I think I have about 19 minutes to gather my thoughts about stepping into the role of executive director of LAANE this week. Jack, my two-year-old, is napping, and Izzy, my almost-five-year-old (going to kindergarten this September, phew!), is happily giggling at Pingu, a towering work of claymation genius that is one of the few things we both love to watch.
I’ve been at LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) for a decade, so in some respects this change of job isn’t such a big deal, but it certainly feels like it is. There’s a lot at stake, after all: Will our movement, here in Los Angeles and nationally, be able to beat back 30 years of incredibly effective right-wing politics to build real democracy and economic justice for the 99 Percent?
Maybe I should just focus on getting my kids to eat their broccoli.
I was drawn to this work thanks to my parents. They were classic champagne socialists. They threw fundraisers for the Panthers, and were willing to go deep into debt for great food and silk socks. I make fun of them, but they succeeded in passing along their values, including a taste for fancy cheese.
I was introduced to the labor movement during my first year at Yale. The clerical workers were on strike, demanding equal pay for equal work. It was an incredibly inspiring and successful fight. Soon after I became an activist myself, motivated by the less than stellar conditions of my dining hall job serving canned tapioca to grad students.
It was during my time at Yale that the amazing John Wilhelm — now president of UNITEHERE, the union representing hospitality workers — helped me realize that I could become a real organizer. I was grateful when UNITEHERE recruited me to work for them once I graduated, and I remain enormously grateful that I have been able to do work I believe in ever since.
I have also been fortunate to work with a series of amazing women who have taught me a great deal about how to sustain myself while doing what I love.
These include my three heroes – the leader of L.A.’s labor movement, Maria Elena Durazo, former L.A. City Councilmember and Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg and the founding executive director of LAANE, Madeline Janis. Each has had a profound impact on how I see the world, and how I see my role in trying to change it for the better.
It’s still pretty hard to take the idea of my own leadership too seriously. And perhaps that’s a good thing. We all need to take the work seriously, not ourselves. Meanwhile, I’ll be relying on the lessons I learned from Maria Elena, Jackie and Madeline to make sure I keep the lights on here at LAANE while also making sure my kids eat their broccoli.