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Visiting Social Activist Program
News Feature: 2008 Visiting Social Activist Linda Burnham critiques the Lean In initiative of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. (See www.leanin.org.) Burnham's analysis dissects the "brand of feminism" espoused by Sandberg, helping readers to decide whether or not this is the kind of social movement that will serve their needs.
News Feature: CEW's 2010 Visiting Social Activist Ai-jen Poo was named to the "100 Most Influential People in the World" list by TIME Magazine. Check out this profile and short video about her efforts organizing domestic workers to achieve their employment rights. Then sign this petition on Change.org to urge California's State Senate to pass the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.
An Overview of the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist Program
Each year, the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist (VSA) Program brings to CEW a social justice activist whose work affects women and recognizes gender equity issues. The primary goal of the program is to build the capacity and effectiveness of social activists. This is accomplished by giving the VSA time, space and support to work on a project that would not be possible under the activist’s usual working circumstances.
A four-week stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, gives the selected activist time for reflection, research, planning and writing related to her area of activism. A stipend, housing and travel expenses are paid by the program. Each VSA is required to create a product that will advance the future work of the VSA and potentially benefit other activists. This product may be a report, plan of action, communication strategy, training tool or other item relevant to the activist’s work.
Connections between Visiting Social Activists and people in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids have a positive and synergistic effect on all. Community members as well as U-M students, faculty and staff are able to learn from and be inspired by activists who are working to improve women’s lives. Interactions between VSAs and U-M faculty nurture a “scholar-activist” mindset that can improve the quality of work done in academia as well as social justice organizations.
The VSA program is made possible through a generous gift from UM alumna Twink Frey and her husband James McKay. Learn more about the process for nominating or applying to become a Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist.
The 2012-2013 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist: Christine Ahn
In April 2013, CEW will host Christine Ahn, Executive Director of the Korea Policy Institute, as its next Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist. KPI is an independent research and educational institute providing timely analyses of United States policies toward Korea and developments on the Korean peninsula. Ms. Ahn also holds positions as Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, Senior Fellow with the Oakland Institute, and consultant to the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.
For her Visiting Social Activist project, Ahn will write about women’s movements that transgress political and social norms by using direct action to break down barriers and cross boundaries. One component of her report will be stories from women who have lived this experience, such as “the Women in Black” during the war in the Baltics and women in the Congo. The paper will examine transnational feminist ideas, the challenges these women faced, and lessons they learned. The second component will provide a window into possibilities for the future. It will discuss plans that Korean women and their diaspora have for marching across Korea’s de-militarized zone in order to prevent patriarchal regimes from destroying the region.
Mistinguette Smith, Executive Director of the Black/Land Project, spent October 2011 interviewing black women in Michigan. She asked: "What stories do black women have to tell about relationship to land and place that are valuable and unique?" From these interviews and others she conducted across the U.S., she created a short video entitled Black/Land: Women's Voices, which was shown as part of three workshops held in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Smith's workshops highlighted the powerful traditions of resourcefulness, resilience and regeneration evident in many black communities today.
Looking forward, Smith continues to collect stories and hopes to convene a national conference to celebrate the connections between black people, land and place, and to grapple with important policy issues. Her research findings and community-based efforts reveal a number of complex and overlapping aspects of black life in America, encompassing historical and current perspectives, urban and rural settings, emotional and pragmatic responses, and policy and practice implications. The Black/Land stories can serve as a framework for bringing together community representatives, land use planners, environmentalists, academics, business leaders and governmental actors in order to resolve critical land use issues facing Americans today.
- Watch the Black/Land: Women's Voices video and share your story with the Black/Land Project.
- Enjoy photos from workshops held at U-M's Ford School of Public Policy and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
Kim Bobo (March 2011)
Kim Bobo founded and directs Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization representing more than 70 interfaith committees, workers' centers and student groups across the United States. Since 1996, IWJ has educated and mobilized the religious community on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits, and conditions for workers.
For her Visiting Social Activist project, Bobo revised and updated her 2008 book Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid – And What We Can Do About It. Wage Theft includes violations of minimum wage laws; not paying overtime pay or forcing workers to work off the clock; denying workers their final paychecks; misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage, overtime, and the employers' share of FICA tax; and not paying workers at all.
Order the new edition and start addressing wage theft in your own community. The Micah Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, organized book groups to read Wage Theft, then helped establish a Mayoral Task Force on the topic. Task force members surveyed low-wage workers to demonstrate the extent of the problem and invited Kim Bobo to join local community leaders in proposing a change in city contracting practices before the City Commission. For more details, read this story on MLive.com. Unfortunately, Grand Rapids in not unique in having wage theft problems, but this example shows how a small group of committed people can make a positive change in their community.
Ai-jen Poo (March 2010) is co-founder and former director of Domestic Workers United, a New York-based advocacy organization of over 2,100 nannies, housekeepers and caregivers for the elderly. DWU mobilized a statewide campaign for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Ms. Poo wrote about the lessons learned by Domestic Workers United regarding coalition building, promoting policy statewide, expanding membership and developing the leadership skills of its volunteers.
Her paper about the organizing campaign was given to 1,000 activists who attended the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June 2010. Later that summer, New York Governor David Paterson signed the bill into law. In June 2011, the California Assembly approved a similar bill, taking it a step closer to becoming the second state to pass such historic legislation. Also in June, the International Labor Organization adopted the first ever global rule recognizing domestic workers and setting international labor standards to protect their rights. Learn more about the growing national and international movements to protect domestic workers' rights.
Ms. Poo now heads the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In April 2012, Ms. Poo was named to TIME Magazine's list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" for her leadership of domestic worker campaigns across the U.S. Her profile in TIME was one of just a handful made into a video, which you can view here.
Sign this petition on Change.org to urge California's State Senate to pass the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. The New York Times endorsed this legislation in a recent editorial, explaining its importance for all workers throughout the country:
"Efforts to protect other excluded employees, like home care workers and farm workers, have failed
in the courts and stalled in Congress. We hope California and other states will be willing to do what
the federal government has not — which is to set basic standards to guarantee domestic workers
decent working conditions and pay."
Mallika Dutt (March 2009) is the Executive Director of Breakthrough, an international human rights organization that uses education and popular culture to promote values of dignity, equality, and justice. Read more about her work and her TFVSA project.
Ms. Dutt’s paper presents Breakthrough’s theory of social change and the ways in which it builds a culture of human rights.
Linda Burnham (February 2008) founded the Women of Color Resource Center (WCRC) in 1990 to promote an agenda that recognizes the interconnections between anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic organizing on issues of peace and civil rights.
During her stay, she discussed issues related to social movements with several UM researchers, interviewed eleven social justice leaders, and reflected on her own organizing experiences to develop her TFVSA paper. See "The Absence of a Gender Justice Framework in Social Justice Organizing" in which Ms. Burnham makes several recommendations for social justice organizations interested in better understanding how gender dynamics play out in their communities, among their members and constituents, and within their organizations.
Learn more about the history of the Women of Color Resource Center and Ms. Burnham’s experience as a Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist.
Anne Ladky (February 2007) is the Executive Director of Women Employed a non-profit that analyzes workplace issues, educates policy makers, and builds support for improved career opportunities, benefits and incomes for women. During her stay, she met with faculty experts in business, public policy, economics and labor relations to develop a persuasive business case showing how businesses can save money (e.g., in recruitment and retraining, customer satisfaction and repeat business) by providing low-wage workers with adequate wages, sick time and health insurance, and greater scheduling predictability.
Read Ms. Ladky’s reflections on the benefits of being an “activist in residence” at CEW.
Connie Evans – Inaugural Visiting Social Activist (March 2006) In 2006, Connie Evans came to CEW as the Center’s first Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist. As founder of the Women’s Self-Employment Project, she created the largest microenterprise program in the country assisting low-income urban women. Ms. Evans has also played an active role in global efforts to encourage investments that support human rights. During her stay, Ms. Evans consulted with University researchers and then convened town meetings with local African American women to learn how they spent, saved and managed their money.
Her findings are summarized in the report: The Intersection of Gender, Race and Culture as Influencers on African American Women's Financial Fitness, Asset Accumulation, and Wealth Attainment
Learn more about Ms. Evans and her work in microenterprise development.