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Ai-jen Poo

 Left to right: Luis Garden Acosta, Ai-jen Poo, Manuel Pastor

Left to right: Luis Garden Acosta, Ai-jen Poo, Manuel Pastor

By: Sara Grossman

Ai-Jen Poo began her speech by asking the audience to recognize that domestic workers were in their midst. Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, continued by describing these workers: “this is a workforce that goes to work every day in other people's homes. Unmarked, unregistered, you don't always know which homes are workplaces,” she said. “Yet they are among some of the most vulnerable workers in our economy today.”

Poo’s organization works to build respect, power, and fair labor standards for 2.5 million nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in the United States. The National Domestic Workers Alliance successfully helped lobby for the passage of the California Bill of Rights, which extends overtime protections to personal attendants who care for individuals and families in California.

“The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was a huge victory,” Poo said. “But it is not enough because this moment is a moment of profound change.”

We are experiencing a moment of “paradigm shift,” Poo said. Four million Americans turn 65 each year as Baby Boomers age. By 2050, 27 million Americans will need some form of care or support to meet daily needs. These aging Americans will need enormous care and will be attended to by these very domestic workers who face deplorable conditions and little compensation. It is in our own best interest, she said, to ensure that those who care for our loved ones are also cared for themselves.

“We need an exponentially stronger, larger workforce, and quite frankly, a whole new approach to caregiving to meet the profound need, and changes that are happening,” she said.

Earlier in her speech, Poo told the story of a Filipina caretaker who assists the elderly in Chicago. She has cared for over 20 seniors, helping them live independently by performing tasks like cooking, cleaning, administering medicine, and providing physical therapy. She works 24 hour shifts, four days a week, “ensuring the dignity of the elderly” with whom she works, Poo said. For all this she takes home between $5 and $9 per hour. Not to mention that she is supporting five children at home in the Philippines, and as a result often goes for days surviving solely on bananas and hard-boiled eggs.

While not every worker faces these extreme circumstances, Poo said, most work for poverty wages, “and this is the result of a very very long history and legacy of exclusion in this country.”

In an attempt to address this legacy of exclusion, the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance launched a campaign “Caring Across Generations” to “put forward a whole new vision for caregiving.” This vision, Poo said, is one that increases choice, affordability, and accessibility, “and one that transforms these poverty wage jobs that have been hidden in the shadows ... into millions of good jobs for the future that you can take pride in and support your family on and have a real pathway to opportunity.”

Poo concluded her speech on a positive note, saying that this vision for the future “uplifts all of us from a place of love and care and independence.”

"It is a future that we all deserve," she said.

 

Watch the entire video below.

Luis Garden Acosta, Ai-jen Poo, & Manuel Pastor


Charles Blow

 Forefront: Charles Blow, Foreground: Michael Omi

Forefront: Charles Blow, Foreground: Michael Omi

By: Sara Grossman

This is it, journalist and commentator Charles Blow told the audience. This is us having a national conversation on race.

Michael Omi, UC Berkeley professor and associate director of the Haas Institute, had just asked Blow what a serious national conversation on race would look like, and the journalist was definitive in his response.

“I try to remind people that we are in the middle of that conversation,” Blow said. “We envision that conversation to be an equal part acceptance of blame and guilt and responsibility and that may not be the shape of the conversation we have now. But people are in fact having conversations about this issue all the time.”

Blow, who serves as an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and regularly comments on issues of race in America, said that all too often these conversations are just “preaching to the choir,” or the “aggrieved” talking to the “aggrievers.” We are all “raced,” he said, but it is inarguable that some people’s race benefits them more than others.

Blow shared an anecdote from his youth of when he and a friend were followed and stopped by a police officer in Louisiana, a story which ultimately ended with the pair face down in the street and the officer hovering over them saying, “I could lie you down in the middle of the street and  shoot you in the back of the head and no one would ask me anything.”

When they got home, his friend’s father, who was also black, told them not to do anything.

“That was the way that people who looked like us survived in that part of the world,” Blow said. “When they pull a gun you can't pull a resume. This is not a perception issue, this happens. There is a skin tax.”

But, he said, the fact that people are now saying “enough is enough” is a step forward from those days.

That step forward, Blow said, has come in the form of not just protests but also technological advances like camera phones and social media. “Thank god for videophones,” he said, to loud applause.

“I think it's important for people to drag this out in the open so people can no longer deny it,” he said. “But I worry about the repetition of seeing people's lives taken on television. There is something about the video game-ization that devalues the act of taking the life. There is something macabre and pornographic about seeing that.”

Earlier in the hour, Prof. Omi began the discussion with a question about Blow’s experience with fraternities while in college. A good portion of Blow’s book, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” deals with his experience with hazing when joining an African American fraternity.

“Hazing is a societal poison that goes across all dimensions, military, professional groups … and is [based on] this idea that you have to somehow create a trauma to create a bonding,” he said. “[ the fact that] there are whole generations of Americans that are coming into being leaders of our society who have been nurtured by [hazing] is an incredible idea.”

“There is no way to hold yourself harmless when you are in the commission of cruelty. By the time you're finished with that much scarring, you're no longer even yourself,” he added.

The discussion later veered towards religious freedom and Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” bill, which many critics saw as legal permission for businesses to refuse service to members of the LGBTQ community. A week after it passed, lawmakers were pressured to soften parts of the law after a number of companies and public figures announced they would effectively reduce or halt actions in the state.

Blow was unimpressed by the reversal.

“Lawmakers were shaking in their boots because they were worried about the tax base, not because of human concern,” he said. “The human response would be to never do that in the first place.”

The conversation closed on a lighter note, when Prof. Omi posed a query that Haas Institute Executive Director john a. powell asked the staff at a recent meeting: Al Green or Smokey Robinson and why?

“I'm an Al Green person,” Blow said with a laugh. “Do I need a why? It's Al Green.”

Watch the entire video below.


bell hooks

 Left to right: bell hooks, john a. powell

Left to right: bell hooks, john a. powell

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

bell hooks asked the question: “What happens when we don’t take care of ourselves?”

It is out of love that we take care of ourselves. Love of self, love of community, love of one another. While the word “other” separates people by differences, the word “another” implies that a separate entity of any kind is similar, and is “like.” “Another” is an inclusive word, while “other” is exclusive. As bell mentioned at the beginning of her conversation with Haas Institute Director john a. powell, “If you have love, you have the community of belonging that comes with it.”

Sometimes we are othered by people who are seen to be outside of the community that we are a part of. But a lot of times, we other ourselves, often as a defensive mechanism fueled by self-preservation. We want to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves, and in times and situations of high stress or high stakes, it is almost instinctual to remove ourselves emotionally, socially, and physically by “othering” ourselves.

But when we don’t take care of ourselves, we create isolation. From othering, we can create pain, which creates a negative cloud around ourselves. “Othering” doesn’t allow the wounds to heal. As bell aptly put it: “It's not hard to love the people we like. The challenge of love is to extend belonging to someone we may not even know, someone who may have even hurt us.”

bell added, “Violence is Othering. When we work for peace, we are already doing the work of belonging. As people of color, we suffer the wounds in that place where we would know love. We can't think [of] inclusiveness without healing those wounds.”

john noted, “As I move through the world, I've been struck by that almost everyone in the world is wounded, straight people, gay people, white people, everyone. There is profound suffering and nobody gets to go through life without that. I think engaging life ends the suffering. And maybe it never ends, but it allows us to hold that. So what's next? We know we have sordid history. But we also have this possibility.”

Since we cannot eliminate implicit bias, we cannot discount our experiences in this world, and we cannot move forward without love, how do we learn to love people who appear to be different from us? How do we embrace belonging, the ideal of perfection, when we are in fact imperfect people?

bell noted, “In the future we will go beyond the conference. People must work with the work in daily life. I want us never to forget that humor has to be a part of the revolution.”

john always says that no human being is outside of the circle of human concern. So what does that mean for us? What is the work that we have to do in order to get to the place of belonging?

john has one answer to this question, “I believe that spiritual growth is crucial to healing from trauma. We have to find that place of healing so we come in good spirits to one another.” 

Watch the entire video below.


Joanna Macy

 Left to right: Joanna Macy, john a. powell, Rudy Mendoza-Denton

Left to right: Joanna Macy, john a. powell, Rudy Mendoza-Denton

By: Sara Grossman

Joanna Macy, joined on stage by Rudy Mendoza-Denton and john a. powell, centered her speech not on the othering of other individuals, or even the othering of other groups, but on the ways in which we other ourselves.

We are at a time in history when life on earth has become so difficult, that it is easy and even understandable, to “step back and other ourselves from belonging to such a messy situation, such a despairing situation,” Macy said. “I’m talking about ways of othering where you just get too cool to care, where you get too scared to care”

In the United States, Macy said, with its sense of Manifest Destiny, and grounded in a messianic hope that this country will save the world, “the competent person is optimistic.”

“The competent person and successful person … [acts as though] everything is alright and nothing can distress or surprise [him or her],” Macy said. “This refusal to see and to know is blocking the feedback that any species and certainly any democracy needs to keep on going. We take refuge in our own powerlessness.”

We have to be able to see the results of our behavior, she said. "That is crucial feedback that can guide us. We take refuge in our own powerlessness,” she added.

Macy then told a joke her daughter once shared with her: “What’s the difference between ignorance and indifference?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

But people do care, and people do know, Macy said after the laughter died down. “They need permission and capacity and occasion to hear this from the one voice that they need to hear it from, and that is their own.”

We must “befriend” and honor the feelings of fear, sorrow, and outrage that come up when we acknowledge the tragedies of our world. “All that shows is that you are capable of suffering with your world,” Macy said. “That is the literal meaning of compassion.”

It is only then that you begin to see how big you are, and how far you can stretch beyond the social constructs of your isolated self, Macy said.

We all want to belong, she said at the end of her speech, and we experience belonging by “doing together.” By linking arms and getting out there and doing things you admire each other for, taking risks for the things you believe in.

Macy offered a comforting reminder in conclusion: “Think how beautiful it is that you don’t have to be perfect to belong,” she said, “in order to be one with the big belonging, which is our story in the universe.”

Watch the entire video below.