IronStache’s Green New Deal

Hello, and thanks for subscribing. I realize it’s only the third issue, and I’m no stranger to a honeymoon period, but I’m so excited by the number of people who keep opening and signing up for this newsletter. It’s really humbling. I’m still messing around with the format, so please, if you have any ideas to share, send them my way.

The drama over the Democratic National Committee’s vote last week to backtrack on its pledge to stop taking fossil fuel companies’ money intensified over the past week as groups like 350.org and Sunrise Movement staged protests in Washington.

The episode shed new light on the pipeline industry’s grip on powerful building trade unions, and made clear that weaning the country off coal, oil and gas by 2035 -- the year many scientists say marks the latest possible target for avoiding climate change’s most cataclysmic effects -- will require herculean political muscle. Pipeline projects offer lucrative, if temporary, jobs. Solar and wind turbine construction simply don’t pay as much, and offer few union jobs.

Enter: IronStache.

Randy Bryce, a.k.a. @IronStache, is the mustachioed union worker who won the Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District on Tuesday. That’s retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home district. President Donald Trump carried the district by 10 points. But political forecasters say Bryce has a fighting chance in November. If he wins, he could help his party harmonize its dissonant concerns with union workers and climate activists.

Bryce is one of a handful of candidates, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running on a Green New Deal. To him, it’s a marriage of two policies. He wants the federal government to dramatically ramp up public spending to build up solar and wind capacity across the country. He also wants to guarantee a good-paying, federally-backed job to every American who wants one.

As of now, there’s little polling data on a green federal jobs guarantee. But polling data shows the vast majority of Americans across party lines support policies to increase renewable energy and decrease carbon pollution, even if it *costs* jobs. More than 50 percent of Americans in two different surveys approved of a federal jobs guarantee. As I wrote last week, combining the two policies could solve a few problems for the Democrats all at once.

Bryce seems to get this. When I talked to him in June, he told me he refused to take pipeline jobs even when he was scraping by on $250 a week.

“I turned down work there when I was unemployed,” he said. “We see the fossil fuel industries spending a lot money from their profits on campaigns in order to keep getting subsidies from the government. But I want to see us start working more on wind turbines.”

He said he wants to break the paradigm that it’s either “going to be clean jobs or good paying jobs.”

“Union jobs pay the same no matter what,” he said. “Our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to reinvest in our country. I can’t think of a better way than to have that be a future that’s reliant on renewable sources.”

For more on this, read my piece from June on the history of the Green New Deal, or my piece from last week on why a radical green jobs plan should be a win-win for Democrats.

Letters of Recommendation

  • Zoë Schlanger’s long-awaited series on the water crisis along the southern border came out this week in Quartz. It’s deeply reported and elegantly written -- it’s gorgeous.

  • Kate Aronoff interviewed a co-author of the big “Hothouse Earth” study for The Intercept. The damning conclusion: “you simply have to go right back to the fundamental science of who we are, the planet we evolved into, how that planet operates and what’s happening to it and that will tell you immediately that so-called neoliberal economics is radically wrong in terms of how it views the rest of the world.”

  • Daniel Denvir hosted a live episode of “The Dig” at Verso Books in Brooklyn on Friday night. He talked to an unmatchable panel of four thinkers about Blockadia and the future of left climate politics. You can watch most of it on Facebook here, and of course subscribe to the podcast.

  • Chris D’Angelo’s piece in HuffPost on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s ostrich approach to climate change and wildfires is searing: “Zinke traveled to California on the taxpayer’s dime to learn about the wildfire threat and tour the damage. It would be a shame if he left without looking at the actual facts.”

  • Jonathan D. Salant’s investigation on NJ.com this week exposed jaw-dropping new details about the campaign chairman for Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who evaded flagrant corruption charges thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2016 narrowing of anti-bribery laws. Turns out the guy is a lobbyist working for a gas pipeline company proposing a project in New Jersey.

  • Sarah Ruiz-Grossman, my HuffPost colleague, rendered what it’s like to lose your home in a California wildfire in painstaking detail. You should read it.

  • My new favorite podcast is FAQNYC, a weekly political show co-hosted by Azi Paybarah, one of the best local reporters in NYC. I binged the first two episodes on my drive up to Boston last week. The latest show centers on an interview with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A short interview with Arielle Stein

Arielle Stein can dance, paint, sculpt and read books faster than anyone I know. But she’s bad at math. I know this because our lives entwined at 15 years old, when we were bored, slightly embarrassed students on Long Island in Ms. Hoffman’s remedial math class. She sat behind me, and we passed notes to get through class. We were both above average history and English students, and could smugly regale teachers with the achievements, etymology and spread of Islamic mathematics. But writing an equation with integer coefficients was too much. We worked through the shame of our virtual innumeracy by illustrating the classmates on torn-off pieces of paper. I still have these little comics stashed in a shoebox somewhere in my parents’ house.

Needless to say, her caricatures were much better than my crude etchings. She’s gone on to make a serious career of art. Her first solo show, “Bewitching the Dybbuks,” ended in Reading, Pennsylvania, this month to rave reviews. She has another show coming up on Aug. 30 from 7-9 p.m. at the Hadas Gallery on 541 Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn.

I talked to her a bit this weekend about her work. This was edited for length and clarity.

A lot of your work examines talmudic and moral stories through expressive, gnarled bodies. What about warping the human form makes it such an effective tool for saying what you want to say?

Use of the human form in general is really powerful because viewers can identify with the character even if it isn’t directly representation. For me, gnarled or differently shaped or warped bodies are really powerful for representing pain and struggle. Viewers can either directly or implicitly identify what’s happening to the body in the image. It gives people a nonverbal or less explicit way of relating to the imagery because it’s a bodily, one-to-one experience.

A lot of Jewish religious content is either really directly obsessed with or focused on the body, or really intentionally not focused on the body. Claiming that and engaging with ownership is really important as a woman approaching a lot of that material, because so much of it is women’s body’s being treated as if they’re of use to or owned by everybody except the woman who lives inside of it.

Climate change takes on a certain religious aspect for some people insofar as it’s the greatest, most overwhelming result of human behavior of all time. It’s difficult to grasp and contextualize. It’s omnipresent in everything. It feels like God. How do you think about it, what role does it play in your work, and how has that role changed over time?

Something like climate change feels so massive and terrifying. A really good way of opting out of responsibility and action is to say that this is divinely intended, or this is so big we can’t do anything about it. To me, climate change directly relates to a lot of conversation about good and evil and ethics, and the complexities of those things in human behavior and society and experience.

The impact of art is arguable, and its role can be looked at in a lot of different ways. My work feels like it’s enabling people to interact with or confront emotional space and pain. A lot of trying to stand in your power and your capacities is dependent on being able to confront pain and complication.

The way I’ve thought about this is it’s the next mass tragedy that’s taking place, and it’s largely self created. A lot of my work is in some direct or indirect way reacting to humanly wrought tragedy. It’s implicitly there because it’s one of the major things that’s currently happening. There’s a feeling I have, which I’m sure many other people share, of impotence. It goes back to that feeling that [climate change] is supernatural and godlike because of the scale. That feeling of confused impotence influences a lot of the work.

When you were studying at Mechon Hadar on the Upper West Side, was there anything in particular that you learned that changed your perspective on environmental issues?

One of the things that we studied was the seven-year cycle with land and the 50th Jubilee year. In ancient Israelite society -- and I think it was practiced in different places to different extents -- there was a rule that every seven years you had to let the land lie fallow to recover from farming and human use and abuse. It’s directly utilitarian in some ways. It also functions as a reminder that we are deeply connected to the earth and the ways that we treat and interact with it affect our daily capacity to stay alive. Being tied to the land in such a direct way and having to acknowledge that’s not always there to serve your needs and your actions impact your capacity to survive was a useful framing.

In a less direct way, I learned the story of Noah in more depth than I had previously and really thought about that as climatic catastrophe. It’s the greatest flood that destroys the entire world. That mythologically happened and was directly tied to human behavior.

As we learned from some of the responses to your recent solo show deep in Trump country, Pennsylvania, your work makes some people uncomfortable. It’s sometimes violent. You’ve depicted firehose menstruation to make raw, bold statements about power. Was there ever a sense of coyness or shyness that you got over?

I don’t think there was an epiphany moment. I think it grew out of personality and angst and I think it became more strongly visible in the work as I became more involved with feminist thought and anti-capitalist thought.

At a time when, politically, people seem afraid to face uncomfortable scientific realities, is there a broader message we can pull from this? Or a broader role for art to play in getting people accustomed?

The general public is not desensitized to visual art, unlike a lot of video stuff. It’s also different because a lot of art isn’t necessarily created for a mass audience. Something that takes you out of yourself in the present moment has potential to be jarring in a way that’s useful. Visual art can have the capacity to do that. Either inviting or forcing people to interact with or engage with something that isn't comfortable to them can either be desensitizing or can give people the experience and practice of doing that, which can be applied elsewhere.

One of my favorite things to listen to you talk about is why you choose to paint over other mediums.

For me, art making is a really intuitive, physical process. Painting connects the most to the body. It can be a really encompassing full body experience. I like creating art and viewing art that’s really connected to the body and the person of the artist. For me it’s a more powerful mode of expression because it’s hard to take yourself out of it. The reality of climate change, the political reality, those are all things that are in your body. If you are creating with your body it can come through and influence the content.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to connect climate change more to issues of public health, and to effectively to connect them to body. You have candidates running on climate issues by talking about asthma, for example. And that seems like much more effective messaging than talking about something as difficult to wrap your head around as long-term warming tends or sea level rise or even polar bears.

It directly relates in terms of what it’s doing. I think people can understand or resonate with images of the human body because they reflect their now. If you look at art, that’s the human body. In some ways that’s connected to you the viewer. Even if the person depicted doesn’t look like you.

Talking about climate change's impact on the human body is similarly powerful. It’s something everyone can understand.  Everyone lives in a body, no matter what that body is like. There’s some physical understand even if it can’t be verbalized.

Talk to me about the watermelons. I love the watermelons so much.

The watermelons began as a fun, therapeutic exercise. I was really feeling that a lot of the art I was making was working out kind of dark things within me and the world and I needed levity. I saw a painting by Josh Smith on Instagram of a watermelon that I got really really obsessed with. That was the initial influence. More specifically, it feels really important to have things that are happy or that connect to the earth around to look at. At least to me, to make me remember there’s a lot of magic and beauty in the world around us that we’re not seeing.

The watermelons later became named “Gash Series,” because they began to remind me of open wounds. I’m not sure how those things connect yet, or why that needed to happen together. But I also think maybe there’s an important feminist gesture in making things that are joyful. So much of art either seem to be dominated by the market or patriarchal ideas of what’s serious. To me, making pink, glittery fruit at a moment of global crisis feels on the one hand absurd and funny and on the other hand claiming a space.

Like what you read? Forward it to a friend. It’s free. If you want more interviews with artists, check out my Q&As with Jenny Kendler and Maria Berrio. Send suggestions, comments or corrections to alexanderckaufman@gmail.com.