Walking With Purpose: Domestic Workers Practicing Transformation

Written by Kristen Zimmerman

November 19, 2015

This is the first story in a series gathered as part of Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice, MSC’s call to recognize and celebrate the transformative practices infusing movements with vibrancy and innovation. Click here to download the full pdf.

Last month 100 migrant women walked 100 miles for the arrival of Pope Francis in Washington, DC, their journey making national and international headlines. But what many people don’t know is the crucial role that transformative practice played in the pilgrimage – and has long played in the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

You can’t tell from the photographs in the media, but every morning of the pilgrimage the women gathered together to do two Somatics practices:

The first was “centering”, where the women stood together silently and focused inside their bodies on their dignity and purpose and their connection to each other, to history and to the future. “I came in with a lot of righteous anger,” recalls Samantha, an NDWA member leader from Fuerza del Valle in Texas:

That anger was taking a real toll on my body. I realized that anger wasn’t the only way to organize. Centering really helped me to put the purpose of the pilgrimage at my center, and to feel the leaders, movements and history at our backs.

The second practice was “rowing”, which helped the women build on their individual purpose and find a group rhythm and sense of shared direction.

Starting each day with these practices, and continuing with walking meditations in the afternoon, the women arrived in Washington, DC feeling united in courage, vision and deep connection. The act of walking and practicing together had melded them into a powerful force. They felt ready for anything.

The transformative practices of the march reflect NDWA’s deep investment in a new way of being and organizing. In fact, it’s no coincidence that NDWA launched its highly visible national campaign, Caring Across Generations, in the same year that it partnered with generative somatics to launch SOL (Strategy – Organizing – Leadership), a national program that puts somatics practice at the core for leadership development and capacity building for worker leaders and organizers across the country. In the words of NDWA director Ai-jen Poo,

The story of SOL is inseparable from the big audacious experiment of building a national movement grounded in leadership of domestic workers–one that starts from a place of abundance, from what’s actually needed, and from a need to fundamentally change the values in our economy and democracy.

SOL began as an intensive pilot program that included five, four-day sessions and 70 member leaders and organizers. It is now an annual 16-day program that has become central to NDWA’s strategy.

Key to SOL is the space it provides for women to explore individual and collective trauma. Most SOL participants have experienced intimate violence, child abuse as well as the traumatic impact of immigration and oppression. The same is true throughout the communities they are organizing and among women workers at large. By integrating Somatic healing processes within SOL, the organizers created space to name those experiences and to actively work with them. Through storytelling, cultivating resilience and Somatic bodywork, the group has explored ways to heal as individuals while also leading organizations and movements that are struggling with trauma. One NDWA member, Araceli Hernandez of  Casa Latina, describes what she witnessed in a SOL retreat:

I could see faces transforming when we talked about our own stories. I began to see the other organizers as people who have physical lives and their own problems. I also saw liberation around their minds and bodies as we did this work together.

“A really radical practice for the movement is extending trust and committing to rebuild it if it’s broken”, observes Raquel Lavina, a SOL trainer.

So many of us want to trust each other’s values, methods and politics before taking action together. Then we split over disagreements. Oppression relies on us being divided, so it is radical if we extended trust from the beginning and use collective action and practice to build and rebuild trust with each other over time.

The 100 women 100 mile march to meet Pope Francis in Washington DC is just one sign of NDWA’s tremendous momentum. From the front page of the New York Times to the Sun Magazine, NDWA has ignited national concern for the issue of care, bringing an unexpectedly wide range of people and organizations into meaningful connection with each other.

In just eight years, NDWA has become a tremendous force in national politics and culture. NDWA’s most recent victories include the 2013 release of new U.S. Department of Labor regulations to include millions of home care workers in the Fair Labor Standards Act, ending 75 years of exclusion from minimum wage and overtime protections. And in July 2015, NDWA celebrated the passage of Connecticut’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, making it the sixth State in the country — after California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and New York (with another bill pending in Illinois) — to guarantee basic labor protections to the domestic workers who make all other work possible.

Long after the recent 100 mile Pilgrimage, the vibration of the women’s footsteps, and the transformation that took place along the way, will be felt far and wide.

Through transformative organizing, NDWA is charting a path to a world where love and dignity are the values we live by—and are built into the very core of our economy and society.

You May Also Like…

Our Cafe Is A Movement Home

Our Cafe Is A Movement Home

I am the owner of Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, a labor of love that was born in my home 28 years ago as I struggled to...

Decolonizing Childhood in COVID

Decolonizing Childhood in COVID

Nuola Akinde didn’t set out to homeschool, but her experiences as a Black mother in led her to restructure her life...

Talking About Life & Death

Talking About Life & Death

As I write this, my neighbor and three dear friends are dealing with parents in Florida suffering with COVID-19. I...

Share This