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Truly celebrating International Women's Day through commemorating the work of pioneering women, the UAW and its community allies proved that the “hands that work together to rock the cradle, can change the world.”
A March event honoring the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day was hosted by the UAW and its friends from the metro-Detroit area at the UAW-Ford National Programs Center (NPC). This milestone was also used to kick-start an ongoing labor-community organizing collaboration that the UAW and participating group members hope will bring lasting change, activism and connection through new joint local efforts.
Grace Lee Boggs, right, with UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, says we live in a time when people are looking for new ways to grow their souls. Photo by Rebecca Cook.
Featured speakers included those who found novel solutions to providing affordable health care, digital access, healthy food and other necessary resources while also strengthening community bonds.
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Women’s Department, welcomed more than 100 guests to the NPC where the Saturday event was held.
“We wanted to give women in labor and women in the community the opportunity to come together and see what we can learn from each other,” Estrada said.
Grace Lee Boggs, the renowned and much-revered civil rights activist and community organizer followed Estrada, offering words that very much set the tone for the afternoon’s panelists.
“It's a very wonderful time on the clock of the world to be alive. It's a time when people are looking for new ways to grow our souls. It's amazing ... how many are hungry to be of use,” Boggs said.
Invoking the concept of “growing our souls” through community outreach, the speakers who followed Boggs proved that her theories are correct and need to be expanded.
Gloria Moya of the UAW International Staff talked about labor’s connection into communities through the volunteer efforts of UAW members and families. She noted that many of the UAW’s contributions are made with little fanfare and promotion, but their impact on the wider community is positive and important.
Anne Heler, a Ferndale, Mich., resident, has long taken the “growing our souls” notion to heart. Along with a small group of friends, Heler founded FernCare, a fully functioning clinic that offers expert medical attention to uninsured patients completely free of charge.
Lacking any formal medical training, Heler proved that all such an enterprise takes is dedication, proudly adding that the overwhelming majority of the clinic’s operational costs have come from raffle tickets and $5 door fees at area events.
Kim Sherobbi and Lottie Spady of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) have taken new approaches to providing technological access and training to various segments of population by setting up computing stations in unconventional locations and training young people to offer seniors’ workshops on such social media as Skype, Twitter and Facebook.
Myrtle Thompson-Curtis’ work with the organization she co-founded – called Feedom Freedom Growers – offers a completely different sort of access. She fosters a connection between urban communities to the soil through collectively-maintained gardens on vacant plots of land throughout the city.
The group has also developed programs such as “cooking fresh, living fresh,” which teaches young people how to harvest and prepare vegetables under the guidance of a professional chef.
“This is a great time for grass roots in Detroit,” said Thompson-Curtis, “and I'm very happy to say that I'm the roots.”
Kim Hodge and Joan Moss followed, presenting Time Banking, the strikingly simple yet hugely successful project they have piloted in the metro-Detroit area.
Harkening back to the era of interconnected communities, this initiative allows participants to swap “time dollars.” Through this transaction, individuals can exchange their own expertise or labor for someone else’s. You might offer to clean a neighbor's fridge, for instance, in exchange for a ride to the airport or a piano lesson, or even help reviewing a legal document.
In closing, Estrada said the selfless drive of women who have become expert multitaskers through their myriad responsibilities will only be increasingly necessary to cultivate progressive social change.
“We have got to be active in both our communities and at demonstrations,” she said, “and we have to be at both in the same day, working twice as hard seven days a week.”