COLA isn't just about economic justice - it weaves together many different justice movements into a collective demand to end austerity. Our blog post today is concerned primarily with outlining what it means to demand more than the bare minimum - more than just the bread that will keep us alive - and how organizing against austerity builds the kind of movement that makes us all, particularly those on the margins, safer both inside and outside of work.
So what exactly do we mean by "roses"? The organizing principle of "bread and roses" emerged from two different struggles. The first is from early women's sufferage and labor organizing. Described in a a speech by Jewish labor union leader Rose Schneiderman around 1911 she said of women workers:
"What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist—the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too."
- Rose Schneiderman
Out of Schneiderman's speech, James Oppenheim constructed a poem which was later turned into a song which characterized women's labor organizing in the first half of the 20th century. This song was called, "Bread and Roses."
Bread and Roses
Black and Brown women were often barred from the women's suffrage movement, and the American labor movement was heavily segregated in the early 20th century. In parallel to the conversation about "bread and roses" happening among the labor movement was the organizing of Black labor and communities. It's from this organizing that Mabel Williams emerged to advocate for the self-defense of Black communities. In the face of enormous violence and death, Williams said:
"Don't give me roses when I'm gone. Give them to me while I am still here and can smell them."
Roses, for Williams, were something to be enjoyed in the here and now. White people, businesses, the systems that exploit the marginalized, are relatively fine with memorializing death (after the fact) while denying us our roses in life. If we take the deaths of Black trans people in the United States, for example, we frequently see memorial pages to the dead but little to change the structural conditions Black trans people experience every day. One of the ways we see systems of domination operate is by telling marginalized people to "wait" (Dipesh Chakrabarty discusses this in his book, "Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference" and Nina Simone gets at this with her song, "Mississippi Goddam'). As Nina Simone said, "I don't trust nobody anymore, they keep saying 'go slow.'"
COLA is an articulation of bread and roses. We shouldn't struggle along under austerity, fighting each other for scraps to get by. In a University system which used $175,000 to 'scrub' the internet of the pepper spray incident the question isn't if we have the funds. Rather, its more about a continued concentration of power and wealth at the top and the stagnation of our living conditions on the bottom. Thinking, and imagining, generously about what kind of world we want to live in draws us together to do more than just survive the University and it's exploitation.
We deserve roses too, now, before we're gone.