Closing Plenary: Race and the Global Economy

By Adrienne Maree Brown Nov 15, 2008

Wow – Liepollo L. Pheko is amazing!! I caught the end of her talk, she’s part of The Trade Collective. She’s talking about global trade and global respect for human rights in trade. She just told a story of the crocodile, and a young woman swimming across a shark and crocodile infested river and making it to the other side. When she gets there people asked her why did she do it? and How? And the young woman responded that she didn’t have a why, she fell in! And then she kept going. Liepollo concluded that we may not have asked for these crocodiles, but here we are – are y’all ready to beat some crocodiles?! Crowd loved it. Saru Jayaraman is winning my heart over now talking about how the service and restaurant economy is growing really rapidly in Detroit, and it’s amazing. People forget about Detroit, she says, but there are tons of immigrant populations there who are finding ways to work in this industry, and finding living wage jobs there, and in NY, and in LA. There are problems, there is exploitation. There’s a glass ceiling where workers get to a busser or runner position, but can’t break through to waiter or host/hostess in fine dining. Saru’s group, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, is doing work to protect workers from stolen tips and cheated wages, but also providing alternatives and opening their own restaurant, which is a restaurant at night and trains workers to advance during the day. ARC is supporting them to put a report out in January! Saru is really invigorating and clear and strategic. She is calling for a campaign where we refuse to have only lighter skinned folks in the front of restaurants, which is ones of the ways racism is being exported to US restaurants in other parts of the world, particularly Mexico. She’s also going to spaces like Slow Food Nation, and saying that if we’re talking about sustainable localized food sources, then better talk about sustainable living wages for workers, cause you can’t one without the other, and no one is going to be able to afford your organic products if we aren’t being paid fair wages! The energy of the room is lifting up! Now Francis Calpotura of the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action. He’s sick, and says that he feels representative of the 200 million people around the world made sick by the global economy and made to move to seek opportunity. He gave a quick overview of how we ended up with the bubble-n-crisis economy we have now. Now he is reviewing the race, gender and landscape of migration – folks coming from formerly colonized countries, more women than men, countries are now exporting workers and counting on the remittances (money those workers send back to family) for huge percentages of their GDP. If these migrants were a company and their remittances a revenue, they would be the 3rd largest company in the world after Walmart and Exxon. The vision of Francis and his group is to have this population see themselves as an economic powerhouse. He says – we need to support a constituency rallying around big ideas – believers that we can change the course of history. I am hoping someone else is also blogging this as I have to leave early, but this panel is so inspirational! And I love ending things on a global note – it is so easy to think of race as this American experience, with American icons and victories. Borders divide us, and yet the further you step back, the clearer the picture of inequality is. The same companies, board members, and powerholders; different languages but the ultimate struggle is against any sense of superiority that demands injustice as its operating modality. Oh Francis is BRINGING it right now: "Our collective agenda is a history-altering agenda! We had to risk everything to travel to the unknown, and persevere when we were met with hateful ignorance. It’s no accident that we have found ourselves here, that we had to risk everything in transformational action from below – this is the time, this is the conference, this is the moment for us to declare – our time has come." Now Gilda Haas, who I missed before, is telling folks about her "pimped out" trailer where they are taking lessons from Strategic Actions for a Just Economy into the streets and front yards of L.A. "We need to take back the land," she says, explaining why they are running campaigns around housing, but also have a Land Trust project (where Ruckutista Tafarai Bayne works!) and are thinking about who owns space, builds on space, etc. Saru is talking about the impacts of the current economic crisis by pointing again to Detroit – everyone says this is a recession and the businesses will close, but in Detroit a new restaurant opens every day (this reminds me of what Grace Lee Boggs is always saying – ‘Detroit is what the rest of the country has to look forward to!’). People eat out when they’re depressed. Saru is talking about how we need a collective agenda – none of us will get out of the recession if all of us don’t – people who have BEEN in a recession, and people who are about to experience it. Business will only come around if we have money to spend in them (I think/hope she means localized economy). Ack – my ride is here! LOVE LOVE LOVE people talking about racial justice! — Total ride fake-out, she’s not here, I’ma try to cover the last little bit. Missed the question, but Gilda is now speaking about the effort to build movement around the Right to the City, building off each other’s genius. The room is emptying out, which is a shame cause this, so far, is the best panel here. Gilda is sharing how she researched economic loan efforts before mutualization and Reaganism, and discovered something called demutualization, where loans stop being within the community and start to come from outside the community. The moderator is a handsome young man named Dorian Warren, and he just used ALL his charm to ask the panel to leave us on an uplifted note. Francis says – there’s no shortcut to where we want to go, but we have to go to the neighborhoods and workplaces where folks are struggling, it will take our commitment, that’s the ONLY way to build the solidarity, relationships and vision that give us the rooted history with each other than allows a new vision to emerge. Saru says – I really do believe in this idea of reframing this idea of collective prosperity – we all do better when we ALL do better. She’s telling some really gross stories about how workers under pressure drop food, cut themselves and the blood falls in the food, burn themselves and the skin falls in the food, have to work sick and those germs get in the food. For our collective health, we must treat the most oppressed better. (note, I have been listening and writing but not looking, but I just looked up and this is a really fine panel! Its nice when that happens!) Saru continues – exploitation anywhere is exploitation everywhere, we need to get everyone to know that if we don’t prosper together we won’t prosper at all. Liepollo is quoting her grandmother – "there is nothing new under the sun." She says, we are bold to think we could have self-determination, to have access to our own resources, there is nothing new. The fact that I am here, breathing, is evidence that we have not been vanished, disappeared, othered out of the landscape. We are the manys, we will not be disappeared. Let us take a breath and feel that. (tear leap to my eyes trying to blog what Liepollo is saying.) Gilda – I don’t know why anyone would do this is they were not motivated by love. I love human beings, I love you, I love the city that I live in, I love that at 57 years old I work with 22 year olds, I love working in international networks. I admire this conference, people coming not to be in their comfort zone but to stretch, break through barriers. In a racist society…we are struggling with these issues, but if we do it in a loving way, we will prevail! And now my ride really IS here. So glad I got to stay for this!