For Williams first conversation exploring the conjuncture his own organizing work has operated in the past 15 years, he is joined by former Hawaii State Representative and current National Director for the Green New Deal Network, Kaniela Ing. They discuss the lessons Kaniela learned operating as a left-Progressive outsider on the national stage, while straining to do his best to serve his constituents at the local level. The contradictions revealed by such strategy setup the difficult questions anyone on the left must reckon with at the current conjuncture in which factional ideology is spreading and growing culturally, but remains minimal and strained in our institutions which hold and enact power. The latter half of the conversation provides Kaniela the opportunity to reflect on how these lessons serve him now operating within the non-profit space to continue his fights for social and climate justice as Director for the Green New Deal Network.
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Will Lawrence 00:00
Hey folks, this is well hope you enjoy this conversation with Kanye Eng. I wanted to note that we had this conversation with him in mid summer. Before the devastating fires that swept Maui in early August Kenyatta has been heavily involved with the recovery effort on the ground. And to support that work, you can go to www dot Maui recovery fund.org. That’s the best way to get money onto the ground supporting organizations that Kenyatta is a part of and connected to, with a special emphasis on supporting Native Hawaiians as they build back from this climate disaster.
Kaniela Ing 00:48
I’ve been on both sides now, where it’s like you let someone and then you feel like they burned you, or you get elected. And then like, Where are the people that that you get? Where are the activists now? You’re getting wined and dined by lobbyists, and you keep saying no to other cocktail meetings and you’re becoming a pariah. And you have no home. You know, like, we got to treat like, these are still people and they still want like a community of people around them. And if only the lobbyists are offering that, like what do you expect to happen?
Will Lawrence 01:21
Hello, and welcome to the hegemonic calm, a podcast from convergence magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology, the immediate present and the rapidly onrushing future. I’m your host, William Lawrence. I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of sunrise movement, the youth organization that put the green New Deal on the political map. Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left, exploring the guiding theme of power, what it is, how it’s exercised, and how its distributed. What has living through these last several decades of increasing political and economic turmoil taught us about the relations of power here in the United States and worldwide. And in what directions do these lessons take us as we design strategies to build power from below to win basic rights, securities and justice. I’m glad to be joined today by taniela ng con yella served for six years in the Hawaii House of Representatives as a grassroots focused left wing legislator in 2018. He ran for US Congress as part of the first justice Democrats slate, and since then has been a national organizer and campaigner in support of the green New Deal. He’s now the executive director of the green New Deal network, a coalition of grassroots labor and climate and environmental justice organizations. My favorite thing about this interview is the depth of cannulas, political experience in the gray era at the intersections of electoral politics, protest movements and organizations. These are challenges that many of us have dealt with over the last 10 to 15 years, and some for much longer. But Kanye this time in the Hawaii legislature gives him firsthand experience with the ins and outs of political power that very few other millennial organizers have. The conversation opens up several of the key themes I’m hoping to address on the show, including the relationship between electoral campaigning and grassroots protest movements, the relationship between left wing electeds in office and the progressive political movements who elect them, and what it’s going to take to build a transformational counter hegemonic political force that is relevant to and rooted in people’s everyday experiences and their most urgent needs. canula it’s great to have you here. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.
Kaniela Ing 03:59
Pleasure to be here. My name is Connie Ella Eng. Pronouns, he they are really anything with respect. I come from a working poor environmental justice community. You know, it’s kind of community where you don’t know anybody whose parents are doctors or lawyers. So like the jobs you really shoot for is to be like a firefighter or police and that’s like the leaders in your community really, and it will use the rain sugarcane ash on us by industrial agriculture. So everybody had asthma. Sports was big it was like there was a rodeo it was it was that kind of what people when they think of white don’t think of rodeo but that was my community. But yeah, so that’s that’s my background we were we were very very conservative my dad was a born again Christian really believed in you know, making your own way. So he was a LW server for a while and kind of made it in that world. He was like the head server for like the big hotel but really wanted to sell insurance. He thought that was his ticket. sort of financial freedom. And he was very good at it. And he was like a natural organizer. So he got like, all the, all the people he knew to join him. But the problem is all the people, he knew Hawaiians, and Filipinos and local folks were didn’t have money. So even though he was doing as much work as like, the white folks that he admired, he wasn’t quite making the same kind of money. But then he passed away when I was 11. unexpectedly. So that’s, that’s where I really got politicized. I realized that, you know, hard work, isn’t it. I was working at the pineapple fields, and 14, my mom was working two or three jobs. And we still needed help from the church from the government. So that’s certainly what shaped who I was activism politics in college, first generation college. So it was it was kind of shocking, just to see the opportunities available. Tea Party wave head, got involved in the state legislature and then national organizing around climate. And then here I am, I’m now the National Director of the green New Deal network, which we helped stand up back in 2020. And this is great to be circling back to you, oh, it’s good to see your face.
Will Lawrence 06:11
So as you mentioned, you’ve got at least I’d say, 15 years or so you mentioned getting involved in college, we’re about the same age. So we’re, we’re around 15, maybe a little more years deep. And being involved in progressive organizing advocacy, however you want to call it, the big themes of this show our strategy and ideology with a big focus on power, what it is, how it’s wielded, how it’s used against us, how we can get some for ourselves, you know, these are things we’ve both been working on over the last 15 years. And part of the reason for the show is an opportunity to kind of reflect on that duration, and sort of take a minute to see what we think we’ve learned. So as a way of opening that up, I wonder just like, what you’re grappling with now, in your thinking on these topics about like, the most basics of strategy, what we should be doing with ideology, how the world works, and how has that changed over these last few years? That’s
Kaniela Ing 07:15
a great question, if only I had all the answers, but I can tell you, from my experience, I actually first got started in protests back in high school when? Oh, yeah, one part of the story I omitted was I got into a school that was for Native Hawaiians. Our last one of our last princesses gave her entire endowment like, not to her children, but to the people to educate Hawaiians. And it’s now like a $12 billion institution. So you know, someone like me from my background was able to attend for free, and it would have, you know, the tuition would have been higher than Punahou. That’s the famous school that Barack Obama went to. It’s like a rival of commandment of the squat went through. Anyways, there was a white student that didn’t get let in because the school gave preference to Native Hawaiians, because that was the princesses well, and this individual sued the school all the way up to the Supreme Court, using precedents from that was set to protect black folks in the civil rights era. And there was a massive protest, because not only would this change the admission policy for the school, but it had the potential to dismantle all programs, federal programs and state programs meant to for the betterment of native clients, for our la Hui our nation. So there was massive protests. And it was the first time I’m like, with, you know, our in our red shirts, 10,000 Kanaka on the street. And it just felt comfortable, like, you could do this, like, this is something you could do. And everyone around me was like, felt the same way. Right. And like, coming from the same point of view, I’m like, This is how white folks feel all the time. You know, that’s a great feeling. So there’s that. And then then, you know, you start hearing like, Oh, what about the people that have power? The political system, these elected officials, and there’s kind of a there’s like, either or, right, there’s like a protest, and the protesters are saying, like, no, don’t get involved in electoral politics. That’s all bullshit. We just got to hit the streets. And then you have like the electoral side that saying, If only these protesters would show up and testify and run for office, and that was my orientation. So
Will Lawrence 09:30
you were saying that right from the beginning, coming out of these fights,
Kaniela Ing 09:34
right from the beginning? Yeah, right from going and especially in college when I started, like understanding the electoral process more. But what was missing is everything in between that, like the protests to react, UC reactionary protests, to block some kind of acute trauma, and then like, elections, which is so out of the culture that I was raised in to even think about that. But then everything in between is what we Now, at least I understand now as organizing, and it was completely foreign to me, because I don’t come from like Chicago, or New York or places in the southwest, we’re organizing where it has deep roots in the civil rights era. And organizing is part of the culture. And it doesn’t help that, you know, most of the organizing and activism around native Hawaiians and our sovereignty is doesn’t even see the US as like a legitimate power. It doesn’t see us as a state. So like, it’s like, a lot of people think it’s heavily or like not right to even get involved in that process. So it was a long journey, from there to where I am of my focus being more in the in the gray area between protests and elections and seeing how they interact. And then every step in between.
Will Lawrence 10:48
Can you remember a moment when you were, I guess, feeling challenged by or coming to believe that maybe some of this more political side of things, had merit, and could actually help be a part of the puzzle to reach your goals against that view? That says it’s all kind of, you know, off limits, especially because, you know, it’s it’s maybe tangential to the sovereignty and liberation struggle?
Kaniela Ing 11:21
Yeah. I mean, there’s a big fight about whether or not Native Hawaiians should be federally recognized by the US as a tribal nation. You know, most hardcore activist said no, a lot of the more intellectual like law school type activists, and academics said yes. And I definitely saw both sides. But to me, it was like, the essential question was like, sovereignty, was was about power. Like what, like, let’s say we not only got federal recognition, but even got independence, which a lot of the people against federal recognition really wanted. Like, there are other countries, island nations that received independence from the that one independence from the United States and other colonial powers, that if you talk to them, like how free are they really? Like? Do they have economic freedom? Do they have freedom, militaristic freedom? Well, you know, maybe they have their nation and their constitution, but they’re still have a large presence of the US military bases on their islands. And if you look at Okinawa, or the Philippines, as examples, so how do you build power has been like, the big question on my mind, and what what obstacles are getting in the way. So when it comes to like, elections, you know, I got involved in elections personally, when, like the Tea Party wave hit, and there was a dude, that wasn’t from, you know, there has never been someone that was Native Hawaiian, let alone from Hawaii, representing the district I lived in, ever. It’s always been a white dude, from California, generally, and usually a rich, rich person. So it’s a republican district, by and large, but, you know, we figured that he wanted to cut like, all these programs that I relied on to survive growing up. And like if he had his way, when I was a kid, I’d probably be homeless, alright, probably be in jail or something. I don’t know. So that’s why the stakes were high. I’m like, no, no, this stuff matters. You know, like, we can’t let this guy make laws that impact people like me.
Will Lawrence 13:33
Thanks, that’s, you were ahead of the wave, you know, because this was in 2012. And it in my version of the story, as I remember it, you know, it was sort of like, there was primarily protest and street movements that were on the move among people our age, during the Obama years, BLM occupy various iterations of the climate movement, the dream movement, and then it was sort of like, and that was mirrored around the world, you know, by the September 5 15th, you know, occupations in Spain. And anyway, there’s stuff happening all over Europe and the Arab Spring. And then it was more in the second half of the decade that in Europe and the United States, at least it sort of took on this more electoral expression. But you were actually ahead of the wave. Which must have been that you were very attuned to the possibilities. Well, I think a lot of other people were still sort of, you know, there was a big divide between the electoral realm and the street protest realm that you’re describing. So I’m interested to hear what that campaign was like in 2012 trying to like be one person, you know, trying to find a new way of doing politics in a way that was more for your community and more honest to who you were. Then the models you had seen.
Kaniela Ing 14:54
Yeah, I love that framing. Hey, Obama was like in Obama. Oh, eight It was exciting. I was though the first time I voted, I think I was what 1918. And I was in college, and they had like a polling place at college, on campus. And I don’t know, it felt felt exciting. And I never been excited about election before that. So that kind of like, gave me the idea that, you know, running is an option. And in fact, like, to back up a little bit, I was like a normal student, like, I always had long hair like you will, like you do now. I was mostly to stay up to like, 3am playing music, I sometimes miss my first class, you know, like, I was relaxed, I was really laid back. But I realized, again, that representation wasn’t quite right. This was actually before I ran for office, there was like, mostly, one frat controlled by like, just rich white guys, very conservative dudes that ran the Random Student Government 95% of the Student Government was out of state, and only 30% of the student body was out of state. So it was like, pretty alarming when you actually look at it. And I was like, man, I’ve seen student movements now, like, you know, from the Obama years, but even across like, internationally, like things were ramping up. But like, here at my campus, they’re spending all their student government budget on October 5, which is not part of local culture at all. So it’s like, okay, so, you know, we ran a campaign and put the Hawaii back in New Age, I don’t think I use that kind of messaging now. But we donate we got like, teachers donated from a friend. And then we like sold those for like, or tick donations for like, $10 each, then we just did like barbecues. And that’s when I really got started in any election. So yeah, that that was actually like the big one for me. And it actually came from the excitement from Obama. Now, like, in many ways, I think a lot of young people like me, were let down by the Obama administration. You know, it just seemed like they were trying to please everyone. And I don’t know, there’s like, a lot of like racial dynamics and other dynamics that it’s hard to just put blame on Hong Kong, because the forces around them, especially now that I’m older, and I understand like social power. But I remember being feeling really let down by that administration. So when I was a when it was 2011, it was time for me to step up at the at the house. I made it a point to not rely on, on, you know, the oligarchy roll. Yeah, arrangement of institutions, and goes directly to the people. So So I knocked on 12,000 doors. And that’s the way we’re able to flip the district to not just support a Democrat, I was actually up against three much better funded Democrats as well in the primary, but support progressive candidate that was actually pushing a lot of policies that some folks would call socialist.
Will Lawrence 18:09
That’s a really interesting account of how your disappointment with Obama, quite immediately and directly lead into commitment to practice a different kind of politics, rather than going to the corporate backers, taking it straight to the people and sticking true to a radical platform. So, again, I think that
Kaniela Ing 18:30
was excitement. I see, like connecting to the culture, and like most candidates don’t. So it’s like, that’s the good thing, where it’s like, how do I connect to the culture but like, also, not like cow to, you know, the right
Will Lawrence 18:42
so what are the things kind of things you would do to connect with the culture in the way that you are moving? Obviously, you knock on doors and talk to people, but what is it about how you are moving or the events you would put on? That made it work?
Kaniela Ing 18:56
I mean, like, at the time, I shaved my head, I think this just seems superficial, talking about the world. But like, this stuff matters, right? So like, I shaved my head and I was like, that was just kind of my look after college. And I was like, hey, like, I think that was kind of Obama’s appeal to right he just looked like you know, someone from Chicago and I just look like someone from from Mali. I talk like someone from Mali. I didn’t hide my accent even when I was in like the richer areas a word a law shirt. I wear a massively like the big red lay that Elvis wears in Blue Hawaii. I wore that everywhere just just doing just seeing how people are because not not the boiler like Democrat I think that’s actually like I don’t know if we’re gonna get into it but that’s that’s a big reason why I think like the the Republican and the mogga movements gaining so much steam is a find a way to connect to the culture, not just white Maga culture but the culture in pretty much every community everywhere. Yeah.
Will Lawrence 19:57
Interesting. So I’m curious about you said you gained an appreciation of social power over time. And I’m sure that being in the legislature gave you a sense of how economic power and social power, like have bearing on political power in legislatures. So tell me about some of the lessons of power lessons in power that you picked up in your time in the legislature.
Kaniela Ing 20:26
Sure, power is hidden, I think that’s a fundamental principle of organizing that there are folks in the shadows, just because someone’s loud in the front of the room doesn’t mean that they’re the ones really calling the shot. union organizers have this notion have this kind of law, that if you really want to know who the leader is, don’t look for, like the most gregarious personality, but rather just ask a few people workers, we know when something is hard, and you don’t know what to do, who do you go to, and the chances are, the majority of them are going to name the same person. And that person is the true leader. And they generally tend to be people you wouldn’t expect, like sometimes, like the older auntie, or, you know, someone who’s a little bit more demure, or on the at least on the surface. So, you know, that’s been my experience in the legislature. It’s actually a great, especially in Hawaii with, like, our, we have a chap with a strong American, Japanese population. And, you know, culturally, this is how I was raised to, you don’t really make eye contact much, you, you’re very humble. You don’t talk about yourself or others in public. So, you know, there’s not a lot of showboating. And yeah, so like, a lot of things happen behind closed doors. The other thing that was striking in the legislature is people don’t, I know, it’s easy for folks to be like, Oh, these, these are bunch of people are corrupt. They don’t have good intentions. But like, they don’t see things that way, the majority of my colleagues thought they were good people doing doing good work, they just saw the world a lot more a lot differently than I did. They didn’t think the system was corrupt. They didn’t think the system was rigged, or broken, or anything. They just thought like, they’re being real list. And I was being too idealist at times, just because I was focusing on the actual root and needs root of the problem. And these are the people. So like, yeah, that’s another find it I mean,
Will Lawrence 22:38
this, I see this happening, and it’s a fact that they’re just quite literally sheltered. I mean, they’re, they’re, they’re rich and privileged, or they’re upper middle class, or they’re solidly middle class, but they’re like, not really a with very few exceptions, in touch with poverty, people who end up being legislators, and sometimes they see it, and they actually end up shocked by it for a moment, I’ve also observed, but then somehow, you get back to a place where they’re able to forget it. And of course, their their interests, and their donors and all the rest, you know, are happy to help with that.
Kaniela Ing 23:19
It’s not true in Hawaii, at least that they’re all like from the rich many are because their salaries are so low that you know, you can’t really make a living. So you it’s usually people with Second Incomes, usually lawyers, but many are from the working class, but once they get in, this is like your entree into the political world. And they don’t know the other side’s like, there’s no home other than, you know, the insert the oligarchy, that micro structures that that uphold the status quo. So, it’s like when unless you’re either an insider or an outsider, there’s very little wiggle room in between, and you got to choose and at first, maybe your first term or while you’re running the first time around, you’ll get support from both sides. And but like right when they know who you are, they’ll just push you out of the club. So a lot of these working class politicians who get in they, they follow the light of power and ended up you know, captured so when you don’t like what’s Ilhan Omar great example right? I think when she was running for for Congress folks were like giving her the benefit of the doubt folks on the on the inside give her the benefit double once they realized what her politics where they’re like oh, we’re not passing your bills. So that’s been that’s like the biggest struggle after a few terms of passing good bills. They’re like no cutting we see you we see you’re trying to we see if you if you got your way we’d all lose a lot of money and power is and that’s essentially it so then they started coming hard after me and primary me and all the things why would we
Will Lawrence 24:49
help you on the short term even on something that we don’t really care or we might care about because bottom line your agenda is contrary to ours. That’s really it. seeing, you know, we’ve seen this unfold with the squad, I think in the in the legislature and what kind of movement and political infrastructure as a left, do we need in order to elect socialist or left or progressive candidates and then allow them to truly act with political independence over time, and prevent the capture that you’re describing, but also allow those people to hold their seats. I think sometimes we want to talk about accountability, as if it’s simply a moral calculation, where we need more accountable working class and progressive or left legislator we know more accountable DSA members in, in Congress, when really the question is still a matter of power. And what it is that we can actually offer to our own candidates, not because it’s a purely transactional relationship, but because like, if we want them to be members of our community, they need to be members of our community and our organization and to be able to be embraced when they do really hard things, or they take votes that like are going to absolutely have people with knives in their hand, trying to get them, you know, because that’s the reality of taking the tough votes. And sometimes I think we don’t quite understand the reality of what it means to take tough votes or to become the sworn enemy of the establishment, when the legislature is essentially all a patronage operation, as you said, and it’s about who can get what, from leadership in exchange from, for their own loyalty to the leadership. But to become an outsider to that is, you know, we need a lot of reinforcements. So that was a bit of a ramble by me, but I see people kind of missing the point on this sometimes.
Kaniela Ing 26:55
Yeah, 100%. And I think that’s something in your last question. I should have mentioned, like, people think it’s just money and donations that drive legislators, or they think it’s polluted political party agendas. But in my experience, mostly, you know, like a mostly blue dominated legislature, it was this question of who’s in leadership. So in the state house in Hawaii, there’s 51 members, so every vote was like, they count the 26. And it’s like a referendum on on the speaker, every vote every every major vote. And it’s like, if if the speaker wants something, it doesn’t get to 26 Then you’ll see a dissident like quietly trying to organize trying to do the math to see if they can become a speaker in hex, right? Like that’s, that’s how the world works in the legislature or you have a cute little block and factions and who’s who’s, you know, forming coalition’s. So when you have a two party system, you kind of naturally see like the coalition or government that we see in like parliament, Terry systems pop up just more de facto. And that that drove like the majority of decisions. And of course, like each faction is supported by a different institutional alignment or arrangement of, you know, media, folks, contractors, unions, they all have their favorites. So you’re not just representing your community, but you’re representing those interests. Now, there’s a question of accountability. Like, it’s shocking to me that, like the most obvious point is generally Miss of like, who are elected officials accountable to if you’re AOC. Are you accountable to socialists nationwide? Yes, but who are you sworn to be accountable to by the Constitution, it’s your voters. And if your voters in Queens or in my case in Kihei, want something and they need something and leadership can develop it? And then you have these people that are counting on you like statewide or nationwide to like be their pallbearer? That’s a tough, that’s a tough position. Like in my in my community, the only reason why I won in a republican district is because it needed a new high school, and I made the argument that I’m going to deliver that high school and it got built I feel great. Finally it took forever but um, if I were to burn leadership too many times, they would just cut that that item on the budget. And then like, and then I’d be accountable, I lose my seat. Right? So it’s like having creating the space on the left where where, because I don’t want to like be apologetic for elected officials who are going the wrong way. I just think there needs to be like the institution’s we’ve created from like justice Democrats with the work that sunrise did on elections to creating like a home like called WFP tries to do and a lot of like people’s action oriented multi issue type groups are doing is good. Like I think that it is the key. We just need to scale that up and we need much more of it. But also a lot more focus on like this movement, governments and CO governance because I’ve been on both sides now, where it’s like you elect someone, and then you feel like they burned you, or you get elected, and then like, Where are the people that that you’re at? Where are the activists, now, you’re getting wined and dined by lobbyists, and you keep saying no to other cocktail meetings, and you’re becoming a pariah, and you have no home, you know, like, we got to treat like, these are still people, and they still want like a community of people around them. And if only the lobbyists are offering that, like, what do you expect to happen, so there needs to be like, we need to crack this nut of coal governance, but I think we’re getting there. But it
Will Lawrence 30:32
has to be local, is what you’re saying, because it has to be anchored in a strong local power base, you really no way around that. And then, you know, I think some people would probably want to make the argument that we should be made developing more political independence as socialists. And that means, actually, we should take the risk that the school doesn’t get built, because it’s more important to be truly independent, even if you run on the Democratic ballot line, to be identified as independent, politically, and because that will have other payoffs, you know, we’ll be able to do stronger organizing or whatever, but you actually have to be able to make the argument that not taking the opportunity to get the school bill is going to be a more viable path to power for the people that we care about than getting the school built in the short term is, and I think that’s a really interesting strategic divide between, I think the the path that says, Get the school built, you know, it’s like the policy feedback strategy is what some people have called it, we want to be able as leftists to participate in coalition governments with liberals, and win things, and be seen as the ones who have delivered them. Because then people will believe that socialists have their interests more in mind, and can govern better and deliver better that will allow us to win, you know, bigger, bigger awards. That’s the strategy that I hear you laying out. And I think it’s going to be a really interesting one to explore over the course of this pod, the people who are pretty convinced that that is the way and we need to just try to figure out how to do that better in a more integrated manner. versus taking a path that is, is is more independent, still, but also more factional, and not relying on the policy feedback as a key part of the process?
Kaniela Ing 32:22
Yeah, I mean, I think I think you nailed it, it’s a question of power. Like, first of all, you don’t want to burn if if you promised a kid parent with a sixth grader, that you’re gonna get a high school, high school for them? You I mean, like, it’s hard to just be like, is it worth it for, like the broader movement? Now, if you could make that case, that case needs to include like, you need to be like, accountability goes both ways. It’s like, we’re will use basically martyring yourself for us. And where are you going to, if you’re gonna lose your next election, we will have a home for you. That needs to be part of the argument, right of accountability.
Will Lawrence 32:59
That’s what the others, that’s why they always end up. That’s why the revolving door exists, because they just get a lobbying job, if they take a tough stand, and they lose their vote or whatever. They take care of their people. I mean, I’m thinking about the Republicans, especially but the central standard, yeah, it’s not just like
Kaniela Ing 33:13
an individual. It’s not just individual favor, it’s like, it’s like we have this like socialists in office, like, if there was part what does that mean for our whole movement, just because, like, you know, we wanted to be pure on this one stance and not take this one vote that leadership wanted in order to for this, you know, Capital Improvement Project priority that he that they may have. And, you know, it’s just like, it feels good. Like, I’ve been the sole vote on a lot of things as the sole no vote, it feels amazing. And you get a lot of kudos for it. And you’re kind of a hero on the left. But then what you know, then like three of your legislators, your colleagues, you introduced the bill don’t like want to want to kill your next bill, like, your, your socialist bill on the next on the next session. So you know, there’s all the trade off. And I think just being in conversation with, with key leaders on the ground and being like, hey, like, if I take this vote, I know you want me to, like, do this, essentially symbolic vote against the speaker, but like, then one, you know, like, what, what does that mean for these bills that we’re both working on? And like, how do we overcome that? Like, I might be willing to do it, but like, how are we going to get build power, so it’s worth
Will Lawrence 34:27
this is and that would require the movements themselves to be able to have, I think, a more transparent view into the kinds of trade offs that are exists around the table, and then to be able to like be in dialogue, like you said, and make choices about them. I found this very difficult when I was doing like, political like kind of political and policy work with Sunrise, we really struggled to figure out how to communicate the complexity of the political arena to our own members in a way that allowed the members to be involved in the political economy. Nuva and trying to make the best choices about how to win the best policy possible. And I think that hurt us, you know, in that we could have been stronger and had a lot more buy in of all kinds for what we were fighting for, and maybe in some cases made better decisions if we had been able to have that link. But it’s like, in the mess of it’s like the fog of war, you know, when it when you’re trying to make sense, especially for the first time really of like, how the frick, some legislation gets assembled at, you know, at the congressional level. So, anyway, we need to do better in the future.
Kaniela Ing 35:37
Yeah, the pressure is good on both ends. organizers and activists should be pushing our own, they get into office to spine up. And our elected officials should be asking for more grace and patience from the leaders and
Will Lawrence 35:58
the organization, Grace, patience, but also competency and the ability to deliver on commitments.
Kaniela Ing 36:04
That’s right. No, yeah, that’s so that tension will always be there. And they like the one thing that like both sides should be shooting for is the power. Yeah, yeah.
Will Lawrence 36:11
All right. Let’s move forward a little bit. You ran for Congress in 2018, as part of the first justice Democrats, Slate alongside folks like AOC, and Rashida to leave and Ilhan Omar. Could you tell our listeners just a bit about that campaign? What you learned from it, how it was for you?
Kaniela Ing 36:34
Yeah, so in 2018, I was still in the state house in Hawaii. But I’ve been organizing a lot. So you only have four months of session. And the rest of the year, most people are fundraising. For me, it was like, building up organizations running coalition’s to pass bills for the next session. So, you know, I was very much rooted in organizing soin justice Democrats was like, being started, like I was tracking it. I thought it was very exciting. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about running for for Congress. You know, I felt like there’s still a little bit more work to do. But in terms of, like, I was at the point where I moved up in leadership, like I wasn’t a dissident. I was actually in leadership and like passing bills. But as to the point, like I was saying earlier, they kind of caught off, that I wasn’t necessarily into just pushing them neoliberal agenda. That wasn’t, this wasn’t my MO. So they started to ice me out a little at that point. So when I got a call from Alex and Andrew Ross, to you know, if I was interested in running, I, I said possibly, and then a few calls later. I said yes. And it was it was exciting. It was an open seat. It was the congressional district one I was actually in Congressional District Two, we only have two in Hawaii. One is like the urban core from Lulu, the other is rural Honolulu, and the rest of the islands. And gradually, District Two is very much like a lot more progressive, a lot more working class. Like most cities, you know, it was a nucleus of power out in the first app. But it was like where I was living, because I was the legislature was happening. And generally like, people in the city run for city to people for the city to run for city, why don’t just like a thing in Hanoi, because it’s you only have two seats. It’s kind of like the Senate. So I went for it. I sat down with that case, he is a former congressman. You know, his head, although name recognition, he told me he wasn’t going to run to my face. So I was like, Oh, good shot, let’s go. And we, we knew that you have to raise a lot of money for these races, hundreds of 1000s of dollars. And we knew that the people that give the few people that give that kind of money in our small state, were not going to support me. So we knew we would have to nationalize the campaign most likely and get 1000s of people involved on the local level and have hundreds of volunteers out. The problem is that has never been done in Hawaii before on a congressional campaign. So you know, rather than like starting from the least offensive message, we just decided to, you know, be true and just talk about issues the way I talk about it at home, and hopefully that excited people and it did, and a lot of people got involved. It was very exciting. And then it got really it got really intense. They started dropping the hammer on anything they could, you know, every kind of complaint and This was coming off of I shouldn’t say this is coming off of a 2016 where I got primaried by the governor by a former governor ran the Chief of Staff against me. The chief of police was her was your campaign chair. My car got broken into and like shattered, like ripped off the steering wheel. And in the police did nothing. They did a arresting in front of my house, because I had a parking ticket that wasn’t paid off from, from what when I was in session, and I left my car at home. And it was like, it was intense and
Will Lawrence 40:33
2016. But then they were I printed
Kaniela Ing 40:35
it off. So that’s why like, I think I want a lot. So everyone, I think at the state level, we’re like, okay, he’s, he’s like, not going anywhere. But then when they saw me run for Congress, they’re like, oh, this opportunity to like, and not just beat them, but and them. So then they really went all out. I like I saw my opposition folder. And they, they, they did everything they could possibly could I don’t have any DVDs. Like it’s not like, I don’t know, like, you could talk to my exes and stuff. I’m chill. But, you know,
Will Lawrence 41:08
yeah, the parking but there was to find they found, yeah. You You’ve got an incredible ad playing ukulele on the beach and talking about having more time to enjoy life. And I’ve never seen anything like it really, before or since probably, I’m hoping we can play a clip for our listeners when we produce this, but tell me about why you wanted to deliver that message. You know, on a big stage.
Kaniela Ing 41:42
We can have an economy where you only have to work one job. And so it used to be the use Yes, you had time to spend with your friends and family, just chilling on the beach like this playing music. But now it’s like, talk to your friends, you feel like you’re like cutting into their productivity, and you’re making it harder for them to provide. And that’s not how the economy has to be. When we talk about policies, like Medicare for all universal health care, housing for all public education, through college, counseling, student debt, like these are policies that would just make everyday working people’s lives. Dignified, and it would make sure that they’re not just living just to work. Well, sure, well, I, I didn’t know it’s gonna be a big stage. We just thought it’d be it went viral. I’m like I just told you. I told like, I’m like, Hey, like, it’d be cool. If we just did an ad where I’m just playing, and then you just shooting I’m just talking. And then we can just talk about real shit. I think what, what’s interesting about American politics is like the two things that I think even after Obama, like us, you just don’t touch is like this idea that America is exceptional. That was like the big one. And then in 2016, I saw Bernie, like, oh, Denmark. So you’re saying there’s this one interview, he was like, so you’re saying we should be more like Denmark? And he’s like, yeah, he like straight up, you know, he, like broke that rule. So then this other rule of like, hard work, that you can always talk about hard work and your campaigns and how that’s like the virtue of every American that unites all of us. And I’m like, maybe we can challenge that too. You know, like, that was the point of that ad. If Bernie can challenge American exceptionalism, maybe I can challenge this hustle culture and keep in mind 2018 was peak, peak hustle culture, like Mark Wahlberg wake up at 4am, cold shower, all the things, and I just want to do the opposite. I’m like, like, what if we had a society where you had only had to work for hours? Like, what would that do for not just us as productive citizens, but as creatives as artists, you know, as human beings, like, unlock our creative potential, like unleash our humanity, like reanimate us as, as children and human beings like that, that that spirit that, that shines the brightest, like this idea that, that peak human humanity is, you know, like, when you when you when your grandma’s like, oh, you talked about your cause, and oh, he he went to law school, he works 80 hours and he, you know, he goes to do this research that allows his firm to dominate other firms 80 hours a week, he did so well for himself. And then he talks about your your other closet, and it’s like, oh, she she just goes to the park and she likes to read a lot. Oh, I wonder I wonder what she’s gonna get our shit together. It’s like, it’s like
Will Lawrence 44:39
Kaniela Ing 44:41
Like, what why are we Yeah, like, what’s going on with that with that value system? And like, is that really like, the peak of what humans provide is getting their firm to dominate other firms. So I think that’s the that’s what I really want to get at like our Our lives were much better, much more gratifying. We, as people flourished at some point of our ancestry, no matter if you’re white, black, brown, whatever, we all lived more productive lives as in, we didn’t have to work around the clock, and we had more, we had our need, we had enough, we all had enough. So so that was that was the point of that.
Will Lawrence 45:26
You mentioned us exceptionalism, the cult of hard work. Something else that’s another sort of third rail in American politics is militarism, and is still a major third rail and troublespot for the left. And it’s also something you’re very familiar with being in Hawaii, which is a colonized outpost of the US military, where you’re still struggling with pollution from naval bases, and a lot more I know. So I wonder if you could just speak about that, for our listeners, any reflections on where the left needs to go, specifically with regard to militarism, and some of the hurdles to getting there?
Kaniela Ing 46:12
I mean, I was just listening to, I don’t know, the interceptor, one of the podcasts about, like, China hegemony, and like, you know, adjustments in the world order. And all that stuff, frankly, is like above my paygrade. I don’t know. But I do know, like, there’s like these frames of, you know, left. I don’t quite understand the tradition, I don’t think the traditional left right spectrum of international politics is as important of having like a lens of colonialism, like anti colonialism and imperialism. Even when you look at issues of like left and right, when you just talk about when you’re talking to people on the so called right on that might have supported Trump or even folks that veer libertarian, if you’re speaking on issues in anti colonial way. Sometimes it really resonates with even these people. And just the idea that, you know, like we should not be in active warfare or militaristic involvement in, I don’t know, what is it, I think a dozen nations at all times. We don’t need this NATO mantra of like 2% of our GDP should be in the military or more, or that we need enough military, military military funding, where it’s we have enough to fight to full fledged wars, greater than any war we ever fought and have enough personnel to defend home. That’s literally what they say in conferences, NATO. That’s like, that’s the standard for US military funding. Like none of that really makes sense. And when you look at it locally, like the way like Empire plays out in a place like Hawaii, is 1/3 of the entire island of Oahu, that houses like 90% of our population is owned by the federal government. About 25% of the island is owned by the military in particular. So when, you know, there was a there was a bill that there was a proposal by the Pentagon, it was bipartisan, where they’re going to decommission some of our bases and pivot away from Hawaii, downsizing like 30,000 troops. And this is something that military wanted now and the military industrial complex, the biggest donors, right, like, like Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, and all the contractors locally, got together and organized every single legislator on this campaign called key PiFan ease heroes. As if these transient you know, guys that are from here are our heroes, and not like the Hawaiian activists that like, you know, revitalize the language and all the things, keep away these heroes, and I was the only legislator not to sign it. And that was probably the most intense. That was probably the most intense moment. That’s when the primary challenge happened. It’s like literally right after that. The speaker called me in his office, he says, Hey, you got to understand like Hawaii needs the military. And I said, like, respectfully speaker, you gotta understand, that’s the problem. And then he’s like, Don’t be afraid. And I said, Okay, I gotta go, walked out of the office. So that, in fact, we are, frankly, but I was the only one. So that’s how deep their influence is in Hawaii. But when you actually zoom out, they’re like, We can’t lose all that money. Right? They’re like, they have economists that they pay for that say, the military brings us $3 billion a year, but it’s like, Okay, what if we repurpose that money? Because that’s still federal money. What if we repurpose that to anything else to climate clean energy to housing, health they already have how Housing This is 1/3 of island that has a base housing on it, what if they left and we just gave it gave that to, to local people. And and also the three biggest Superfund sites, the only Superfund sites in Hawaii or on or near basis. They’re the most they’re the biggest polluters here. And like, what about the costs of of that, you know, like this not factored into your economic report. So it’s just like kind of common sense. But for some reason that you know, there’s there’s no economist writing about that because to speak against the right against the military is, is a death sentence for your career. Even if you’re an academic
Will Lawrence 50:36
Don’t be a pariah. I, we need a few more, a few more, but then we need to we need to cook out for all the pariahs to come to so that we can be part of a community. Yeah, I got to stop it there. For today, we didn’t even get to the green New Deal. So you know that we’re gonna have to talk again sometime. But this was just terrific. And your experience in the legislature in particular, I mean, just speaks to so many of the key issues of what we’ve learned in that arena over the last decade. And you know what, we still have to learn so, thank you again, con yella, it was great to have you here.
Kaniela Ing 51:12
Yeah. Thanks for having me anytime. Yeah, we should, we should finish this.
Will Lawrence 51:18
You’re listening to cannula Eng and conversation with me William Lawrence. On the hegemonic con. We did follow up actually, to finish the conversation. Several weeks after the first interview, we talked about the Green New Deal and the challenges and contradictions of being a radical in the nonprofit organizing sphere. We’ll get to that after a short break.
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Will Lawrence 52:27
All right, good to see you, my friend. I’m back with Khan yella in to continue the conversation we started last month.
Kaniela Ing 52:34
Great to see well.
Will Lawrence 52:36
So we, I think left off after talking about 2018. We talked about your time in the legislature. We talked about the US Congressional primary in 2018. And after that is when we met which is when you ended up becoming a national organizer in the movement for a green New Deal, which is still what you’re doing today. And when you and I met you were the green New Deal campaign organizer for people’s action. So I’m curious, after your congressional run, why did you decide that the green New Deal was the direction for you to go with your organizing?
Kaniela Ing 53:11
Yeah. So having served a few terms in the state legislature, like I knew that the things that I was going to pass that I had the power for that the movement had enough power for in Hawaii, like we did, you know, we did as much as we could pass the first 100% renewable goals statewide. In my district, we funded the state’s first zero emissions High School, which actually just got built now. But, you know, we’ve started a fisheries like a lot of things. But you know, your office, I think we talked about this earlier is you can be the tip of the spear, but you can’t be the force behind it. You need, like the movement, and it just wasn’t there. So I knew that the run for higher office to have like more of a platform. And if not, then do something else probably get into movement. So I think it’s the opposite of what we tell a lot of people in the movement, like, Oh, are you ever going to run for office? And I’m like, I sometimes advise against that depends on like, the power that they have. It’s like sometimes you’re more powerful outside. So I realized that that was probably the case. And actually looking back. If I were to get into Congress in 2018, I’m not sure I would have had more of an impact than I’m having as an organizer. Now, not saying that. Overall, like as an individual, but just like my my little little drop in the bucket, I think is actually greater than being just like, you know, a lefty in like that mess, the super VC. So
Will Lawrence 54:48
especially a minority.
Kaniela Ing 54:50
Yeah, exactly. So that’s what got me going. Organizing it just just like having an impact and, and moving forward to issues that we need.
Will Lawrence 54:59
Yeah, So the you’ve had a couple different roles in this space. But the first one was with people’s action. And you were working with grassroots membership organizations of working class people who were standing up against environmental and economic justice. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about the kinds of groups you were working with, and People’s Action and how they were, and are using the green New Deal as a platform to fight for their interests on the ground?
Kaniela Ing 55:29
Yeah, so People’s Action is organization that taught me a lot. Like I didn’t really hear about that much in Hawaii, because they didn’t have an organization here. But once I got more into organizing and like ran for Congress, I came across them a lot more, they’re kind of rooted in the Midwest Academy. I guess Alinsky tradition, in some ways of organizing where there’s no, there’s no fight too small, really, like you can start duck the point is getting people to care about something, getting a win. And then like moving like organizing communities from there. So like, anything from trash pick up to a stop sign a project in the community, and then kind of seeing themselves as not just, you know, like leaders in their own families or like, and actually understanding that, like, they could have their hands on the levers of power. And then from there building out, because, you know, before that I was really, I was following a lot of what Sunrise was doing. And like the momentum model, which is like, big picture, big organizing, and like get as much people excited as you can. But, you know, I think that’s really important. But when when you play the tape, it’s like people that are that think that way and have that level of confidence, that they can actually affect change tend to tend to skew like, more middle class more white. So to actually get like black and brown folks, and the most impacted in the movement takes a lot more attention. And I think that’s what people’s action was really great at and not just like black and brown folks, a lot of their organizing was in like really white areas and rural white areas. And I think they’re able to, to figure out ways to reach out reach people that are have felt ignored for a lot of generations, especially by the Democratic Party, and people who are going into like the mogga movement now. So it just felt like it’s really important to cast these people now before, you know, the fascists get a hold of them. So, yeah, it was like it was that kind of organization, they believe that we, as organizers don’t have all the answers we need, that people that we’re trying to represent are the experts of their own experiences. And what’s more important than moving them and directing them to do things is listening, like truly listening to what the community needs, and then starting from that place. And then so like really taking that meeting people where they are kind of cliche, and it’s like purest form.
Will Lawrence 58:00
So what in listening, what What have you heard about translating the big vision of the green New Deal, which is supposed to be this, you know, Alliance of economic and racial justice and climate action? All in one? What have you heard about translating that vision or that idea into something which people can organize around? And which really speaks to their immediate concerns? In the places they live?
Kaniela Ing 58:29
Yeah, so I think if you if you just say green New Deal, even if they heard of the bill, they don’t necessarily see themselves in it. You know, if they really support it, like, that sounds great. Like oh rail from, you know, the edges of our state to the other end, like amazing. But my kid doesn’t have shoes. Does your organization provide shoes? It’s like that kind of thing. Right? When you actually go knocking on doors. So yeah, it’s like, it kind of underscores the need for building coalitions, not just with the groups that we would think are obvious, like labor and environmental justice groups, carbon and Boothbay greens, but also like mutual aid networks and groups that can get people beyond like that mode of survival. And I think any community when a face when faced with acute trauma, like if there’s a incinerator that’s killing kids, they’re gonna fight it, we can call it that coming out and like stopping the bad, the harder part is building the good. And the green New Deal provides that framework where we can actually like have an affirmative vision for people living in really dire circumstances. So but like, you know, just talking about it, in like a broad abstract sense isn’t doesn’t usually work. But if you like, let’s say, if I knock on someone’s door, and I’m like, hey, you know, lots of changes in our community He does like federal money, we want to make sure it’s like this big bill just passed, we want to make sure it’s reaching communities, like we need. I know like there’s that brownfield across the street. There’s not an elementary school, like just name a couple of projects, like which of the projects like do you think is like the most the highest priority for you? And like, that kind of thing? Or like, is there another one that we’re not thinking of? Oh, by the way, there’s a meeting coming up, what do you want to join? Could I put your name down? I think that’s the kind of conversations you really need to have that’s really focused on localized projects, rather than than just a national version of the green New Deal. Something that’s been missing, I think, a little bit.
Will Lawrence 1:00:40
Yeah, we’ve got one of those schools. It’s a, basically asbestos riddled school. Next Door, I can look out my window right now. And it’s, it’s been empty for 10 years. It’s exactly the kind of spot that would be a site for that kind of organizing, you’re talking about, and everybody on the block wants to know what’s going to happen with that, with that property. So if we can’t figure out how to answer that question, then we’re definitely doing something wrong. I agree with you. Yeah, it’s like,
Kaniela Ing 1:01:05
if you were to ask everybody like, like, how do you feel about the inflation Reduction Act? Or, you know, what do you think about 100% renewable goal, like, you’re gonna get maybe five activists on a on a petition if you went door to door, but if you’re asked like, you know about that school, you could fill out a petition really quickly, like with hundreds of names.
Will Lawrence 1:01:26
I love that. So you are now the executive director of the green New Deal network, which is a national coalition of every grassroots community organizations like peoples action unions, youth and environmental justice groups. You and I really spent some time along with a lot of other people working to bring this coalition together, about three or four years ago. And And now, you’re still there doing important work. So what are the most exciting projects that you’re working towards now? As part of the green New Deal network?
Kaniela Ing 1:01:59
Yeah, so we’re we are trying to implement the inflation Reduction Act, make it actually go to the communities that are in need, I think when it passed, some people were really skeptical, some of our members were excited. But I think what everyone can agree on is, we don’t want the money benefiting the people that do business as usual more than our communities. Like if we don’t intervene in its implementation, it could actually make certain injustice is worse. Wealth inequality, worse, racial inequality worse. So we are devoting most of this year to make sure that those resources are getting to the hands of the communities in need. So that includes like tribes, and environmental justice communities suffering from pollution, you know, just just ways to to find justice, not just in like the decarbonisation goals of climate, but across the spectrum. So that’s one product on
Will Lawrence 1:02:56
the table. It can be it can be a tool for building out these kinds of visions that we’re talking about with the school.
Kaniela Ing 1:03:04
That’s right, that’s right. And it just makes, let’s say, if you’re doing like a campaign already for, for that new school, it just makes your case a lot easier. If you’re able to communicate, like how your state government can receive it, and help them along, then they don’t have that excuse anymore to say that we just don’t have the resources for it. So, you know, we we funded 23 of our 23 state tables to lead that kind of work this year. But we’re also looking ahead at expanding the network. So it’s not just like a coordinating team of, of 14 or 15 groups, it’s any national group that wants to be a part of the movement for the green New Deal can join, they might not be like a voting member or have to sit in every meeting. But you know, they’ll find ways to work with us and kind of expanded that way. And, and yeah, and then trying to figure out ways to support like more novel projects happening on the ground, even if it’s outside of our coalition’s that that can build up, help build up our coalition’s as well. And we’re also doing like a green New Deal tour similar to what sunrise led back in 2019. We’re having a few stops and just kind of re energize some of the some of the folks that may have aged out of sunrise or, you know, may have been disillusioned by some of the lack of momentum behind some of our efforts over the years. So we’re about to launch that next next month. And we’re also working on a bunch of green New Deal bills with like freshmen members of Congress.
Will Lawrence 1:04:43
That’s great. I love to hear that. A lot of that sounds like stuff we were trying to implement, maybe years ago and to hear that it’s it’s coming to fruition now is is really exciting. So I just appreciate you continuing to lead on that work. earlier in the interview, you were talking about the sort of gray area between protest movements and electoral legislative politics, the apparent disconnect between that and kind of living in that gray area. Now you’re in a different kind of gray area, which is, we could call it the gray area that’s at the verge of protest movements, but then also institutional organization. And the green New Deal was sort of popularized through the unruly protest organizing, but in order to, you know, reproduce and maintain it, it has been necessary to build this kind of stable infrastructure, like the green New Deal network. But then, of course, there’s lots of contradictions in there. So I’m curious how you’re thinking these days about how to navigate that gray area?
Kaniela Ing 1:05:45
Yeah, I mean, just being like in the nonprofit world, is is a challenge for someone like me, like we like real talk, our movement, you want to have the opportunities for people to actually make a living being in the moment? Like, that’s, that’s a positive thing, at least in my opinion, because without it, I could see, I mean, I probably wouldn’t, I probably just make my family suffer. If this was, I wasn’t paid to do this, I probably would do it anyways. But I know a lot of people who, you know, are activists, or organizers and are in their early 20s, if there’s no opportunity to like, pay the rent, might end up working for a corporation and have their, you know, have their time split or even have their ideology shifted. So I think it’s a positive thing. But the fact is, most of these jobs are supported by billionaire money. And that’s like a contradiction that you have to live with, and navigate at every turn. And, you know, for them, it’s like, it might make sense to push Biden to a certain degree, for example, on IRA, but once it’s past, the funders might be like, Okay, let’s move on, it’s time to support buy it in, like, stop talking about climate, like, let’s just say that enough happening this term. And that’s very difficult to navigate. And I think you have to make a choice as like, directors of coalition’s or nonprofits like, are we going to chase certain money for things that we’re not necessarily charged to do? Or are we going to be okay, with a smaller budget, at least temporarily, in order to hold down the line, and you see, like, certain, like, you know, the bezels earthbound come in and give $100 million to each of the three biggest greens. And then you add in there, like, have the loudest microphones, and they’re saying 100% by 2055. Now, and like, what does that do to the movement, or 2050? I don’t know, whatever it is, but it’s not enough. So it’s those kinds of challenges you begin to see, and then you make friends and philanthropy, you realize that a lot of these foundations have like program officers that are just like us, you know, they’re like, great people, but they need to organize up with their boards, who tend to be like older, richer, folks that, you know, are open to new ideas, but it’s, they’re difficult to access even by the program officers. So I think one of the key lessons is understanding that every institution that we have to operate in right now is deeply flawed. And we just need to find the right people in each institution to work with, and build trust with in order to move anything, and not and also understanding that when new energy sprouts off outside of institutions, we need to embrace that because that’s what’s really going to shift stuff. So whenever like, the new sunrise movement pops off, we shouldn’t be like looking at it with you know, like skeptically, we should kind of welcome that disruptive force, even if it makes our life in our in our new roles a little bit harder.
Will Lawrence 1:09:08
Because it’s just so hard to conjure political initiative from within those nonprofit structures. It’s very possible to support and to build infrastructure and to provide resources to do all kinds of things. But like, the kind of spontaneity and initiative you’re talking about with sort of group that just pops off is pretty much impossible. In my experience to build from, from within some of the more sprawling institutions.
Kaniela Ing 1:09:37
That’s right, and figuring out ways like I think, you know, there were few folks, for example, in the Sierra Club that saw sunrise doing their thing, or in the early stages and like figured out ways to support them with as much flexibility as possible. I think it’s up to people like me, you and others to like, figure out those opportunities as these young folks start coming up with new ideas. But, you know, I think generally, especially in the climate movement, like, let’s say there’s, I don’t know what the number is maybe 10,000. Organizers or activists that do sustained activity in terms of campaigning like beyond just voting, but you know, calling Congress, right, whatever it is doing actions, like how many people are those 10,000 people reaching every day, every week? Like how many like, what is our base getting bigger? I don’t think it’s a good number. Like, that’s the problem, like right now, I think in the climate movement and like, in, you know, within the institutions, so like, how do we change that? I think, ideally, what I would like to see is to like, I don’t know if this is a d&d campaign or something broader, but we need to set like a big goal, like 5 million conversations project over the next couple years, where the whole boom in is focused on actually talking to new people. And like regular activity, because when people want to sign up, they know what they’re signing up for like that. I think that’s what makes the electoral activities the earlier question like so appealing and easy to absorb people because there’s a clear goal, and as clearly as a plug in and get it. Yeah, people get it. So if it’s like Monday, there’s going to be a paid like a canvas. And then like Tuesday, there’s a textbook here, like every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we do Academy as a paid canvas, even like we’re paying people per shift, because people need jobs. And on Saturday, we have like a big volunteer canvass. And then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’ll have like events or text banking, or phone banking. And if it just like a regular cycle of activity, to plug people into with like the tools and scripts and everything available, I think we’d be much better off. But a lot of like, the job of people like me is that this is educating funders, about like, why is organizing and necessary? Because otherwise they default to? What is it evidence based data testing and messaging, which is great, but you know, we’re not going to compete with like the Coca Cola in this world with like our TV ad budgets. So like, we need to be actually having real conversations, because the only time movements or anything really works is when the word of mouth starts going around.
Will Lawrence 1:12:18
Yeah, organizing is about more than just hiring people and telling them exactly what to say. You got to actually meet people where they’re at and then build something real.
Kaniela Ing 1:12:29
Will Lawrence 1:12:31
we this is what we’ve been doing with our housing organizing here in Lansing, from the beginning of this year, we said to ourselves, given the state trifecta, which is a new political opportunity, and given the fact that we’re here in the capital city, if we in Lansing got 500 people to show out at the state Capitol on September 5, would that have an impact? Or would they pay attention at least for a day? Would it stand a chance of opening up some political space? And we said yes. And then people, we asked people, do you think that just among our relatively small activist community here in Lansing, we could reach 500 People from our own communities, tenants and unhoused people and so forth here in Lansing? And people said, yeah, it might be a stretch, but I think we could do it. And then we’ve been having those conversations for nine months. Since then, well, it’s going to be nine months in September. And we’re up to 550. People pledged to be there who have said, like, I will be there. And so I’m feeling pretty good on this count of how many people are you actually talking to. But that’s definitely not how we normally operate. And the only reason this was able to happen was because like, literally, we just decided that last year, we were trying to build an institution that was going to have all the structures and stuff. And it was like hard and slow. And we were kind of like, I don’t know, if we actually have the appetite to be doing this and raise all the money to build this hire the staff and the things like that. We said, what if we just go back to doing something that, you know, is a righteous cause worth fighting for something that people will understand? And the getting it factor is like super key? Because you say if 500 people showed up on September 5 To demand these things, do you agree that it might make a difference? And people say hell yeah. And then you say, All right, so be a part of it.
Kaniela Ing 1:14:16
Yeah, that’s great. It’s like, you know, I’ve said, you’d never be that good. It’s like, well, I love you. But think of your shit. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that’s like, that’s like the big agitation that, you know, as needed
Will Lawrence 1:14:34
talking to the same people, you’re talking to the same people again, and again, and again, among too small of a circle.
Kaniela Ing 1:14:40
Yeah. And it’s great because, like, you know, they let you know who’s real and who’s like falls out and who to trust over what, 15 years of organizing, you’re in Hawaii, for example, but you realize, like, damn, we’re not growing. And you know, it’s cool if it’s all these grass tops are like hardcore organizers and You invite a member of Congress, Congress over to a meeting or like a legislator and you give them a yes or no answer. Like, there is power there. But they already know your power. Like if you have new people in the room, they don’t know how powerful these people are. So it’s always important.
Will Lawrence 1:15:16
Yeah. Something I love about talking to you is that you like have moved in all these different spheres, from the protest movements to the political campaigning, and now in this nonprofit sphere, without losing, like your clearly radical spirit and attitude, like I never have a doubt, talking to you that you’re here to change the whole system. And you’re on a journey of figuring out how, and I wanted to just ask you about that and ask how you stay grounded in that radical vision?
Kaniela Ing 1:15:50
Yeah, I mean, you know, I think generally, for these types of questions I have like that, Bernie, ask answer where like, is that radical is believe at radical, it’s like, in the end, I just want to, it’s just like, we’re a nation where there’s enough. And some people didn’t learn how to share as kids. And they have a lot of money now. And it’s a horrible thing. And it’s kind of up to us as a democratic society to make them share. Like, we have enough where everyone can thrive. Like, it’s really that simple. And, you know, I have two kids, now, they’re getting older, and I just don’t want them to have to live in a world where they have to fetch water from a well, 20 miles from here, I feel like it could be really bad with the climate thing. And yeah, so it’s like that, it’s like that. That negative factor, just like preventing things from getting really bad, but also the possibility like it, we have to change almost everything in order to stop the climate crisis. So even though I didn’t start off with, like climate as my number one issue, it’s like where I want to be because it requires the most transformation. So you know, all the all the things that we need in terms of like wealth distribution, and racial justice, and ending this extractive colonial way of living, needs to, in one way or another, be reversed in order to solve this crisis. So you know, that’s why I’m here. And there is a challenge, like I don’t want to like hamper if we can do some kind of decarbonisation effort and like, tweak some laws, that will reduce, you know, global warming by like a couple fractions of a degree, like, I don’t want to poopoo that it’s not like I’m here to stop that kind of stuff. Because that could mean life and death, life or death for like 1000s, maybe millions of people every like fraction of a degree. But I also want to make sure that we have our eyes on the prize, because it’s really easy for the institutions that be the take a small victory, incremental victory and kind of co op that, as you know, the ends rather than a stepping stone to to what our companies really need.
Will Lawrence 1:18:15
This is the last question then, you know, we started the show, talking about Hawaii and the working class, Native Hawaiian community that you’re part of you just took it back there. So I just want to ask, What do you envision for the next few decades, whether it’s the green New Deal or something else, just as for where you hope to see the struggle, lead in Hawaii?
Kaniela Ing 1:18:40
Yeah, in Hawaii, we’re seeing I think in a lot of places, we’re seeing a disconnect with of the Democratic Party with a culture of a certain place that’s manifesting and white areas in a profound way where, like, blue collar working class, sometimes even union members are supporting Republicans. Here in Hawaii, like the Republicans went into fielded some Native Hawaiian, like very local routed celebrities to run. So this is like BJ Penn, you know, former MMA fighter, Brent in Ottawa, former reporter and had success. It doesn’t really matter what the policies really it just like people are relating to them because they drive at the Cornwall they speak with a pidgin accent. And I think as as we got into this like technocratic, as the Democratic Party got into like this technocratic, meritocratic kind of elitism. They’ve lost their connection with the with like the working class and the working class ultimately shapes culture, no matter where you are. So I think this movement like that The Kanaka Maoli movement understanding that like, it’s not necessarily like we don’t necessarily have to call it progressive, even though it is we don’t have to call it left, even though it kind of is. It’s just like this decolonial way of thinking and you know, so figure out ways to get like the sovereignty movement and, and like this is local culture together. So we just like to educate people that I’m Kanaka, Malian, you know, the native people of Hawaii, we built the most literate nation in the world. Before we are a state, we embrace new technology before much of the West quote unquote, worst but our nation didn’t let families go hungry or unsheltered. Our nation didn’t mass incarcerate people. Our nation didn’t lead society into climate, Doom and ecological collapse, like all of our ancestors had enough to survive. And they achieved it while working four or less hours a day. So the structure of this society Cloner society is not moral, it’s not efficient. And if our ancestors can do better, so can we like I think that’s the message that is the winning message. And it’s like, definitely rooted in what we believe in as organizers and on the left. But it’s not necessarily like preachy, it’s just like, there’s, there’s that nostalgic, make Hawaii great element to it, without being like, bigoted. Because that’s, you know, when we when we say return to the old ways, we don’t mean like erasing modernity, we mean, like just reinstating sustainable value systems and redefining success. So it’s more about our relationships and the time we have for them. And then of course, like our economic strength, by weather all of us can thrive and not just by how well the rich are doing. And if you tell that to like someone who’s voted for Trump, they generally agree. So that’s, that’s some of the work we’re doing right now in Hawaii.
Will Lawrence 1:22:04
Kanye, thank you so much for sharing. Thank you so much for your time. It’s always a pleasure talking to you and hope to have you back sometime. Maybe on a panel.
Kaniela Ing 1:22:14
Yeah, likewise, it’s always good to hear from you. All right. Take care. Well, thank you.
Will Lawrence 1:22:24
That was cannula ng Hawaiian organizer and executive director of the green New Deal network. I really enjoyed this conversation, especially listening to it again, for cannulas, firsthand experiences of what it takes to be a rebel left wing legislator, and how social movements membership organizations and elected officials can all become clearer and more coordinated in our pursuit of power. This podcast is written and hosted by me William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh l Stroh, and it is published by convergence magazine for radical insights. You can help support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of convergence for as low as $2 per month at patreon.com/convergence. Mac. You can find a direct link in the show notes. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next time with an interview with Carlos Rojas Rodriguez on his immigrant and labor organizing, fighting for the DREAM Act under the Obama and prospects for the left after the Bernie moment. Thanks for listening to the hegemonic con.