On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, the Economic Policy Institute sponsored a forum titled A Closer Look at Apple and Foxconn: Labor Practices in China and Brazil. The panel was comprised of Debby Chan, Project Officer at Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM); Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America; Scott Nova, Executive Director, Worker Rights Consortium; Luis Carlos de Oliveira, Vice President, Metalworkers Union of Jundiai, Brazil; Li Qiang, Executive Director, China Labor Watch. Ross Eisenbrey, the Vice President of EPI, moderated. Panelists shared their varied expertise and offered a detailed portrait of Foxconn’s practices in Asia and South America.
The Kalmanovitz Initiative hosted screenings of two films that explore community reactions to immigration: “9500 Liberty” and “On the Line.”
April 2, 2012
“9500 Liberty” documents the first time in U.S. history that an Arizona-style immigration law was actually implemented—and the surprising grassroots opposition that led to its repeal.
Racial tension and threats of violence erupt when Prince William County, Virginia adopts a law requiring the police to question people who appear to be undocumented immigrants. Supporters of the law ride a wave of hysteria to an election victory. But many reconsider when the local economy feels the impact of a sudden exodus of workers, consumers, and business owners. Despite fears of reprisal, a group of concerned citizens launches a “virtual resistance” using social media, setting up a final showdown with the law’s ferocious advocates.
Discussion to follow withː
-Community activist Elena Schlossberg
-Community activist Alanna Almeda
-Professor Denise Brennan
-Professor Katie Benton-Cohen
On the Line
April 18, 2012
“On the Line” documents a Latina journalist as she patrols the US-Mexican border with the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, the controversial self-described neighborhood watch group whose mission is to secure the United States Border.
Carolyn Brown struggles with her own identity as she examines the troubled history of immigration in the United States, and spends time getting to know the Minutemen in the desert of Arizona.
The daughter of an immigrant, Brown finds her place among the Minutemen, and eventually is forced to look at her own ethnicity, her family history and where she fits within American Society.
“This film is about how we identify ourselves, who we are as Americans, and who we want to be,” says Brown.
Discussion to follow with…
-Filmmaker Carolyn Brown
-Community advocate Edgar Aranda-Yanoc
On March 19, 2012, Mike Daisey delivered a long-scheduled talk at Georgetown as part of the Kalmanovitz Initiative’s Labor Lab series, which aims to look at work and the dignity of labor in a changing economy.
As Jennifer Luff, KI’s Research Director, noted in her opening remarks, when we invited Mike Daisey to speak at Georgetown, “we wanted him to help us think about the power that art has to make what is invisible, visible; to give voice to the voiceless; to create a human connection across the international supply chain, linking consumers to workers on the other side of the world.” Daisey’s show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” brought broad media attention to the experiences of factory workers in China and helped audiences envision the people who build our laptops and cell phones. Thus the title of the talk was “A Hammer With Which to Shape It: Art and the Human Voice in the Global Labor Struggle.”
Of course, during the final days before March 19, the context of Mike Daisey’s talk changed quite radically. As Luff explained, “On Friday, March 16, the ‘This American Life’ show retracted its January 6 story [based on ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’], and the radio show ‘Marketplace’ also aired a report contradicting Daisey’s account. ‘This American Life’ concluded that Daisey was not honest in what he told the show about his research in China.”
And although, as our Executive Director Joe McCartin noted, this series of events “left us scratching our heads and scrambling a bit,” we moved forward on the premise that “… unexpected events provide unexpected opportunities, and we believe the events of the past several days offer us the opportunity for an unusually deep and searching discussion…dealing with such things as truth, power, and social justice, the kinds of things that deserve deep discussion at a great university.”
To read about Mike Daisey’s talk and better understand the ongoing debate, check out this compilation of news coverage:
The Atlantic, by Rebecca Rosen
The Hoya, by Sarah Patrick
Woolly Mammoth Blog
Georgetown Voice, by Vanya Mehta
DCist, by Benjamin Freed
Washington Post, by Erik Wemple
Washington Post, The Reliable Source
Washington City Paper, by Ally Schweitzer
Washington City Paper, by Chris Kilmek
The Washingtonian, by Sophie Gilbert
Reuters, by Jack Shafer
Reuters, by Mike Elk
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.