You’re recognized as a leader for defending America’s domestic workers. What prompted you to start or get involved in this cause?
“I started organizing domestic workers in 1998, because there were so many women in my community doing the work and in New York City they are visible. I saw women of color caring for white children in every park and playground across the city. It didn’t take much to realize that many were underpaid and treated unfairly. I remember thinking, ‘How could the women who care for the people we love the most in the world be so undervalued?’”
What are some of the obstacles or hurdles you’ve had to overcome to drive change?
“We have many cultural and historical obstacles to overcome. The work of caring and cleaning has always been associated with women. And as a profession, it has been associated with Black women and other women of color. The racism, sexism and xenophobia that allow for the lives and contributions of some people to be valued over others are deeply embedded in how we treat this work. It’s still often referred to as ‘help,’ as opposed to the important profession it is. So we have had to dive into changing the cultural norms and narratives that shape how we treat domestic work. It requires lifting up the Black women and immigrant women of color who do the work and putting them at the center of the story. The National Domestic Workers Alliance’s program called We Dream in Black recently launched a new vision for valuing the work of Black domestic workers called the Unbossed Agenda—it’s an inspiring guide for change.”
So we have had to dive into changing the cultural norms and narratives that shape how we treat domestic work. It requires lifting up the Black women and immigrant women of color who do the work and putting them at the center of the story.
- Ai-jen Poo
What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your work that they probably don’t?
“Organizing is a labor of love. And it’s a process. You never quite know when the work you are doing will have the impact that you desire. But you trust in people, and in the idea that when everyday people come together around shared values and goals, and build a sense of both community and their own power, it can change the course of history.”
This has been a trying year, to put it plainly. How have you been finding or seeking joy?
“I am finding joy in the communities of strong women that I am a part of, and the ways we show up and support one another. I get to highlight lots of stories of hope and courage on my podcast with my colleague Alicia Garza, called Sunstorm. This season is all about finding your lane. Hearing all the different, creative ways that women are finding their lane and doing the work brings me endless joy.”
What advice do you have for others trying to advocate for change in 2020?
“I can’t overemphasize the importance of voting. Voting is worth it, and every vote matters. Our democracy works when we participate, and keeping our democracy healthy is the first step to any change we want to make. And then, my big piece of advice is to get in the mix and find a way to contribute. It can be overwhelming given the many crises and challenges we face. But there is a lane for you. Listening, learning and taking action with others, in ways that feel authentic to you, on the issues that you care about. That’s how change happens.”