What are the effects you see of
the Living Wage campaign in Providence, RI?
In Providence, initially, the wage itself will effect a pay-raise
for under one thousand people. But ideologically or philosophically,
that can mean a lot as a catalyst. I think most people that are
part of the campaign know this. It is a continuation of something
the work teacher aides started years ago, who were mostly women
of color (a lot of Latina women). It has gotten a lot--a lot--of
people throughout the city, throughout different communities to
communicate with one another. People know the steel workers are
on strike from Providence Gas, or that thirty people are out of
money because thirty Latina immigrants lost their jobs at the fishing
People are becoming very connected. People who wouldn’t even
know who their city counselor was are now coming out together to
call their city counselor, to come down to city hall, to make big
posters, to talk with their neighbors, to talk with people who aren’t
their neighbors, to talk to people who live across town and they
would never have seen. So I feel like it is propelling something,
even if it’s just an increase to $10.19 (which is nothing
to laugh about.)
What do you think should be the
role of students working on city or campus campaigns?
As students, we’re not trying to speak for anybody. We’re
trying to go and talk to constituents of the city counselor so that
they can be more informed and can tell their elected officials to
vote for this. We’re not here to speak for any worker at all,
in my opinion—because if we are, then that’s really
disgusting. Which is why, obviously, we’re not in any place
at all on this campus to have a Living Wage on campus or have that
kind of campaign.
We don’t have enough contacts. We don’t have any sense
that this is a fight that the various unions on campus want to do.
Which is why the Student Labor Alliance, in years past, did a lot
of Code of Ethics work for temporary workers, and did a lot of administrative
or policy oriented stuff. Which is also the reason that it was seen
as a very liberal—meaning bad liberal. Liberal, clean-cut
kids talking to administrators doing policy. So it wasn’t
seen as an activist group: it was just like boys in ties. There’s
nothing wrong with the public policy approach, but just be very
honest about what you as a group, or you as an individual, are.
What suggestions do you have for
other students working on Living Wage campaigns?
I think that activists don’t quite know what a coalition
is and think that its really just the same activist people getting
together under another name--but that's not what it’s about.
It’s really about delegates from different organizations coming
together to build a coalition that they then take back to their
separate organizations. It’s not “Hey, do you guys want
to come to our thing?” Rather, it’s “How do we
want to create this together because we all have an interest in
getting this thing passed?”
If you are going to do a coalition for the living wage or stop
police brutality on your campus, it's important you don’t
just get folks out because they want "to be a part of things."
You get folks out because everyone’s going to be committed
in a certain way. While you have your own take on it and perspective
on it because of the group you’re coming from, you’re
all going to be committed to it. Coalition building is really important.
People might want to look at Organizing
for Social Change: Midwest Academy Manual for Activists, or
just the chapter on coalition building.
In the city campaign, it is not or nor should it be about us. We
are here to support in any way, to do any kind of leg-work or any
other sort of work in this ward (Rita William’s ward, the
local city councilwoman) to get folks on the side of the living
wage. You do the foot work and you do it well, and be committed.
Don’t flake out, because this is really important.