Beyond Fear and Anger
By Shea Howell
August 16, 2011
Last week I participated in the United Auto Workers International Women’s Conference at Black Lake, Michigan. The conference theme was “Takin’ it to the Streets…and Into Our Communities.” Vice President Cindy Estrada said, “The conference agenda will focus on the role that labor plays in our society and the need for us to work with like-minded activists and organizations in our very own backyards to make and grow human connections that lift and grow our communities.”
As I meet with the over 225 women leaders from around the country, it was clear to me there is a new spirit in the UAW. It is a much-needed spirit. It is the spirit at the core of democratic society, asking us to think beyond ourselves to consider our obligations to one another.
Vice President Estrada said, “We are living at a time when the rich and powerful, along with their allies in Washington and many of our state capitals, are waging war against union members and working families. These special interests are using the fear and anger generated by our country’s precarious economic situation to vilify and demonize teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and local and state government employees while trying to unravel the labor rights.”
Ms Estrada quoted Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, saying, “Grace writes repeatedly that it is during this time in our history when we must grow our souls. Grace means that, in these very challenging political and economic times, all of us must be brave citizen-activists and join with others in our communities to organize our neighborhoods for the common good. As UAW women, we must take up Grace’s challenge and break out of our routines by being active participants in our neighborhoods, engaging in partnerships that will help make the places we live connected, loving communities to learn and grow.”
The Women’s Conference demonstrated that the UAW leadership is willing to tackle tough questions. Throughout the conference, women spoke of becoming more conscious of how the “fear and anger” are manipulated to turn us against each other rather than to one another.
The leadership addressed head on one of the most divisive issues in the country: immigration. With a combination of gentle humor, hard facts and personal stories, conference delegates were asked to look at what they thought about immigration.
Myths like “immigrants don’t pay taxes” were exposed and solid information was provided demonstrating that most undocumented people pay local, state and federal taxes, and they also contribute about 9 billion dollars a year to Social Security.
It was not the economic issues that touched most people. Rather it was the stories of lives distorted by inhuman immigration policies.
One young man talked of coming here as an infant, losing a father, growing up in a suburban neighborhood, having a loving step father who adopted him too late to confer legal status, going to college and law school and wanting to contribute to the country he calls home, only to fine it unwelcoming.
A young woman shared the story of her husband being deported more than 2 years ago, never having seen his new daughter. A third young man talked of being stopped for not wearing a seat belt (he was) and finding himself in jail as “undocumented.” Now he and his brother face deportation to a country they do not even remember.
One woman said after hearing the stories, “I’m so grateful to learn all of this. You are nothing like what I had been told.”
Every minute of every day people in this country live in fear and shame. They face prison, deportation abuse, losing families, friends and community ties. Nearly one and half million people have been deported in the last two years.
It’s time for all of us to think beyond fear to the values we want.