I Want To Give Back To My Country: A Conversation With Emily Lacy (Part 2 of 3)
August 30, 2012 7:37 am
Unionosity Creative Director Jason Bacasa sat down with musician and activist Emily Lacy recently to learn about her music, her commitment to social change and her life. Read part one of the interview here.
JB: How does one organize and unify effectively? Are there better solutions to be found in community organizing, cooperatives and things of that nature? Politicians might very well hear our outrage, but one would argue that the policies aren’t being ratified fast enough — or at all.
EL: I don’t know that that’s gonna happen — this year, or next, or the year after. But I feel that through organization and through banding together, people can build alliances and spread awareness about what specific injustices are occurring. It all comes down to pressure. Pressure has to be applied to the powers that be for things to actually change —if we’re talking about actually continuing with the government that we have in place. (Laughs). If that’s what’s happening, then pressure has to be applied, and we’ve really got to hold the fire on them.
What was so exciting about the fall, with all these encampments happening all over the US where people weren’t going anywhere, was that there was this sense of ‘the pressure is on.’ There was this sense of, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ That was really exciting. And then, part of the trauma that I experienced through seeing the [Downtown LA] encampment removed was this feeling of, ‘Oh, wow. This is the shift of power.’ Even though it’s just tents and people that they’re taking away, what they’re really taking away is the symbol and excitement of pressure being applied.
JB: A very apparent reminder, right in front of City Hall.
EL: Right. And knowing that other cities still had these encampments.
I do think that there is potential, but we have to get organized. When I go back and listen to recordings from the civil right’s movement, it’s incredible to hear these citizens, these everyday people who had trained themselves to be able to speak to people this way. Who were really good at just doing ‘shows of hands’ and finding out who was with them and who wasn’t, then saying, ‘we’re gonna meet you guys — the unconvinced — we’re gonna meet you here tomorrow at 9AM.’ There was a continuity.
So there are these models. It’s not like it’s not challenging or totally daunting, but it’s comforting to me to look back to see there are these models of groups of people getting organized and demanding that things change.
JB: Is there any specific legislation you’d like to see changed?
EL: Health care is a big one for me. We need to have caps on how much things can cost. In other countries — Japan, Germany and England, I believe — there’s a price fix on how much a night in a hospital bed can cost. We don’t have those kinds of caps here. So if you are somebody like me who doesn’t have health insurance, and God forbid, you end up hospitalized for a week, it can be two thousands dollars a night! But in Japan, I don’t think you can charge more than eighty dollars a night.
JB: And that’s the last thing you want to worry about when you’re sick in a hospital bed. Your mind is just adding up dollar signs. It’s very scary.
EL: It’s definitely one thing I think about. I would feel less exploited as a citizen if I knew that sort of arena was addressed.
JB: The healthcare thing is amazing in how much it literally changes one’s approach and perspective towards life. Friends in Europe, for example, to know that that portion of their lives is taken care of … it certainly gives you a different sense of freedom.
EL: I feel the same way.
JB: We go to college, and immediately everyone gets thrown into the work force searching for this kind of security. Salary is important, but it’s often more about the benefits, and that becomes what we’re essentially working for, which is a shame. I think people would lead much simpler, more modest lives if they knew they were being taken care of.
EL: Absolutely. Dental, too. I had a tooth literally fall out of my mouth a year and a half ago just from not being able to afford to go to the dentist. I agree. We’d be happier, healthier and much more relaxed if we just knew that this basic need was taken care of.
Another thing that is really tangible is the whole Citizens United situation. I feel like that has to change because we’re going down a really bad road. It’s possible that a lot of things may get a whole hell of a lot worse before they get better. I don’t like thinking that, but in a way, maybe that’s what will mobilize people to organize.
JB: One of the largest conversations you hear now is the one surrounding inequality, a topic very much indebted to the Occupy movement. Many sources point to the decline in labor unions for this scary, disparate shift. Do you find that accurate? Do you think labor unions are outdated, more suited for the machine age?
EL. We need to update. Something that came up in the past six months makes me think that we really need to define the terms of labor. How can we further define what’s okay and what’s not okay? The health care thing plays into that. Our hourly wages play into that. And I really do think that we need to take a look at all the great things that happened with labor, and the advancements, and think about how to build on that but also make it work for this digital age.
There’s a lot to be inspired by from the past. I think it’s no mistake that the unions seem weaker than they’ve ever been. Labor has been targeted as this problem, pushed out of communities and labeled as this evil thing. Laws like “Right to Work,” which, like Citizens United, is named in such a way that sounds like it’s supposed to be great — and then you look, and it’s this terrible thing. I think it needs to be easier to form unions. I think there need to be a lot more union jobs.
JB: Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit recently released a book, Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Labor Voices. In it, they make the case that unionizing should be a civil right, that the Title VII of the Constitution should be ratified to include this basic right. Do you think something like this is possible?
EL: I was talking to a friend about this in the fall and he was saying, ‘we almost just need a people’s union.’ We need some sort of system of accountability to make sure people aren’t falling through the cracks. It was interesting, because I had never thought of that before — that one you could extrapolate this idea of the benefits of a union, but just wrap it around the city — the people of the city have a union. Which I thought was really interesting.
JB: Right. David Harvey talks about that in his most recent book, The Right of the City: ’Who owns the city, who gets access to it? Who gets to make the decisions about what the city will be like?’
EL: I think a lot about protections. What are the protections that we need? And how can we outline them and then preserve them?