Quick Hit: Ai-jen Poo-organizing NYC’s domestic workers


Please check out this must-read super inspiring write-up by Barbara Ehrenreich on the imitable Ai-jen Poo a now long time organizer, founder of Domestic Workers United and director of National Domestic Workers Alliance. Poo saw injustice and she did something about it–something that changed the lives of 100’s of women.

My image of a union organizer, based on extensive personal experience, is a big, loud guy with a bullhorn, not a slender, soft-spoken former women’s studies major whose reflexive response to a crowd is to melt into the sidelines. Nor does Ai-jen Poo look like a typical D.W.U. member, at least no more than than Jennifer Lopez looked like a housecleaner in “Maid in Manhattan,” and the incongruities only multiply as you get to know her. She’s the daughter of Chinese immigrants, a neurobiologist and an oncologist, and her original career plan was to be not the scientist or lawyer you might expect from such a lineage but a potter.


Like the great majority of Americans — probably well over 90 percent — Poo had no personal, firsthand experience with domestic workers, since her parents hadn’t had any household help. And this alone left her with a lasting sensitivity to domestic injustice, because it was her mother who really did “do it all” — went to graduate school in chemistry, held a job as a lab technician, studied English, cooked, cleaned and raised two daughters. Think workhorse, not Tiger Mother. “I don’t remember ever seeing her sit down and take a break or watch a movie or do anything for herself,” Poo says. “She was always exhausted.”

There are so many things we can say about feminism in our generation, about activism and about young women being involved or not involved in the world around themselves. But so much of the feminism that gets the most attention is about identity politics, navel gazing and analysis of the world around us. While this work is important, our excess focus on these issues often obscures the actual amazing organizing work that is happening on the ground by women that engage in social change efforts irrelevant of the obstacles and with or without the support of the larger progressive (or feminist) movement. Poo’s work is a perfect example of this, she rewrote the script and just did the work showing us something that has yet to be contested: grassroots organizing is the most effective method for lasting social change.


Thank You Thursdays: Ai-Jen Poo, Domestic Workers United

Unfinished Business of Feminism

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