Narrating Labor Struggles: Storytelling and Social Change

Apr 17, 2013, 6:00pm | Room C197

Christine LewisMark NowakNilita Vachani Sujatha Fernandes

Repost from The Center for the Humanities:

How can the power of storytelling build public awareness of the struggles of immigrant and low-wage workers? In recent years, storytelling has proven a strong tool for achieving social change, and this practice has been particularly prevalent among immigrants and low wage workers. This panel will bring together director and filmmaker Nilita Vachani, who has documented the stories of immigrant workers, Christine Lewis, a domestic worker activist who used storytelling in the groundbreaking Domestic Worker Bill of Rights campaign, and the award-winning poet and writer Mark Nowak who works with immigrant social movement organizations. Moderated by Sujatha Fernandes.


Cosponsored by the Narrating Change Seminar in the Humanities, Women’s Studies, and the Center for Place, Culture and Politics.

1 thought on “Narrating Labor Struggles: Storytelling and Social Change

  1. Nilita Vachani’s storytelling through the films she makes is not necessarily about social change. Her perspective is that her stories are about reality, the way she sees it, that has to be told. Then activists can use her work in a way they think is best. Nilita’s film When Mother Comes Home for Christmas is a moving account of the reality of a Sri Lankan domestic worker living and working abroad, and the realities of her ‘barrel children’ left back in her home country. Nilita’s creations may primarily have the expressive artistic function, but they surely have a strong potential for being adapted by the activists and used for inciting social change.
    Christine Lewis is a strong and effective voice of the Domestic Workers United movement. Christine sees herself as a story. She is a voice for the invisible women who cry in silence. “I am the story. I am she.” Christine uses storytelling to provoke and to speak to the power. She attributes amazing power to the stories, which is primarily due to the fact that stories are about personal lives, and that they come both from dark and happy places. Christine connects the stories of the today with the stories of the past, which were the very vehicle “that pushed us out from the darkness of slavery.”
    Mark Nowak’s ‘poetic activist’ work is embedded in diverse contexts – from schools, through manufacturing factories, to prisons. Mark’s perspective is that power comes through stories themselves, but also through gathering around these stories. How widespread effect the story would have depends not only on the story content, but also on how well the story is crafted; is the story strong enough to carry the message. The strongest impact that story can have is when it is voiced by a collective and joined by the sense of togetherness and belonging to something greater that one self.

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