Recently I interviewed Lindy Li, a Princeton graduate who has been active in Chester County political life.
On May 18 you gave a speech entitled “American audacity” at the United Nations World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship [see text here and video here]. You feared that “The same intractable issues will anchor us down.” What sort of issues did you have in mind?
Lack of campaign finance reform prevents progress on almost every front. I’d love to do something about climate change, but we can’t because of moneyed interests. I’d love to do something about gun violence and to prevent the senseless slaughter of innocent Americans, but we can’t because of deep-pocketed organizations that very effectively impose their political will upon our lawmakers. The American people must hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire and demand action now. We need to be better organized and vocal than those who seek to maintain the status quo.
You said “my story is one of transcending limitations.” For example?
Being a young Chinese-American woman means that according to some I immediately have three strikes against me. The key is to transform my potential weaknesses into my greatest strengths.
You were at a dinner with President Obama recently?
Yes, we spoke briefly. I am also invited to go to the White House on June 14th for the United State of Women Summit, where the President, Vice President, and First Lady will be speaking. This event will gather together women leaders from across America.
During my Congressional campaign, I was endorsed by five members of Congress, including Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents the 6th District of New York and whom I greatly admire and respect.
You must enjoy being busy. What’s the latest?
One of several initiatives on which I’m working is a mentoring program that pairs students who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) but lack leadership skills with those who need additional tutoring on STEM topics. Giving these academically strong but socially challenged students an opportunity to develop their leadership capacity by tutoring those who need help with STEM accomplishes two important objectives simultaneously.
How about political life?
Right now I’m campaigning hard and fundraising for a number of candidates and elected officials, in addition to working with the DNC on hosting several events during the Convention in Philadelphia this summer. These are simply a few of the many things I’m doing right now in politics.
Do you have time for reading and what is your favorite book?
Yes, I read a lot. Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon B. Johnson are favorites. Anna Karenina is probably my most beloved book. I’m reading David McCullough’s Truman right now and am on a mission to devour every book that will help me to become a truly outstanding public servant.
During grade school I was the girl who was perpetually in the library. At age 16, I took a course at Harvard. Although I was shuddering with fright, I forced myself to ask the professor questions, in the presence of hundreds of classmates. Five years later, I was the graduation speaker at Princeton. Now I can address thousands of people with ease and great joy.
What is your top priority?
Public service, which is more important than politics. To me, that means fighting to give all hardworking Americans the opportunity to not only get by but also to get ahead. I’m the granddaughter of illiterate rice farmers. My family would be nowhere without the resources and opportunities of our adopted and beloved land. I believe our hard work and sacrifices, in turn, have made America stronger. My dad, a business owner, has hired many Americans, expanding their world of opportunities.
During the hearing in a lawsuit designed to remove me from the primary ballot, the judge, a Republican, said that he had never before been so moved by an election law case. He said that my family is an example of an immigrant success story, one that is especially resonant in an election season in which immigrants have often been vilified.
Are you an idealist?
Yes, but I’m deeply grounded in reality as well. Sometimes progress is best made when personal agendas and the greater good coincide. For example, LBJ knew that he would benefit politically from advancing civil rights.
How about power and money; are they important?
Much power resides in the ability to inspire people. I find comfort in knowing that I can change minds or strengthen resolves when it comes to carbon emissions and the need for common sense gun violence prevention. The majority of Americans favor universal background checks, but Congress is terrified of political retribution at the hands of certain organizations that control the spigot of campaign funds.
Great Britain, Japan, and Australia are all examples of countries that have successfully implemented gun violence prevention policies in the wake of tragedy. If they can do it, then why can’t we?
The accumulation of many seemingly insignificant actions makes an enormous difference, which is why turning off the lights in unused rooms and not wasting food on an individual basis matters.
I’m interested in money only insofar as it allows me to accomplish important things for our world. Look at our infrastructure – it’s in shambles. Inertia and lack of willpower prevent us from tackling some of the most important issues of our day, whether it be revitalizing our roads and bridges or reducing the pollution in Southeast Pennsylvania and around our country.
And political action?
Public service is my life’s calling. Several years ago I founded the “Do It in the Dark” campaign to encourage students to reduce their energy consumption by pitting dorms against each other in a friendly competition. I believe that the profit motive and capitalistic competition are powerful drivers of behavior.
In 2008 I worked at the Wawa near the Malvern train station. They didn’t recycle anything, so I took matters into my own hands by taking the discarded cardboard boxes, pieces of plastic, and paper home with me to recycle.
Once I spoke with a distinguished member of the Democratic Party who was so ruthless and cruel to me that I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Throughout this past year I’ve been threatened, blackmailed, and manipulated, though each of these moments of adversity has made me stronger and more discerning.
There is a lot of talk these days on the role of corporations and Wall Street in public life…
Until we clean up the way that our campaigns are financed, we will still have institutionalized bribery.
How about the current debate regarding immigration?
We do need better enforcement, but deporting 11 million people would be counterproductive. Immigrants are by definition risk-takers who sacrifice and work hard for a better life. This kind of ingenuity and work ethic propels the engine behind our economy. Nearly all of our country’s best and brightest are either immigrants themselves or their ancestors were at one point in time immigrants. If we do this right, America will be better off with immigration than without.
Can you give another example of your volunteer service?
I’m also working with the Sierra Club and other organizations on reducing the pollution from the Brunner Island power station. The carbon emissions from this coal plant blow across Chester County and Philadelphia, resulting in the fifth highest number of asthma cases in the country.
My entire life is devoted to serving others.