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
Well, you’ve put me in the place I’m always winding up in and…that is to say well we’ve acknowledged that the problems are big, now where’s the big solution? When you ask the question what is the big answer, then you’re implying that we can impose the answer. But that’s the problem we’re in to start with, we’ve tried to impose the answers. The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.
Now, I bow to no one in my appreciation of female beauty and fancy clobber but I could not wrench the phantom of those children from my mind, in this moment I felt the integration; that the price of this decadence was their degradation. That these are not dislocated ideas but the two extremes are absolutely interdependent. The price of privilege is poverty. David Cameron said in his conference speech that profit is “not a dirty word”. Profit is the most profane word we have. In its pursuit we have forgotten that while individual interests are being met, we as a whole are being annihilated. The reality, when not fragmented through the corrupting lens of elitism, is we are all on one planet.
To have such suffering adjacent to such excess is akin to marvelling at an incomparable beauty, whose face is the radiant epitome of celestial symmetry, and ignoring, half a yard lower down, her abdomen, cancerous, weeping and carbuncled. “Keep looking at the face, put a handbag over those tumours. Strike a pose. Come on, Vogue.”
Suffering of this magnitude affects us all. We have become prisoners of comfort in the absence of meaning. A people without a unifying myth. Joseph Campbell, the comparative mythologist, says our global problems are all due to the lack of relevant myths. That we are trying to sustain social cohesion using redundant ideologies devised for a population that lived in deserts millennia ago. What does it matter if 2,000 years ago Christ died on the cross and was resurrected if we are not constantly resurrected to the truth, anew, moment to moment? How is his transcendence relevant if we do not resurrect our consciousness from the deceased, moribund mind of our obsolete ideologies and align with our conditions?
The model of pre-Christian man has fulfilled its simian objectives. We have survived, we have created agriculture and cities. Now this version of man must be sacrificed that we can evolve beyond the reaches of the ape. These stories contain great clues to our survival when we release ourselves from literalism and superstition. What are ideologies other than a guide for life? Throughout paganism one finds stories that integrate our species with our environment to the benefit of both. The function and benefits of these belief matrixes have been lost, with good reason. They were socialist, egalitarian and integrated. If like the Celtic people we revered the rivers we would prioritise this sacred knowledge and curtail the attempts of any that sought to pollute the rivers. If like the Nordic people we believed the souls of our ancestors lived in the trees, this connection would make mass deforestation anathema. If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?
I’m a bit late in blogging this news and now there’s only 10 hours left to back the project. Do it! Your money supports the printing of a full-color booklet documenting the destruction of America’s public schools currently taking place under the guise of “reform.” Copies will be given to unions & community groups to use for fundraising and organizing, but won’t be for sale online. But a $10 Kickstarter pledge gets you a physical copy. (My video will be available for free.)
The propaganda machine of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) is sophisticated and insanely well-funded, and has nearly succeeded in masquerading the gutting of our public school system as a “progressive” movement. The actual fruits of GERM include undermining teachers unions and democratic school boards through privately run charter schools; a counterproductive obsession with standardized testing and unidimensional “accountability”; and the shuttering of dozens of schools in cities across the country. The research supporting GERM ranges from non-existent to fraudulent. Rarely do these reforms benefit students, quite often the reverse, though the billionaires who fund the movement do stand to profit both directly and indirectly.
My video will be an attempt at a counter-narrative exposing the pernicious role that billionaire philanthropists and their foundations play in the “education reform” debate. The video will be based on an essay in the booklet by Joanne Barkan, who has done excellent reporting on the subject, and will feature images from Katrina Ohstrom of abandoned Chicago schools. This project is my first foray into the film essay, a form I’ve long admired. I hope I can do the material justice. Stay tuned!