Organizing with Love: Lessons from the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Campaign

Poo, Ai-jen
Date Written:  2010-12-01
Publisher:  Left Turn
Year Published:  2010
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX12351

Great organizing campaigns are like great love affairs. You begin to see life through a different lens. You change in unexpected ways. You lose sleep, but you also feel boundless energy. You develop new relationships and new interests. Your skin becomes more open to the world around you. Life feels different, and it’s almost like you’ve been reborn. And, most importantly, you begin to feel things that you previously couldn’t have even imagined are possible.



We started by building a network of support among our current allies, recruiting people to get involved in our work in concrete ways like collecting postcard signatures and attending our trips to Albany. We expanded our support base by speaking at other organizations’ meetings and in classrooms and churches. This growing base of support enabled us to convince more legislators to sign on as cosponsors on our bill. By our third year, we decided to strengthen our support base by creating a campaign organizing committee that our coalition partners and supporters could join to become a part of the campaign planning process. We invited anyone who had the desire and energy to attend: students, union members, attorneys, and individual activists. By opening that kind of space to all the people who were interested in our struggle, we developed a core group of supporters who could lead independent organizing in their own networks.

Building worker-to-worker solidarity was also crucial. SEIU Local 32BJ, for example, is a union that represents the thousands of doormen in luxury apartment buildings around New York City. Local 32BJ has a natural affinity between its members and the members of DWU because the union's members are often the friends, confidants, or even husbands of the domestic workers who work in the apartment buildings of wealthy. The doormen hear the workers' stories of abuse, they are the ones who help workers into cabs after late nights of babysitting, and they are also the shoulders to cry on when someone is fired without notice or severance pay. The members of Local 32BJ have been crucial allies in this fight.

Worker-to-worker solidarity also meant building solidarity between excluded workers. One powerful example came when the New York State Labor Religion Coalition and the local Jobs with Justice chapter chose to highlight domestic workers' and farm workers’ rights during its annual 40-hour fast which was themed "Welcoming the Stranger: Prophetic Voices for Immigrant Rights." The New York Justice for Farm Workers campaign and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights campaign mobilized workers to participate in the 40-hour fast activities, which included legislative visits, a morning interfaith service, a press conference, and a march.

Over the course of the day, the workers collaborated in mixed groups of farm workers and domestic workers. They learned from one another’s stories, they built camaraderie, and they laughed together. At the end of the day, Lois Newland, a companion for the elderly and member of DWU, said, "We never ask ourselves at Thanksgiving dinner with all the food on the table, who suffered to make it possible for that food to be there? Now I know." In turn, the farm workers remarked on the courage and clarity with which domestic workers engaged legislators. One of them said, "We learned a lot from working with you. You have given us more energy to fight." After the exchange, domestic workers would rarely participate in an event without raising the question of farm worker dignity. In the years following, we invited farm worker leaders to participate in all of our actions.

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