Bay State Trains Leaders for Today’s Struggles

March 31, 2017

Member facilitators help build social justice movement.

Participants at the historic Jan. 21 Women’s Marches were urged to return to their communities to continue to advance the struggles for justice, rights and equality.

For many that meant continuing the organizing efforts that contributed to the resounding success of the marches. For 1199ers, an outstanding example of such work is that of dozens in the Massachusetts region who are being trained to take their places as leaders in the movement for a just society. The classes, Building A Movement (BAM), have brought together some 56 members, including 22 Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) in Springfield who are organizing—and, in some cases training—co-workers and are acting in their communities to advance a progressive agenda.

“I’ve found my strength through my Union,” says Betzaida Ventura, a Holyoke PCA and a member of the BAM class. “One of the first things I learned in the classes is that if I fight alone, I can be ignored, but if I unite with others, I’ll be heard.”

“I had a spark in me, now that’s been set on fire.”
— PCA Kindalay

About three years ago, Ventura knew nothing about 1199SEIU. Since then she’s lobbied in Washington and even took a photo with President Barack Obama. She campaigned in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton.

The BAM curriculum includes topics as varied as organizing skills, solidarity and building alliances, the environment and climate justice, political economy, institutional racism and the use of social media. All the members interviewed also attended other leadership classes prior to the BAM sessions.

The BAM classes use the popular education model, which is based on participant engagement and leadership. In the classes, participants are co-learners who draw lessons from their personal experiences and issues in their workplaces and communities, and then decide on actions they can take to make the changes they need.

The PCA members say that the desire to help others that brought them to their profession has also led them to the classes. But instead of working alone with one client, they have found a family of sisters and brothers who lift each other up and amplify all their voices. “We help each other grow by sharing our experiences,” says Tammy Hall, a Springfield PCA. “We each bring different things to the table, all of which are valuable.”

The importance of unity and sharing were common themes among the members. “We are a family in which we all have something special,” says Kindalay Cummings-Akers, another Springfield PCA. Cummings- Akers cites another theme that was echoed by others. “Before I attended classes, I didn’t like to talk; I was that student who remained in the back of the room,” she says. “ The classes not only increased my knowledge, it also increased my confidence. I had a spark inside me, that’s now been set on fire.”

“The classes I have taken, including those before BAM also set a good example for my daughters, who are both young women,” Hall says. “I’m proud of my girls and they are proud of me. We are moving forward together.”

“We help each other grow by sharing our experiences. We each bring different things to the table, all of which are valuable.”
— PCA Tammy Hall

Shortly before the interview with 1199 Magazine, the PCAs had attended a session on Climate and the Environment. “We weren’t aware of all the issues related to our climate,” Hall notes. “There was so much I didn’t understand, but what we learned we can now share with our co-workers and in our communities.”

“These classes are helping us build our Union and a movement,” Hall says. She cites the strength and confidence she’s gained facilitating classes for new members and helping them to follow her path. “We are implementing the ‘Me Plus Three.’ That program calls for each BAM member to organize three other members or persons in their network to do Union and social justice work. Some class members, for example, brought three others to the Boston Women’s March.

Members also say that being better informed helps make them better PCAs. “I do this work because I love people,” Ventura says. “In fact, I have a passion for people. I don’t want my clients to be denied their rights or, worse, to die.” That is why, she says, she will hold her elected officials accountable.

“We’re going to continue to share what we’ve learned with other PCAs and members,” Ventura emphasizes. “And regardless of who is in office, we’re going to continue to fight and continue to move forward.”

1199 Magazine, Jan/Feb 2017