SPRING QUARTER 2002
Asian Pacific American Labor Studies
Asian American Studies 197B; class ticket number: 121-856-200
Mondays, 4:00 – 6:50 p.m.
Bunche 2168

 

Asian American Studies 197B
Spring Quarter 2002

Final Community Internship Reports
Our Internship with the Garment Worker Center by Arlen Benjamin-Gomez, Jenny Breyer, Gillian Claycomb, Suzan Luu, and Diem Pham

Objectives

Since the beginning of this quarter, our group has engaged in various activities to support the Garment Worker Center’s Forever 21 campaign. We focused our campaign work at UCLA due to the fact that Forever 21 targets consumers between the ages of 14-25, which most UCLA students fall into. Our objectives were three-fold. One was to acquire widespread support and awareness of the campaign within the UCLA community. Secondly, our goal was to directly support the worker’s campaign by attending weekly actions in which we both protested Forever 21 stores and did consumer outreach and education about the boycott. And finally, several of us did internships with the Garment Worker Center to help coordinate and participate in events and assist the center in their daily activities.

In order to jumpstart our publicity at UCLA, we first began with an information table on Bruin Walk, handing out flyers two or three days per week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, some Wednesdays), and speaking directly with UCLA students to educate them about Forever 21’s abuse of sweatshop labor in Los Angeles. By passing out flyers and petitions, we urged students to join the workers in their official boycott. In addition to obtaining petitions from students on Bruin Walk, we also targeted large classrooms in order to maximize the amount of petition signatures and outreach for the campaign. Initially, we were only obtaining the signatures from Bruin Walk, but we found that a more effective means was to target large classrooms whereby we could make announcements and circulate the petitions. Each group member also made announcements in their classes and set around the petition. These petitions will be submitted after finals and delivered to Forever 21 as directed by Kimi Lee from the Garment Worker Center. The final tally of the signatures is 1026!

Class Visits Include:
Class Professor Class Size
Chicano 101 Macias 98
Social Welfare 103, Lec. 1 Prover 404
Social Welfare 103, Lec. 2 Prover 420
Anthropology 9 Levine 147
Political Science 20, Lec. 1 Rasmussen 187
Political Science 20, Lec. 2 Schultz 154
IDS M100B Commins 37
Sociology 1 Stein 290
Asian American Studies 130A Agbayani-Siewert 51

Furthermore, we went to various student organizations on campus and made short presentations to obtain their endorsements. There were also attempts to obtain departmental endorsements.

List of Student Groups Endorsing the Campaign
1. UCLA Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)
2. Environmental Coalition (EC)
3. Sociology Undergraduate Association (SUA)
4. Association of Chinese Americans (ACA)
5. Korean Student Association (KSA)
6. Mecha
7. Mahu
8. Conciencia-Libre
9. Asian Pacific Coalition (APC)
10. African Student Union (ASU)
11. UCLA Labor Center
12. Asian American Studies Graduate Student Association (AASGSA)
13. Concerned Asian Pacific-Islander Students for Action (CAPSA)

An article regarding the campaign has been submitted and in the process of being reviewed to publish in the Viewpoint section of the Daily Bruin. We also got USAC (the undergraduate student government) to pass a resolution supporting the boycott. The article printed on June 6, 2002 regarding the resolution has been included. Lastly, we held a teach-in at UCLA on May 30th. We invited Marissa Nuncio, from Sweatshop Watch, to discuss the purpose of the Garment Worker Center and the Forever 21 campaign. Through our internship with the Garment Worker Center we also supported KIWA’s Assi Market campaign by protesting in front of the supermarket. In addition, we participated in the May 1st "Legalization Now" march by doing outreach for the march, attending pre-meetings to help organize the march, and on the day of the march our group formed a security team to help facilitate the movement of the march.

In order to directly help the campaign we have participated in weekly protests and actions with the workers. The following is a list of actions that we have participated in:

Actions Attended

  • April 13th 9-12 Town hall Meeting/ Teach-in
  • April 21st 8am Forever 21 action in front of Do Won Chang’s House in Beverly Hills
  • April 22nd 6:30 Volunteer Meeting
  • April 27th 3-4 Protest at Beverly Center
  • May 1st 6-10 Legalization March
  • May 4th 2-4 Worker Meeting
  • May 12th 8am Mother’s day action at Do Won Chang’s House
  • May 18th 3-5 Protest at Beverly Center, & 5-8 Protest at Assi Market
  • May 25th 3pm Protest at Beverly Center
  • June 1st 3pm Protest at Fashion 21 Highland Park

Some of our group members were also able to go intern once every week at the Garment Workers Center itself. We helped with day-to-day tasks, such as making photocopies, mailings, doing research on upcoming campaigns and organizing media files. We also assisted the center by providing child-care during meetings, helping to organize and lead political education workshops for the workers, providing translation and organization of workshop materials, and representing the Garment Worker Center by speaking at community events about the Forever 21 campaign on their behalf.

 

Individual Reflections

Diem Pham

This quarter has been the most enriching experience for me at UCLA. Through my internship this quarter, I’ve had the opportunity to obtain knowledge about various different student organizations on campus that I had previously been oblivious to, such as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). By utilizing USAS to help gain publicity for Forever 21 on campus, I was able to put myself in the shoes of a student trying to initiate a grassroots campaign. At times, it was frustrating, as the students I outreached to were not as receptive as I had anticipated. Some students were just apathetic to the sweatshop conditions. As long as they were able to get cheap cutting edge fashion, they really did not care about the faces behind the clothes. On the other hand, we also caught the eyes of some concerning students on Bruin Walk that made the initiation to acquire more information about our campaign by approaching us.

I really felt fulfilled after a couple of weeks of outreach. On one particular day, I was in the UCLA store and over heard some girls discussing the Forever 21 sweatshop conditions and vowed to join the boycott. This incident made me feel extremely rewarded, as I was able to see the direct results of our efforts. The weekly actions have also been an engaging experience, infiltrating Forever 21 staff, and having one on one confrontation with them made me feel uneasy but added fuel to my fight for the worker’s rights. And nonetheless, chanting boycott slogans outside the peripheral of the store is one experience that has forever changed my perception of garment workers. It has reinforced in me the struggles that new immigrants face, and their inspiring efforts to find justice in this capitalistic society.

My internship experience reached far beyond my expectations. I not only had a chance to both directly and indirectly intern with the Garment Worker Center, I was also able to intern with 4 other very dynamic girls in our group. Through the campaign, I was able witness the energy that we as individuals contributed to the campaign by feeding off one another's energy, experience and devotion. Through this mutual group effort, there is no doubt in my mind that as students we can make a collective difference. Even our mere presence at protests and the knowledge of support of UCLA students can increase the energy for the workers to endure their fight. I am thankful for both Glen and Erin for allowing me to take this class. Sadly, without this class, I would have never been able to find my passion and inspiration. This has been utmost pivotal point in my life. My experience at UCLA will never be the same, as I plan to continue the battle for immigrant rights in the years to come.

 

Gillian Claycomb

I am very happy with the work that we’ve done over the past quarter. I can’t believe we’ve been so organized and able to target Forever 21 so directly. We have collected an amazing number of signatures, and a solid number of student group endorsements as well. I really feel that this is thanks to our ability to work together as a team. Each one of us brought a different motivating force to the project, and we were able to build off each other’s energy and move forward together, further than we ever would have been able to on our own. I am so proud of every single person in our group, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to work with these people! Continuing to intern at the Garment Workers Center has also been great, as I’ve gotten to know better how things function there. Now when I show up every Thursday, I feel like I have concrete projects to work on, and like I am really helping the staff there. They have been so open to working with us, and I feel really included. The Forever 21 workers have also gotten used to having us around, and when I see them each week it feels like I’m running into old friends. I feel lucky to have made these connections with people who I respect so much.

 

Arlen Benjamin-Gomez

I’ve been really happy with our work this quarter. Last quarter we worked really hard on the video and that was a really good learning experience as well as an opportunity to create a useful tool for the Garment Worker Center and Visual Communications. This quarter we were able to do a lot more direct organizing and direct participation in the Garment Worker Center’s activities instead of having to sit on the sidelines and observe, so I liked this quarters activities a lot. I’m really proud of the amount of work we were able to accomplish this quarter as well as our team this quarter. Suzan and Diem were really great!! I think that they have been able to learn a lot of skills for campus organizing as well as community organizing. They were always willing to try new things and really did a great job at everything they worked on. I think their fresh ideas and spirit brought a lot to the success of our campaign this quarter. We were able to get tons of signatures, do an amazing amount of outreach and get a lot of campus support for the Forever 21 campaign. After a couple of weeks of campaigning we would do presentations and people would already know about the campaign from Bruin Walk, friends or student groups organizations. I think this is by far the best campus outreach we have been able to do in USAS.

I was also really happy with our work at the Garment Worker Center. I feel that having worked with them for about 6 months straight; we were really able to establish a good and trusting relationship with the workers and the organizers. This quarter we were able to participate in numerous activities that required a lot of responsibility and trust on the part of the Garment Worker Center. The events that I have done that I’ve learned a lot from and stand out to me are helping to organizing and do security for the Legalization March, leading a political education workshop (in Spanish) on globalization for the workers, and speaking on behalf of the Garment Worker Center at the Labor Center’s Non Violence Conference (May 31st-June 1st). These events in particular have helped me hone and gain new skills (i.e. speaking Spanish, helping to manage potentially chaotic and dangerous situations, and public speaking).

I think all of us have really been able to push ourselves this quarter by putting ourselves in uncomfortable and new situations and thus learning new skills. I want to thank you, Glenn and Erin, for providing a class like this to UCLA students!!!! I think it is so essential for students to be active and get this kind of exposure to community organizations, and get credit for doing it. It’s frustrating as a student activist to work so hard on activities outside of class and get no recognition for it, especially when your schoolwork is compromised because of it. I think having classes like this is a great way to encourage and recognize that community and campus activism is, and should be, a central part of our undergraduate experience, and that this work is part of our education.

 

Suzan Luu

Interning at the Garment Worker Center and taking on the Forever 21 campaign really made me realize how much one has to be dedicated to social justice and the cause to fully be able to effective. Doing outreach and planning for the campaign takes many hours outside group meetings. I began to think, eat and sleep Forever 21. The quarter was challenging, trying to balance this work with my other commitments, but I must say it was one of my most educational quarters, applying directly my academic knowledge to outside work and activities. The course helped me to further think about whether I want to do social justice as a career.

Doing campus outreach, I have learned the majority of people at UCLA are apathetic to social issues. The population of people who are committed to social justice and aware about community and current events are a minority. It takes a lot of energy to move most people into committing themselves through a signature, and even more to get them out on a weekend to come to an action. There are those people are set in their ways and "narrow-minded," who have no desire to commit themselves to the issue, but allowed me to talk to them anyways, just to have a debate. I have had those frustrating moments with people who are apathetic who just don’t care, to those who are very "anti-the-cause." But I have learned that you have to take those moments for what they are and learn from them.

This quarter has been very rewarding in terms of education and value in work. I feel that I have put in a great deal of energy and that energy has paid off. This class was a great experience, and I have valued what I have learned from both Erin and Professor Omatsu.

 

Jenny Breyer

Looking back at the last two quarters, I realize how much my life has been impacted by this class. Coming from an apolitical family and region (Ft Collins, CO) and transitioning into life, which is diffused with activism, has been both difficult and rewarding. One of the challenges has been including my five year old son, Nicky, into this change. Nicky is one of my main reasons that I decided to embark on this new path. I wanted him to be in situations in which he is exposed to the social injustices of the world and thereby gain the skills to identify such problems as well as recognize that he can be a part of the solution.

Here are just a couple of ways in which labor activism has become an integral part of our lives: we go to a public action about once a week, I work at the Labor Center at UCLA as a graduate student researcher and I am interning at the Garment Worker Center. In addition, this summer I will be participating in the Summer Internship Program to increase my knowledge and skills as a labor activist. The above examples are only a small part of what I have I gained since becoming a part in the labor movement.

Another important part of experience has been learning to work with and appreciate the other students who have participated in this journey with me. The ability to build strong alliances and friendships is so important to activism. It is not merely coincidence that the majority of activists are women. As women, we are socialized to build relationships. And activism, in its simplest form, is merely the act of building relationships. I have met some truly amazing women whose dedication, leadership, and belief in a better tomorrow leaves me in awe and inspires me to forge ahead.

The most important revelation that I have come away with is the recognition of my life within the lives of these workers, especially the women. Not that our lives and struggles are parallel, I have no interest in flattening out the very important differences in our lives, but that each of us is trying, in our own ways, to improve our interior lives as well as our external worlds. It is this recognition that brings me to a firm conviction that if we want to change the garment industry and abolish sweatshop labor practices, then we must cross boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality. Women are the key. As the majority among both workers and consumers, women working together can change the industry in addition to labor practices globally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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