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Lions Roar : November 2016
Ai-jen Poo has dedicated her life to caring for those who care. She’s spent the last twenty years organizing and advocating for the people, mostly women, who work in other people’s homes caring for what Poo calls “the most precious elements of our lives—our kids, our aging loved ones, our homes. Some people call the workforce ‘domestic workers.’ We call it ‘the work that makes other people’s work possible.’” Poo, who is director of the National Domestic Workers Alli- ance and co-director of Caring Across Generations, describes herself as “an aspiring Buddhist.” She says her path was inspired by seeing her mother’s constant work for others, which was invisible and not regarded as “real work.” After being involved with women’s organizations in college, Poo volunteered at a domestic-violence shelter for Asian immi- grant women, where she realized how many people in our soci- ety lack basic physical and economic security. “Women kept coming in and out of the shelter because they would keep trying to leave their abuser,” says Poo, “but their jobs weren’t living-wage jobs and had high levels of insecurity. The cards were stacked against them in their struggle to support themselves and their children. I knew we had to look at these important, but undervalued, jobs and figure out how to make them good jobs, so these women could live violence-free lives and rebuild while taking care of their children.” In 1996, Poo began organizing poor and working-class Asian immigrant and refugee communities in New York City. In 2000, she founded Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organiza- tion of Caribbean, Latina, and African nannies, housekeepers, and elder caregivers in New York advocating for power, respect, and fair labor standards. In 2010, DWU’s support was instrumental in the passage of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in New York State. It was the first American law to guarantee domestic workers basic labor protections such as overtime pay, three days’ paid leave Helping others is the ultimate political act. LINDSAY KYTE profiles five people who are changing society from the ground up. Changing the World—One Life at a Time Rights for Domestic Workers Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 64