What happens when the working mothers employed as housekeepers at a Harvard-owned hotel decide to “lean in” for higher wages and better working conditions? ¿Puede la solidaridad femenina unir a las clases?
In celebration of International Women’s Day, and in solidarity with today’s Women’s Strike, The Nation Magazine has released my long-in-the-making collaboration with Sarah Leonard about a group of immigrant working mothers who sought to unionize their Harvard-owned workplace – and in doing so asked Harvard’s first female president & Sheryl Sandberg “which side are you on?”
Their story shows us what a “feminism for the 99%” might look like.
Regardless of whether or not you are striking today, I hope you might find some time to read Sarah’s essay and watch CLEAN IN.
Spoiler alert: unlike 99% of labor stories, this piece has a happy ending! It’s a genuinely inspiring tale of how creative organizing and cross-class solidarity can achieve real, concrete, material (and nonmaterial) improvements in the lives of working people.
Happy International Women’s Day!
¡Feliz Día Internacional de la Mujer!
PS: This project emerged out of a socialist feminist reading group which has deeply informed how I think about both feminism and the economy. In honor of today’s strike, members of that group have collaborated on A Women’s Strike Syllabus. Check it out!
Shutting down 49 schools in predominantly minority & low income communities in 2013. “Hey Rahm, let’s face it. Your policies are racist!”
Forcing parents & students to plead with the school board to not shut down their schools. (Fun fact: the Walton Family Foundation funded these “community meetings” as a PR move to make it seem like the communities actually had some say in the matter. They didn’t.).
Manufacturing a budget crisis to justify school closures — and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars a year ($422 MILLION in 2013 alone) away from public schools & other municipal programs, and into a secretive slush fund he controls via “Tax Increment Financing.”
And don’t forget his buddies like Juan Rangel, campaign manager of his first mayoral run. Despite millions of dollars in state funds, Rangel managed to run the UNO Charter Network into huge amounts of debt (though his cronies in construction and maintenance did alright). He was forced to resign amidst the scandal, and later the SEC charged him with defrauding investors. (In this country, investors occasionally see justice. School children, not so much).
At ~2-3 minutes each, I hope the clips may be of use to those participating in tonight’s #OneTermRahm twitter storm. But of course you can watch the full film here.
As I write this, Chicago is about an hour away from deciding whether to re-elect mayor Rahm Emanuel. If he receives less than 50% of the vote in today’s election, there will be a run-off in April. Responsible for appointing both the CEO and school board, Emanuel exercises enormous control over the city’s public schools. His policies of school closures and privatization have had devastating effects on Chicago’s children, yet are being replicated in districts around the country.
This is perhaps the most depressing film I have ever worked on, but also the most hopeful. The soul-crushing hours spent listening to people like Eli Broad and Milton Friedman were more than matched by the inspiration of watching speeches by people like Karen Lewis, Asean Johnson (seriously, watch this!), and Jitu Brown. They represent just a few of the many parents, teachers, students and community members who are working tirelessly around the country, at the genuine grassroots, to bring democracy and justice to public education.
This project showed me that there are real heroes in America today. You may not often hear about them in the media, but you could find them outside in the cold today, knocking on doors in Chicago to get out the vote for an #ElectedBoardNow. And last week you could find them occupying absentee, Christie-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson’s offices in Newark, NJ to demand local control of their schools.
If you are interested in learning more, joining forces, or perhaps sharing some of that green stuff that gets posters printed, GOTV vans filled with gas, and films made, here are some resources:
The TIF Illumination Project has done an amazing job of exposing the corruption in Tax Increment Financing and teaching citizens how to investigate what happens to their tax dollars;
Finally, Jacobin has done excellent work reporting on education issues and with your support maybe I can keep making videos for them.
The nation will also have to find the answer to full employment, including a more imaginative approach than has yet been conceived for neutralizing the perils of automation. Today, as the skilled and semiskilled Negro attempts to mount the ladder of economic security, he finds himself in competition with the white working man at the very time when automation is scrapping forty thousand jobs a week. Though this is perhaps the inevitable product of social and economic upheaval, it is an intolerable situation, and Negroes will not long permit themselves to be pitted against white workers for an ever-decreasing supply of jobs. The energetic and creative expansion of work opportunities, in both the public and private sectors of our economy, is an imperative worthy of the richest nation on earth, whose abundance is an embarrassment as long as millions of poor are imprisoned and constantly self-renewed within an expanding population.
King, Jr., Martin Luther, 1963, Why We Can’t Wait
The growth of the human services should be rapid. It should be developed in a manner insuring that the jobs that will be generated will not primarily be for professionals with college and postgraduate diplomas but for people from the neighborhoods who can perform important functions for their neighbors. As with private enterprise, rigid credentials have monopolized the entry routes into human services employment. But … less educated people can do many of the tasks now performed by the highly educated as well as many other new and necessary tasks.
King, Jr. Martin Luther, 1967, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pp. 197-98
Must read piece by Mychal Denzel Smith and Jesse Myerson in The Nation, featuring both sober historical analysis and concrete proposals to organize around (Job & Income Guarantee, Land Value Tax, and Baby Bonds):
Before laying out our proposals, we should clarify why, historically, eliminating racism requires an economic program. America’s story is one of economic exploitation driving the creation and maintenance of racism over time. The inception of our country’s economic system condemned black people to an underclass for a practical rather than bigoted reason: the exploitation of African labor. Imported Africans were prevented by customs and language barriers from entering into contracts, and unlike the indigenous population, their lack of familiarity with the terrain prevented them from running away from their slavers. To morally justify an economy dependent on oppression, in a nation newly founded on the rights of men to freedom, it was necessary to socially construct a biological fiction called race, one that deemed some people subhuman, mere property.
And the further assumption that the looter isn’t sharing her loot is just as racist and ideological. We know that poor communities and communities of color practice more mutual aid and support than do wealthy white communities—partially because they have to. The person looting might be someone who has to hustle everyday to get by, someone who, by grabbing something of value, can afford to spend the rest of the week “non-violently” protesting. They might be feeding their family, or older people in their community who barely survive on Social Security and can’t work (or loot) themselves. They might just be expropriating what they would otherwise buy—liquor, for example—but it still represents a material way that riots and protests help the community: by providing a way for people to solve some of the immediate problems of poverty and by creating a space for people to freely reproduce their lives rather than doing so through wage labor.