A conversation with Amita Kuttner

They are the youngest and first trans and east Asian person to lead a national political party

Amita Kuttner was elected as the Green Party of Canada's Interim Leader. (Submitted)

Amita Kuttner was elected as the Green Party of Canada’s Interim Leader. (Submitted)

The Green Party of Canada announced the appointment of Amita Kuttner as the party’s interim leader. 

Kuttner has a Ph.D in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), with a research focus on wormholes, blackholes, and quantum effects. They are the founder of the Moonlight Institute non-profit organization, which has a mission to “nurture a sustainable framework for an equitable and just future” and “illuminate pathways to a sustainable, equitable, and just world for generations to come,” according to the institute’s website. Kuttner is also the co-founder of the UCSC chapter of 314 Action, which is dedicated to electing scientists to public office. 

Kuttner got involved in politics in grad school. They say studying astrophysics gave them an outside perspective of the world, and they wanted to help. 

“I really didn’t get the sense that we were living up to the amazing potential that we have, living on this planet,” Kuttner says. 

“And that is both the way we live in a very kind of destructive way and also in not taking care of each other. The amount of suffering is unnecessary.” 

They add that they wanted to do something to help rather than continue a career in academia, and it came down to asking themselves what the most impactful thing is that a person can do. 

“So, that’s how I decided to get into politics. And if you can make politics work, it can be very impactful,” they say. 

Kuttner served as Critic for Science and Innovation from September of 2018 to February of 2020 for the Green Party. In that role, they presented policies on artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. They were also the Green Party’s candidate for North Burnaby-Seymour riding in the 2019 federal election and came sixth in the 2020 leadership race to replace Elizabeth May, who was succeeded by Annamie Paul. 

“I decided federal made sense for what I worked the best with, and I decided to run. Go back to where I grew up to run for the first time and found a home in the Greens being focused on representation of a partisan shift,” Kuttner says. 

However, Kuttner says what they thought would be there was not exactly what they found. The party struggled to come to agreements and be respectful of each other amidst differing opinions. 

“It’s hopeful in the sense that there are people committed to it, and then not in the sense that it really is a place full of a lot of ugliness. I think in the end, the overall lesson, which made me found a non-profit, was there’s a particular set of things that must be accomplished with politics. And then there’s the set that can’t,” they say. 

After months of conflict within the party and after facing a setback during the 2021 federal election, Paul formally resigned in November. The Greens selected Kuttner as the party’s interim leader. 

At 30-year-old Kuttner is the youngest person, the first trans person, and the first person of East Asian descent to lead a national political party. 

“It’s an honour, and it’s definitely a responsibility,” they say. “It means a lot to me because it’s a huge opportunity to make a difference. And I think making that difference comes in different ways.”

“It’s showing people who have no experience with trans people whatsoever that we’re just people. We’re not delusional about ourselves. We are self-consistent people.” 

Kuttner says it also means doing a good job, not overstepping boundaries they have within their work for the Green Party, but also to show the importance of policy being intersectional. 

A challenge they’ve come across is encountering people making racist remarks in a casual manner. 

“This person means nothing by this, but they’re so entrenched in a white supremacist society, they have no clue what they’re [saying],” Kuttner says. 

But there’s also larger challenges ahead of them. 

“There’s the mundane challenges, and then there’s the big challenges. I think the big challenges are doing the complex internal work of working with a lot of people with very different opinions and different views of what’s going on,” Kuttner says. 

One of those big challenges, Kuttner says, is helping a party that has been limping along. 

“The car is broken down on the side of the road. I put a clown tire on it to get through the last two weeks, but now we [have] to take it to the shop and actually do some good internal work in restructuring, and it has to be done very deliberately and carefully,” Kuttner explains. 

“When you’re dealing with a lot of people who’ve been hurt, who care a lot, and really just want to work to get everybody on the same page starting with a pretty small group of people and a lot of passion, it’s a huge challenge.” 

But it’s doable, they add. 

To transgender students, east Asian students, and students from other minority groups interested in politics, Kuttner says to make sure they have a support team. 

“You’re dealing with structures that are patriarchal with the premises in colonial, and therefore heteronormative, to the core. That is how the government is structured, and that is how the parties are structured,” they say. 

“If you are going to participate in them, keep your wits about you and get yourself a team of people to support you. By us being there, we have the opportunity to change those systems. I would like to see all the parties change in that way.” 

For now, Kuttner is focused on winding down the rest of this year. Starting in January with a core group of people, they plan to develop a strategy. 

“It’s pretty basic, like meeting people, especially in the electoral district associations and checking in [to ask] ‘What do you need? What support can we give you? What do you want to see?’ And it’s clear that everybody on that level wants to move forward,” Kuttner says. 

Kuttner says it will involve reconciling with people’s realities and doing some trust exercises. 

“It takes commitment from all the people. I can hold events, meet with people, give feedback … but everybody has to step up to the plate. Part of that is the definition of culture and how we work with one another. I have to be my best self, so that other people feel comfortable doing the same,” they say. 

For now, Kuttner doesn’t plan to run in the leadership election and wants to focus on helping run the contest when it’s time. 

“Since I went through it last time, I got a pretty close up view of a lot of things that weren’t working … like capacity issues and support in different areas. So making sure that we put on the leadership race that gets a leader that the whole party likes instead of a small group of the party,” Kuttner says. 

The Green Party’s constitution requires a leadership contest within six months of the appointment of an interim leader and concluded within 24 months of the interim appointment. 

“The Green Party is a party that refuses the status quo and refuses the concept that shifting the status quo a little bit is good enough. We need to focus on well-being. We want to dig further into democracy rather than higher governance,” Kuttner says. 

“It’s about societal transformation and a representation-first approach to governance,” they add. 

Kuttner says they believe leadership is about empowering others. 

“I’m hoping that we can get a party to actually be somewhere that will represent people, and we can actually work together at a community level, and people can use the space as an empowerment tool for community building and representation.”