“We want to be able to make interventions in that whenever possible; and we understand that we want power.” –Ociele Hawkins In Durham, North Carolina – a state with one of the lowest rates of union membership in the country – our comrades saw a breakthrough victory. On February 3, all public school workers (including persons providing custodial and other support) began receiving a minimum wage of $15 per hour. While leaders have been fighting racist, anti-union laws that suppress labor across the South for years, Durham for All’s “Raise Up/Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign contributed to a milestone win. Durham for All (D4A) is building a new majority 10,000 people strong to elect local officials and hold them accountable to a vision for equity in Durham. When we spoke to D4A’s Ociele Hawkins about the campaign, we considered what it means to contest power, but to build electoral power from within local institutions that hold resources. Ensuring equal pay for school workers goes hand in hand with the struggle for electoral representation, explained Hawkins, who recruits, trains, and manages member leaders and volunteers for D4A’s campaign organizing and voter engagement work. “The 2020 Democratic primary in North Carolina enabled bold policy positions to take center stage and created new opportunities for D4A and their allies across the Durham area to empower the most marginalized communities,” said Hawkins. In the midst of school closures, the presidential campaign, and the pandemic, D4A ramped up its work of phone banks, text banks, and organizing high school students around education justice (virtually), contributing to this victory – work that falls within D4A’s broader mandate to elect progressive candidates in line with a People’s Platform for social justice reform. D4A also remains focused on school board elections and on actions to influence the Governor, who has the ability to enact broader policies to expand pay equity across other sectors and institutions.
Equity and Power in Durham Schools