WCP: The “Other America”: The Poverty and Peril of Domestic Workers

Protesters for the National Domestic Workers Alliance holding signs.

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Home health care workers, nannies, cleaners, and other domestic workers earn low wages and have little job security. As Angelina Del Rio Drake and Mark G. Popovich write in Working-Class Perspectives this week, these realities make being a domestic worker a pre-existing condition during the COVID era. They are vulnerable to infection as well as high rates of unemployment. It’s time to recognize the value of their work and to push for passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act.

This year at the Women’s March, don’t forget to look around you.

As we reach the first anniversary of the Women’s March of 2017, and I’m sure you — like me — are reminiscing about the life-changing event of a year ago. The people you met, the profound moments you witnessed, that indescribable feeling of warmth and hope that you struggled to communicate to people who weren’t there. But this year, when you arrive, take a minute — several minutes, even — to really stop, and look around you.

The Women’s March on Washington was certainly not the start of the women’s movement, but it definitely started something new. There was a shift and we all felt it. We felt it when we saw the homemade signs about all the things we care about — healthcare to education, immigrant rights and racial justice to climate change — all included and supported. We felt it especially in our unity; even as we could not have been more diverse — in our backgrounds and our reasons for marching. And we felt it when we returned to our homes and knew that we were no longer going to quietly endure injustices we had endured and observed for so long.

Then we did something really important: we listened to each other.

When Susan Fowler wrote her blog post just one month after the Women’s March, revealing the sexual discrimination she had endured while working at Uber, we heard her. Her bravery encouraged other women to come forward and the fallout within Silicon Valley was heard all the way to Hollywood, where survivors of the horrors of Harvey Weinstein courageously shared their truths. Learning from the leadership of Tarana Burke and her years of work building the #MeToo movement with survivors of violence, we listened.

When Danica Roem stepped forward to make a difference in the Virginia House of Delegates, we lifted her up, and now the first openly transgender candidate to serve in a state legislative body serves in the same state that created the infamous “bathroom bill”. When Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson bravely shared their stories of being assaulted — when they were minors — by Roy Moore, candidate in the Alabama State Senate special election, Black women went to the polls and elected the first Democratic Senator from Alabama in 25 years.

We are hearing each other, we’re showing up for one another, we are voting, we are electing, and we are firing those who want to keep us quiet.

This year is a critical election year for women. In 2018, there are over 900 women candidates up and down the ballot, women ready to lead. Women are signing up as organizers, canvassers, and campaign managers. In many of these races, our organizing and our votes will determine the outcome.

It’s time for the boldest solutions we can imagine — on everything from sexual assault and harassment to low wages, from elder care and childcare to paid family leave; candidates who want our votes must tell us how they are going to change our policies and programs to better support women.

The Women’s March was the antidote to zero sum politics. We did not have to prioritize which issues were more important. To the contrary, we learned that we are most powerful when we organize across community, across industry and across multiple issues. When 300 prominent women (and men) in Hollywood came together in response to #MeToo, they created #TIMESUP and specifically created a fund to support low-income and underrepresented women, such as domestic workersfarmworkers and restaurant workers. Through 2018, as women continue to lead the transformation of our civic life and culture, we will meet their calls with our presence, our votes and our loud, inclusive support.

President Trump could learn a lot from the Women’s March. It is our diversity that makes us strong, Mr. President, not weak. It is our openness to advocating for a plurality of ideas that has secured support for our movement. It is our affirmation that every single one of us is an important contributor that has ensured loyalty. And it is our inclusivity that has meant that this moment in time is different than those that have come before. It is our brand of activism that will define the future of American politics.

So, when you join me at one of the Women’s Marches this year, stop for a minute. Look around you at the sea of faces. Notice the presence and leadership of Black women, women with disabilities, and transgender women. Hear the different languages being spoken. Consider the range of issues women care about. Look at the ages before you, from babies with their mothers to our elders who have been marching for decades.

WE are the force that made 2017 a year from which there is no turning back and no one is left behind. It’s all of us. And we are the force that will make 2018 a year that fundamentally expands what’s possible for women in America. All of us.

Angelina Del Rio Drake and Mark G. Popovich

Angelina Del Rio Drake is Chief Operating Officer at PHI, a Job Quality Fellow at The Aspen Institute, and a former home care worker. Mark G. Popovich is Director of the Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative within the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program. He worked in childcare and lower-wage food service, maintenance, and other jobs early in his career.

A longer version of this piece appeared originally in The Hill as “The Peril of Domestic Workers” by Angelina Del Rio Drake (PHI) and Mark G. Popovich (Aspen Institute Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative. This version is authored by Popovich for use in Working-Class Perspectives.

Read other Working-Class Perspectives on our website.

The Working-Class Perspectives blog is brought to you by our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-20 academic years, John Russo, and English Professor and Director of the American Studies Program at Georgetown University, Sherry Linkon. It features several regular and guest contributors. Last year, the blog published 43 posts that were read over 94,000 times by readers in 176 countries. The blog is cited by journalists from around the world, and discussed in courses in high schools and colleges worldwide.