This week’s #WalkoutWednesday conversation with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Poor People's Campaign Co-Chair Rev. Dr. William Barber II lifted up the inspiring stories of essential workers leading the interlocking fights for racial, economic and climate justice. It focused on the power of one, the ripple effects of individual activism and how one person's strength to stand up for what's right is a tributary leading to a river of diverse people-power and transformational change.
At just 23, Ash Girtley had the courage to say no when she was told by her Peet's Coffee manager to remove her Black Lives Matter mask. As Ash explained, being heard—actually being able to relay her reality as a Black woman—is the first step toward person-to-person understanding and social change.
Her Reality: she used to work at McDonald's, is now employed with Peet's Coffee, and says of both companies that while they're on the side of right when it comes to words and financial donations in support of Black lives, their actions and how they treat their very own workers show their true hearts.
|"If you really care about Black lives, then start by listening to your own family, your own workers, and give us a voice on the job! Listen to what we’ve been fighting for for years now—give us $15 and the right to join a union!" -- Ash Girtley, Peet's Coffee Barista|
Ash and her co-workers were furloughed for two months at the start of the pandemic, then came back to unsafe working conditions—with customers not required to wear masks and workers only given one flimsy mask to last eight hours— without hazard pay. Only once she and her co-workers organized themselves and fought back, did anything improve.
As for the request that Ash remove her BLM mask? She says it showed that Peet's $100,000 donation to Black organizations "was just another marketing ploy that doesn’t reflect what’s actually happening."
Hear as well the stories of three other courageous workers who are also ensuring their realities get heard:
Ashley Lewis, General Motors plant worker in Flint and United Auto Workers member, who spoke strongly and eloquently in the wake of both her father's and grandmother's coronavirus deaths about how policy inaction can lead directly to death.
Emily Cunningham, former Amazon user-experience designer in Seattle who helped found “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice” and was fired this past April for speaking out publicly about Amazon’s lack of leadership on climate change. She spoke about how Amazon's warehouse workers, primarily people of color, faced a completely different work environment than the primarily white tech workers, and how the two groups joined forces.
McArthur Caesar, a carpenter at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, who himself recovered from coronavirus and also saw firsthand the extreme disproportionate racial impact of the disease. Referring to the uprisings for Black lives, he said, "People are finally seeing that we live in different worlds—and not just when it comes to police violence. And I see people finally listening to each other and understanding that just because something doesn’t happen to THEM, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen."