I grew up in San Francisco, where my father organized for Local 2, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union (H.E.R.E). From the time I was an infant until I was a teenager, after-school and on weekends, Dad took me to picket lines, rallies and marches, where I joined the crowd chanting "Contract Now!" and singing Solidarity Forever. I wasn't too excited about these activities when I was young. My legs would tire out from the endless walking, I whined that I wanted McDonald's, I begged to go to my friends’ houses instead.
But at some point, all that changed. At some point, the meaning of the chants and songs broke through. I began to sense the power of what we were doing there, together. Instead of just plodding through the throng of grown-up legs, I saw men and women, African-American, Latino and Asian, who made beds, cooked food, carried luggage, and did the million other thankless tasks that served as the backbone of the SF tourist industry. I began to feel the strength of their unity, the courage it took to challenge international business tycoons and demand a fair labor contract. I began to connect, as my heartbeat pounded in my chest, to the deep moral obligation which kept us walking, mile after mile, on the same city block in front of the five-star hotels. I saw the power of commitment. It sometimes took years, but these maids and cooks and porters would WIN. They were on the side of justice.
“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong”
I didn't know it then, but this was the foundation that would shape my life work.