Ai-jen Poo: building and sustaining a movement for social justice

Will Caron

Ai-jen Poo is the director of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance and is Co-Director of an initiative called Caring Across Generations that seeks to establish an infrastructure for Universal Family Care. We asked her for her thoughts on building and sustaining a movement for social justice, broadly, and how the Hawaiʻi campaign to pass kūpuna and family care legislation, specifically, ties into that larger movement.

Ai-jen Poo: A lot of people have been asking how we’re going to sustain the movement for social justice in this country, and all of the activity that’s happening on the part of everyday people who are in motion right now. And I will say that part of what is so powerful about this moment in history is that it involves new people every week who are coming in. It’s actually people who are not jaded, who are not cynical, people who feel like their voices need to be heard and can have an impact in this moment and want to do something.

We have to create organizations and moments like the Women’s March, like the People’s Climate March, like the March for Science—all of these big, mass-mobilizations that are being planned—and then also targeted campaigns which are about holding people in power accountable to American citizens. When Andrew Puzder—the nominee for the Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration—withdrew, that was a huge victory on the part of thousands of workers who said, “How are we going to let a CEO who is known for violating the very laws he would be tasked to enforce become labor secretary?” It’s a victory on the part of everyday people. So we need campaigns where people can feel the impact of their activism. And we also need these moments that bring in new people so that we can constantly renew the energy with which we fight.

And it’s not just about fighting from an angry place. I think it’s about offering an alternative way forward: it’s not just opposing, it’s also proposing. That’s why the Kūpuna Care legislation that was passed this session thanks to the Caring 4 Our Kūpuna campaign is so important to me. I’d been fighting evil things—the targeting of immigrants, bans, walls, raids—for three months straight. The second I got to Hawaiʻi and I was talking about how to create what we actually need for our Kūpuna, it’s a completely different energy: trying to create the solutions we need instead of fighting against the attacks. We need those solutions and we need to be able to continue to make progress on those solutions ins order to sustain ourselves. So I am excited about bring in a whole new set of Hawaiʻi-based activists through this Kūpuna Caregiver bill.