Category Archives: living wage

Organizing for a Just World: Part One of A Conversation with Gordon Whitman

Gordon Whitman

This July 2019 podcast is a conversation with Gordon Whitman, senior advisor of the interfaith group Faith in Action: Building a People-Powered Movement (formerly PICO National Network; https://faithinaction.org). He has a B.A. in history and urban studies and a law degree from Harvard Law School. Gordon did his initial work in community organizing in Santiago, Chile with a grassroots health collective during the Pinochet dictatorship to work for change, and then with parents in the Philadelphia public school system. His book, Stand Up!: How to Get Involved, Speak Out, and Win in a Word on Fire Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018;  https://standupbook.org/ is a handbook for grassroots organizing. Gordon provides guidance into how to share stories, map and analyze power, strategize, and work for system change.

In Part One Gordon shares his background in community organizing and strategies to motivate groups to build relationships to act together. And he shows how anti-racism work is central to movement building and social change. One example he gives is the La Red Campaign, Faith in Action’s Network of Protection for Immigrant Families: https://faithinaction.org/issue-campaign/la-red/

Jerome Scott: Organizing for the future

Jerome Scott

For the May 2019 podcast we welcome Jerome Scott, co-founder of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide (f. 1986). Jerome visited my REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education, and Activism class in April and told his story of what led him to become an activist/scholar educator. He shared about his work in voting rights, worker and immigrant justice, coalition building, education, and movement support. Jerome’s main work has involved linking scholar activists with activist scholars in grassroots communities. And fitting for this time of high school and college/university graduations, he laid out his hopes for building the “beloved community” in the future.

Jerome has done so much social change work; here are links to more resources and the organizations he helped/helps lead as a model for the work of transformative change at the grassroots level.

Jerome Scott with the REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education and Activism class at Agnes Scott College

Project South:

https://projectsouth.org/

Democracy Convention:

https://www.democracyconvention.org/

Jerome is the co-recipient, with Dr. Walda Katz-Fishman, of the American Sociological Associations 2004 Award for the Public Understanding of Sociology:

http://www.asanet.org/news-and-events/member-awards/public-understanding-sociology-asa-award/jerome-scott-and-walda-katz-fishman-award-statement

Jerome serves on Move to Amend’s National Leadership Team:

https://movetoamend.org/move-amend-reports-us-social-forum-jerome-scott

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance:

http://ggjalliance.org/

League of Revolutionaries for a New America:

http://lrna.org/

What to read to get started:

Walda Katz-Fishman and Jerome Scott, “Another United States Is Happening: Building Today’s Movement from the Bottom Up. The U.S. Social Forum and Beyond. Pp. 57-70 in The World and U.S. Social Forums: A Better World Is Possible and Necessary, eds. Judith Blau and Marina Karides. Brill 2008.

Intro and other interstitial music is by Lance Eric Haugan (theme music with Aviva and the Flying Penguins)

Otro music by Paul Myhre , “Zoe’s Moonrise–Year 1” (Myhre, 2019); available on ReverbnNation.com

Workers Unite! Organizing for change, with ben speight, Part 2

In Part 2 Ben Speight talks about the practices of “combing our forces” in the fight for worker justice. These current times require ever more coalition building and organized resistance to the status quo. Ben uses examples from his own decades of union organizing to show that “the people united will never be divided!”

Ben Speight with students from REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education, and Activism

Theme music by Aviva and the Flying Penguins and Lance Eric Haugan.

End music on both Parts 1 and 2 by Paul Myhre, “Prayer for New Zealand” (2019) on reverbnation.com.

Workers unite!: Organizing for change Part 1: Ben Speight on unions and people power

Ben Speight teaching union organizing

This March 2019 podcast is for anyone who teaches/studies social movements, movement building, labor history, union organizing, non-violent activism, social justice teaching, and direct action for social change! Hear Teamster Local 728 Organizing Director Ben Speight give an overview of union organizing and connections to our current times. He visited my REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education, and Activism class in February 2019 to plug us into the history of workers and why unions are still relevant more than ever.

Popular Education for Social Change: The New Poor People’s Campaign, Part 2

In Part 2 Colleen and Willie bring us to the challenges of our current time with specific strategies for educating about systemic poverty. They show us an intersectional approach and offer tools for meeting people where they are. An engaged scholarship is at the root of their activist work. They end on a note of hope, as encouragement and challenge to engage in the work of social change.

Popular Education for Social Change: The New Poor People’s Campaign

At the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, the Poor People’s Movement, and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I invited two activist-scholars involved in the New Poor People’s Movement to talk about popular education and movement building for social change. In Part 1, Willie and Colleen talk about the legacy of the sanitation workers’ strike and the Poor People’s Movement, and how they defined leadership and power and “found a way out of no way” in a politically charged 1968.

From the Kairos Center website:
Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless and its educational arm, the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks. He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York and on the Advisory Committee for the Wildfire Project. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-Igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, Lessons from the Poor Organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panther P’s. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.”

Colleen Wessel-McCoy has been involved with the Poverty Initiative since 2004 and currently works as Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development, with Willie Baptist. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Colleen received her undergraduate degree in religion and social justice from Agnes Scott College. She was part of the inaugural year of the Interfaith Service House and worked for several years as a tenant organizer in Chicago. She and John Wessel-McCoy have two children, Myles and Josephine. She has a MDiv from Union Theological Seminary and earned her Ph.D. in May 2017 in Christian Social Ethics with a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and its lessons for building a social movement to end poverty today.” Colleen also helped develop the Religion and Social Justice major at Agnes Scott College, along with being the first major in this program.

In Part 1 Willie and Colleen tell the story of the work of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Part of the mission statement of the Center, based on the Greek word for “the right and opportune time,” is:

“We believe we are living in a kairos moment: A moment of great change and transition, where the old ways of doing things are breaking down, new ones are trying to emerge, and decisive action is demanded.”

Popular Education for Social Change: An Economic Justice Teach-In at Agnes Scott College

This audio podcast is a concrete example of popular education for movement building and social change. As defined by the Highlander Research and Education Center: “Popular Education is a participatory process that combines people’s experiences to develop collective analysis and strategies for action for positive social change.”

 

This campaign has been “a long haul”, and we are continuing to “make the road while walking” (Myles Horton’s terms). The struggle for a true living wage is complex. For example, our dining hall staff are divided into Agnes Scott employees (Laborer’s International Union, with Facilities staff) and Aramark (four years unionized with SEIU). Aramark staff have four months a year with no work or pay as seasonal school employees in Georgia. For another example, our outsourced landscaping staff have zero sick days and greatly reduced vacation time with the new company. So there is a continued urgency to do this justice work. In addition to working on undoing structural oppression, the campaign has over the past 25 years founded an employee emergency fund and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. Hourly staff and students are the core leaders of the movement, and any significant change is from their coalition work, along with support from community partners.

How do we educate at an institution that has as its mission statement: “AGNES SCOTT COLLEGE educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times”? We in the living wage campaign take this mission seriously and stand with our colleagues to work for a just campus. In the words of one custodian: “I choose to stand and make a difference.”

On Feb. 16, 2018 (Founders’ Day at Agnes Scott) the Agnes Scott College Living Wage Campaign held an Economic Justice Teach-In to raise awareness, educate, and movement build. The Living Wage Campaign has three major focus points: just wages, institutional respect, and democratic workplace. We are a coalition of hourly staff, students, a few salaried staff and faculty, and fabulous community partners (Atlanta Jobs with Justice, the Teamsters, WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) Labor Forum, Project South, Atlanta 9-to-5, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, and Faculty Forward).

Alumna and former ASC living wage campaign organizer Jillian Wells (2010) served as emcee for the hour and a half event. Another alumna activist, Helen Cox (2010), joined us and offered historical perspective. Dr. Nathan Grigsby, music director for the Joyful Noise Gospel Choir at ASC, brought two soloists to add music to our event. Zion Martin sang “You Are Good Medley” by Todd Galberth, and Victoria Wallace sang, “Rise Up” by Audra Day. Neil Sardana of Atlanta Jobs with Justice spoke, as well as Anne Olson (Human Rights Atlanta), student activists Emma Fischer and Kristina Kimball, and hourly staff.

For the full video of the teach-in click here:

At the event we celebrated the work of past activists: Della Spurley-Bell and Carrie Wells, co-founders of the first and oldest unionized facilities staff in the U.S. South. Hear the story of the union founding here (retired custodians Della Spurley-Bell and Maggie Ivy):

The first Living Wage video was made in 2007 by ASC alumna Mia Mingus, who worked at the time at SPARK: Reproductive Justice Now:

A few days before the teach-in, Della Spurley-Bell and Tina Pippin appeared on the WRFG Labor Forum and were interviewed by Diane Mathiowetz and Paul McLannan. A summary of the history and issues of the campaign are here:

Videos from our alumnae, faculty, and community supporters are here:


The Agnes Scott Living Wage Campaign can be found on social media:

 

Facebook alumnae group is Agnes Scott College: Living Honorably
Facebook page is ASC Living Wage
Twitter is @livingwageasc
Instagram is @asclivingwagecampaign

Resources for Economic Justice Work

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. Picador, 2011.

Donald Hirsch and Laura Valadez-Martinez, The Living Wage. Agenda, 2017.

Stephanie Luce, Fighting for a Living Wage. ILR Press, 2004.

Annelise Orleck, “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now.” The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages. Beacon, 2018.

Robert Pollin and Mark Brenner, A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the U.S. Cornell University Press, 2008.

Robert Pollin and Stephanie Luce, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy. New Press, 2000.

David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Vintage, 2005.

Melissa Snarr, All You That Labor: Religion and Ethics in the Living Wage Movement. NYU Press, 2011.

Donald R. Stabile, The Living Wage: Lessons from the History of Economic Thought. Edward Elgar, 2009.

Interfaith Worker Justice: http://www.iwj.org/

Jobs with Justice: http://www.jwj.org/

United for a Fair Economy: http://www.faireconomy.org/

UFE’s Campus Living Wage Manual: http://www.campusactivism.org/server-new/uploads/campuslivingwagemanual.pdf

United Students Against Sweatshops: http://usas.org/

Family Budget Calculators:

Economic Policy Institute: https://www.epi.org/resources/budget/

MIT Living Wage Calculator: http://livingwage.mit.edu/

Fact Sheet for Living Wage at Agnes Scott College:

http://nothingneverhappens.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/LWFactsheet-Nov2017-2.docx