Born in 1987 in South Korea, I am based in Los Angeles and work as a National Social Justice Organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and a community member of Elderberries Threefold Community and the Have Seeds House. I co-founded Moral Mondays LA, teach a Governance and Activism course at YIP with Gerald Häfner, and helped co-found Mutual Aid – Los Angeles to support folks during the COVID-19 pandemic in LA. I stand up for freedom, human rights, and an end to poverty, racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy.
Kait Ziegler interviewed by Nicole Asis on May 26, 2019 | Photos: Amy J. Smith, Kait Ziegler, Steve Pavey, Elderberries Threefold Café, Have Seeds House, & Youth Initiative Program Sweden
Nicole Asis: How did you start with Elderberries Threefold Café and Anthroposophy?
Kait Ziegler: I came into it all through my partner, Destiny, who lives at the house as a manager at Elderberries Threefold Café. She was looking for a life transformation moment – searching for housing, a sober space, a community. At that time, Elderberries was the café and the Have Seeds House. Through that, I met the people she was living with. Then, after 3 months since we moved in, I was invited to attend Classroom Alive because our community hosts a YIP internship – the Youth Initiative Program in Järna. I was so confused at that time – what is this and who are all of you people? I was maybe 28-or 29.
Nicole: What was your work at Elderberries? And how did it weave into your work at the Poor People’s Campaign?
Katie: I was on my way to Hollywood for an audition. I was figuring out how to get back on to meet them in Rodeo Beach. So, I walked two miles to the Café just to have a little lunch.
I met Dottie and she asked me, “Have you heard of Rudolf Steiner?” And I was like, “No.”
Second question: “Have you heard of Anthroposophy or Waldorf Schools?” I said, “No.”
And then again, “Have you heard of Rev. William Barber?” And I said, “No.” Then she went on to say, “He is this amazing guy that started this movement called Moral Mondays and that’s my guy. And Rudolf Steiner is like my other guy. He created this movement called Anthroposophy.” She told me a little bit about the Threefold Social Order . Then she basically asked me if I wanted to co-found Moral Mondays in Los Angeles.
I started reading about Threefold Social Order, some lectures from Rudolf Steiner, Theory U by Otto Scharmer , and the Three Reconstruction by Rev. Barber . So, it was like an amalgamation of Anthroposophy and my introduction to that – into Theory U and into this movement of Moral Mondays and the Poor People’s Campaign. I ended up being a co-chair for the Poor People’s Campaign- California. And all these interesting things sort of wove together.
It was living social justice connected with living out Anthroposophy as a youth and not actually letting it be too theoretical. Or even like saying, “that is Anthroposophy.” It’s more like bringing a completely different level of consideration, kindness, and relational building that is not usually present in activism. That really felt powerful.
Nicole: What was your professional background before Elderberries and Poor People’s Campaign? And what were your personal questions that led you to social activism?
Kait: I used to work as an actor in Chicago. Besides that, I volunteered as a tutor for different people at the refugee alliance.
I am always trying to find my way. I volunteered at a clinic in Haiti, then lived in Israel to get my Master’s in Public Health, specifically Humanitarian and Emergency Management. I wanted to work on the refugee crisis, maybe work in camps, or maybe work with nonprofits in overexploited countries in the south. I really want to be able to help.
Art was also a crucial part of it. But I could never figure out how to link art and activism or art and serving people. I think there is a natural connection outside how we materialistically look at it. But the world of art and acting – what you have to do for that and economically survive – and the world of helping people are very different careers. That is why I left acting. I felt that the amount of time I actually did it – what I loved about art and being a theater artist – I had to sacrifice a lot of just being able to make a living. There is also so much ego in having to care about your image and networking – meeting the right people and a high facade of being in the right place with being with the right people to make it. That was really making me sad. So, that was why I left acting and got my masters. I switched fields
Nicole: Can you describe Moral Mondays and Poor People’s Campaign – the five pillars you focus on at your mass actions and nonviolent protests?
Kait: Moral Mondays was started by Rev. Barber in North Carolina almost 10 years ago as a new type of movement to build a fusion coalition. There was a lot of oppression in North Carolina and its government. It was extremely conservative. Rev. Barber created a movement strategy to overturn some of the most repressive policies to educators – to lack of brown folks there, to poor folks, to people who are queer or trans.
When he was trying to bring those together, there was a need to incorporate lines of divisions. Most groups were like, “We are working on poverty” or “We are working on women’s rights”. Others were for youth incarceration or on immigrant justice. He wanted to create a place where not only many different organizations come together but also people from across faiths can be in one place. An Imam can hold hands with a Rabbi or with an Anglican priest.
This movement always goes to the statehouse every Monday where they could practice non-violent disobedience. It was a movement that has gotten a lot of national attention because nothing has really been done like that for a long time. They built this massive fusion coalition – from 18 people to thousands.
Dottie heard about it and read “The Third Reconstruction”. It stated that the first reconstruction after slavery. The second one was after the Civil Rights Movement – when black people were given a right to vote. And now, Rev. Barber says that we are in a need of a third reconstruction. That there is still more to be done.
Nicole: How was it like protesting in the streets for Moral Mondays?
Kait: I think the first one I did was on my birthday with people from YIP. We were maybe 10 or 12 people at that time. Sometimes there were only 4 people. But we met every single Monday for about two years.
Frank, Dottie, Destiny, Daniel, and I feel like radical activists in a not-so-typical sense – caring about values and being out in the world. Being able to protest if we need to protest. Being able to stand up, even if it means risking arrests. But also doing it in a way that it is not only connected to Anthroposophy but really caring about the individual human being.
It was a perfect place to bring us to communities together, bringing in a sort of mindfulness and spirituality into the community that doesn’t usually talk about that at all. And it is on the ground with activism, with organizing – in which we are trying to create a space where we could all learn how to listen deeply and how to really build empathy to people – not only those we do not know but also those we dislike.
How do we build social prototypes or structures within Moral Mondays, where we could talk about racism, poverty, and look at how they are affecting the city? What are the solutions that we think we might be able to create? We use art and culture, writing and reflection, and personal practice to not only deepen our own inner awareness but also care about the other.
Nicole: On the Poor People’s Campaign website, it states that the US has more marginalization than ever before – that poverty is really rising. What are the social issues that you are currently focusing on at your rallies?
Kait: It is really an accurate picture when we say “interlocking injustices require an intersectional response”. That means we cannot fight for one thing at a time. We need to be able to understand how all of the injustices are really systemic. That they are embedded in the entire infrastructure of how our countries are built socially, culturally, economically, racially, and by class.
We can respond in a way that is intersectional. That means many players are needed to participate in different fights, across different movements, together. The need for that is so great because there are some rights fought by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 that have been rolled back and have gotten worse now.
Where I live in Los Angeles, you can see the rate of the homelessness crisis rising so rapidly. Anyone on the street is completely unacceptable. There are women and children that are on the streets. It is not like someone is making poor choices. This is the narrative because the systems on many levels are so broken, especially on how people are able to economically survive, that most people say they are just one paycheck away from being homeless.
Everyone is vulnerable to poverty. Even those people who have an apartment, not going to food banks, have steady jobs and are working full time. They are also at risk because they are spending so much money on rent, groceries, energy bills, and others that they cannot save extra for an emergency. It is really hard to see until maybe they have one car repair or one medical bill that is 500 dollars. If 500 dollars go out and two things come up as an emergency, you cannot pay your rent for one month. And you can get evicted, immediately.
The rights about housing and the costs of the housing market have gone really, really crazy. This is also the increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor. I think there was just a new thing. The number always gets smaller and smaller – that the richest people in the world have more money than the bottom half of the entire population of the world. It is really something crazy, right? Like the 1% and the 99% is so stark in the US that it is creating poverty.
Then when you look at why that is, or who is being affected proportionally the most, who are the most marginalized, racism then comes in. People at the border, who are immigrants that are not white immigrants, black people, also Asian people, Indian people are disproportionately affected. Also, the amount of poor white people is shocking in the States. It is also showing that the system of economic inequality is affecting every single person.
Most people that come in, even people who might have voted for Trump, must be also invited into the movement – because it is not about being Republican. It is not about saying you are this and I am pro this nor you are against that so we cannot be together. Everyone has been suffering somehow under the system of racism and poverty. There are a lot of policies being enacted that are keeping everyone poor, then what we can do together. And so this is the whole philosophy in the campaign.
Nicole: What are the challenges that you face during protests? And how do you make the protests peaceful despite all of these?
Kait: In order to be able to get what you want and to be able to mobilize towards action, you need different strategies. Non-violent civil disobedience is the philosophy. It is also training – a completely holistic way of life. Indirect action is also another. And if no one listens, well, we are not going to move. Working all through that means being well-trained in the community, unified in the discipline of protest and non-violence, and well-prepared in terms of logistics teams and teams that do jail support if people do end up getting arrested.
That has been something that is moving – moving what our voice is – and it has been building up. Last year, we had California plus maybe 35 other states in the United States organize their own six weeks of action at their own state capitals. Some places had a thousand people. Some places had 13 people. Nonetheless, there was this coordinated action around all these state capitals. After that, we had this convening in Washington where we brought together 200-300 people to do a march to the capital.
Nicole: And what are the successes?
Kait: We had a presidential forum where we had 10 of the candidates come to our Poor People’s Campaign even. You could imagine that starting out as a grassroots movement model from two years ago to getting to the place where politicians felt compelled enough to the power that we’ve built to show up to a televised Forum, where we asked questions about poverty, about indigenous rights, about racism, about the military budget. Bill Sanders, Camilla Harris, Senator Warren, and Joe Biden were there. Those people who are running for president in 2020 came.
And I think there are so many different ways of being connected and forming a universal movement to change. Like how this world looks. We are all doing our parts – like you are doing a different part, and Milla is doing a different one and I, too. So there is no “one” right way.
What has been amazing is that it feels so powerful to make sure that everyone is included. That those people who are most affected, even if they might not be the people who would usually be the leaders, even if they are not the people who would usually want to be in front of the camera or standing in front of a podium, need to be heard. Their voices matter the most.
Nicole: How do you manage the differences in such a diverse group? And how can the individual still be active in the collective?
Kait: Individuality comes from people striving and using their capacities and their talents to do what feels good for them in their own development. And becoming one’s own leader.
You could imagine that so many varieties of things and on many different skill levels and capacities happen just from local leadership. Like coming in and that individuality of what you want to be working on can be answered through a ton of different types of jobs and organizing work.
All of these keep it very diverse in terms of people having a lot of independence and individual freedom on how they want to be part of it. Then the connectivity on the other side is to be coordinated. How do you deal with so many different people’s opinions and narratives, smashing and colliding all together is the deeper purpose of why we are together? We might have differences in opinions. We might have been raised and taught differently. But we are at a serious point of a crisis in our history in the US – and I think also everywhere in the world – that it is going to break soon.
Nicole: How important is it to use a language that can be understood by others – bringing Social Threefolding and Anthroposophy across without the jargon that goes with it?
Kait: I don’t know. Maybe I am a little bit much of an activist or something or sound too radical maybe. I also don’t consider myself an anthroposophist. I don’t think I like any titles. But I do love being in the anthroposophical community thought – what I’ve read, being part of initiatives that are rooted in it, and what I have been meditating with.
That being said, I think that all languages that are philosophical need to be de-intellectualized. That of itself is already too intellectual, as I said. People should realize that they all have the power to be able to understand different types of theories or philosophies which might indicate how they are living. But what it says is all so high up – not only with Anthroposophy but also with economics, for example. How do you start bringing it in a way that anyone can be like, “Yeah, it really clicks for me”?
I do not know how to do that. It feels like there is a whole lexicon in Anthroposophy that I definitely feel like, for example reading Philosophy of Freedom, “Do the words in themselves -the way that they were formed and the way that it is built together — not be changed? Is that all put in a purposeful way that you really have to work through it at that level in order to work in it?” Maybe that is true.
But as an introduction to people, say for someone in high school who does not have English or German as his or her mother tongue but love philosophy or wanted to change. How might someone like that approach or read Social Threefolding? How do you make it more accessible? Because I think it really needs to be.
Nicole: Does Anthroposophy enhance your work as a social activist? If so, how is it manifested and why is it important, or why not?
Kait: Great question. I would say it is, but I am a little bit resistant and stubborn. I am really resistant to many things, especially in my path towards Anthroposophy. It is more admiration and respect – loving the essence of it. I really believe though in the beauty of a lot of parts like Dottie talks a lot about the 8-fold path – we have daily exercises on our menus at our café. And I really love reading the Philosophy of Freedom .
So I would say the part of which it connects to my work the deepest is, as far as what I have learned and studied of Anthroposophy, is being in an internal and external quest to be free.
To internally be free of judgment, of fear, of hate. Be completely free in how you think – where you are able to build concepts that the future needs and you are free with others. That you are unendingly giving and free on how you live your life. Walking out an emergent path by the way that you are thinking and being so that you meet everything that you need to meet in your life. And through this, it helps you become part of the change in the world.
A crucial thing that has been helping me in my activism is this – it is my responsibility to unlock my own freedom. I don’t want to ever get dogmatic. I don’t want to become embittered. I don’t want to become unfree. So I am constantly reminding myself to work towards free-thinking. To understand clearly that there is a different type of freedom possible on how I make choices – what I do, how I feel, and how I treat people. This is a daily inspiration that helps guide my external work.
To me, Anthroposophy is really just that – freedom. It is the biggest tool that is beneficial for people who are really trying to serve the world. It is all about being free and I love that.
1 Steiner, R. Lecture in 1919. The Threefold Social Order – GA 23. Translation: Heckel, F. 1972. https://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA023/English/AP1972/GA023_index.html.
2 Scharmer, O. 2016 (2nd ed.) Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN-13: 978-1626567986
3 Barber, W. & Wilson-Hartgrove, J. 2016. The Third Reconstruction. Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807007419
4. Steiner, R. (2016 ed.). Die Philosophie der Freiheit (GA 4). Rudolf Steiner Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7274-6271-9
Eng: (1995 ed). Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path (Philosophy of Freedom). Anthroposophic Press Inc. ISBN-10: 088010385X