Ai-jen Poo has been named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the Year for 2012. Gloria Steinem wrote the bio piece on Ai-jen for Time:
“Once in a while, there comes along a gifted organizer — think of the radical empathy of Jane Addams or the populist tactics of Cesar Chavez — who knows how to create social change from the bottom up.
Ai-jen Poo, the 38-year-old daughter of pro-democracy immigrants from Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan, has been growing into that role ever since she was a student outraged by the stories of domestic workers, often immigrants or women of color, who labored long hours for low pay as maids, nannies and other household workers.
…Ai-jen Poo has done this by showing the humanity of a long devalued kind of work. This goes beyond organizing to transforming. As she says, her goal is “peace and justice in the home.”
There are different models for transformation that we’ve discussed — with the ideal being that change is a common goal from both the grass roots and the leadership level. The work being done by Ai-jen Poo is a grass roots transformation and she faces the challenges of starting change from only that point of view.
Barbara Ehrenreich in this New York Times article points this out:
“…by 2010, the organization Poo helped put together, Domestic Workers United, was formidable enough to pressure the New York State legislature into passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, recognizing them as legitimate workers on a par with any other wage earners, and entitled to such amenities as overtime pay, a minimum of three paid days off a year and legal protection from harassment and discrimination: not everything they need, by a long shot, but a big step up from invisibility.”
Ai-jen Poo describes the domestic workers as “doing the work that makes all other work possible… The domestic work industry is a microcosm of the triumphs and failures of our society as a whole. Everyone relies upon domestic work in one way or another, yet it is erased from our consciousness and denied dignity.”
This is an uphill battle, starting from the grass roots, but one undertaken with much courage. And it’s very encouraging to see that there can be success when the change begins from the grass roots level.