The Dry Season

educate-agitate-organizeSumer is icumen in and it’s both a relief and a source of fear for adjuncts. Relief that the semester is over and we can take a breather, fear that we won’t be able to pay the bills and won’t get another class assignment in September. Fear that we are well and truly FUBARed.

It’s also the season when we turn to our own scholarly and activist work in earnest, and that’s what we’ll be doing here. The blog has been a bit dry lately, and that’s going to change now. So if you’ve been sitting on something juicy that you want to get out into the world and think NFM woud be a good place for it, send it along. I’m back in the editor’s chair.


Reclaiming the Artist: Organizing through Art, Part 3

by Jessica Lawless

Part 1, Part 2

March and puppetry at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo.

March and puppetry at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo.

No Justice No Service was held ten days after National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) and just over a month before the nationwide Fight for Fifteen day of action on 4/15. This was strategic. Bay Area #NAWD was organized to bring together the adjunct and the fast food workers’ fights against income inequality. We did turn out for No Justice No Service during NAWD, letting folks know there was a follow-up event to keep up our momentum. Similarly, No Justice No Service was another opportunity to bring together adjunct faculty and fast food workers while ensuring turnout for the 4/15 day of action.

In early 2015, Black Lives Matter activists in Oakland launched Black Brunches. Black activists walked into restaurants in gentrified—predominantly white—neighborhoods and read aloud names of black trans and cis folks murdered by state-sanctioned violence. During No Justice No Service, several of the Black artists staged a Black Brunch style intervention. Lukaza Verrisimo- Branfman, a CCA student, wrote a special roll call naming fallen labor activists alongside the names of Black people murdered since the beginning of 2015. As a non-black person standing in that art gallery, I found it chilling to embody the sensations of sorrow, helplessness, anger, and confusion about my role in the face of the violence she had referenced. It was a moment to confront what we are doing to ensure Black lives do, in fact, matter.

No Justice No Service was the first time the bargaining teams of the five newly unionized Bay Area colleges came together face to face. This was strategic for metro organizing. The bargaining teams gave joint updates on each of their school’s progress. The contingent faculty on stage, many of them new activists, were given a round of applause welcoming them into the broader labor and social justice movements of the Bay Area.

Print-in at California College of the Arts Oakland Campus with SFAI & CCA students. Photo by Jessica Lawless

Print-in at California College of the Arts Oakland Campus with SFAI & CCA students. Photo by Jessica Lawless

Students participated as equal artists. Zach Ozma and Grace Chen gave tarot readings. The CCA Students of Color Coalition restaged a sculpture they made during the organizing campaign: a wall with large text reading “Stay Neutral” that had originally been set up at a captive meeting held by the President and Provost. Mills MFA writing students read poetry and prose. The SFAI student group, The Poster Syndicate, held a print-in in front of the gallery.

Inspired by the Los Angeles and the Bay Area festivals, long-time adjunct activist Bri Bolin organized a day-long festival in Chicago. Fight for 2015: Chicago Art, Education, and Justice Festival was held at Columbia College on April 15, 2015, as a part of the day of action. Our networks expanded.

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo.

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo.

Because of the concrete organizing successes of the print-ins and No Justice No Service, art in its broadest forms was accepted as a part of organizing at our local. When we held a protest outside of SFAI’s yearly fundraising gala, it included a poetry security force; a giant puppet, St. Precaria; a performative “prayer for precarious workers;” and a brass marching band. Instead of the usual print-in, the Great Tortilla Conspiracy printed with edible ink the Dean of Faculty’s face on tortillas that were made into quesadillas that demonstrators and gala attendees ate.*

During the summer when campuses were quieter, Lauren Elder, who had worked on No Justice No Service and is part of the CCA Contract Action team (CAT); Jessica Beard, an SFAI bargaining team member; and I planned a series of creative workshops called Adjunct Action/Art in Action.  Our goal was to make clear the narrative of the “oppressed adjunct professor” was now the narrative of the “standing up and fighting back adjunct professor.” Partnering with the Center for Digital Storytelling, participants in the workshop wrote their stories of struggle as an academic. It was a cathartic experience that built genuine solidarity. We took those stories and created puppets, in workshops led by Lauren Elder, which were used at CFA and SEIU actions during the fall semester. Finally, we storyboarded an Instagram campaign for a future launch. Faculty and organizers from different schools and unions, as well as community organizers, attended the workshops. One attendee went on to become a bargaining team member at her school. Jessica Beard became an organizer with California Federation of Teacher’s higher ed campaign. And Lauren Elder was hired by the California Faculty Association (CFA) to lead a puppet-making workshop as preparation for an action.

In the fall, Local 1021 held our membership convention. I invited No Justice No Service artists to install art as a part of the convention. Alicia Bell on behalf of Black Magic Arts Collective set up altars to Black laborers. Danielle Wright created a provocative piece about Black women’s hair as it connects to concepts of labor. Catherine Powell from the Labor Archives and Research Center brought a display highlighting women organizers during the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, and Dawn Kceul from the Debt Collective and Strike Debt created an interactive project tallying the collective debt of convention attendees.

Also in the fall, two other events were organized collaboratively between SEIU Local 1021, CFA, The Labor Archives and Research Center, and The San Francisco State University Poetry Center. These were spearheaded by Steve Dickison, a poet and adjunct at CCA as well as the director of the Poetry Center, and Tanya Hollis of the Labor Archives and Research Center that is housed on San Francisco State University’s campus. The first event, Poet | Artist | Activist: Let’s Make a Plan, was held at the Labor Archives and focused on engaging students in art and activism. It featured Chris Higgenbotham, Christian Nagler, and Cassie Thornton. The other event was a panel at the Second Annual Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco.  Adjunct Action|Poets in Action featured Stephanie Young and David Buuck from Mills, Hugh Behm Steinberg from CCA, and Jessica Beard from SFAI. They each read poetry or prose about adjunct organizing in the movement. Shelia Tully from CFA and I moderated the follow up discussion.

While I was focused on the above events, Jonathan, my co-worker at SEIU, was building a coalition between AFT 2121 (San Francisco City College) CFA, SEIU 1021, and Jobs with Justice SF. They convened a hearing about the state of higher education in San Francisco. Among the many things happening that evening, the Poster Syndicate set up a print-in. The hearing resulted in an important report making recommendations to the city supervisors and SFUSD Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, our work was being noticed by SEIU International. Jonathan and I were invited to present on using art as a part of public campaigns and to support new organizing at our state-wide organizing convention.  Our work was also being noticed by other artists and curators. Cassie Thornton and I were invited to Charge 2016, “a three day convening presented by Art League Houston to 1. platform artist-led alternative models of sustainability 2. advocate for equitable compensation for artists 3. consider artists’ work in the larger economy.” We were asked to present on No Justice No Service and adjunct union organizing with artist/adjunct professors.

At Charge 2016 Cassie and I had the opportunity to explore new ways of collaborating. In addition to presenting about art as an organizing tool, we designed an organizing 101 workshop that used self-defense techniques for embodied learning. The shift in the room when we used those techniques to move from agitation to action was palpable.  It was also fun, something much needed when we are fighting the exhausting state of precarity that defines our daily experiences.

When Mills College announced severe budget cuts, Jonathan included Cassie as part of the union actions fighting the proposed department closings. She was paid for her time as artist which allowed her to pilot a new project called Institutional Dreaming, a reinterpretation of Laurie Anderson’s Institutional Dream Series. Laurie Anderson used her dreams to study the impact public institutions had on her psyche and sense of vulnerability to bureaucracies. Cassie is creating spaces for collective dreaming of utopian visions that can restructure the privatization of formerly public institutions that is putting us all in a debt crisis.

Many lifetimes ago, I co-founded a feminist self-defense organization. I revisited self-defense as community building in my MFA thesis project. An effect of learning self-defense is that the embodiment of facing ones fears and/or history of sexual and physical assault seeps into the subconscious and shifts the outcome of recurring violent dreams. Cassie and I are exploring learning organizing skills through feminist self-defense techniques and then capturing the dreaming process as a way to harness our power and shift the vulnerability we feel under neoliberalism onto the institutions. Give us a shout if you are interested in hosting a workshop!

As I wrote in the beginning of this piece, caught in the trap of adjuncting for nine years led me to believe I was no longer a practicing artist. Getting hired as a union organizer felt like the nail in that coffin. I never could have foreseen that this new career would provide opportunities to do the things I thought I’d be doing as an academic: developing my art practice, curating and programming, presenting at conferences, writing and publishing, pushing the boundaries of my field. It’s been one more lesson in NOT accepting that  you just never know what your life or your advocacy can be the catalyst for.

*To see pictures of our events go to the photo albums on the Adjunct Action Bay Area Facebook page

There are many more people who made each event and project possible. You know who you are. Know how much you are appreciated for being a part of this amazing journey.


Reclaiming the Artist: Organizing through Art, Part 2

by Jessica Lawless

Part 1

I started with the first step to any campaign and put together an organizing committee. The OC consisted of Stephanie Young and David Buuck from Mills College, Lauren Elder from CCA, Christian Nagler from SFAI, Cassie Thornton, a CCA alum, and Jessica Tully, an SFAI alum. We were a mix of poets,  artists, and organizers. Adam passed on his notes and materials from the LA event. Local 721’s communications team gave us strategic advice, saying it drew more people than any other public event the local had ever done and they would lend support any way they could. That was the key to greenlighting the project within the chain of command at 1021.

The OC met almost weekly for six months, no small feat since a key struggle with adjunct organizing is, unsurprisingly, attendance at meetings and longevity of OC and bargaining team members. Faculty may not be at the same school during the semester following a union election or the entirety of a first contract campaign. And obviously contingent faculty are not working regular daily shifts at one worksite. Finding a time people can meet for another unpaid commitment is a very real organizing challenge.  The consistent attendance at the art event planning meetings impressed my supervisors as they learned that collectively producing a public event was familiar territory for the adjunct professors who are artists and poets. This was positive for our purposes but it was also a reflection on the double whammy that artists who teach face. We sell ourselves short in two systems that do not provide adequate compensation for our labor. For a variety of reasons, artists have a troubled relationship with the art market while the art market has a troubled relationship compensating the labor of those who create the work the system profits from. Lise Soskolne, in her essay On Merit, does an excellent job of laying out this contradiction. Our planning sessions included how to address this double whammy as an aspect of what we were doing.

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Photo by Jennie Smith-Camejo

What we were doing became No Justice No Service: Bay Area Art, Education & Justice Festival. It was held on March 8th 2015 at The Lab, a gallery in the Mission district of San Francisco housed in an old labor hall. We brought together installation, performance, and spoken word artists alongside writers, printmakers, Bay Area educators and professors, students, unions, and social justice activists. Our focus was to make evident the interconnectedness between artists, contingent professors, student debt, labor, the Fight for Fifteen, and Black Lives Matter. Jennie Smith-Camejo, the 1021 communications lead for the project, met with us over and over trying to find the right public messaging to attract attendees. These meetings would end with her saying, “I think I get it.” On the night of the festival she said, “OK, I finally got it just now.” Her final revelation mimicked the process of making activist art.

Below are the reactions of other people who were involved with the festival:

As an artist, the work of co-creating No Justice, No Service was to engage in community cross-overs that were fresh, surprising, rewarding and enduring: artists and organizers sharing space, ideas, respect and appreciation. I have not felt part of a broad and vital social movement for decades and this has been a thrilling re-entry.”
–Lauren Elder, Artist, CCA Adjunct Faculty, No Justice No Service organizer

No Justice No Service festival impacted me tremendously. I learned about different movements I was unaware of, such as the Adjunct movement. I couldn’t believe people with Ph.D.’s were getting paid poverty wages. These are professors that teach the future of our country for crying out loud! It enlightened me that our issues with big companies/colleges in America are deeper than it seems from the naked eye. This festival also gave me the chance to perform my poetry for the first time. It was an amazing experience. Since No Justice No Service festival I have been more involved with helping different movements and using my poetry to broadcast different injustices around America.”
–Chris Higginbotham, Fast Food Worker/Organizer, Poet, Photographer, and Middle School Teacher, No Justice No Service artist

No Justice No Service took several forms as part demonstration, performance, teach-in, and even yoga studio to highlight the fight for adjunct unionization. The event brought people from various struggles together in an effort to continue engagement and foster connection between labor unions, Fight for 15, #blm/black.seed, income inequality, student debt and more. The connections fostered have continued between the various groups and constituencies via relationship building and exploring how these struggles are interconnected. ”
–Irina Contreras, Artist, School and Community Programs Manager, Museum of the African Diaspora, No Justice No Service MC

Lauren, Chris, and Irina do an excellent job describing the success of the day-long festival and its lasting reach. For me personally, No Justice No Service began to answer a question I was chewing on since I began working for the union: “What are the aesthetics of labor in the 21st century?” The visual and artistic aspects of labor have been defined by Soviet Era propaganda,  WPA murals, and Woody Guthrie. For some of us it was Ani Difranco and Billy Bragg a generation later. All of this is fantastic, but if we are trying to revive the labor movement I believe we should be looking forward rather than back. As an artist who has always worked at the intersections of social justice and visual culture, I’m now interested in art operating as an organizing tool rather than a separate sphere that occasionally crosses paths with grounded activism.

Reflecting on No Justice No Service, Cassie Thornton and I identified our artistic production during the festival as “live curation.”  Similar to live video mixing or DJ sets, our material was the event itself. We were making program changes for six hours solid, mixing everything from the artists, performers and speakers, to the organizations tabling, the installation artists, the slow food cafe, the print-in and the stenciling happening outside the gallery. Our actions were a performance in their own right. Through live curation we were able to explore how performativity is an aspect of concrete social change rather than art performing political ideologies without affecting change. In No Justice No Service we created a liminal space that interwove artistic labor, social relations, and the precarity of living under neoliberal capitalism. I am beginning to understand 21st century labor union aesthetics as a mergence of social practice and art thinking (See Thinking about Art Thinking by Luis Camnitzer in e-flux journal #65).

Ok, but back to grounded organizing.

Part 3


Repost: Take Back NEIU–“What Would Joe Do?”

Although this is a report on an older conference, there are still some useful insights and lessons that bear repeating, especially for folk just joining the fight for improvement in adjunct/contingent working conditions.  And for the record, the author has become a real ass-kicking activist in recent years. That might happen to you, too. Republished by permission from TakeBack NEIU.  

The next Labor Notes Conference takes place in Chicago on April 1-3, 2016. Register now!

By Lydia Field Snow

Notes from Labor Notes Chicago, April, 2014

I felt like I was finally home.

I arrived late because I was parked in a parking lot that was very far from the hotel and another late arriver and I couldn’t figure out how to get over to the hotel. It was quite funny really both of us trying to climb over a wall of sorts with a steep incline, but he was very friendly and cheered me up. At one point he said, “Well you’re a very pessimistic type of person aren’t you?” And I said, “Well I’m an adjunct I’ve been through a lot recently.” Anyway, when we got there I couldn’t find the workshop and the people who ran it were not happy that I hadn’t registered, but one woman in a maroon sweater showed me where the room was, but because I didn’t have a program I don’t even know the title of the session. But I knew I was looking for [NFMF Board member] Joe Berry who had changed my life with his book, “Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education.” That was enough information for her to find it.

Being an instructor at a city state university, I had recently become involved with the efforts of adjuncts reading his book over the radio, and through that experience I had reached out to another instructor at a union meeting who had stood up and spoken about being frustrated by the lack of support from the union to stand behind raises for instructors in the new contract. When I finally got up my nerve to email him, he wanted my phone number and called me back right away. I told him about the book.  He is a math instructor and had figured out there were exactly 365 instructors at our university. So he came up with the slogan “We are the 365”. I sent him a bunch of links to articles about organizing efforts of non-tenured full and part time faculty and he emailed me back right away.—

Continue reading

Welcome to Campus Equity Week 2015!

We’re starting off this year’s Campus Equity Week with both a Congressional briefing in DC (more on this later) and the premiere of a movie about … US! made by Brave New Films. Watch it here:

But that’s not all. During the week, we’re urging all of you to plan actions at your campuses. Teach, Tweet, wear red, speak up, tell your stories creatively, make your work visible and keep doing so. So many of us are organizing, rising up and speaking out that it actually looks like some kind of MOVEMENT! Let’s keep the momentum.  Here are some suggestions:

Campus Equity Week 2015Flier

And tell us what you’re doing by submitting your projects and photos here.

P.S. Thanks to our sponsors and partners, Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, National Education Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Service Employees International Union, United University Professions, and Wisconsin Education Association Council—and all of our brave and outspoken activists.

NFM Works: Robin Sowards, NFM VP

NewFacultyMlogo copyOne of a series highlighting what our Officers and Board Members are up to when you’re not looking.USW_int-ltd_col_2in_R

Robin Sowards, Ph.D., NFM Vice President

RobinIn addition to being an adjunct lecturer who teaches English Composition and Linguistics at several Pittsburgh area universities, Robin is also a researcher and organizer for the United Steelworkers, who were chosen by adjuncts at Duquesne University to represent them in their fight for equity. In that capacity and as an NFM officer, Robin speaks to both academic and labor organizations across the country, on organizing adjuncts and unionism. As a member of the Modern Language Association, Robin has been among the many contingent faculty activists helping MLA  increase its attention to the crisis of contingency, along with NFM/F leaders Maria Maisto, Karen Madison, Anne Wiegard, Judy Olson, and Sue Doe.  Robin’s broad range of expertise as an academic, union member, researcher and organizer make him uniquely qualified to represent the interests of adjunct faculty and their students. We feel lucky to have him.

Upcoming: January 2016: “Contingent Faculty Mentoring for Democracy” MLA Annual Convention, Austin, TX.

Activism–Cuyahoga Community College

Adjuncts organize at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland

Adjuncts organize at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland

by David B. Wilder

Every year Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) sponsors JazzFest, an annual nationally renowned 3-day summer music festival held in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square.

Tri-C adjuncts, who have formed the Tri-C Adjunct Faculty Association, a campus organization affiliated with OPTFA (Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association), decided to bring our calls for equity to the public attending the festival this year. We discussed our plans with officers of the AFL-CIO North Shore Federation of Labor, who were very encouraging. The North Shore Federation of Labor voted on a resolution supporting our ongoing efforts last October. We received union help in producing materials.

We distributed leaflets with the headline “Jazz Up Higher Ed with Adjunct Equity” along with stickers for attendees to wear. The leaflet asked for support by tweeting #RespectTriCAdjuncts.

We also circulated a petition calling for Tri-C to recognize our rights to equitable pay and benefits, a dignified work environment and the freedom to form unions free from interference or retaliation. We found a very receptive public with many eager to sign—including public school teachers, current and former students, adjuncts from other colleges, and other supporters of worker’s rights. On the last evening we were told to leave the festival area by police on orders from the Tri-C festival organizers. Undaunted, we resumed our activity from a distance. We collected over 200 signatures in 3 days.

We will continue to circulate our public petition. One plan is to seek invitations to speak at local union meetings throughout the Cleveland area, asking the union sisters and brothers to support our cause.

David B. Wilder is co-chair of OPTFA and teaches art and art history at Cuyahoga Community College and John Carroll University.