Building power for better jobs and education

Every adult needs a good job and every child needs a good education. During the last Racial and Economic Justice Fund grant cycle, the Community Grantmaking Committee decided to prioritize workers’ rights and education. This year’s grantees are building constituent-led movements for better jobs and education, with leaders and decision makers from affected communities. Bread & Roses grantees set their campaign priorities by listening to people’s stories, struggles, and pain and organizing around issues that come up frequently, such as poor working conditions, low wages, and broken schools.

People Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), a Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee, held two years of listening sessions and conducted more than 1,500 interviews before launching their Economic Justice campaign, which focuses on unemployment and poverty. POWER recognizes that children who are receiving an inadequate education today will have limited job opportunities in the future. Rev. Dwayne Royster, executive director at POWER, says that one of POWER’s priorities is organizing parents to improve schools.

This summer, POWER joined with Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Philadelphia Student Union to protest the School Reform Commission’s doomsday budget. PSU provides students with tools to turn their anger over budget cuts into action and hope. Through PSU’s organizing, students frustrated with their own classrooms and schools are better able to recognize system-wide root causes.

Similarly, Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Asian Americans United wants students to be safe and respected at their schools. Xu Lin, a youth organizer with AAU, says he talks with victims of school violence about how interpersonal violence is related to other forms of oppression. The group conducts workshops on institutional and internalized violence.

Many Bread & Roses grantees aim to make the personal political. “People understand that there are racial and economic injustices but they speak about them from a very personal place,” says Quanisha Smith, director of leadership and community development at Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee ACTION United. “As people become members, we offer them education to understand these issues and help them speak and frame their experiences in a way that can be understood by the larger public and elected officials. It’s about giving people vocabulary and a larger context so they can effect change,” she explains. Mostly by knocking on doors, ACTION United has assembled 52,000 members across the state.

Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Taxi Workers Alliance of PA has been advocating for better working conditions for taxi drivers for many years and is now creating permanent good jobs by forming a driver-owned cooperative taxi company. The cooperative will enable taxi drivers, whose take-home pay is often less than minimum wage, to increase their wages and improve their working conditions. Fifty of the 1,200 members of TWA-PA have already joined the cooperative.

Restaurant Opportunities Center members rally at City Hall in July to raise the minimum tipped wage.

Restaurant Opportunities Center members rally at City Hall in July to raise the minimum tipped wage.

Achievements such as these are only possible because of persistent, steady organizing year after year. Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia is organizing the 140,000 restaurant workers in our city. “We want to remake an industry that is very low level in terms of employment practices,” says Fabricio Rodriguez, co-coordinator at Philly ROC. “We promote a different model, the high road to profitability.” Philly ROC’s recent workplace justice campaign at Fat Salmon Sushi is “the first time restaurant workers have stood up to demand justice,” says Rodriguez. “But now the word’s gotten out. Groups of workers from other restaurants have come to Philly ROC wanting to learn how to organize and how to address illegal actions by their employers.”

Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land organizes neighborhoods to fight gentrification. The group plans to put land into permanent community ownership and control by establishing a community land trust. Racial and Economic Justice Fund grantee Philadelphia Jobs with Justice has a new initiative, the Good Neighbors Campaign, that fights austerity measures by asking large hospitals and universities to pay their fair share of property taxes to fund essential services.

Bread & Roses grantees are looking towards the future and making investments now. These investments are possible because of your continued investment in Bread & Roses.