the politics of pantyhose: i’m her sister

saturday i dressed in drag.  i pulled out all my nice dress things and found something in navy blue, ran around the house asking after orange top-like things, added some tights and found a pair of those pointy shoes that double as weapons.  i switched out the tights a couple of times, rating for color coordination and lack of holes.  frustrated by my indecision, i broke out of the mirror and hopped on my bike to go and play at being a university of virginia student.  i’m pretty sure i chose the wrong pair of pantyhose.

i met my sister molly on grounds and took her, a bit bemused by my outfit choice, out to lunch before an important living wage campaign rally scheduled for 1pm.  then it was show time.

at 1:30 pm on saturday, the living wage campaign at uva announced that, after more than 14 years of increasing their tactics, of proving to the university administration over and over again that they have lots of support, and that paying a living wage to all UVA employees is a necessary step on the path of creating a community of caring, that twelve students would be hunger striking.  to draw attention to the campaign, to pressure the administration to meet a list of demands guaranteeing a living wage to all direct and contracted employees of UVA (currently set at 13$/hr for cville, but to be readjusted annually based on inflation), to guarantee job security for all employees, to guarantee safe and humane work environments and the creation of a living wage oversight board.  molly is not hunger striking, but she’s one of a small group of core organizers that isn’t and who are responsible for the events happening in coordination with the hunger strike.

this is a campaign that initiated living wage campaigns on other campuses across the country.  since the UVA living wage campaign began 22 of the 25 “top” universities have guaranteed their employees a living wage.  UVA is one of the three that still has not.  university president teresa sullivan preaches a gospel of the “caring community” and in a recent book she co-authored she wrote that “being paid a living wage for one’s work is a necessary condition for self-actualization.”  but on the eve of the hunger strike announcement she sent an email to the university community that was totally deceptive: claiming that UVA pays its workers more than a living wage.  this is not true, but sullivan pads the numbers in her email by including the value of worker’s benefits in the $/hr she claims to pay employees.  unfortunately, no one can pay for rent or food with education credits or healthcare benefits. it would take less than 0.1% of UVA’s extreme annual budget to secure the demands made by the living wage campaign.  but still the hunger strikers have had no response from the administration.

and while the rallys and events and petitions have all represented a broad base of support for the students organizing for a living wage, the shadow side of the campaign is that most employees and even un-tenured faculty cannot actively support it for fear of losing their jobs.  there are many anonymous testimonials from employees, lots of support from the workers but the students cannot point to an employee and tell the administration that they have that support.  so it is even more of an uphill battle for the organizers.

and while it’s a great campaign, the best part for me has been the unprecedented role reversal.  when i found out that the campaign was planning a hunger strike, i told molly i would be her personal support person.  and over the last few days i’ve had the opportunity to step back and be the behind the scenes girl, the supporting actress.  mostly i show up when molly says show up, or i do a produce run so someone else can make juice for the hunger strikers.  and when i am around at the rallys, i get to introduce myself as molly’s sister.  and after years of living as my little sister, i relish the opportunity to be identified by my relationship to her.  and i am fiercely proud of my sister, for doing this work and for being a mix of no nonsense organizer and still deeply connected to the emotional story line of the campaign: workers who work full time and still can’t make ends meet.  workers who are working as best they can and who arent being paid enough to live with dignity.

as they announced the hunger strike, as they read anonymous employee endorsements, though both of us knew it was coming, we started crying.  at one point we were standing next to each other doing something i do when i’m trying to calm the wellspring of tears and emotions demanding expression: we stood side by side rocking back and forth slowly and in rhythm to each other, tears rolling down our faces.  i love the woman that is my sister, and i hope for her sake that teresa sullivan and the uva board of visitors pay attention to the reasons why an ever-growing number of students (as of today its 14) are putting their bodies on the line.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paxus
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 04:22:10

    i have tears in my eyes now too. thanks for this piece. Thanks for your work Molly.

    Reply

  2. Sara Tansey
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 13:38:03

    yeah, molly cried too. yay!

    Reply

  3. joyce
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 16:17:23

    me too, so proud of you both and thanks for being my light filled nieces and goddesses!

    Reply

  4. donnagg
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 00:14:41

    You are both amazing women who are loved and treasured.

    Reply

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