Joanna Foote (SFS ’13), a participant in the Kalmanovitz Initiative’s Day Laborer Exchange Program, was selected as one of 54 students nationwide to win the Truman Scholarship. Click here to read a profile of Joanna in The Hoya.
Read Julia Hubbell’s reflections on her time leading our 2012 Worker Justice DC alternative break trip.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ” — Margaret Mead
Between the picket lines and the posters, the committee meetings and the early morning coffee runs, this is the essential lesson of the Kalmanovitz Initiative. A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens on Georgetown campus are coming together to discover the method by which they can become agents of change. “Go forth and set the world on fire,” as St. Ignatius said.
The Kalmanovitz Initiative sponsored an Alternative Spring Break for just such a group of Georgetown students. I had the good fortune to participate, and it was transformative.
Sixteen other students and I spent the week engaging with the community of DC in order to better understand its history and its needs. For those unfamiliar with it, I suggest a trip to BloomBars—a Colombia Heights-based initiative to provide an open space for the neighborhood to meet, with free lessons in guitar, arts and crafts for kids, and a drum circle. It boasts purple walls and a boat in the ceiling (yes, in—don’t ask me how).
We also had the chance to meet with representatives from the Department of Labor, the AFL-CIO, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, think tanks such as the Economic Policy Institute, and the National Labor Relations Board. There is no doubt that the lessons and experiences of these people helped us understanding of the complexity of labor.
And yet, with all of these people in all these official positions—each of whom was an inspiring example of a life of service—yet even still, the best experience was direct action and direct interactions. We traveled one morning to speak with the day laborers outside a local Home Depot. It was the coldest day in a while, with little white flakes sprinkled here and there, and after fifteen minutes, I wanted to go back in the car. But we stayed because the men stayed, rain or snow or shine, to scrape a living from the dregs of the construction industry. I met a man from Guatemala who had been in America for fifteen years and was still standing on this corner, looking for obliging contractors to hire him. What was so broken, I asked myself, that fifteen years wasn’t sufficient to create the American Dream? We talked to the recently unionized workers from our campus dining hall, who had just signed a contract after a long fight. How can a fifty cent raise be so deeply divisive?
These are the questions we encountered on the trip, and I’m sorry to tell you we didn’t find the answers. Maybe, however, it is because the answers aren’t out there to be found. Maybe we have to create them. The best thing the trip did for us, better than the meetings and the panels and the (sometimes free) cupcakes, was the motivation to create solutions where there weren’t any. We want to be those agents of change. We hope to go and set the world on fire, and thanks to the Kalmanovitz Initiative, we now have the tools to do that.
Read student Sarah Balistreri’s reflections for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs on her experience on our 2012 Worker Justice DC alternative break trip.
As I began my alternative spring break trip last week along with sixteen other Georgetown students, I had no idea that it was possible to learn so much in only seven days. Our trip – organized by Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice and the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor – was designed to give us an overview of the biggest labor issues of today. We spent time at various DC non-profits, including LIFT DC in Anacostia and ONE DC in the Shaw neighborhood, spoke with officials at the Department of Labor and various government agencies, and visited Washington think tanks such as the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute. We also had the opportunity to talk directly with day laborers when we visited the Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue, and we participated in protests for workers’ rights both within DC and in its surrounding suburbs.
It was a whirlwind of a week, and although by the end of it I was beginning to understand the complexities and nuances of labor issues, I left the trip with more questions that I began with and have since spent time reflecting on how what we learned about last week fits into the social, political and economic landscape of the United States.
Interestingly enough, I noticed that these three factors seemed to intersect in a very real way while attending a religious service last Sunday at All Souls Unitarian Church, located on the border of Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant. As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, the service was extremely different from anything I had ever experienced. Instead of reading from the Bible, one of the ministers read a story from the Buddhist tradition. After the service, another student on the trip commented that the minister’s talk felt more like a therapy session than a sermon. And coming from a Catholic background, it was interesting to note the importance of the church members themselves within the service. While I am accustomed to a very hierarchical church structure, it seems that at All Souls, the power comes from the community members themselves.
In the context of our trip, the experience of attending a church with a power structure so different from my own was eye-opening to say the least. While visiting ONE DC, a community organizing non-profit that is actually housed in the New Community Church on S Street, we were asked to think about what power truly means and about who has power in this country today. Initial responses to the questions centered around the power of wealth in the United States, but as the discussion continued and as we spent more time with grassroots organizations over the course of the week, it became clear that another important source of power is the people. So much of the push for organizing for workers’ rights happens at the community level, and these two DC churches seem to be at the forefront of community organizing and social justice – not only because of their own member-based power structure, but also because of their commitment to social justice within their respective communities.
After doing some research, I discovered that All Souls has a long history of social and political activism. Throughout the course of its existence, the church has been involved in the fight for the abolition of slavery, civil rights and women’s rights. It has also been an activist for nuclear disarmament and a strong supporter of marriage equality. The members of All Souls truly live out their “belief in the worth and dignity of all people,” and express “[their] faith through acts of justice and compassion.” The church has been a force for social and political change since its founding in 1821. More recently, All Souls took an active role in the promotion of workers’ rights when it shared its building with Georgetown’s cafeteria workers. It was at All Souls that Leo’s workers first met and started to organize last year, and an agreement between the workers and their contractor was finally reached at the beginning of February.
While we learned so much over the course of our alternative spring break, the hour I spent at All Souls was, for me, one of the most interesting parts of the week. The church constitutes a clear example of the intersection between faith and social justice, as it has been an active participant in the struggle for human rights in the United States for almost two hundred years and continues to be a force for social change today.
Meet Ianthe Metzger and Rachel Milito, the students leading our 2012 Worker Justice DC Alternative Spring Break!
Ianthe Metzger (COL ’12) is pursuing a major in Anthropology with a minor in French. She is actively involved with the Center for Social Justice as a DC Schools Project Coordinator and the co-chair of the Alternative Spring Break Board. Her participation in the Worker Justice DC Alternative Spring Break Trip in 2010 piqued her interest in the intersection of outreach and human rights and lead to an internship with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, DC, a non-profit center that advocates for workers’ rights.
Rachel (SFS ’12) is majoring in Culture and Politics with a focus in international migration studies. At Georgetown, Rachel works for the DC Schools Project, a program that provides English as a Second Language assistance to the city’s immigrant community. She is also an active member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a student group that stands in solidarity with laborers locally and throughout the world. Rachel has also participated in the KI Day Laborer Exchange Program, and this year she is excited to be leading the Worker Justice Alternative Spring Break trip.
The Kalmanovitz Initiative welcomes Bryan Woll and Sarah Henningsen as our student researchers for 2011-2012.
Bryan Woll (COL ’12) proudly hails from Pittsburgh, PA. He is majoring in Economics, and minoring in Justice and Peace Studies, and he recently returned from a semester studying conflict resolution in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bryan is currently interning in the Office of the Budget at the Department of Health and Human Services, and has held internships in the US Congress with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mike Doyle (PA-14), in the office Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus, and with several non-profit advocacy groups. His past research has included urban community development and American social policy. Bryan’s fellowship research focuses on the the political process at the state level and how it affects social policy targeted to impoverished and marginalized Americans. He is conducting a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the relationship between the partisanship of state legislatures and governors and the generosity of states’ unemployment insurance programs.
Originally from California, Sarah Henningsen (COL ’12) is studying Spanish and Anthropology. A self-proclaimed travel addict, Sarah has studied in Ecuador and Argentina and she worked in a rural school in Honduras in the summer of 2011. In her ongoing search for opportunities to continue speaking Spanish, Sarah stumbled across the KI’s Student-Day Laborer Exchange last year and credits the program for sparking a deep interest in the labor issues surrounding immigrant communities. Building upon these previous experiences, Sarah’s fellowship project explores the intersections of contingent work, ethnicity, and documentation status among Central American day laborers in Washington, DC. She seeks to illustrate and understand the many structural vulnerabilities and challenges that day laborers cope with on a daily basis.