Telling Our Stories

Woman’s body found in the street

I read these words in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and thought about all the women who are murdered every day.

The next day a shock wave of phone calls shot through my community. Mia was dead. The woman’s body that had been raped and murdered and left in the street was my friend.

Three months later I was homeless, living in a domestic violence shelter. I fled a relationship when my partner smashed a huge TV in the street, wielded a knife, and shot off an assault rifle.

What got me through was organizing. At the time I didn’t call it that. It was 1993. Organizing wasn’t an industry yet.* What I did was get together with my friends and figure out what we needed to do to deal with the fear, grief, and the veil of violence in our lives that had been lifted. We needed to support each other, share our experiences, develop our own systems to fight back. We needed to use our creativity and smarts to transform the pain of loss and find a path to something new. That something new was Home Alive, a self-defense and violence prevention collective that lasted for 17 years in various incarnations as was needed for the various communities at the helm of the organization.

For me, organizing has always been about making change within my own communities, especially when faced with loss.

25 years later, with $90,000 in student loans, bankruptcy filed, debt to the IRS, I experienced the painful loss of my academic career, a career that represented how much different my life was from those soggy, drunken, dark, years in Seattle.

Jessica Lawless, Random Notes, Santa Fe, 2013

So I did what I knew how to do, find others experiencing a similar loss and fight back. I didn’t realize I was walking into a new movement that was going to become one of the stronger interventions to the neoliberal university under the gig economy. I also didn’t realize I was walking into one of the largest mobilizations within the labor movement in many years.

There are several of us who are current or former adjunct professors and full time organizers.

And there are many people who spent decades paving the way for this moment. I want to know their stories of how they went from teaching to organizing. So I asked friends and mentors to write about their experiences.

I will post these every couple of weeks, sometimes more often. Please share these posts. And please let me know if you have a story about being an adjunct professor who became an organizer in your school or for a labor union.

Over the next two weeks Helena Worthen and Joe Berry will be sharing their stories. These two godparents of adjunct organizing have an incredible wealth of history and knowledge to share.

Please spread the stories you find here far and wide. It’s the beginning of documenting the history of our movement.


* For two excellent accounts of what changed in last few decades see the chapter, “How We Won the Mainstream but Lost the Movement,” in Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation by Beth E. Richie. Also, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman

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