Jobs With Justice

Jobs with JusticeI'm heading back to the Fort Lauderdale airport with two other activists from New York, and my mind is racing. I close my eyes as images, sounds, even smells from the past four days come back to me, and I begin to notice that there is a feeling in my solarplexus, a burning that before this I have read about but not known. The 2003 Jobs with Justice Annual Meeting has left me with a fire in my belly.

Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987. On their website (, JwJ's stated mission is to "improve working people's standard of living, fight for job security, and protect workers' right to organize." At its core is JwJ's belief that to be successful, workers' rights struggles must be part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice. With that in mind, JwJ's power lies in a network of local coalitions that connect labor, faith-based, community, and student organizations to work together on workplace and community social justice campaigns.

There are Jobs with Justice coalitions in over forty cities in twenty-nine states in all regions of the country, made up of both member organizations and thousands of individual activists who sign the Jobs with Justice pledge to "be there" five times a year for someone else's struggle as well as their own. JwJ creates local alliances as well as alliances among organizations nationally to develop a broad base of support. Jobs with Justice aims to "re-build the infrastructure that gives communities a sense of their own power" by building a base of diverse constituencies at the local level as well as providing training, coordination, and networking at the national level.

The 2003 Annual Meeting in Miami was the largest and most diverse in Jobs with Justice's history. The number of delegations present was historic. The topics covered were local, national and global in scope, ranging from a rally protesting the privatization of Miami's public school system to plenaries on the fight for universal health care and protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The emphasis of the weekend was on celebrating fights and victories, differences and similarities, as well as dancing and enjoying the beach. What it boiled down to is that national movements are built through local fights. As Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice-President of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union reminded us, "We are continuing to build something that we all do every day. We have to work now to strengthen, connect and bring in new allies."

In fact, much of the focus of the meeting -- in workshops, in plenaries, at meals, on the beach and at Friday's rally -- was on building and growing a movement. Speakers and meeting participants discussed how to link upcoming national and local events and projects to one another in order to send a message of solidarity.

I'm reminded of a familiar quote from an aboriginal activist: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

In September and October of this year, Jobs with Justice will play a central role in kicking off and supporting the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride, with twelve buses traveling from all over the country and gathering first in Washington DC and then in New York City to demonstrate in support of immigrant rights. In November members of local JwJ coalitions will return to Miami, FL to support Miami JwJ and other local organizations in their protest of the FTAA. For Jobs with Justice, these events are inextricably linked, and inextricably linked to the myriad other fights happening around the country and around the world. Both these mobilizations will build the movement and set the stage for a December 10, 2003 national day of action to demand the right to organize.

I'm reminded of a familiar quote from an aboriginal activist: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." Jobs with Justice remains in the forefront of the struggle because as a national coalition they continue to ask the most important question: How do we build a lasting, significant, diverse national movement that includes all the important pieces and links all the important fights that will ultimately change the balance of power in this country? They remain in the forefront because they continue to this call by taking seriously the JwJ pledge -- "I'll be there."

Leaving Miami, I found myself struggling to pull up the specific words that were said, even the specific fights that were celebrated, because recording it was to risk losing the experience; experiencing it was to risk forgetting. What I will not lose, what is lodged in my mind and my heart, is that for three days more than a thousand of us were one, united in a real movement. We knew at the end of it that upon leaving we would take one another with us into our own struggles. At the annual meeting every moment was visceral. We were all swept up, caught up in our own momentum. We experienced everything together, fully. From plenaries to rallies to workshops to dance parties, we were reminded that sleep may be overrated and that commitment is everything.

At the closing luncheon, Stewart Acuff, Organizing Director of the AFL-CIO spoke to the group and closed by saying, "we are facing a season of struggle, the like of which we haven't seen in many years. It is time to turn our private despair into public rage." For all those who need a way to channel that rage to good use, Jobs with Justice offers a place to come home to, a place to be challenged and revitalized, celebrated and stirred. For many of us, the annual meeting was a much-needed shot in the arm. It gave us the strength to carry on.

Olivia Greer is a recent graduate of Skidmore College who is an actor and singer in New York City.

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