WILD 27th Annual Summer Institute
Recap and Report
27th Annual Summer Institute
Our 27th Annual WILD Summer Institute, “Building Strong Multicultural Coalitions” was held June 28-30 at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. This year’s theme was chosen to reflect and demonstrate the the importance of working to build unions and organizations that are inclusive and democratic, who organize and who mobilize and fight all forms of oppression.
We provided language justice at the Summer Institute by providing full simultaneous interpretation of English, Spanish and Portuguese 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.
128 women attended the Institute this year, which was an increase from last year. Thirty six organizations representing sixteen different local unions and twenty community organizations with a particularly robust showing of members of SEIU Locals 888, 509, and 1199. The Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers was well-represented by women from the Brazilian Immigrant Center, the Brazilian Women’s Group and the Dominican Development Center, all founding members of the Coalition which includes WILD. Community organizations that were represented at the Summer
Institute for the first time this year include EPOCA – Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners for Community Advancement. (EPOCA heard about WILD at our Haymarket Interview this past spring) Catholic Charities, Springfield No One Leaves who fight against foreclosure and eviction and Poder Latino – a community aids prevention program for inner city youth in Boston were also first time participants. As usual, about two-thirds of participants overall were women of color, including about 35 Latinas, 20 African-Americans, 15 Brazilians, as well as Asian-American, and Native America.
The Institute opened Friday night with a presentation of the history of WILD and a review of our mission as approximately half of our participants were new to WILD. We then held a facilitated discussion with report backs asking participants to tell us what brought them to WILD and what role did they currently play in their organization.
On Saturday morning, the leadership development workshops began. These workshops ran in seven concurrent sections, in English, Spanish and Portuguese, taught by 15 volunteers who were WILD Board members, past participants, or organizers in ally organizations. The curriculum for the Leadership A section, 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.
This year’s Anti-Oppression plenary discussion was led by Dale Melcher a WILD Board member. We have made this topic a part of every WILD summer institute. Timing is everything and while we had planned on this program for over a month, the fact that the U.S. Senate passed its version of comprehensive immigration reform allowed us to once again, as in the discussion re labor and community working more closely together, tie this into the national conversation. We showed a Ted talk by Jose Antonio Vargas, a noted journalist and an undocumented American, who has joined many young American immigrants who have stepped out of the shadows and declared themselves Americans without documents. Vargas shared with us the questions he has been repeatedly asked as he has spoken publicly on immigration reform – and his answers. He touched on the many misconceptions people have about immigrants and connects anti-immigrant sentiments with America’s long history of racism. One participant who works in a library with an active ESL program said she was extremely moved by this presentation and our language justice. She said, “It’s wonderful to bring things back from WILD to my workplace. Often it’s union stuff, but this is even more relevant.”
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. Common themes discussed were the challenges in the workplace with sexual harassment, the need for more female role models and breaking male dominated boundaries.
As the weekend continued, women practiced new skills and learned information important to social and economic justice issues. Workshops offered included Advanced Stewards Training, Building Strong and Inclusive Coalitions (English and Spanish), Immigration Reform (English, Spanish and Portuguese), Intimidation in the Workplace, Legal Rights in the Workplace, Working Women Making History and Public Speaking (Spanish and Portuguese). The skills workshop on Public Speaking we offered with the needs of domestic workers and personal care attendants (PCAs) in mind. It was offered as bilingual Spanish-Portuguese, and since the workshop consisted mostly of participants giving speeches in their own language, simultaneous interpretation was vital to its success.
Our Saturday night program we held as town hall meeting to discuss the issue of jobs and the global economy after the caucus groups shared their concerns and plans for the future. We heard from two workers visiting the United States from the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic which produces university apparel. They talked about their struggle and ultimate success in the ten year campaign for a strong union and livings wages. They are now paid a living wage which enables them to support their families with dignity, housing, healthcare and education for their children. Following their remarks, Isabel Lopez, who is working for WILD on the domestic workers campaign, used the example of Alta Gracia to talk about the struggle of the domestic workers, the work and commitment involved and the persistence to keep going. We distributed and collected pledge cards for support of the campaign, asking participants to contact their state representatives and attend district meetings that will take place in the fall.
On Sunday we completed the Leadership and Skills Building Workshops and closed the program with a graduation luncheon with the Leadership Teachers presenting certificates to their students in this plenary session. Natalicia Tracy, Executive Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center spoke about her experience in 2006 at WILD. She credits WILD with motivating her to obtain both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from UMASS Boston. She is now a national voice for this campaign and tells her story of being a domestic worker and is a strong leader within the MCDW.