mean when you're assembling [panels], that means the whole environment needs to be very clean. One particle of dust, a sneeze, whatever, you've got to control a whole lot of things. How do you make a really controlled environment? Even in the semi-conductor industry, they have these filters that they're putting the air through, but what are those filters made out of? Do they have molecular-level out-gas into the ambient environment that could land on the material and change the surface properties? I mean [having nano-scale assemblers] doesn't strike me immediately as a guarantee.
HD: So even if you're assembling molecule-by-molecule with a little tiny nano-robot gadget, you still have to worry about the same issues as you had before?
AS: Exactly, yeah. There's all this experience in growing silicon materials in the process of making crystalline silicon, of driving out contaminants through that process. They try to get them to be left in the 'melt' as you're solidifying, for example. I guess a lot of things are possible, but I would also just really caution that the problem for the environment is not technological. In fact, I would argue that our culture worships technology like a god, and has this irrational belief that technology will always find a way out of every problem that is created, even when it's technology that created those problems. And that we really need to be looking at thinking deeply about changing how we live, because there's not going to be a technological quick-fix that's going to prevent the destruction of the environment.
HD: Yeah, it's interesting to me to hear you say that, because recently I've built this laundry spinner--I don't know if you've seen that on the website--but it's a pedal-powered device that spins your laundry dry, that's all it does. I have a separate contraption for doing the washing that I bought from an Amish hardware store over 10 years ago. So some of the reaction to that device, even from hard-core green folk--green with a small 'G', not Green Party people--has been, Well, you know that would require a huge lifestyle change, I have a family with three kids, you could just never keep up with the laundry, it would take too much time. On the one hand, I totally understand that response, because it would require re-conceptualizing laundry and the role it plays in your life. I guess I would make the case that it's a core requirement--there's food shelter and clothing, so the time you put into having clothing to wear, which laundry is, however much time that is, it's probably worth it. If it takes you 10 hours a week to do laundry, that's not a crazy amount of time for a core requirement. But I think there is this kind of response that says, Human beings are meant to do something higher, something better, something more important, than the manual labor of washing clothes. And to that I'm not sure I have much more of a response than: Nuh, uh!
AS: Well, yeah, they've got to hurry up and get to work and get started on the next generation of weapons systems, right?
HD: Maybe so [laugh], I don't know.
AS: Well, that's a higher calling, isn't it?
HD: I take it there's a huge part of the environmental movement, or perhaps so-called environmental movement that's all about, Let's make it easy for you! So when you order online, you choose the green option from the drop-down menu, as opposed to radically changing your lifestyle. And I have to say, if someone came into my house and said, Dave, um, you're going to have to rethink the way you live, and specifically, you're going to have to live with a university student, because that's going to improve university-community relations and increase density, which is ultimately good for the environment, so you're just going to have to rent one of your bedrooms out, I don't think I'd particularly take to that. Even though intellectually, I can say, Yes, that would improve university-community relationships, increase density. Bottom line, I don't want Joe Freshman sleeping over in the next room! So I don't know, it's something I struggle with. Intellectually it's easier than practically.
AS: I think the [Dead Kennedys] said it best: Given me convenience or give me death! But seriously, in the immediate, of course, in terms of changing all of these things that we've become accustomed to, it is very difficult. For example, we should be growing a lot of our own food. We should be getting as much of our food locally, so that you don't have to use fossil fuels to transport it half-way around the globe. Washing clothes is a piece of it, absolutely. There's a Green philosopher named Bahro in Germany, and he writes about--he might not be the first but I was reading a book of his recently--and he talks about the concept of exterminism and how our culture--Western culture in particular and possibly others as well--is basically bent on destroying everything in its path. And ultimately that will really destroy ourselves. So it's kind of like suicide, but it's at the collective level of the entire species and every or most other living species. So when you look that in the face, when you look at the rate of species destruction, you understand that we as humans and every species depends on bio-diversity. You can't just have humans, dead dirt, and asphalt. Humans can't live on that. You need food, you need microbes, you need to be part of an eco-system. Humans can't think of themselves as sitting on top of the Earth and controlling and dominating the Earth, which is part of Western science mentality. We need to see ourselves as part of the Earth, as subject to the Earth and we can't live without it. We can't jettison ourselves off to Mars or something, if it doesn't go well here. So if you look at that, it means that we really need to take huge steps in terms of transforming how we live. And we can talk about any specific kind of change, maybe using the dryer isn't as bad as three trips to the store. So if you figure out how to make it one trip in four, or something like that, maybe you've done more to cut the energy impact, depending on where you live and several other factors. In the winter, when you're heating your house anyway, and then in the summer the tradeoff might become different. So you can talk about those kind of things and figure it out for yourself. But the reality is, I think, until there's more catastrophes like Katrina happening, until gas is $10 a gallon, and basically people are forced to have an awakening that this isn't working ... In the short term it's convenient, but if we actually care about children, whether it's our own or other people's or their children, they're not going to have clean food, they're not going to have clean water.
HD: Actually, I think it would suffice if we had, instead of, say, Katrina-scale natural disasters--because with Katrina it's really easy to say, Thank gosh I don't live in New Orleans, those stupid people, they lived in the wrong place anyway--but if we had more instances like the power outage of over two years ago. It's long enough ago that people don't really remember it, people don't remember how pissed off they were that they didn't have power for two whole days. And if you had power outages like that, that were on any kind of a frequent basis, then people might start to say, Maybe I want to do my laundry in a human-powered way. Because right now, if we had a power outage that lasted, say, a week or longer, I would be the only guy on the block with clean underwear.
AS: [laugh] Right!
HD: I guess maybe, though, it's hardwired into us as a species that we don't respond to anything except a crisis.
AS: Yeah, it's hard to know, because as a scientist to do a controlled experiment as a community, as a culture, as a society, you can't separate what our hard-wiring may or may not be from our whole upbringing. There's all these cultural ideas we have about 'progress'. Progress is measured in terms of technological advancement and conveniences. It's not measured in the humanity of society. We're supposed to be an advanced society, and we have homeless people in our cities in very cold places where they can die from exposure, and I'm sure some people do. They certainly did in Cambridge and Boston.
HD: This is actually one of the points that the author of Cradle to Cradle makes, what's his name ... William McDonough, he talks about the primacy of the cradle-to-grave type industrial model and contrasts it with what we could hope for. And one of his points is that with a cradle-to-grave model, you measure progress by how few people are employed to do a particular task. And reflexively I think most people would say, Yeah, of course that's better, that's more efficient. If you can get the same job done with fewer people, that is progress. You know, I defy you to show me that it isn't. Or the amount of time that you take to do something. If you take less time, then that's better, because it's more efficient. You know, it takes me longer to do laundry than most people. But I enjoy doing it, it gives me a sense of connection with my physical environment, and my clothes. But on the model where you measure progress by time spent, or by the number of people it takes to do a task, you know, I count as retrograde motion.
AS: The Green Revolution, if you study a little of the history of that whole process, which was such a racket with the World Bank saying, We'll help people feed themselves, by sending things that they'll then be dependant on. First of all, the big loans that they take, so that will make them under the yoke of the West forever, they'll never pay them off, just maybe the interest. And then the whole system of mono-cropping, which is a very devastating, a very dangerous, a tenuous way ...
HD: ... this is the idea of planting an entire field in a single crop?
AS: Right, with one species and then, oh, you get a blight and then too bad, you lost your whole crop. Instead of having a diversified crop just like you would diversify your stock portfolio, right?
AS: So basically it was always a ridiculous idea, and it was dependent on technology from the West, miracle seeds, petro-chemical inputs of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, heavy machinery ...
HD: ... well, it's much easier to sow an entire field in just wheat.
AS: Yes, and one person can do it with the right equipment. But how much does that equipment cost, and where is that equipment manufactured, and where are you going to get the money to buy that, who are you going to be beholden to, to get the money to buy that? And at the same time, you put all these people out of work, who were planting, who were working in fields all across the planet and then they don't have jobs now. Now you have this food that fewer people can afford to buy, and you have this whole dependency now on the West, which is great for Western domination of the globe, but ...
HD: ... you know, speaking of Western domination of the globe, there was a piece that Garry Kasparov--you know, the chess master--wrote for, I want to say the New York Times or Wall Street Journal recently. Without going into specifics, the analogy he was drawing was to the world as a chessboard: the U.S. was paying far too much attention to one part of the board, namely Iraq, and losing sight of the whole board, and compromising its basic position across the whole board. And so he was using this analogy, I thought to great rhetorical effect. But the premise that the world is a chessboard is interesting, because there's an endgame to chess, and it ends in the defeat of your opponent, you know, knocking over the king symbolically. On that level, it's not the happiest analogy to draw. It's natural that he might do that, because that's literally his game.
AS: Well, he didn't make that analogy up, of course. Like Brzezinski and the 'grand chess game' ...
HD: ... so Kasparov is not the first, you're saying ...
AS: ... no, I mean he's probably bringing his experience as a chess player to it as opposed to people who are just using it as an analogy. But Brzezinski is someone who talked about the grand chess game. I believe he's the same guy who brags about drawing the Russians into an Afghan trap and helping to stir up or create the conditions for the invasion of Afghanistan, the so-called 'Vietnam of the Soviet Union'. So that mentality is there. But empires have arrogance and hubris, and they over-step and over-stretch and that's usually the beginning of their end. And so it may well be that by having so many invasions at one time, the credibility, the resources are stretched to the point where there isn't going to be a recovery. Some people talk about the dollar and how the dollar is getting weaker and weaker, but the U.S. press isn't talking about that. Apparently Cheney has moved all of his assets out of the country ...
HD: ... hmmm, well, I haven't read anything about it, so it's news to me.
AS: So we have this huge trade deficit now. We don't manufacture things here, so a lot of the strength of the dollar is that countries trade oil in dollars, sell oil in dollars. Some people think that's a big factor in why Saddam had to be unseated: because he was switching to the Euro as the main currency for selling oil. But basically, the other one piece holding up the dollar is the massive arsenal of the United States. But when it goes, it's going to go fast, because it's a very speculative economy. We're not manufacturing many things in this country, it's not real goods, it's not real things you can sell ...
HD: ... I've actually seen some products that say, "Designed in the U.S.A." which if that's the best you can do, I guess that's okay, but it's telling, because you make the strongest claim you can possibly make, which would be "Made in the U.S.A." so if you have to say "Designed in the U.S.A." you might as well say, "Not made here." I think it would be interesting if someone could come up with a compelling way to adduce the Chinese chess, Go--you know, with the black and white pebbles on a grid--as an analogy. I don't know that much about the game, I tried to learn, but quickly discovered that I was not very good at it, probably because I brought a regular chess mentality to it. This guy who was trying to teach me said, Dave, you have to understand that you can't win every space, it's not a winner-take-all kind of game. What you have to learn how to do is to share the board. You have to learn how to concede territory and let your opponent win some of those space--because it's all about capturing territory--you cannot hope to win the entire board, even the very best players never do that. The very best players always win by one. So the most skilled players figure out a way to share the board in a manner so that they just barely have more spaces than their opponent. Of course, there is a winner and a loser, as all games have a winner and a loser. So that would be the rhetorical challenge to meet, because I don't think you want to adduce an analogy for the world where there's a winner and a loser. But still, I think that the idea of sharing the board would ...
AS: ... be an improvement?
HD: Yeah, I think a healthier way to think about it.
AS: How about a dance, where everybody is just dancing and having a good time?
HD: But see, if you've been watching American television at all recently, you know that even dancing has winners and losers.
AS: I guess I haven't [laugh]. They can twist everything.
HD: Yes, everything must be a competition.
AS: But the other piece is identifying with the rulers of our society as if we're them, and they're us and we're on the same team. You know, We're Michigan! or something. No, we're not. Our interests are very different from the people calling the shots in this society. Our interests are much more the same as common people in any other country in the world than they are to the people sitting in the White House. So how do we get out of that 'fear mentality'? Getting back to the example of Islam: the new enemy is Islam. It was communism: The commies are taking over the world, we've got to stop them, we've got to have our nuclear arsenal, we have to have our duck-and-cover drills! Now it's the Muslim extremist terrorists, right? And people in this country, they didn't know much about communism, and they don't know much about Islam. Because in the media and in school they don't teach about these things. But really these are boogey men. Like the War on Drugs, it's hyped-up as an excuse to make people afraid, to feel like the government is there to protect them, when in fact the government is basically being controlled by a small racket of people--basically criminals that are taking part in wars, theft, genocide. But how do we find a way out of it, and how do we recognize the fact that if we don't find a way out of it, everyone's in trouble. We have a deadline, you might say. It's been going on in this country for hundreds of years, but this country has now emerged as dominating the whole planet for several decades now, and we have a deadline to figure out a better way or there's not going to be a future for our children, whether or not the nuclear option is ever exercised.
HD: So for you personally, do you plan to be focussing on the 15th Congressional District, the Congressional level, running for the Greens, or have you thought at all about focussing some on city politics?
AS: Definitely I'm interested in focussing on city politics, but not necessarily as a candidate. I would like us to really grow our chapter, the Huron Valley Greens chapter ...
HD: ... you're Co-chair, right?
AS: Yes. And encourage other people who are interested in trying to get serious alternatives to how we do business as usual started at the local level, getting people to stand for local office and win local office here in town. It's always this balance. Things are going to have to start on the local level, on a small scale--and grass-roots democracy is part of our key values of our Party--but at the same time, people run for president and higher offices also, just to get attention, to get people to think differently. Kind of like culture jamming in a way, really. Just to get people to shake up their way of thinking and imagine something very different. And then maybe they'll get to work at the local level to more build things that more represent the kind of things they want to see. And most people, I think, are fairly sane, and would like there to be a future planet, and would feel if it's bad to kill one person, it's also bad to kill them all. So, I think trying to create a way to actually take small steps and work at that collectively is the challenge and the job. So a little project like with your washing clothes, I think that's a great project. And then finding ways to do similar kinds of things that create alternatives that bring people together to make people feel like they're a part of something, and feel like they're a part of a community of building alternatives, I think that's essential for building hope. I think people are afraid and they're hopeless and they look away from these problems, because they don't see any constructive way to chip at them. And that's our job.
HD: Actually, I think if you can give people something specific they can do when they go home tonight--and I don't know what that is--but I think that's something that can possibly resonate. I think if we could get to the point where there's something specific, that's not a cheap, lazy alternative, that's not, Oh well, when you go to the supermarket, make sure you look for the green label--I guess there's something to that, but to me that's not going to help much in the long run, just to make the green choices at the supermarket.
AS: Well, I think those people might hang up their laundry instead of putting it in the dryer. That's something I'm trying to do more of. I used to use only the hanging-up option, then I got busy and space constraints. With my setup here, I use the dryer more. So I think those small personal steps are good. But what we also have to do, and what is very difficult, is figure out how to do things collectively, like more than just one family or one person, but actually building trust and collegiality and cooperation, as opposed to competition with some other folks, who we might not agree with on everything, that might drive you nuts on certain points, but it's important to overcome those feelings and not just resort to isolation. Because that's how this little racket of criminals is able to get away with everything. Not only are we divided along various lines of class, of race, but we're also divided person to person.
HD: Do you worry at all that when you say, 'racket of criminals' that some people will just stop listening, that they'll say, Aimee, you're off the deep end now, and I'm not even going to take you seriously any more.
AS: Well, I guess I'm interested in finding people who are ready to think, who are looking around, who are more scared of not doing something than doing something and changing things. And that means people who just don't see any way to describe the invasion of Iraq, following more than a decade of sanctions that killed more than 2 million people of that country, who are just as human as you and I, their children are just as sacred as our children. There's nothing you can call that other than massively criminal, you know? I'm sure some people might not be ready to hear that, but if we're talking about something else--or doing something else, more importantly--maybe people will connect up on other issues and over time they'll be able to hear each other. But if you're so careful about parsing your message that you don't say anything, that's not really going to get us anywhere, either. And that's a big problem, especially in the so-called Left. People want to be 'credible', like someone who could be a so-called 'expert' and all that. Who confers expert status? People with power. It's not like a vote that the masses pick you as an expert or that person as an expert. That's another kind of sucking up to power. We need to create our own values, and our own priorities that aren't about pleasing people that have power in our society. Power through control of the media, through straight-up wealth, through having the access to dictate which country we're going to invade next. We need to find other ways of evaluating. That's part of our project: restoring our own sense of humanity and building our own sense of community.
HD: So the Green Party meets, what is it, the first and third ...
AS: ... it's the second and fourth Monday at 7pm ...
HD: ... oh, I had it flipped, okay, second and fourth Monday at 7pm.
AS: And it's at the WRAP office, which is in Braun Court.
HD: That's the Washtenaw ...
AS: ... Rainbow Action Project.
HD: Alright. Anything else on your mind today?
AS: Hmmm. There are many things on my mind. Anything worth sharing? Let's see. I just wanted to say--we got a little off track on the this one issue of whether the Party was 'taken over' or whatnot. Basically, the way I see it is--social justice and Palestine--the idea that you could have an exceptional group, that doesn't deserve justice, and then somehow still be for justice is a huge problem on the Left. There've been people trying to work on Palestine for decades, and they've been shut up and marginalized, accused of being anti-Semitic or what-have-you. So I think it's really important that people check themselves and realize that you can't have one group that just doesn't deserve rights. So Palestine fits right in with all the other things that the Green Party stands for. Nationally, the Party has taken a pretty good position in response to the call for divestment, boycotts and sanctions that came out of the Palestinian community--the community that's a part of the occupied territory, the community that's in Israel itself, as well as the refugee community who don't have equal rights because they aren't allowed to return to their own country. So I think that's pretty important that that's seen as a normal justice issue, like any other justice issue. Apartheid South Africa was a big issue for a lot of people, and they worked on that in this country. I think that we have to be really careful about people who want to pretend that they're for justice, but they're using that like a position or an organization or whatever. They say, We're the people for justice, but we're shutting up on this issue. And that should be a red flag when you see that happening. I've seen that happen with many organizations, including national anti-war organizations like United for Peace and Justice. They want to talk about the war in Iraq, but somehow the Arabs in Palestine don't matter, even though these policies are intertwined. I understand about coalitions and focussing on an issue, but you can't cut out an intertwined issue when you're doing a coalition. You can say, we're not going to talk about gay rights because we're talking about war or something like that, and make compromises to make a bigger coalition. But you can't cut out an essential aspect of the issue itself. And when people are doing that, that should be a red flag for people who care, and for people of conscience, to say, Wait, this isn't on the level, and these people aren't sincere! At the end of the day, we have to figure out how to be sincere. Palestine obviously isn't the only issue. But it is an issue in this country that even on the Left is so silenced. That's how I got more drawn into that issue: because that's an issue where you can actually make a difference just by speaking. Many issues, you can't. In this case, even speaking is a defiant act for some reason I still haven't fully figured out.
HD: Well, thanks for coming over!
AS: Thanks for having me! This is a nice, environmentally friendly teeter totter you have here!