Vermont Humanities

We Are All Fast Food Workers Now: A Conversation with Annelise Orleck

Fast food worker with fried chicken on shelves

Labor historian and Dartmouth professor Annelise Orleck is the author of “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now,” which provides a close look at globalization and its costs. She interviewed berry pickers, fast food servers, garment workers, hotel housekeepers and others who are fighting for respect, safety, and a living wage.

We spoke with Annelise by phone in late March, after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed all of our public events. She was originally going to speak for our First Wednesdays series of lectures on April 1.

Episode Transcript

Annelise Orleck: These things that we don’t think about, these things that seem abstract, right? Lack of paid sick leave, who cares? It’s just workers, right? “My job gives me sick leave, so I don’t care.” Yeah, well, you know, you go in and get your latte or you go in and get your Big Mac and your food has just been handled by someone with an infectious virus who can’t stay home because they have no paid sick leave and they’ll get evicted if they don’t come to work.

Annelise Orleck: All of these things are now becoming more visible. And I think that’s a good thing. I really, really think that’s one of the ways we can move beyond this crazy notion that shareholder value is the most noble collective human endeavor and that everything else comes second. I think we’re learning the hard way that that’s just not so.

Welcome to the Portable Humanist, the podcast where you can listen to Vermont Humanities talks and learn when you’re on the go. I’m Ryan Newswanger.

Annelise Orleck is Professor of History at Dartmouth College, where she teaches U.S. Political history, Women’s history, and the history of Race, Ethnicity and Immigration. She’s also the author of several books.

Her most recent is called “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now.” The book offers a close look at globalization and its costs. It shares the perspective of low-wage workers such as berry pickers, garment workers, hotel housekeepers, home health care aides, and even adjunct professors. They are all fighting for respect, safety, and a living wage.

I spoke with Annelise by phone in late March, after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed all of our public events. She was originally going to speak for our First Wednesdays series of lectures on April 1.

We began by discussing the origin of her book’s title.

Annelise Orleck: Five years ago, exactly, March 25th, 2015, on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I was giving a talk in Florida and I asked to meet with some activists in the living wage movement because I knew that in the Tampa-St. Pete area there was a very vibrant living wage movement. And I walked into Teresita’s Cuban Cafe in West Tampa, which was a very busy working-class Cuban restaurant. And at the table was this really interesting array of people. There were fast food workers, home health care workers were Skyping in because they actually had to work 120-hour weeks with their fragile clients.

Annelise Orleck: And then there were college professors, there were adjunct professors. And I said I thought that it was unusual to have this kind of working-class coalition, this kind of new solidarity. And I asked them how do college professors come to be organizing alongside fast food workers. And one of the young men sitting there, Keagan Shepard, who is a history graduate student at University of South Florida in Tampa, said “They tell us that our advanced degrees make us special, and that if we’re just good and we do what they tell us and we teach course to course, year after year, that we’ll get that tenure track job,” he said. “But that’s just a lie to keep us quiet, because the truth is, we’re all fast food workers now.” And that became not just the title of the book, but it became a really important theme in the book.

Annelise Orleck: A great many workers now, millions and millions and millions of workers in this country, are so-called gig workers. They’re considered contract workers. They’re not employees or “real employees” in the view of their employers. And one of the things I learned in researching this book is that that concept of the gig economy is really an end run around New Deal labor protections passed 85 years ago: minimum wage, maximum hours, safety standards, seniority, pensions, benefits, all of it. I met workers who’d worked for years for the same company, but they’re considered contract workers and so they don’t have any of those benefits. And so that’s why we’re all fast food workers now, right? That’s why none of us have the kinds of benefits, or most of us no longer have the kinds of benefits that workers fought and died for and were given in this country, 85 years ago in the Roosevelt years and on into the 1970s. So that’s where the title of the book came from.

Has it been a gradual, slow erosion to this point, or is it something that’s really accelerated in the last 15 or 20 years?

Annelise Orleck: I think it’s really accelerated in the last 30 years, and it’s gone hand-in-hand with a purposeful dissolution of the structures of government. I would begin the moment in some ways with the election of Margaret Thatcher in England and Ronald Reagan in the United States and the ascension of Deng Xiaoping in China. I’m a history professor and I used to give my lecture on the Reagan years and say the Reagan revolution didn’t happen. You know, the important structures of the New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson are still in place. And while that’s true, I no longer believe the revolution didn’t happen, I think it did. And it transformed people’s sense that government could help them, could be on their side. And it moved us to a very different place. And it basically removed rules for the behavior of corporations so that we’re in a second Gilded Age. Where corporations, the biggest corporations in the world don’t pay taxes and don’t have to protect their workers. All you need to do is look at companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, three of the biggest employers on earth, not just in the United States, and how they have evaded the kinds of legal protections for worker safety, prohibitions against firing people for trying to organize unions, all of the things that were so hard-won in the 1930s and formulated into law under Franklin Roosevelt.

When you say this is a second Gilded Age, what characterized the first Gilded Age, which I believe was the 1890s?

Annelise Orleck: Yes. The first Gilded Age came after the Civil War and it was during a massive expansion of American capitalism. And saw the creation of very, very powerful monopolies in the railroads, steel corporations and banks. We began to make a case that that sort of monopoly accumulation of power and capital made the proper workings of the market impossible. So that even if you believed in laissez faire capitalism and even if you believed that the market would regulate quality and price and demand and supply and all of that, with the dramatic accumulation of power and wealth in a handful of hands you can’t have a democracy. You have something more akin to an oligarchy, where just a few families have way more control than anyone should.

Annelise Orleck: And we are back in that case. We are back in that situation so that a tiny handful of people, you know, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, Warren Buffett and many others. The Waltons, the family that owns Wal-Mart, have way more power and wealth than the vast majority of the human race and frankly, than most nation states. So you have these handfuls of individuals who are more powerful than governments. And that’s where we find ourselves. After I began work on this book, I was arguing then that neo liberalism is cracking, that that kind of accumulation of wealth can’t stand. It’s not sustainable for healthy, functioning societies. And I believe that the tremendous organizing and movement-building that workers have done around the world since 2012 has helped us to see what a fairer world should look like. And new definitions of freedom and democracy.

Annelise Orleck: But I think that the COVID crisis, the global pandemic has pushed us even farther to the point where I would say that the system that we’ve had for the last 30 or 40 years is cracking. It’s coming apart. And suddenly you have countries like the UK and Canada and Denmark offering to pay 75, 80 percent of workers’ salaries till we get through this crisis. We’re doing far less. But an unprecedented expansion of unemployment benefits is being debated on the floor of Congress as we speak. All of it reminding us that in times of crisis, we need government. And so, you know, the hold of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech where he said government is not the solution, it’s the problem, may finally be breaking after 40 years.

His statement that the most chilling words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Annelise Orleck: Right. And now that’s what we’ve got to have. The organizing that workers have done against poverty wages have had tremendous impacts both in the private sector and in local governments. Between 2012 and 2016 alone, through getting companies to increase their minimum wage, through passing local and state minimum wage laws and paid sick leave laws, workers dramatically improved their situation.

Annelise Orleck: I think it’s very telling that the largest union local in the country, which is the United Healthcare Workers West, which is a California local, and is home health care and hospital workers, are the ones who’ve managed to round up 39 million masks and are starting to distribute them to health care professionals around the country. So the government couldn’t do it or wouldn’t do it more accurately, and so movement building and this labor movement that I write about in We are All Fast Food Workers is still leading the way in some very, very crucial areas.

Let’s talk a little bit about how you researched and wrote the book. Where did you travel and what sort of groups did you speak with in researching it?

Annelise Orleck: I traveled to many parts of the world and spoke with people in even parts of the world that I didn’t go to. But I was in Cambodia, in the Philippines and South Africa. And on the Mexican border and California, in Rhode Island and Florida. And also did a lot of interviews with people in Bangladesh, though I didn’t directly travel there.

Annelise Orleck: And the research that I did was kind of a snowball effect. I started to try to find people who were organizing. Interestingly enough, I found people through social media, which has both democratized potential for movement building around the world and communications between activists, but also increased the potential of governments and corporations to surveil those activists. So I traveled and I started to talk to people. And I rode on the back of motorcycles into the slums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we found garment workers, consciousness raising groups and went in to East New York, where you had airport workers. The older generation was airport workers and the younger generation were fast food workers. Both organizing together to help their communities and to get a decent wage.

You had said listening to the activists has been healing for you and inspiring. I think it can seem like so much of what they’re fighting against or trying to organize against just seems so entrenched and so difficult to change. How did you come away feeling optimistic?

Annelise Orleck: These are dark times, without a doubt. And I think the courage of these people, and the joy they take from organizing both gave me hope. And I began to look at these young people, young fast food workers’ group called the R-E-S-P-E-C-T Fast Food Workers Alliance, which does singing, dancing, flashmob protests in the Philippines and has remained in the streets and protesting in this creative, entertaining way during the Duarte years and is now organizing around labor rights and the COVID crisis and the attempt to establish martial law there.

Annelise Orleck: I met Cambodian garment workers who work six days a week, and on the seventh staged a so-called fashion show to get around the ban on protests. So they wore the dresses that they make and the sneakers they make that are sold in this country for more than they make in a month. And they wore those and they sang and they danced and they illustrated the gap between the amount that they make and the profits of the heads of these corporations like Nike and Wal-Mart and Sears and Adidas.

Annelise Orleck: And I saw their courage and their resilience. I saw these South African women, grape pickers in the grape fields who led this vast strike in 2012 that began to finally turn the tide on the conditions in those fields that had been likened to slavery, to modern slavery. Same thing with tomato pickers in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who did these truth tours around this country for years, protesting and telling their stories in front of fast food chains until they got fast food chains and Wal-Mart to agree to buy tomatoes produced on fair food farms. And we have a similar thing going on with dairy workers in Vermont and Ben and Jerry’s to try to get people to have beds and a basic minimum wage and indoor plumbing and be able to sleep someplace warm through the Vermont winter. All of this, I find inspiring and hopeful.

Annelise Orleck: One thing that’s underrated, I think and under-researched: I’ve come to the conclusion through a long career of researching poor people’s movements and labor movements and women’s movements, that protest is fun. You know, as a brilliant welfare rights activist, Ruby Duncan from Las Vegas, where I wrote about in an earlier book called Storming Caesar’s Palace, put it, “It felt good to finally be the ones doing the demanding. All our lives, people were demanding things of us, never saying please or thank you. And with harsh consequences if we didn’t obey.” There’s something really powerful to be in that position of working together and making demands. The sociologist George Katsiafiocas calls it the Eros Effect, this kind of almost electric charge of what it feels like to organize and to act collectively and feel not alone. So all of that gives me hope. And now, in the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic and even before this started, just as I was writing the book, it was really healing for me after the 2016 election to try to learn from these activists who were putting so much on the line all over the world.

Tell me a little more about the discussions you had with dairy workers here in Vermont. What did you learn from the dairy workers here? And what do you think Vermonters should know about the immigrants in their midst who are doing this hard work?

Annelise Orleck: For starters, one of the things I learned is that you can’t get H2 guest visas. I mean, the program is now effectively suspended by the Trump administration. So lots of farmers across the country will be struggling to get guest workers. But the dairy industry has long been prevented from getting guest workers. And it has also found it almost impossible to get Americans to do the work because it’s tough, because you must milk those cows twice a day, every day of the year, no matter what the conditions. Otherwise they’ll die. And it’s dirty work. It’s cold work. And so they need people who are willing to do it. And for a very long time there’s been an immigrant stream, particularly from southern Chiapas in Mexico, from a couple of towns that have been sending people to Vermont for a long time and then also from other parts of Central America.

Annelise Orleck: And I think that these mostly indigenous immigrants, but also mestizo, Mexican and Central American immigrants are the backbone of the industry that I identify as Vermont almost more than any other, right? What would Vermont be without dairy farms? So, you know, for starters, they are the face of Vermont. They make us who we are. And I think that the stigmatizing that Vermont ICE has done and the tracking down of these workers who are almost captive on farms, because they are undocumented necessarily, has been just incredibly cruel. And I have been really inspired by the organization Migrant Justice, which is based in Burlington in the upper part of the state, but is beginning to organize around the state, and its leaders, particularly Enrique Balcazar, who came to Vermont when he was 16 and has been organizing dairy workers to get the same kinds of benefits that he saw the tomato workers get in Florida. He was really interested in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which was a lot of farm workers in Florida who are from the same kinds of backgrounds as the workers here in Vermont.

Annelise Orleck: And they came up with a brilliant idea, which is that farmers are pressed so hard that you can’t just ask for a few more pennies for farmers, that where the money really is is in the big buyers. And so that’s why they they worked for years to get the fast food chains, and Wal-Mart, which gets one out of every four American grocery dollars, to buy tomatoes made only in farms that they have certified Fair Food, which means they get a living wage. They have the right to unionize if they want to. And they have zero tolerance for sexual violence in the workplace. And the inspection of those farms to find out if those things hold true will be done by workers themselves. Because usually what happens is corporations establish – even if they establish a social responsibility code, they bring in a corporate inspector who goes around and says, I don’t see anything wrong, everything’s fine. So to have these workplaces inspected by workers is crucial.

Annelise Orleck: So Migrant Justice started a campaign called Milk with Dignity in the state of Vermont and Milk with Dignity said, all right, who’s going to be the people who can pay our farmers more? They know our dairy farmers are pressed. They know they can’t afford too much extra and that people are killing themselves and going bankrupt. And so they pressured, they worked for years, they pressured Ben and Jerry’s. They toured the country. They appeared in front of Ben and Jerry’s stores. They appeared at speaking engagements by the CEO of Ben and Jerry’s. And they said, you know, you guys stand for supposedly social justice. That’s your market. You advocate against growth hormones. You advocate for the ozone layer, for everybody except the workers who produce the milk that makes your ice cream. And after a couple of years, a really long time, they were finally able to get Ben and Jerry’s to sign on to the Milk With Dignity campaign, guaranteeing them $10 an hour, sleep on a real bed instead of a bed of straw and not be sleeping in unheated school buses.

Annelise Orleck: I think Milk with Dignity has been really inspirational, but they have paid a price. Migrant Justice activists have been regularly targeted by Vermont ICE for years and they have been arrested and threatened with deportation. Some of them have been deported. For a small organization of very young, mostly very young people, very disfranchised folks, most of them undocumented, they’ve had a great impact on our state, on our dairy industry. And I think we all owe them a vote of thanks and we owe them our support.

And ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is that correct?

Annelise Orleck: Yes. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They’re the people who’ve been enforcing no tolerance for crossing the border illegally policy that was established when Jeff Sessions was President Trump’s attorney general.

It’s very easy, I think, for Americans…we grow up with this idea of American exceptionalism that we’re a place apart, the rules are different for us. Do you see commonalities between things you witnessed – whether it was the way things were being organized or the things people were working against – happening in countries around the world? Do you see those same things happening here in the United States?

Annelise Orleck: One of the others starting moments for the book was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which I wrote about in my first book, Common Sense and A Little Fire. The Triangle fire took place on March 25th, 1911 in a supposedly fireproof garment factory in New York City. And 146 young workers, most of them young girls, died. There were thousands of people in the streets watching as people fell from windows and smashed into the street from eight and nine stories up. It was a really horrific event. And as a result of the organizing of the workers and some of the people who saw that fire, including Frances Perkins, who would become Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor in the 30s, we began to get labor laws protecting workers. And it was really seen as a turning point in American history and as a moment when Americans decided that we may believe in freedom of contract and laissez faire capitalism, the government shouldn’t get involved in business. But we had reached a consensus moment, an inflection point where people decided people shouldn’t have to put their lives on the line to make a living, to keep body and soul together, to feed their children.

Annelise Orleck: And so 100 years later, we held an anniversary commemoration in New York City. And one of the things that those of us who organized it, who were labor people, artists, performers, historians, was to make clear that it wasn’t just a triumphalist narrative about look how bad it was 100 years ago and look how good it is now. That in this last 40 years, as the protections for workers have eroded, that there are many professions that are as dangerous now as they were then. And one of them is garment work. And so Bangladesh, which was in 2011, still the cheapest place on earth to make clothes and a place where Wal-Mart and Sears and the U.S. military and The Children’s Place were making their clothes. It was the second largest exporter of clothing in the world. And one of the leaders of their struggle, the movement by the women who do the work there, the millions of women who make our clothes there and who have suffered fires and all kinds of horrible deaths and injuries in their factories. She came up on the stage and she said, “In Bangladesh, it’s not 2011, it’s 1911.” And one of the things I learned in researching this book is that it’s 1911 all over the world, including in the United States. And that as we have started to globalize garment production, globalized agriculture, globalized cotton production and globalize electronics, that what’s happened is that we have driven down wages and safety conditions and labor protections here in the United States. So that wages, real wages, what they can buy, what they’re worth, have been falling in the U.S. for 40 years.

Annelise Orleck: It’s here. It’s not just abroad. It’s not just the Philippines. When this book first came out, there was an interesting mistake that many reporters who’d read the book made. I tell the story in this book of a hotel housekeeper from Providence, Rhode Island, who became pregnant. And she was in a hotel that had been unionized and the union had been broken. And they brought in these labor contractors. So she wasn’t really an employee. She was an employee of the labor contractor. And they wouldn’t even let her break as she started to go into contractions. They wouldn’t let her end her shift early. Her water broke while she was making a bed. In one of the 20 rooms or so that she had to do in this hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, and she went to the hospital, she just had enough time to wash the toxic chemicals that she cleans rooms with off her hands before she gave birth. She went to the hospital in her work uniform. Her water broke in the hotel room where she was working. And I tell that story in the book, as a spark for why she became a hunger striker in Providence for a minimum wage in Rhode Island and why she became a union activist and she won, ultimately unionized her hotel. And every reporter who asked me that story said to “Tell me the story about that hotel housekeeper in the Philippines. I really want to hear that story.” And in their minds, it was such a horrific tale of worker abuse that they couldn’t cope with the fact that it was in the United States in a modern liberal New England city, right? They distanced it, I think for their own emotional well-being and safety.

You’re a labor historian. You studied this, you’ve had extensive experience. In the prologue to your book you wrote that researching the book, talking with people, changed how you think and feel when you shop and you travel. Even though you probably knew that a number of these things were going on in the past, perhaps the experience with this book changed that further for you?

Annelise Orleck: Oh, absolutely. For starters, the very first moment of every day, I realize what it means to have clean water coming out of my tap and how water has been privatized. And many of the strikes organized around water. And so when I turn on my tap, when I drink a glass of water out of my well on my nice Vermont piece of land every morning, I think about the privatization of water and how crucial that is. And again, that’s not just around the world, right? It’s in Flint, Michigan. It’s in so many parts of the country where people don’t have good water.

Annelise Orleck: So I thought about that. Like many people I finally snapped out of my haze of fast fashion. Fast fashion is a global addiction. Those people who are my age or older remember when suddenly the cost of clothing dropped and suddenly there were all these stores where you could get $10 skirts and pants and $5 shirts. And we just became addicted. They were nice and they were pretty. Americans by 2017 were buying five times as many clothes every year as we used to buy in 1980. So what were the costs of that?

Annelise Orleck: One thing is, it drove down wages for making clothes all around the world, to the environmental costs were absolutely staggering. The chemicals that cotton was grown with, the dyes, the tanning of leather that destroyed so many parts of India. So I began to become interested in companies that are doing it differently, not only buying vintage clothes, but buying clothes that are made sustainably. And we’re starting to see that happen.

Annelise Orleck: So all of those things, I just became more conscious. Same thing with berries. For years, berries were something you had in the summer. And all of a sudden, berries were on our shelves twelve months a year. I became conscious of what I buy. I will now buy a bag of frozen berries from a Vermont farm or New Hampshire farm rather than buying unfrozen Driscoll’s berries from Mexico. I want to know something about where my clothes come from, where my water comes from, where my food comes from. All of these things were just revealed to me. I feel like all of this stuff that happened in my adult life, I couldn’t see in front of my eyes before I did the research for this book. And now it’s visible. And I just try to live more consciously to the extent that I can.

Some might say that one of the hallmarks of American life is: don’t pay attention to how the inexpensive clothes ended up there on the shelf, or how the berries showed up there in January.

Annelise Orleck: Yeah, exactly. And also, as we’re learning in the past month, don’t pay attention to the fact that the vast majority of American workers had no paid sick leave. And so those people making your food in the fast food place, 86 to 100 percent have said they have had to come in sick.

Annelise Orleck: We just learned it the other day via Starbucks. Starbucks is now trying to make it right by at least paying 30 days of disaster pay to its workers. But they had people coming in sick all across the country. Again, these things that we don’t think about, these things that seem abstract, right? Lack of paid sick leave, who cares? It’s just workers, right? My job gives me sick leave, so I don’t care. Yeah, well, you know, you go in and get your latte or you go in and get your Big Mac and your food has just been handled by someone with an infectious virus who can’t stay home because they have no paid sick leave and they’ll get evicted if they don’t come to work.

Annelise Orleck: All of these things are now becoming more visible. And I think that’s a good thing. I really, really think that’s one of the ways we can move beyond this crazy notion that shareholder value is the most noble collective human endeavor and that everything else comes second. I think we’re learning the hard way that that’s just not so.

In your book you talked about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which I think was, 2011 or 2012? But maybe the roots of it started with 2008 financial crisis? Do you feel like there’s a chance that there will be a similar movement now, coming out of economic devastation that the COVID-19 outbreak will bring?

Annelise Orleck: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. There’s a sick-out at Whole Foods that’s starting right now because workers want sick leave. And Jeff Bezos, because he’s so hard pressed and so financially strapped, has not yet granted unlimited sick leave for the duration of the crisis. So I think that the union organizing and the worker organizing among the very lowest paid workers in the world that I’ve been talking about: garment workers, produce and berry pickers, dairy workers, construction workers, retail workers at Wal-Mart and places like Amazon, all that organizing has been going on. And absolutely, it came out of the 2008 crisis to a great extent. It also came out of the attempt to get rid of labor protections. So in some ways, between the 2008 crash and Occupy Wall Street was the occupation of the Wisconsin capitol after then-Governor Scott Walker tried to get rid of collective bargaining for public sector employees. And there were protests of upwards of 80,000. Nurses and policemen and fire people and teachers, occupied the capitol, occupied that area for quite a long time. It was at that moment that people began to say, OK, we’ve got the basis of a movement here.

Annelise Orleck: They’re out there. You know, they’re out there every day. In my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I see messages from Fight for $15 all across the United States and from workers in the Philippines who are organizing. And in Bangladesh. It’s going on all around us. You know, part of the problem is the media has not covered it very well. And that’s one reason why I wrote this book.

Thank you. This has been really illuminating. Is there anything you feel that we should mention that we haven’t talked about yet?

Annelise Orleck: The only thing that I want to talk about that I might end with is that these movements see themselves as standing on the shoulders, not just of the labor movement and its rich histories, but of the immigrant justice struggle. As Maria Elena Durazo, who is now in the California state Senate – she was a big activist in in Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers and also garment workers – said to me, “There has never been a labor movement without an immigrant justice movement. It’s always been about that.” Because immigrants are brought in to lower the wages of prevailing wages in American industry. And that’s true around the world. So it’s an immigrant justice movement. It’s a women’s movement. Remarkably so. I mean, when I asked people around the world what got them going, I heard over and over and over again, from Cambodia to Providence to Tampa, to Mexico, to South Africa, that they were organizing, number one, against sexual violence in the workplace. So they were Me Too before Me Too. They were organizing against pregnancy discrimination, to end the pay gap between men and women and for greater representation of women in company committees, but also in the labor unions. So it’s an immigrant justice movement. It’s a women’s movement. It’s a racial justice movement that builds on the civil rights movement. Young Fight for 15 activists are overwhelmingly African-American. There are many other, Latinx and Asian and many other people in the movement. But it’s really a movement that sees itself as building on the civil rights movement.

Annelise Orleck: And you know, that first interview I did in 2015, I talked to these young fast food workers who had just come back from Atlanta, where they’d been trained by surviving members of the sanitation union in Memphis, where Martin Luther King went to march in support in 1968 when he was assassinated. They say “We stand on the shoulders of our grandparents in the civil rights movement.” And they use the slogan of Fannie Lou Hamer, the sharecropper activist from that era, who said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” You see that all over that movement.

Annelise Orleck: And finally, it’s an environmental and indigenous justice movement. All over the world from Standing Rock to Southern California to South Africa to the Philippines, I heard indigenous people say we’re on the march to save this planet because you guys have messed it up so badly that we need to go back to our earlier forms of knowledge and to honor the way indigenous people cared for the earth. And so I think those are things that are maybe not obvious in the rest of what we’ve talked about. But this movement that I write about in the book, it is all of those things.

That’s Annelise Orleck, Professor of History at Dartmouth College. She’s the author of “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now,” a book that offers a close look at globalization and its costs.

Thanks for listening to The Portable Humanist. Visit our website at portablehumanist dot org for a transcript of this episode, and for more information about Vermont Humanities.

Vermont Humanities*** April 15, 2020