I have friends in L.A., who I'm going to call the Indigo Democrats, because they're just so fluttery and they feeeel things and there's a lot of "food allergies." They're like, "Public school is like government, it's like The Borg, it's like the whole Bush-corporate-whatever-military complex." And I got so wound up in that, I felt, "Well, to send your kids to private school: that lets Bush win!" And then, when you finally walk in, it's like, "Oh my god, there are children there. They need us. They're us!" .... If it's $20,000 a year for [children] to learn to be enlightened citizens, that means shit. Unless that poor kid on the bus can have it, it just doesn't mean anything.
--Sandra Tsing Loh, radio commentator and author of Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story about Parenting
America has a bipartisan criminal justice policy and no one is advocating any change in the status quo. One of the things I keep hoping is that, as more and more people are locked up, more people who aren't locked up are going to feel a direct impact of the criminal system and hopefully that will start the impetus for a type of change. Unfortunately, most of the people who are being locked up are all poor people, and their friends and relatives tend to also be poor people who don't have much political say in this country. And that's the whole thing about the criminal justice system: On whose back is it falling? It's almost exclusively falling on the backs of poor people.
--Paul Wright, ex-convict and founder of Prison Legal News
You learn to turn your head when you're walking down the street. You learn not to be aware that there are prisons in your community, even though you see representations of prisons in the media -- on television, in the movies -- virtually every day. In San Francisco, there's a relatively new county jail that you can see just as you get ready to cross the Bay Bridge. Many people see it and think, "Oh, it's a museum." It has this beautiful translucent glass. But if you look hard enough, you can see the cells on the other side. That to me is metaphor for the way we learn how to not look at prisons, how not to take homelessness seriously by pushing it to the margins of our consciousness.
I had saved that trip [to Malawi] for the last because I was sure that that would be the most difficult... because about 15 percent of the population is HIV-positive, and it's one of the poorest countries in the world: It just sounds like it would be so devastating. And I was shocked.... It sounds really corny to say this -- but I've never been to a place where I've seen that many people who had that many beautiful smiles.
--Actor Mia Kirshner, who told individuals' stories from global regions of crisis in a graphic novel co-produced with Amnesty International, I Live Here
There's a myth that the U.S. is pro-torture, but in fact it's not. Since 9/11, all the ticking time bomb scenarios and [the television program] 24 haven't shifted public opinion. It's almost the same as before 9/11 [with] most people opposed to torture, and the more specific [the study] on torture, the more the negatives go up. I worry about professions like lawyers and intelligence officers, but American society still has its moral universe intact. Depending on the question asked, between 60 and 65 percent of Americans oppose torture. And the people who support torture tracks with the approval rating of President Bush.
--Darius Rejali, author, Torture and Democracy
If you go to Washington on any day of the week and walk around the hotel rooms, you will find literally thousands of meetings of business interest groups and trade associations. The democracy described by Alexis de Tocqueville is alive and well at the level of the elite. ... But if you look at the bottom 30 to 40 percent, where is that? ... [E]conomic inequality leads to participatory inequality and the weakening of political democracy.
--Economist Robert Kuttner, author of The Squandering of America and Obama's Challenge
[T]here are always ways for people to fight each other and misunderstand each other. The only problem is that now we're on the Titanic. And the only way to save the ship is for everybody to work on it. Our diversity is either going to be our saving grace or it's going to be our Achilles' heel.... [T]he state of working and poor white folks is intricately bound up now with the state of all working folks in the United States. And in the future there will either be more work, more wealth, more health because we've made a turn to green industry, or this year will look like the good old days.
--Van Jones, activist with Green For All and author of The Green Collar Economy
I do not think that we can look for someone or something to save us. We're always looking for saviors. I don't think they exist. I think we have to look at each other and say, "How can we help? What is the nature of our work? How can we be of use?" That's the power of community. And that's really what the mosaic is: to take different perspectives, points of views, and talents, and say, "What do we want to create?"
--Terry Tempest Williams, author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World
Special thanks to interviewers Robin Lindley, Joe Martin, Trevor Griffey, and staff reporters Rosette Royale and Cydney Gillis. Interviews appear on page 7 each week. --ed.