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.
CLEAN IN is a 21min video essay featuring music by bilingual political punk band Downtown Boys and Puerto Rican shoegaze band Un.Real. It’s a companion piece to Sarah’s long-form essay, Housekeepers Versus Harvard: Feminism for the Age of Trump.
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!
Yesterday Jacobin Magazine published “The School Closure Playbook,” a film essay I directed about Chicago’s decision to shut down forty-nine public schools in 2013:
This piece is adapted from two essays from Jacobin’s “Class Action” handbook, Kenzo Shibata’s “Disaster Capitalism, Chicago Style” and Joanne Barkan’s “How Mega-Foundations Threaten Public Education.” It features original cinematography by Katrina Ohstrom; music by Rob Warmowski of the San Andreas Fault; and video journalism by Kai-Duc Luong, Heather Stone, and John Sheehan. This project also owes a tremendous debt to BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis, in ways which will be obvious to anyone familiar with his work (and that saying about imitation and flattery).
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:
- I was able to make this film in part because two teachers, Jackson Potter and Albert Ramirez, documented the early consequences of school closures and turnarounds in their film Renaissance 2010 On the Frontlines. These teacher-filmmakers were also founding members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which transformed the teachers union and joined forced with parents and community members to organize against corporate school reform and hold a successful strike in 2012;
- Parents United for Responsible Education, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Raise Your Hand Coalition and the Journey for Justice Alliance are examples of some of the important organizing being done by parents and communities;
- The Chicago Students Union, Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, The Newark Students Union, and the Philly Student Union proves the kids are not only alright, but total bad-asses;
- 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
Quotes via “Jobs for All”: Another Dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Mathew Forstater
I had the pleasure of filming feminist economist Rania Antonopoulos for the The Modern Money Network back in 2013. She is now SYRIZA’s second place MP candidate. To give a sense of what sort of policies a SYRIZA win could usher in, here is her presentation on an “Employer of Last Resort” program for Greece.
Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn’t see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked.
And then one day, my fears were realized. I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.
Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.
“My parents were deported” by Diane Guerrero in the LA Times
You may recognize Diane Guerrero as Maritza on Orange Is The New Black, the second season of which premieres this Friday. But I’m can smugly say I discovered her, when I cast her as the lead in my short film Ashley/Amber.
In a shameless attempt to ride on the coattails of OITNB’s success, today I’m releasing a remastered, color-corrected version of Ashley/Amber on demand through VHX and Vimeo for one dollar (actually, VHX allows you to pay more than that, should you be feeling generous). Your support goes directly to the development of my next film.
Ashley/Amber is also streaming on IndieFlix. Using these referral links, you can purchase a discounted subscription for $5/month, first month free or $35/year and access a curated collection of tons of sweet indie films, short and long.
Curious but don’t feel like shelling out a buck? You can still watch the less sexy, un-remastered version on Youtube.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, Ashley/Amber is a 22min dark comedy about an antiwar activist who becomes an internet celebrity after being outed as the one-time star of porn video. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011 and has since screened around the world. Travis Keune of We Are Movie Geeks calls it “an introspective short film about American politics and a skewed sense of morality.” sonnycarson86 of Youtube.com says “I liked the movie but show more tits next time.”
Will there be a next time? In addition to throwing me a dollar, you can help me make it easier for me to make the next film by sharing this one on your preferred social networks:
official press release: http://ashley-amber.com/2014/06/from-porn-to-politics
You can also sign-up for my email list for infrequent updates about future projects.
What is money? Why is our economy so fucked?
These two questions have fueled my dilettantish but somewhat obsessive study of Modern Money Theory (MMT) for the past few years. But I’ve struggled for a way to concisely explain what MMT is, and why you should care about this (decreasingly) obscure economic theory.
Much of the MMT literature is focused on an intra-discipline fight within Economics. This is a worthy battle but creates an extra challenge for the non-economist, who must first learn a bunch of econ speak just to be able to understand the arguments for unlearning it. The below essay is my attempt to bypass that step and explain MMT directly in language accessible to such a reader. If you find it helpful, please share. Criticism is also welcome.
Many thanks to Mike Konczal, who had the idea of looking outside academia for an MMT explainer, and invited me to write this piece.
The World According to Modern Monetary Theory
The New Inquiry Vol. 27, April 11, 2014
Too often the origins of our economic ills are cloaked by a mystical reverence for some autonomous money spirit. The economists behind Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) seek to lift money’s veil by studying the specific actions that occur as money is created, circulated, and destroyed.
For those seeking a grand, unifying sociopolitical economic theory, MMT will disappoint. But as an analytic tool, MMT clarifies who holds genuine power—sovereignty—within society, and how they organize the money system to serve their interests. Unsurprisingly, this is often a story of tremendous cruelty and exploitation.
But the revelation that the rules of money are not immutable laws of nature but are instead created and constantly modified by people opens up possibilities beyond the scope of our current political imagination. The questions become: What sort of society do we want? Do we have the physical resources to support that society? And finally, how the hell do we muster the political will to get there?
Continue reading “The World According to Modern Monetary Theory” at The New Inquiry »
I wrote a layperson’s introduction to Modern Monetary Theory in this month’s issue of The New Inquiry.
Continue reading Essay about MMT in the New Inquiry