Daniel Kisslinger: Welcome to One Million Experiments, a podcast showcasing and exploring how we define and create safety in a world without policing and prisons.
Damon Williams: What's up, I'm Damon.
Daniel: I'm Kiss. We are continuing to do what we do, exploring, learning from, talking with, these experiments, these organizations, groups, entities, attempts at envisioning and putting into practice a different world. We are joined in that work as always, by our one and only partner in decriminalization, Eva Nagao from Interrupting Criminalization is here.
Damon: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Daniel: Yes, yes, yes.
Eva Nagao: That's so sweet you guys. I just got to say, I don't think I'm your one and only partner in [chuckles] decriminalization.
Daniel: That's true.
Eva: I appreciate the shout-out.
Damon: In name, we don't say that to anyone else.
Eva: Okay, I'll take the tagline.
Damon: We probably will from now on.
Daniel: We have affiliate decriminalization, but partners, real partners. It's good to see you, good to hear your voice. Who are we talking to today?
Eva: Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Vivien Sansour. Vivien is coming to speak with us about the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library and its traveling kitchen, a project that seeks to preserve and promote heritage and threatened seed varieties, traditional Palestinian farming practices, and the cultural stories and identities associated with them, based in the village of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage site outside Bethlehem. The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library also serves as a space for collaborations with artists, poets, writers, journalists, and other members to showcase and promote their talents and work.
Working closely with farmers, Vivien has identified key seed varieties and food crops that are threatened with extinction and would provide the best opportunities to inspire local farmers and community members to actively preserve their bioculture and recuperate their local landscape. On their website, viviensansour.com, Vivien shares that part of the Fertile Crescent, Palestine has been considered one of the world's centers of diversity, particularly for wheat and barley. This biodiversity which has kept us alive for millennia, is being threatened by policies that target farmers and force them to give up their heirloom seeds and adopt new varieties.
Heirlooms, which have been carefully selected by our ancestors throughout thousands of years of research and imagination, form one of the last strongholds of resistance to the privatization of our life source: the seed. These seeds carry the DNA of our survival against a violent background that is seen across the hills and valleys through settlement and chemical input expansions. Heirloom seeds also tell us stories, connect us to our ancestral roots, remind us of meals our families once made at special times of the year.
The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library is an attempt to recover these ancient seeds and their stories and put them back into people’s hands. It is an interactive art and agriculture project that aims to provide a conversation for people to exchange seeds and knowledge, and to tell the stories of food and agriculture that may have been buried away and waiting to sprout like a seed. It is also a place where visitors may feel inspired by the seed as a subversive rebel, of and for the people, traveling across borders and checkpoints to defy the violence of the landscape while reclaiming life and presence.
Daniel: This is an experiment that has been in existence in different forms. For years, we actually had the opportunity back in 2019, to sit down with Vivien on an episode of AirGo and learn from her. You can find that in our archives. It's episode 202. This understanding of the experiment as a whole is important before we hop into this convo because we refract this work through the prism of the violence happening right now.
As much as documenting the how and why of this organizing experiment, we try to understand what happens when this beautiful to the root work comes up against the reality of the most overwhelming and destructive state violence that we've seen in our lifetimes.
Damon: We held this conversation with Vivien on November 13th, 2023. As we sit in her raw and beautiful and poignant and powerful reflections, we hold with us all the lives that have been lost and uplift the struggle for liberation, until Palestine is free.
Daniel: All right, y'all, let's hop into the lab with the brilliant, warm, and wonderful Vivien Sansour.
Daniel: Just to make sure that we get it right, can you just share the full proper pronunciation of your name and your pronouns?
Vivien Sansour: My name is Vivien Sansour. My pronouns is eagle, hawk, owl.
Daniel: That actually perfectly leads to a recurring first question which we will get in one second. We are so excited, and already feeling the warmth that is always the case when we talk with our special guests today. The wonderful Vivien Sansour is in the lab with us.
Damon: Yes, yes, yes.
Daniel: [mimics bird caw] I want you to know that we do that birdcall for people who don't say those words right before, that's just across the board-
Vivien: Oh, wow.
Daniel: -and for everyone. I do think it leads actually to a question that we don't ask everyone to start, but I think you're a good person to ask. If you could have any animal called be your entrance music when you walk in somewhere, what animals would you choose? What sound would you want to announce your arrival?
Vivien: Have we not done this before with the whales?
Daniel: Did we?
Daniel: This shows the extent of my resort. Okay.
Vivien: I love it. I still love it.
Damon: Is there a new animal then maybe?
Daniel: You're sticking with the whale?
Vivien: No, I have moved to different beings, but not to dismiss the whale, inspired by the whale as well.
Daniel: Of course.
Vivien: I have since entered the world of mermaids.
Vivien: Not the Disney mermaids, but the real mermaids.
Daniel: Tell me more.
Damon: Tell me more about these mermaids.
Vivien: Well, it's a long story, but in the unseen world, where there are things we can't imagine, but yet, sometimes we're able to imagine. There are worlds that don't go with the rules of this world. Maybe they have evolved, developed, and maintained us in a way that we yet don't understand. There's a lot of stories about mermaids in different spiritualities as well, including in Haitian Vodou, which has inspired what I'm learning about mermaids, as protectors, particularly to folks when they were abducted and enslaved.
They chose their freedom over enslavement and fell off ships, that they were saved by these mystical beings, the mermaids. It's something to really, really think more deeply about in a world that is attached to a lot of tangible violence.
Damon: That's really beautiful. The navigating, and making sense of, and rescuing through these escalations of tangible violence lead us to our other intro question that want to be transparent about before we set it up that it almost feels too small or too big, or too close or too far, of a question to be asking at this time, but it is centered around time. In this time, and that can be this hour, this day, this season, this lifetime, how is the world treating you, and how are you treating the world?
Vivien: Seriously, Damon?
Damon: We can amend, we can amend, we can reshape. I literally had a meeting before I asked it.
Vivien: No, I'm just saying that's a very relevant question. It's just that the world has betrayed me. The world has shown its failure, and the world has taken out its knives and has cut through my body and is in the process of sprinkling a lot of salt. I wish that the world would have the mercy to at least kill without torture. That is the floor.
Damon: In the midst of this salting and this torture, how are you treating the world through this immeasurable pain?
Vivien: Yes, I actually have been thinking a lot about this question because when I think about the true failure, the failure that could be the failure of my own spirit, the true loss, I think of the possibility of me becoming an image of my torturer and how in the middle of my torture, I can still keep perspective that my spirit must always be above this, that my spirit that is under attack, that it might win by maintaining its ability to love, to be tender, to bring forth a new vision, and to hopefully interrupt the human cycle of so much, so much bloodshed.
Daniel: In that holding of the determination for that tenderness and that spirit remaining, above the demand for destruction, that's something that I could imagine the intensity of that being heightened in this moment and is something that I've witnessed from you and your work and your words in the time that we've known each other. I want to go back, like the conceit of what this show is or the structure is around the people who do the work we're profiling, but really like the experiments in creating safety in different ways that are not reliant on death-making institutions.
I'm wondering for you, we can use the Seed Library as a space or an example for this. As you started that work of gathering, understanding the literal and spiritual seeds, what was your hypothesis of like, what that could make possible in holding the spirit above that destruction?
Vivien: I tell you my hypothesis. It's very important to remember that I was born 45 years ago. In those 45 years, I was born and still live under a very brutal military regime which is the Israeli occupation. I actually have not seen a day in my life and I know my mother hasn't either who was born in 1948. For the last 75 years, we have not seen a peaceful day or a day where our bodies literally and our movement, our homes, our way of life, our hearts have not been the place of these violent soldiers inflicting intentional pain and suffering on us.
I have also, in the 45 years, have never experienced more love and tenderness than I have also in that very same place, which is Palestine. As we have been collectively being tortured for 75 years, and for me personally, 45 years and ongoing, we have created or not necessarily created but also expanded and hang on and survived through deep and old cultural and indigenous practices that we've had for thousands and thousands of years. Those cultural practices have been the concept of not letting anybody go to sleep hungry, for example.
We even have a saying where we say, "Oh, nobody goes to sleep without dinner." It's not to say that everybody has money to buy dinner all the time. It's to say that we, as a people, we don't stand for our people, my neighbor to go to bed without dinner while I have dinner. As people watch, for example, even footage from Gaza now which what's happening in Gaza is unfathomable for the human capacity to fathom such horror. In the last 30 days, the amount of bombs as two nuclear bombs have been dropped on Gaza, in 30 days.
People having to dig through rubble to find pieces of their children so they can put it together and try to put it in a bag and save it so they can give them an honorable burial. Dogs going into hospitals to eat the cadaver of people that have been left dead and yet you still see those who are physically living, trying still to ask each other, "What can I bring you? Did you eat?" Sharing the last tiny piece of bread which is the only piece of bread a person can have all day with each other. Having no water, and then sharing whatever little water you find with the person next to you, a stranger, someone you don't know.
People look at this and think that, "Oh--" as if this just came out right now, but no, this comes out from thousands of years of our indigenous culture, teaching us that to eat alone is to die alone. It is important that we care for each other and that is the epitome of what it means to be civilized. I live here in the United States, and I walk around and even before this, I have been baffled by the ability for folks to walk by a homeless person who's hungry and just to keep walking. It is a very normal scene, but in Palestine, this is not to idealize Palestine. It has its own issue, we are humans unlike what others might think.
With all of this, again, I repeat 75 years of colonialism and brutal military occupation, yet you don't see homeless people in the street. Yet you don't see an elder sitting there living on the street with no one caring for them. Yet you don't see people whose anxieties left unchecked. The truth is, even as we are under the rubble today, we're more alive than most people who have all the comforts of the world. We still feel our hearts are still beating. We still care. We still want to reach out even if it's at the risk of my own life. To bring it back to your question about seeds, it didn't come from nowhere. These seeds are us. We are these seeds.
When I started looking for seeds, I wasn't looking just for seeds because I think seeds are a commodity that I want to produce tomatoes or cucumbers to purchase and to own but I knew that these seeds have been loved, cared for, and passed down over thousands of years by my grandparents and great-grandparents who understood this concept that even this little seed can be so generous that it actually gives its life to become one big...that then feeds a family and then gives birth to more seeds that feed hundreds more.
It is no coincidence perhaps that even as we save our seeds in Palestine traditionally, particularly...seeds which are seeds that are grown with no irrigation, with respect to our microclimates, we save them in ash. We save them in ashes to protect them from disease and it's actually incredible when you really think about it. A lot of people come to the library and they look at the seeds and they're like, "Oh, why are your seeds gray?" My seeds are not gray. My seeds are-
Damon: Are ashy. [chuckles]
Vivien: -are ashy, [laughter] but no my seeds have laid their lives through fire in order for others to live. Each seed, each story, I found each person I had tea with, each time I put the seed in the ground, each time I went to somebody and saw what they did with the seeds they got, each time I harvested seed, each time we got together to eat, the fruit of our seeds, and each time we gathered the seeds that have laid their lives for us to have life. Every time, it was a reminder and an affirmation that even though the intention of the political system is to kill us, death does not exist.
We continue to be here, we continue to exist, we continue to love and we continue most importantly to be generous. Even when it doesn't feel good, yet you feel a spiritual obligation to do it because you hope that the seed next to you, even if it's a stranger seed, would also be inspired by that generosity to give back, to be alive. It's how you give life.
My journey with the seeds has been a journey of trying to collect my own wounds, to lick my own wounds, and to also offer my wounds to the world in a dignified matter and say, "Hey, I am not the only one in pain. Maybe you should look at your own pain too. Maybe if you looked at your own pain, you wouldn't have to inflict so much pain on me."
Damon: As always, your beautiful words are having such a profound impact on me, and what you're naming encapsulates the conversation I'm trying to show up to, and this interplay or this nuance that teaches us that we can pretty much learn all we need to know about life as we uplift the interrelations between seeds and humanity and that they are cousins or are the same, and that the systems that we need to sustain life are all interconnected.
As you tell us the story and tell us about these seeds preserved in ash and coming out gray, I see again the images of human beings in rubble, digging through ash, and walking around with gray tears falling down their face. Organizer and Alder Winner Rossana Rodriguez says this, "As you name this heightened level of spiritual and human resilience." I'm also having the feeling you should not have to be so fucking resilient. No human should have to have resilience at this level.
We launched this project... which is all about the discipline of hope and how do we turn away from despair. Folks have, in this time, named how hard that is, and the best answer that I can see is the solidarity work. That one is most importantly happening with the folks that are surviving in Gaza and in Palestine, but also globally. In the face of this betrayal, we are also seeing what looks like from my position, an expression of solidarity like we have not seen before, and a commitment to solidarity.
As this inhumane resilience is asked or demanded, how are you seeing this interplay between this betrayal and the solidarity as we see the parallel between ashy seeds and people to dig through rubble?
Vivien: This is a very important question. It is the question that we must be talking about right now. This is not about Palestine. We should make no mistake that this is not about Palestine. What this is and what I think people are waking up to, and I don't like the word solidarity as much as hopefully partnership because solidarity suggests that I'm in pain and you are fine, but I know you ain't fine. I know that none of us, the three of us here, are fine on this call, and I know that our communities are not fine.
When we think about Palestine and the question of, "Oh, our resilience," yes, it is not humanly possible to bear this kind of pain, and actually, we don't. We end up broken, hurt, and often as history has shown us and is showing us as I speak, hurt people. We are in this painful moment being asked to truly be kin. Do we want to be kin in this mother earth or do we want to continue this idea of separation? Because what is happening in Palestine is happening right here in this so-called United States.
In fact, the valley where I live right now, where I'm sitting and speaking to you, oh, it's so peaceful right now, but I walk and my body feels the blood in this river here. It is an area where Native Americans who became refugees in what's today, Connecticut and Massachusetts, came and took refuge in what's today also called the Hudson Valley, which is a colonial name. Then they were killed again and forced again to be refugees, and now most of them live in Wisconsin or northern New York and have to come here just to see their land that doesn't look like their native land, but it is their land and they know it.
There are so many layers of this violence that unless we now really have honest conversations with each other about how it's all not just connected, it's all the same, then we're really missing the gift Palestine is giving us right now, which is to see that enslaving people, burning people, stealing people's lands, and continuing to do so today in little ways and in big ways. You don't have to throw big bombs on people to kill them. How many people in our society are on drugs and can't wake up because if they wake up, it would hurt too much? Are they living?
It's a struggle. Having hope is often not an option. My friend and I yesterday were discussing, he's Palestinian and we are grieving, crying, and sometimes making fun of the world, and sometimes just like, "How do you fathom the unfathomable?" We were talking about the question of hope, and he was telling me, "I think the only hope is when you become completely hopeless." Having hope he thinks is dangerous, basically. I thought this way for most of my life-- because hope is scary. Like, "Oh, if I have hope, then I might be disappointed."
Yet at the same time, you also see and watch in our lives when we don't have it, we don't survive because we have to have it to survive. I would say that we don't have the option to be hopeless unless we want to truly die. The other thing is that going back to the things unseen, it is the power to imagine what in this painful moment we can't see that can pull us through. A couple of Septembers ago, six Palestinian prisoners, they were in high security, political prison, dug a tunnel with a spoon over obviously a very, very long time, and freed themselves.
Of course, they were quickly captured afterward because Israel has massive surveillance, and which is also something for people to be reminded as they think about this and what's happening. They captured them again, but one of them said-- He wrote a letter to his mother and left it before he was captured again. He said, "I know I'm going to be tortured." This guy had been in prison since he was 15, so his whole life was in political prison, where everything around him says, "You're just going to die." He was sentenced to twice life in prison.
[chuckles] He said, "It was all worth it for the moment of freedom and the ability to see children again, and then to taste the fruit of the valley." The reason I share their story because in the midst of this dark dungeon of prison, they were able to imagine their freedom, but everything around them told them that their freedom was impossible, that their lives didn't matter, that they are going to die and rot in this solitary confinement, but with a spoon, a rusty spoon-- When I think about the story, I'm like, "Wow, how can I really say I'm hopeless?"
How can I just dismiss such determination to live and say, "Oh, with all the tools I have, I'm hopeless"? Yet I do feel massively hopeless most of the time. It's a dance and it's a hard dance, but that's again, the war in our spirits. Because the system is designed for you to believe that you are stupid, you are worthless, you don't matter, you're Black, you're Arab, you're whatever, we are all shits. We're supposed to just eat shit and take whatever shit they give us and eat it and be happy that we have their shit and say thank you but there is something that people sadly don't talk about much here.
The price of the shit that they eat is that yes, they are physical bodies moving around, but they are physical bodies moving around with no dignity. It's a question for everybody. When people ask me, "Oh, what should we do for Palestine?" and they act like they're sorry for me, I'm like, I'm equally sorry for you because you don't seem to see how you are an equal, not just victim. You're a victim and a participant because you are accepting the bowing of your head.
You're accepting this contemporary style, soft enslavement, whatever you want to call it. You're accepting that where your whole life is controlled by your bills, by a "boss", by an eight-to-five, where you can't do human activities between, you're just a machine. I don't know. People are accepting the system and we're participating in it. Who's really free here?
Daniel: I want to go back to something that you named. The thing that I have, I think, in doing this work always held where I can hold hope is it's like the timeline is different. Damon, you've often used the story of seven generations of enslavement and the fourth generation, where there was no one on generations on either side that had ever been free, but people continued to believe that that was possible, that feels akin in some ways. I think in moments of confronting the reality of the much shorter timeline of destruction, it is really hard to hold that other scale of what could be possible.
I think it's part of why sometimes people don't. They're dismissive of us when we're like, "No, you have to do the radical imagination work and all that." They're going like, "But we're seeing the reality now." I usually don't fall into that job but I think when the scale of the immediate destruction feels so acute, it feels almost disrespectful to go put generations from now, what else could be possible? Again, that's something that the seeds and into the experience of people who survive can come to but I don't know. That's something that came up for me while you were talking. Does that make sense?
Vivien: Yes, yes. It's so real. I feel it acutely. I'll just take you through a little timeline of the last month for being the first week I felt massively unsafe in my own apartment. I started to have severe panic attacks. I magically was helped by a friend to drive down to see some friends three hours away. I started to have more panic attacks where I would forget even who I am. It's natural because the reality is so unbearable that I think my body just couldn't-- I had to disassociate from reality literally, and then also feeling like, "Oh, it's so hopeless and I am useless."
Even as I tell you this, I'm thinking, "Yes, I'm hopeless and it's useless. Okay." There are moments that cannot be denied, such as when finally, a friend convinced me to go to the rally in DC and I was too broken to get up and walk. I magically also went. I saw 300,000 people of every background, walking and screaming their lungs out, "Free Palestine," and the amount of amazing, incredible Jewish youth who have developed the right analysis, the amazing amount of Black folk who were there, who for me was so helpful.
Because one dear friend, she's an elder woman and because I kept telling her "I'm useless, I'm useless. I don't know what to do." She hugged me and she's like, "There are times to fight and there are times to take shelter. Right now, you need to take shelter." I hadn't allowed myself to think that way because all my life, I had to be in grief and in fight. This is a woman who remembers lynching of people in the South in her town. She's not someone talking about philosophies. She's lived this.
To find this tenderness with all these people who have known pain, this is not something they were talking off the top of their head like, "Oh, this is intelligent." No, they know. We are partners in this beloved pain. This wound became our place where we hug on each other, we kiss on each other. To walk with people, 300,000 of them, I had to sit and I had to face myself and then the truth is that this is the result of many years. At least for me, I've organized for the last whatever 20 years of my life.
Every time I thought, "What's the point? Another showing of a movie, another podcast, another exhibition. Oh, whatever, who cares about my little essay I wrote in some God knows what magazine." Yet I saw in the street, this is the product of each one of us who decided, "I'm going to tell my story and I'm going to listen to the story of the other person in front of me." It was amazing because that did give me hope. It gave me hope that, first of all, not everybody has lost their heart. Clearly, at least 300,000 still have it. They showed up in DC.
It is true that every little thing we did that we thought was meaningless, clearly touched somebody. To go back to the seeds, well, I don't know where half my seeds went around the world, but there are places and sometimes I get the email and sometimes I don't and some I'll never know about where someone from Hawaii writes me and they're like, "Oh, I have your zucchini seeds and they're doing so good in Hawaii." I'm like, "What? I don't know who you're." Clearly, it did something over there and it's so tiny, it's a seed.
For me, that day really got me up again and helped me again first that people who've had the experience of having to shelter, people who have experienced enslavement, giving me courage to know how to stand on my feet when I'm being whipped. I needed that. You hope that one day we would be able to share with each other more of the beauty of each other's lives rather than how like Damon just said, how we have beared the unbearable, but that tenderness comes from this pain, from knowing the pain.
Yes, it's going to go up and down is what I'm saying. Maybe within, not even an hour, within five minutes of a conversation, I'll tell you, "This is hopeless," and then I'll tell you by the end, end, "Oh my God, this is the most hopeful thing ever." What doesn't change is we can't afford to be hopeless.
Damon: I really want to sincerely thank you for sharing that story and sharing that experience so purely and with such vulnerability. I felt so much. I think first, just like an unbearable sadness as you make these global connections of decade-long and century-long pains. We have been so taught to separate that even in this time, it has been difficult to connect my ancestral experience because it's like, "Oh, it's not our time now," or, "Oh, it is a different moment." One just the reminder of the interconnections of this survivorship that is this global diaspora that transcends race at nation-state of survivors, of freedom fighters, of healers, of stewards, but then just the anger of what this violence does to us, and feeling what happened to you, and your spirit, and your body, and your psychosomatic day to day.
To have to disassociate, to have to forget, to survive, and to sustain, we only measure violence in these gruesome numbers of bodies that we no longer see with pulses. We need, Vivien says, so as mind, we need your heart, we need you to remember. I think it can get overlooked or discounted, the multiplied effect of what this does to our bodies for those of us who are still here in this plane.
Then, yes, just that notion of partnership, being proud of people for stepping in. I want to talk about, you named how the seeds that other folks have had have responded, and zucchinis in Hawaii as an example. For you, as you've had to find your body, as you've had to find people, as you've had to find your shelter and your hugs, or if I put myself in those shoes, I could imagine not being able to talk about seeds anymore.
With that understanding, I'm curious, as a talker to seeds, how is that conversation going for you? Has there had to be silence? Are they loud? Are they talking to you in a certain way? Are they demanding things of you? Are you taking time? Are you taking a hiatus? How is you, your actual relationship to the seeding, to the library, to the seeds themselves going in this last month, or this last week, or this last day?
Vivien: Beautiful question. You know your questions allow me to get clear about where I'm at, so thank you. I never felt more in love with seeds than I'm right now and [laughs] to be in love in a time of war, [laughs] I guess people wrote novels about it, I'm just experiencing it right now.
Damon: [laughs]. Yes, I guess that is a whole genre.
Vivien: It's so funny because a lot of people ask me, "Oh, you are saving seeds." I always, always felt like that question was so poorly framed because the seeds have been saving me. They have been saving all of us. I have these lucid moments of, I don't know if they're dreams or out-of-body experiences where I am in my seed library. It's a room on a hill, and there's a part of me that is, of course, terrified that I will never be there again.
I prepare myself also for how it would feel when I, which I hope I won't, but we are losing people we love, a lot of people and places we love, so how to prepare myself to be a better mourner, but also how to surrender to it and how to allow the remnants of things to give me the string to survive like the, what do you call it? The lifeboat. Without thinking, I have been just sharing seeds with folks. Some folks I know, some folks I just to say, "Can you please make sure you multiply?"
It made me think of trees, because trees, when there's a fire and they're burning, somehow through their roots, they send a signal to the other trees so they know the fire is already burning their sister tree, and now it's coming to them. In their preparation to die, guess what the trees do? They start to produce seeds like crazy. They do this to ensure that they will live, they will live beyond their physical body now, but within the offspring of their new seed.
I think I have been behaving a little bit like a tree, although many days I feel a lot like a fallen leaf, and that's mostly what I've been feeling. Yes, my relationship to seeds and many of them, I have ignored sometimes [laughs] and I'm now feeling like, "Oh, I want to come closer. I'm trying to get closer."
Damon: Are there opportunities to support facilitating that closeness? Are there ways that other people can support you in getting closer to the seeds or that people can support the seeds themselves?
Vivien: I think people should grow seeds, their own seeds, and if they want, our seeds, and get deep into asking the hard questions of ourselves because seeds are living beings. I think the moment is to get really hard on ourselves with serious questions about who do we want to be. As we put seed in the ground, which is a form of design, it's a process of co-creation where you, the soil, the air, the element, your hands, and the seed itself enter into a collective process of creating life. Let the seeds guide you to the real question of what kind of being do you want to be.
I think this is the most urgent question right now as people also question themselves, hopefully, question themselves about their position right now as they watch a genocide, if they want to be engaged in the so-called intellectual exercise of, "Oh, what is this? Is it a genocide? Oh no, it's not," or do they really want to be people of love, tenderness, and truth? Truth is something that this society, in particular, is very talented at avoiding. I think what people should do to support me or support my seeds is to support themselves in telling the truth.
Daniel: You mentioned this being on mic in this time where there is so much truth obfuscation, is not a thing that you've been generally open to doing. Since we have you here, are there truths that you watch people dancing around, that you feel like since people will hear this, you need them to know these truths? If that's not a useful exercise, we don't have to do it, but I just wanted to open the space of like, "If this is a time to do that, what do you want people to hear," is really the question I'm asking.
Vivien: Well, there are many truths there, Daniel. [laughs]
Daniel: For sure. It's not on you to name them all, I'm just that like-
Damon: If there are ones that are burning.
Daniel: -the ones that feel burning to you to say like, "Don't obscure this truth."
Vivien: Gosh. My heart is racing with this one, there are so many lies, that's the problem. I don't want to be in a position to address the lies because they're lies and they keep us busy. I think there's one truth. Well, there are several, but one of them is that people need to pay attention to this genius strategy of keeping us busy with certain arguments that people put out there. They keep us busy arguing about words so that we don't actually tell the truth. Language is very important right now in the sense that we need to name things for what they are.
Then we get intentionally distracted by, "Oh, what should this be called? Oh, well, would you call it like-- " I don't know how many more lives need to die, how much more destruction needs to happen for you to call a thing a thing. The truth is also that while they also want us to believe that there's antisemitism on the rise, that, actually there's also a lot of beautiful partnerships that are being born right now between Jewish people of consciousness, Jewish people who also know the pain of genocide, who are not willing to lose their humanity and watch their own wounds become used as weapons to kill other people.
That is the truth about most people that I have met or that, at least, I interact with. Another truth is when they throw things like anti-Semitism is to really remember that anti-Semitism is real. It's very real, but it was born in this country and in Europe, and it's their hate of Jews that makes them love Israel so much because this country watched the Jewish people be slaughtered in the thousands before they interfered, and they only interfered for their own benefit, and yet they use, again--
Damon: Then portrayed themselves as the hero.
Vivien: Yes. The reason I'm a little hesitant to discuss this right now because I think it is a deep discussion in the sense that it's a real conversation that we should have together because the truth is we are natural allies because these people in power are using our pains and our wounds for their own benefit. In fact, this is a time for us to do the unthinkable of fortifying our partnership and fortifying our commitment to a world that is tender, a world that is kind, and a world that doesn't want to allow another genocide. I think this is important because this is how they want to distract us, also make us hate each other.
One of the most beautiful thing that's happening in the midst of this also is so much love. I'm talking here with all of you. I have beautiful partners who are not Palestinian, but they don't want to talk about that. They want to talk about their own violence, which are projections. We are also in front of an opportunity as a human species, because Palestinians who are now the victims, are going to be in their own pain when hopefully, this is all said and done. The only, the only victory, which I hope Palestine will do is produce an interruption of the human pattern where oppressed becomes oppressor.
Daniel: Which is so much to ask of a people. Yes.
Vivien: Yes. That's why I don't know if like this is a big conversation, but it is a real conversation, we have to also not allow White colonial history to dictate our future and our story. They have been painting our story and it's mostly not true. We get to now tell our story and maybe, we tell a new story, a brand new story altogether.
Damon: That's such an important assignment or lesson. I don't know how to frame it, but I think it's easy for us to fall into this romantic notion of valorizing all oppressed people as inherently and eternally righteous and justified and good. I'm feeling this for people in Chicago like we're seeing Black communities be riled up and anti-immigrant policies that mirror the logics behind White supremacist redlining.
It's really frightening and really disheartening. To again, understand without it going into this false nobility or this forced peace rhetoric that can also be dehumanizing, but that the largest assignment is to not only survive but to retain and still expand our humanity in the face of this immeasurable and unfathomable dehumanization. That is the ultimate project. Really, once you lay it out like that, you are right of that, it is not just about Palestine. That is a global assignment that, to be honest, we have failed at most of the time.
Vivien: Oh yes. No, [chuckles] we're not. That goes back to when you asked me, in the beginning, what animal, and I said, eagle, hawk, owl. I think what the eagle and the hawk and the owl call us to do is to have sharper vision and to be able, in the midst of everything, to see very, very clearly. I think the powers that have been stepping on our necks and benefiting from our pains have been doing a great job of blurring our vision so much that we can't see each other and we cannot see, but our own pain, and then using our pain to make us hurt other people.
I think it is the task for us if we want to remain human, which we're already in a moment where we're like hybrid human, whatever this new entity called human is going to be, what kind is it? As a Palestinian in this moment, in my pain, which is a pain I don't wish on any living being, I pray, this is my prayer, may I never be in the image of my oppressor.
Daniel: For sure.
Damon: I have one more truth that I'm curious about that I feel like you have uniquely positioned yourself to speak to...
Vivien: I don't know, [laughs] I'll try.
Damon: You try and yes, do not fuck it. [chuckles] I think understandably so, and often from a righteous place, the way in which we are measuring this moment has been focused on the human cost and the human impact. It is important to note that all oppression, but definitely this genocidal oppression is land-based. I just want to make some time to talk about this moment through what is happening to the land and how we need to understand.
I hesitate to say how to protect or there may not be anything from here that we can do, but I just want to make sure that as we talk about life, and as we talk about this space, we obviously have to center the people. It is our duty and our responsibility to understand that the land is living and the land is being harmed and abused and killed as well. What is the truth about that that you feel comfortable speaking to?
Vivien: The truth about that is that as Palestinians, we don't separate our bodies from the land. This is not a concept in our consciousness. I am the land, and so when you watch what's happening to the bodies of humans, that is what's happening to the body of soil. We are people of soil. We say ahl al thra, which means people of soil. The soil and us are the same. It's funny you ask me this question because I have been thinking about, "Well, I'm in New York, why does it hurt my body right now?" It hurts my body because I am part of that body of land.
Land isn't property that you own, land is a living thing. Of course, we are also people who love bread and birds and cats and all of it. It's all hurting. We feel it and we experience it. You know this is all happening during the olive harvest season, which is our most sacred, literally sacred time of the year. Yet, our olives are being burnt. For us, the olive tree is not a tree like you refer to whatever, a thing you buy it. We consider the tree like a family member. Some of our trees have names. We consider them sacred beings in our neighborhoods, in our yards, in our lands.
Other than the direct bombing, what's been happening, and actually, we already lost one farmer that we've known in the circle of our seed library who was killed by a settler who went down while he was picking his olives and shot him. A lot of the farmers that are part of our community, they have had a hard time reaching the olive groves, which is always the case. Right now, militias of settlers, many of them are from Brooklyn or they're not even from there. They don't understand.
They're just setting fire to our groves and our lands, and worse, torturing our people, or torturing the guardians of the land. The land is in so much pain. I keep wondering if we're going to have an earthquake or something because its pain is so loud and it's so intense. How do you continue to love something that's dying? To think about it also from a global perspective, that the earth itself is in hospice.
We are having to learn to die and to say goodbye to things we love and also to still fall in love with things that are dying. Then figure out again, I keep saying, who we're going to be because we are the land, we are the seed, we are the birds, we are not separate. The idea that we are separate is the essential reason why we are so separate and we are in this pain.
Daniel: Anyone who has loved someone who has died is transformed by that process of that love. It can go different ways, as we said but that is the point where we're asking, "Okay, then, what do you want to be transformed to? What will you work to be transformed toward?" Is a really beautiful question. Oh, we've heard seek and tell truths and gather your seeds. Is there anything else for people who want to build something akin to a seed library in their space? Obviously, there's the technicals and things, but what else should people know if they want to start that work?
Vivien: That seeds are sacred and that they should be the catalyst to help us create more tender spaces in this world, more safe spaces, and spaces where we can tell, again, our stories and the truth. As people are, hopefully, putting seed in the ground or even cooking or sharing food or whatever, making tea, to remember to share from that same spirit of these Palestinian seeds teach us, which is generosity of also spirit, and to keep this question going.
To keep pushing, because we still do need to have a ceasefire. We still need to end the occupation, we still need to tell the truth. For people to look at their own pain and make their own pain the guide to why the pain of Palestine matters. That's the only way that we will achieve collective liberation. I can tell you what we're organizing here, and hopefully, people would like to do the same.
If people are interested, on December 1st, we're hosting a funeral. In this funeral, we will have seeds with the names of people who have been killed. Obviously, there have been thousands and thousands of people killed. We need people to plant their seeds everywhere in the world so that they continue to live and they continue to teach us so that their life isn't gone waste, but hopefully, their life could be a teacher, an inspiration for what we don't want to be and what we hope to be as a people.
Damon: As we conclude this conversation, I just want to thank you so much, Vivien, not only for your words here. As we talked, I both cried a lot, but also felt rejuvenation of spirit in ways that I'm grateful for. That pain and that revitalization, often coexist, is just a healthy reminder that I am still here but in general, you're often on our mind but just in this season, I'm going to tell you something that sounds like I'm lying, but it's the actual truth.
Especially when we're interviewed or often off mic, but sometimes on the show when people ask us, "What conversation sticks out the most, and/or what is one that I should listen to if I want to know what ergo or respair is about?" Undoubtedly, your name, if not comes up first, always comes up in that conversation of the hundreds and hundreds of people that we've spoken to, even five years later. It has left a mark on us. You are often with us in our mind but during this time of egregious uptick of genocidal violence, you and your loved ones and your community have been so deeply in our heart.
For you in this time, to have it within you to share, to vibrate your vocal cords at all, to talk about any of this shit, to talk about it with us, is really an honor and a gift that we cherish. I'm just immensely grateful and proud and have so much honor for usually we say the work that you do and, yes, the work that you do, but the person that you are. My farming vocabulary is off for this metaphor, but the mapping out of the seeds of where to plant, of where to harvest, of where to celebrate, of where to grieve, of where to mourn is immeasurable. Vivien, thank you so much and we love you. I love you. Just so much love.
Vivien: Thank you, Damon, and thank you, Daniel. I feel the same. I also always tell people to go to your show when they ask me your favorite interview because you've kept it real, but also because, and I think I've shared this five years ago and it's still true. I have to tell you that I am so relieved that my intuition was right on because there have been so many people that I'd expected to stand in integrity, who have not. To see you both in integrity and in courage and in love continues to give me hope for this life, hopefully. Thank you both, it's all of us together.
Damon: Absolutely, yes.
Daniel: Love you.
Vivien: Love you. [chuckles]
Damon: I think as we come out of this combo, we're just feeling so much love for Vivien and so grateful to be in community with her and she gave us so much, so we got to do what we always do, which means it's time for the peer review.
Damon: Eva, what's up? You're here with us?
Eva: Hey, y'all. It was so lovely and so hard and so needed to sit down and listen to this conversation. I'm so grateful for you and for Vivien for taking the time. A lot is going on, I see you out there.
Daniel: I think it was challenging, but cathartic in some ways to get to have a conversation that felt like an us conversation on mic but before we get to our reflections, what jumped out to you from the conversation?
Eva: Vivien said several times in several ways that this is a time that we really need to get really hard on ourselves about who we want to be. This is a time to get really hard on ourselves about who we want to be. I think that what we love about this job and being able to speak with all of these experimenters is they are people who have gotten really hard on themselves about who they want to be, where they are, and are contributing. What Vivien said that we need to pay attention, that we need to fortify our partnerships, that we can't separate our bodies from the land. I'm going to be sitting with her words, these words, for a long time. She said, "May I never be in the image of my oppressor."
Damon: It was so remoralizing, I don't know-
Damon: -the word but...
Eva: All right, respair. Okay, respair.
Eva: Calm down a bit.
Damon: After being demoralized because yes, so often, there is what seems to be this immaterial way that we go about processing the work and what we are doing and trying to become. It's really about creating and becoming new humans, creating new humanity. In this time, I have felt so soft in that and felt so ineffectual from that approach. Felt like, "How can you be talking about future generations when generations are being wiped away? How can you talk about wrestling with your contradictions, or transformative approaches, or understanding the humanity or still having empathy for all in the face of you and your people and your land being literally immediately destroyed?"
To hear that commitment is so grounding and so affirming that this respairian, Bogosian, Kabian [laughs] way that we are trying to develop disciplines of hope hold true because when we talk about abolition and we talk about state violence, militarism and border and open-air prisons are the height of what we want to see away with and how we want to create community beyond. The real violent reality of they're not going to wither away or they're not going to concede. There are so many escalations that we are vulnerable to and many of them are happening in real-time right now.
To hear, still, the commitment to listen to the seeds, to listen to the earth and just honoring her vulnerability and transparency, and even the difficulty of coming on and having this conversation, the discernment that she's had to have just for her own self. I'm grateful for her willingness to trust and share space with us to process through these things because it's been really hard, and so to be able to, in this space, dig into the most overwhelming forms of state violence that I've seen in real-time.
Daniel: Yes, and to show how hard it is to hold to those values and that way of moving, but she named it as like, "This isn't because it's necessarily the most politically expedient approach, it's because this is what enables me to maintain my humanity in the face of dehumanization." It's not just out of altruism or political pragmatism. It's from a place of holding tight to who we are, and for her who she is, and who her people are. That like, "This is part of who we are that we can't lose."
I think that's a really vulnerable thing to say on a microphone in a time where there's a lot of bad-faith depictions of who her people are, and to say like, "We have the potential to mirror our oppressors not because of who we are, but because we're people," [chuckles] is a hard thing to hold while still fighting for those people survival. If there's any bad-faith listeners out there, please don't take that and run with it. It's from a place of humanity.
Damon: No, that really resonates. Something I've also been struggling with is I've always felt this interconnectedness and this solidarity at the hip between Black liberation struggle and Palestinian liberation. At this time, that's it feels inappropriate to compare, and one, just hearing that affirmation and hearing how she still looks to the intertwining of those lineages for her resilience, but then also, to the point of like the becoming your oppressor, out of chattel slavery and Jim Crow apartheid and redlining, seeing now, Black folks use segregationist type language in migrant crisis, or to see the uptick in popular misogyny, social media discourse, and Black patriarchy seeming to be on the rise. Then this backlash.
I've been really struggling with like as a people, once you experience a certain type of violence, that predisposes you towards resistance, towards liberation, towards a morality, towards a higher type of dignity, and I've been challenged with the truth of that. Hearing in the time of while digging through the literal rubble, digging through the rubble of our humanity, and also, to have human understanding of the oppressor as well is something that I heard from her.
There are ways that we should look at how the clans and police trolls come from different European oppressions and how lynching was done to White peasants and then that was brought to the States and perpetuated. You become your oppressor and you don't have a sympathy but you can empathize and understand that the way in which the violence that Jewish people have had to survive and how that oppression is real, and there still needs to be solidarity about that but realizing that now is being replicated or reproduced.
That is something to resist more than just lines in the sand, like, "Really this battle for our spirit and for our soul is oh, oh-whew." I cried like a baby, Eva. I know you might've heard it. I might've alluded to it but without the visual for the folks listening, y'all during that conversation, I was over here bawling. [laughs]
Daniel: Not B-A-L-L, B-A-W-L. Let's make that very clear.
Damon: Yes, bawling. [laughs]
Daniel: All right, that was a lot from us who are in the...Eva, what else jumped out to you?
Eva: As we are finding our energy stores depleted, and then what is the option filled up, depleted, and then filled up again and again, I think-
Eva: -repleted, thank you, Damon.
Eva: I think that there's so much to do right now, there's so many ways to connect with each other in this fight and in this grief. I really appreciated when Vivien was also reminding us that the lies keep us busy. When I sit with myself and the world I'm living in at the end of the day, I'm just thinking of what actions have I taken today that are going to help bring about a ceasefire. I hope that Vivien helps us be more discerning that this conversation can lead people to more action and that it transforms us.
I think that Vivien said anyone who has loved someone who has died, you are transformed and you do work to transform, and so that question of how can we do this work in this time that we can't turn back from, I was texting a friend earlier this week about, they're just like the person to ask about what your protest sign should be, just the best wordsmith pun person strategist and--
Daniel: I'm insulted.
Eva: One of my friends.
Daniel: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Eva: My friend, the phrase that they sent back to me when I asked for something to write down was, "There's no coming back from this," and that's true. There's no coming back from this. I hope that what Vivien has to say is a guiding light for people who need that light right now.
Daniel: Anything else y'all want to get into before we hop out of the lap?
Damon: I want to end honoring the spirit of the project and in the experiment and the work of stewarding, caring, for loving, remembering, having a deeper relationship beyond extraction with the seeds, with the earth, with the soil, with the air, with the birds and how easy it is in times like this, and in all times, for that to be forgotten or subordinated. We have to remember that our liberation is in the land and the struggle against armies, and tanks, and borders, and police districts, and prisons is a land struggle.
It is about sovereignty, it is about determination of the land and also, that land that we are fighting to determine has the power to feed us and has the powers to connect us and transcend time and space in ways that if we pay attention to it, can teach us the lessons for the world we want to build. I'm so grateful for Vivien of helping to bring that lesson to the world in one of the most direct and intense ways.
Damon: Oh, and for you folks that maybe miss or can't take a joke, I know that replenish is the word, I was doing a joke thing. It was a callback, so replenished exists, I know that that's the word.
Daniel: All right, spirits replenished, we got a name. Let's go out in the world and stay active. Eva, how can folks find the rest of the experiments and the other work of IC?
Eva: You can always go to millionexperiments.com or interruptingcriminalization.com. You can follow IC on socials at Interruptcrim.
Daniel: We don't have this out in the world yet but we're just giving you a little sneak peek. We mentioned a while back that we made this film One Million Experiments. We did a screening in Chicago back in September and we are going to be hitting the road, all of next year, bringing this film to you. We'll have some screenings that we will share more info about in the next couple of months, but if you want to bring this film to your space, your campus, your organization, your convening, you can hit us up at email@example.com or our socials @respairmedia or of course, interruptcrim as well.
It's a beautiful film. You can see the trailer now at respairmedia.com. Just click on the One Million Experiments button. With that, we'll be back in the lab just a couple more times here doing what we do. Until then-
Damon: Much love to the people.