Since 2014 I've been a labor organizer. First for SEIU's Adjunct Action Campaign (now Faculty Forward). I was part of an organizing team in the Bay Area that won five union elections in one year. I was the transition organizer with three of the schools, organizing their first contract campaigns in the field and supporting negotiations at the table. With faculty and students, we created campaigns bringing together adjunct faculty, food service workers, and activists in the movements for Black lives.
In 2017 I became a field representative for public health workers at San Francisco General Hospital and social service clinic workers in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood.
In 2018, I became a field representative and campus organizer with California Faculty Association, representing faculty in the California State University System, the largest four-year public higher education system in the country.
Between 2005 and 2014 I taught at 7 different colleges and universities in 3 different states - swanky private liberal arts colleges, state universities, and community colleges. My titles were Lecturer, Adjunct professor, and Visiting Assistant Professor among others. My salary ranged from $16,000 to $48,000- or $2000 to $8500 a course. Pay was based on colleges choosing not to prioritize faculty, rather than on my degrees and experience.
While I was a college professor, I supplimented my poverty wages with work as a home health care aide, a gay porn editor, a freelance videographer, any gig work I could get, and 1099 contracts as a group facilitator with educational leadership and social justice organizations.
I found my sanity again when I got involved with adjunct faculty grassroots activism, creating agit-prop art and bringing attention to our experiences through social media campaigns and publications. I was eventually hired as a union organizer, but I stayed part of the grassroots adjunct networks to bridge community organizing with unionizing efforts. below are interviews and essays tracing my path as a precarious worker who became an organzer for workers in that same work sector
Click here to read an interview on Inside Higher Ed between myself and Miranda Merklein (RIP) on our working conditions as adjunct faculty at Santa Fe Community College
Click here to read Reclaiming the Artist: Organizing through Art a series I wrote on using art in union organizing for the New Faculty Majority's, "Majority Rule."
After taking out $90,000 in student loans to earn degrees that were marketed as a path to economic stability a way to get a piece of the social contract made available to middle- class cishet white folks, I ended up in worse a financial situation than I had been in before I went to graduate school. I collected unemployment regularly, I relied on healthcare clinics, and the Affordable Care Act, I filed for bankruptcy and owed the IRS.
I defaulted on
my student debt.
I prayed to deities
I didn't belive
in to keep
Campaign materials made by faculty
and students organizing unions at
art schools in the Bay Area
Click here to read Labor Day Thoughts on Misogyny, White Supremacy, and Collective Grieving a piece I wrote when the new White Nationalist Movement marched on Charlottesville.
Click the book stack to read Ponzi Schemes, Bastards of Neoliberalism, and Social Justice Intelligence: An Interview with Jessica Lawless on Union Organizing in Academe and Other Topics an interview with me by Pete Sinnott of The Contrivers Review.
Contingent Faculty Movement
I started teaching at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2009. When my partner came to campus for a Spanish class, they didn't have a place to pee. The only bathrooms were multi-stalls marked "women" or "men" When I was invited, as a gender studies professor, to lead a professional development workshop on gender, I used the opportunity to educate faculty and administrators on the need for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. I designed an exercise based on intersectional activism of the time organzinizg for safe places to pee. Learning the college had ADA money to upgrade bathrooms I gave my colleagues an assignment from gender 101 trainings that allowed them to consider bathrooms as a place they can do their DEI work addressing the needs of trans/non-binary folks, folks with disabilities, parents and caretakers of young children, and women and other people who menstruate. The director of Disability was on-board, as was the Chair of the Presdient's Diversity Committee. I was invited to lead a committee, made up of faculty, students, and staff where we successfully had several single stall bathrooms added to the exisiting ADA construction project.
Gender-Neutral Bathrooms on Campus
Home Alive was a feminist self-defense collective I co-founded in Seattle, Washington with 8 other women. It was a response to the rape and murder of a friend, Mia Zapata, a beloved and inspired musician and artist. Home Alive provided affrodable self-defense classes, funding the work through music and art shows. Famous and infamous artists, and artists unconcerned with being well-known, supported the organization through it's 17- year run. Home Alive was part of the 1990's activism that led to intersectional feminism and transformative justice. Two documentaries tell some of this history, Rock Rage and Self-Defense and The Gits Movie.
Sister Serpents was a Feminst Art Collective in Chicago in the early 1990's. This was the era when Jesse Helms led congressional attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts in conjunction with evangelical Christians. They defunded national arts budgets by going after queer/feminist/of color artists. As a part of Sister Serpents I was arrested as part of an action disrupting an anti-abortion event featuring
Jerry Falwell. We were infamous for agitational political street art, had a zine called MadWoman and curated art exhibits inside and out of galleries.
Lilith's Revenge was another feminist art collective I was a part of during this same era, this one based in Seattle, Washington. Like Sister Serpents, and also the Guerilla Girls, ACT-UP, and Queer Nation, Lilith's Revenge used art to fightback against the conservative culture wars. My involvement with both collectives were where I developed art organizing practices I brought into my teaching and union organizing.
Sister Serpents and Lilith's Revenge
My first organizing effort was as a pissed off, Marlboro smoking 14-year-old. I was pissed because I received multiple detentions when I went to smoke at the sanctioned smoking area at my high school. It wasn't a concern that i smoked, it was a concern that I left the freshman campus without a pass. Several other young women were equally pissed about our movements being policed by security guards who used to work in state prisons. We were mad about the hypocrisy of not being able to smoke when older classmates could. Not interested in being activists or thinking of what we were doing as organizing, we successfully won a smoking area on the Freshman campus. While a bit absurd looking at this from today's vantage point, it's a story that could only happen in 1980, a moment in time between free love and free markets. My first lessons in organizing tuaght me anyone can have a voice and anyone can challenge unfair treatment. I learned a collective voice is more powerful than an individual voice, and I learned and that systemic change happens when those most impacted are leading the way. Change from the ground up alllows for new possibilities those in power can't imagine. This is still how I organize.