Why I Became an Organizer, Part 2

I was eighteen when I discovered what I was meant to DO in the world.  I had just moved to Santa Barbara to attend community college.  I didn't have many options in the education department.  The San Francisco school system had not prepared me for university.  Most of my friends whose families had the means or the know-how had opted for private high schools or elite public high schools based on academic performance. At seventeen, I looked up to see these friends heading off to Columbia, Harvard, and Wellesley.  I had no plan at all.  I hadn’t even taken the SAT’s. Actually, high school felt so pointless that I left my senior year to work at Starbucks. Community college was the only choice I had, and I moved to Santa Barbara for the sheer fact that it wasn’t San Francisco. A change of scene. 

To this end, Santa Barbara was the biggest culture shock I had ever encountered.  I went from living in a racially, culturally and economically diverse inner-city (SF before the tech-boom!), to a homogeneous, upper-middle class, suburban town.  Having grown up around the corner from low-income housing projects and gone to school with a majority of classmates who qualified for the free lunch program, I was suddenly in an environment where people spoke with smug disgust about “welfare queens” and vehemently defended border control to keep “illegals” out of the country.  While I researched my first college paper about continued segregation and inequality in public education, my Santa Barbara classmates were planning their futures in banking (I realize this is an unfair generalization, but it describes the general climate).  I was appalled; filled with anger.  And I was seized with energy and purpose.  The cries for justice that had entered my bloodstream in the picket lines of my childhood, that filled my heart with passion, would not let me sleep.  I felt my life purpose beating strongly in my chest, pounding in my ears, relentlessly pushing me towards my true path.  I knew then that I wanted to dedicate my life work to creating just systems, to standing for radical social change.

I moved right back to San Francisco to get started! 

Why I Became an Organizer, Part 1

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”

--Solidarity Forever

 

I didn't know it then, but this was the foundation that would shape my life work.