The New Orleans Social Justice Organizing Retreat: an Amazing Success!
Left: Students get ready to have a Skype conversation with union leaders from the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic. The direct result of decades of collaboration between garment workers and college students, Alta Gracia was born and is the first and only factory producing collegiate apparel to pay workers a true living wage of over three times the local minimum, embrace a strong and independent union, provide unprecedented health and safety conditions, and allow regular verification by independent factory monitors. Center: Students gear up for a nonviolent and peaceful direct action at Dick’s Sporting Goods, asking the retailer to reconsider its business relationship with North Face unless the company signs onto a building safety accord to protect workers in its Bangladeshi garment factories. Right: The beautiful doors of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, who graciously hosted sixty-five students for the three-day conference. Thank you!
In partnership with the New Orleans Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal and H.E.R.: Health, Education & Rights, Solidarity Ignite presented a three-day Social Justice Organizing Retreat in New Orleans, Louisiana from February 28th through March 2. Sixty-five students from 26 campuses across the country- stretching from Nebraska to New York to Florida to Texas- carpooled, caravaned, flew, bussed, and trained themselves down south for the long weekend to meet other student leaders in the movement for social justice, sharpen on-campus organizing skills, build a stronger foundation of student-labor solidarity, and sketch out concrete plans for winning campaigns!
The retreat was arranged like a “social justice sandwich”- the ‘bread’ being the Friday morning opening and Sunday afternoon closing sessions, where different folks presented strategic campaigns currently being organized around; featuring speakers from the New Orleans Restaurant Opportunities Center, Service Employees International Union local 21, GetEQUAL, and organizations fighting the prison industrial complex and working to end human trafficking in university supply chains. The ‘meat’ - or, protein-source-of-your-choice- comprised of those juicy campus organizing skills that empower us to join together and begin to work toward social justice! Students led workshops on coalition-building, meeting with college administrators, gaining media attention, building new leaders, and organizing peaceful direct actions. On Saturday, students participated in a live video chat with garment workers from the Alta Gracia factory- the only college apparel factory to pay workers a true living wage and respect their union, as the direct result of student-labor solidarity- and learned a bit more about how to organize to see to ethical production of their collegiate licensed apparel.
The weekend came and went as quickly as your favorite Mardi Gras krewe- with enough time to experience and enjoy it, but leaving you wanting more! The three-day conference culminated with students taking part in a nonviolent direct action at a Dick’s Sporting Good’s store in Metairie, Louisiana, in solidarity with garment workers in Bangladesh as part of ally organization United Students Against Sweatshops national day of action to pressure North Face to sign an accord on Bangladeshi factory safety.The first experience of this kind for many participants, students peacefully assembled in the store, singing workers’-rights-themed songs to popular tunes, such as “Lean on Me”.
Special thanks to CELSJR staff, our volunteers, workshop facilitators, and everyone who helped make this weekend a memorable one. On behalf of Solidarity Ignite, I look forward to seeing the progress made in organizing for human rights and social justice across all our campuses: Si se puede!