2012 WILD Summer Institute Recap
Our 26th Annual WILD Summer Institute, “Bread & WILD Roses,” was held June 22-24 at Wheaton College in Norton, MA. This year’s theme was chosen to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1912 textile workers strike in Lawrence, MA, where tens of thousands of workers, mostly women, united in the fight for fair pay and won. One of the most important aspects of the 1912 Bread & Roses strike that is a lesson for today is that the workers of Lawrence spoke dozens of languages and were nonetheless able to forge and maintain solidarity to achieve their goals. In that spirit, this year we improved the language inclusiveness of the Summer Institute by providing full simultaneous interpretation in the plenary sessions and in the bilingual and trilingual workshops. Everyone received a headset and a receiver and could hear the voice of an interpreter when needed, which created more equality of experiences across languages.
About 120 women attended the Institute this year, and about 30 different local unions and community groups were represented, with a particularly robust showing of members of SEIU Locals 888, 509, and 1199. Participation of SEIU Local 888 and SEIU Local 509 was up significantly this year, thanks to the outreach efforts of members who came to WILD last year and found it so valuable that they wanted to recruit others to attend. Steady high numbers of 1199 SEIU participants over the past few years are also a result of member activism & outreach. The Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (of which WILD is a member) was well-represented by an energetic group of twelve women from the Brazilian Immigrant Center and a member of the Dominican Development Center. Community organizations that were represented at the Summer Institute for the first time this year include the Student Immigrant Movement, based in Boston, and 3rd EyE Unlimited of New Bedford, both of which are organized around youth and young adult leadership. As usual, about two-thirds of participants overall were women of color, including about 35 Latinas, 20 African-Americans, 10 Brazilians, as well as Asian-American, Native American, and Haitian American women.
The Institute opened with our Friday evening keynote speaker, who is a powerful leader in the Latino community in Massachusetts: Patricia Montes, the Executive Director of Centro Presente, a community organization in Somerville that organizes and advocates for immigrants’ rights and social and economic justice. Our simultaneous interpretation efforts paid off in that Patricia could deliver her speech in her native language of Spanish. She spoke of growing up in Honduras and her immigration to the United States, and her growth as a leader in her community. Institute participants were inspired by her story, and some were challenged by the experience of wearing headsets and listening to Patricia and an interpreter simultaneously-- a new experience for many women who have English as their first language.
Our leadership development workshops ran in eight concurrent sections, in English, Spanish and Portuguese, taught by 18 volunteers who were WILD Board members, past participants, or organizers in ally organizations. The curriculum for the Leadership A sections, which was designed for new leaders, focused on what unions and community organizations do and how they do it, inviting participants to inquire into the attributes of effective leaders, and to set goals for themselves as leaders in their own organizations. The Leadership B curriculum, designed for more experienced leaders, focused on developing the leadership of others by identifying organizational needs and practicing one-on-one organizing skills. All of our leadership workshops were explicitly guided by our WILDer Vision of Unions and Community Organizations: working to build unions and organizations that are inclusive, democratic, mobilizing, fighting all forms of oppression, and organizing new members into the union, the community organization, and the broader social and economic justice movement.
For the first time, we had a Leadership A workshop section specifically for young women, led by young women. It was attended by sixteen women under the age of 29. The facilitators were two powerful young organizers, aged 19 and 24, who received training in popular education methods and WILD’s leadership curriculum this spring. Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive--”it was awesome to see this resource (young women) identified as the powerful group it is,” “a sharing and dynamic group experience,” and “I will be returning next year because of this group.”
This year’s Anti-Oppression Workshop was led by consultant Cheryl Harris for the third year in a row. Her approach this year was aimed at getting “back to basics” about how prejudices shape our everyday experiences and interactions with one another. She randomly assigned table numbers to everyone as we entered the room, to encourage people to sit with people we didn’t know. She then led us through exercises that invited us to think about how we see ourselves and what our assumptions about others are. Through the process, the sometimes painful disconnects between our own view of ourselves and the way that others see us came to light, developing our awareness of the impacts of our assumptions and judgments on others. Many participants stayed at their assigned tables and continued the conversation over lunch, which was a good opportunity for new relationships to be forged.
Later in the day, we provided time and space for caucus groups to meet. Women met in the following identity groups: African-American, Latinas, Brazilians, young women, and lesbian/bi/queer/trans women. Each caucus had an opportunity to report back to the large group on Saturday evening about their common concerns. Common themes discussed by both the Latina and Brazilian women’s caucuses were the organizing opportunities and challenges presented by the DREAM Act. These caucus groups have met together since the Institute to move forward plans to work on organizing for immigrants’ rights.
As the weekend continued, women practiced new skills and learned information important to social and economic justice issues. Workshops offered included Becoming a Union-Building Steward (English), Moving a Legislative Agenda (English), The Occupy Movement & the Economy (English), Organizing for Immigrants’ Rights (bilingual English-Spanish), and One-on-One: Organizing by Building Relationships (bilingual English-Spanish).
Our Saturday night program was a celebration of strength through diversity. After the caucus groups shared their concerns and plans for the future, everyone viewed the film “Collective Voices,” a short documentary about the 1912 Bread & Roses strike of Lawrence textile workers made by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Lawrence Heritage State Park. It tells an inspiring story of worker solidarity and militancy in the face of a bitterly cold winter, ruthless bosses, and divisions across language and nationality. The film also taught us that although the name “Bread & Roses," from a 1911 James Oppenheim poem, was attached to the strike later on, some contemporary accounts referred to it as “the Singing Strike.” Songs were a way to maintain morale on the picket line, express grievances, and overcome linguistic barriers among strikers.
In the spirit of the Singing Strike, we closed the Saturday program with a group sing-along of “Bread & Roses” (in English) and “De Colores” (in Spanish, an anthem of the United Farm Workers). For our Portuguese song, members of the Brazilian Immigrant Center performed a song they wrote for the National Domestic Workers Convention in May about domestic workers’ hard work and struggle for respect. We joined hands and ended with a rousing rendition of “Solidarity Forever.” (Click the links to find youtube videos with the songs and subtitled lyrics.)