A remarkably talented organizer, Sarita Gupta spearheads massive national campaigns, but the core of her work remains deep understanding of the joys and struggles of everyday life. While transforming conversations into action, Sarita has cultivated a creative and interdisciplinary style of activism for nearly 20 years. Today, as the executive director for Jobs with Justice, she leads an organization with offices across the country, as she brings together student, community, religious, and worker voices to advocate for improved worker rights.
This hybrid approach is also exemplified in her work as co-director of Caring Across Generations, mobilizing aging Americans, people with disabilities, workers, and their families to support to live lives with dignity. This past fall, Sarita and her team integrated a wide range of strategies, weaving together celebrity voices, social media, and in-person local events. Using person-to-person conversation to build momentum, Sarita is launching incredible intimate family-based conversations to the main political stage.
And without further ado, the Feministing Five with Sarita Gutpa.
Suzanna Bobadilla: As 2013 has come to a a close and we are well on our way for 2014, do you anticipate any changes coming down the pipeline on the way that we value caregiving? Either through policy but also through public perception?
Sarita Gupta: We really believe that careworkers are incredibly important in this day and age, especially given the changing demographics in this country and more and more people will depend on the support and services of caseworkers. So giving that there is a huge bold policy demand and vision that we have around the creation of more home care jobs, that these are good quality jobs that are getting created with real career pathways and access to trainings and support, that we have a pathway to citizenship for the immigrant workforce, and that we are really addressing the issues of affordability and accessibility for care for all families. When you have a bold vision like that, it’s really clear to us that the opportunities to make change on the policy arena given today’s climate is passable if we are able to couple that with actually sparking a national dialogue on aging and caring giving.
A lot of our work is about culture change. How do we actually have the “kitchen table” conversation about the issues of care? How do we spark a deeply felt dialogue that can actually change the climate to see through the policy vision that we have–that is not only what we want, but is what the nation needs in order for us to have a healthy vibrant society forward. We feel like the policy is possible, but it’s only possible if we are able to engage a much larger discussion about the role of care-giving.
SB: One of the reasons why I was so excited to speak with you is because the importance of my grandparents in my own life despite of our 75-plus age difference. Throughout my adolescence and now burgeoning young adulthood, I watched my mom take care of my grandmother and felt somewhat helpless during the whole process–I wasn’t quite sure how to help alleviate some of the intergenerational responsibility of care. Do you have suggestions for how people of these younger generations can help support their families with care?
SG: There’s a lot that millennials can do to help advance that discourse. A big part of it is actually valuing our elders–younger generations can really assist with that. But you’re right, in some places it is can be to provide support to elder families. It’s important to remember that it’s an multi-generational issue. So me, I’m a part of the sandwich generation–I have my parents, but I also have a young daughter. The issues of care are always going to be in the forefront of my mind: How can I make sure that I can afford and access good quality care for my daughter and for my aging parents?
So for millennials, I think it’s important to actually that these are hard questions that your families are grappling with, and what is the role you can play in sparking and engaging conversations that often families feel like they don’t have the tools to have, or they often feel shamed. Younger generations can help us all by taking an issue that is a private issue and putting it in the public arena by advocating for public policy solutions that will help relieve families and that will make sure that our loved ones can age with dignity. This can be done through all forms, it can happen through political activism, cultural work that you may be doing, it can happen through personal relationships, volunteering in your community to support aging adults. Its about having creativity in how we really do spark discussions that we need for policy changes.
SB: Miya Tokumitsu’s article “In the Name of Love” calls out the “Do What You Love Mantra” for disguising “the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal record is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class.” For people whose jobs are not what they love but are to pay the bills, what tips do you have for them to incorporate activism into their daily lives?
SG: There are a couple different ways to answer that question. For some people there are very fortunate, their work life can be the way the change they want to see in the world. For those where that is not real, that’s where I think it’s important to understand how there are different ways we can influence the world we live in. You can be someone who is a volunteer or an activist of an organization that you care deeply about and you have a mission that aligns with you. That would be in the form of in person activism, showing up in person actions, to volunteer, or you can be a blogger. There’s a skill set and a passion that you bring that can help enhance the impact of that organization.
A second way to answer that question is realization that people work in order to live full lives. At least that’s what we want to be able to have. Regardless of what your work is, what is the thing in your life that will makes you feel whole. I think sometimes we think of civic engagement as narrowly divided as “go vote” but civic engagement is about getting involved in your community. It’s about getting involved in how schools are run in your community, what kind of access to services do communities have. There are multiple forms of activism individuals can take on about better their home life that are value. I talk to so many workers who aren’t able to have the luxury to do that, but for many people, you might be lucky enough to have one job or maybe two, where you can apply your time to improve your community.
SB: You were recently mentioned in the Nation’s article “How the Rise of Women in Labor Could Change the Movement.” I was wondering if you could comment on your leadership experience?
SG: It has been incredibly humbling to be a woman leader in the worker’s rights movement. I feel like I am constantly learning and adapting to external conditions that impact workers. It has been incredibly gratifying, we’ve won some incredible victories that I know improved the lives of workers. I’ve been enormously fortunate to have leadership opportunities in this movement to demonstrate, express, and support leadership of other women. I’ve also been really challenged by it. There are huge, messy questions facing workers today’s, and the livelihoods of workers today, and the movement as a whole. I’ve been challenge in great ways to come up with solutions to these challenges.
SB: You’re stranded on a desert island, you get to choose one food, one drink, and one feminist what do you pick.
SG: My drink would be gin and tonic. My food would be my favorite snack, chicken wings. There are two that come to mind to me–bell hooks–I would love to have an intellectual conversation with her. The second would be historical–like Eleanor Roosevelt. I would love to really understand her vision of the world and what drove her to advocate for the things she did at the time she did.
Suzanna’s superheroes are all of the caretakers (known and unknown) who helped raise her, her momma, and her grandmomma.