Power and Oppression: Valuing Our Differences, Envisioning Our Common Struggle

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

Power and Oppression: Building Cross-Cultural Understanding for Poultry Worker Justice is a three-workshop prototype series developed as one component of MPOWER’s Solidarity/Solidaridad: Building Cross-Cultural Understanding for Poultry Worker Justice program. These workshops were designed for African American poultry worker leaders in Mississippi. Created in response to the increasing diversity at local chicken processing plants, these sessions respond the challenges and opportunities associated with the influx of new Latino immigrants into the labor force. Topics addressed in this curriculum help participants build an analysis of how differences can be used to divide and oppress people. The materials aim to help the African American participants better understand Latino immigrants and see each other as prospective allies in the fight for worker justice. While the materials were developed with a particular set of participants in mind, much of the material is broadly adaptable across geographies and populations.

Broad structure and key educational methods

Each of the four-hour long workshops was held one Saturday per month over the course of four months. All sessions include at least one film or video clip; most contain multiple. These films serve as springboards for conversations that address larger structural issues. The themes of power and oppression resonate throughout all three workshops.

Key topics or themes by module

1. Legacies of White Privilege and Oppression in the United States

Following introductory material that overviews the goals of these workshops, this session opens with a short video clip that leads into a discussion about the history of African Americans and the resilience of the Black community. Participants then view The Shadow of Hate, a 38-minute documentary that covers the history of prejudice in the United States against a variety of racial and ethnic groups over the past 300 years. Supplemented by a timeline activity, the conversation that ensues prompts participants to make the connections between the different events and historical periods, thus highlighting the dynamics of power and oppression; various forms of discrimination, racism, and prejudice; and the significance of collective struggle. Participants then reflect on their or their family’s experience with these themes and add their own stories to the timeline.

2. Who Are Mississippi’s Immigrants? Life in Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru

This session focuses on helping the participants understand immigration and the reasons why immigrants come to the United States. Given the origins of the immigrant population in Mississippi, migrants from Guatemala, Peru, and Mexico tell the history of their respective countries, which is supplemented by short videos from Children of the Earth. They then share information about life, culture, politics, and inequalities in their country of origin and discuss why they chose to emigrate. The conversation that follows each speaker invites participants to draw parallels between the how the struggles of African American communities explored in the previous workshop connect to the experiences the immigrants just conveyed. The concluding discussion highlights the common themes and power dynamics that emerged from the immigrants’ narratives and reinforces how discrimination and racism can be structural, institutional, and legislated.

This session could be adapted to include immigrants representing different countries of origin residing in any given location.

3. Globalization and the Realities of Immigration in the United States

Following a review of the material from the previous two workshops, this session begins by a viewing of Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy. The discussions that follow both this film and the presentation of one Latino poultry worker leader’s border crossing story emphasize the role of globalization and the impact of corporations and government policies on migrants’ lives. Additional topics include U.S. immigration policy, the implications of being undocumented, and the process of obtaining papers/legal status. A screening of the film New World Border, which documents human rights abuses along the U.S.-Mexico border, follows these conversations. Discussion questions prompt participants to disentangle the costs and consequences of border control (Operation Gatekeeper) and the economic needs of capitalism. A concluding activity invites participants to consider what principles they think should govern the globalization of commerce and the common bonds that unite all workers.

Additional information

Following the pilot in 2005, MPOWER staff planned to create a fourth workshop to precede these three, which would focus in greater depth on the histories and experiences of African Americans in Mississippi and the South. They also began to develop a parallel workshop series for Latin American poultry worker leaders. Similar to the series outlined on this page, these workshops were designed to help Latino immigrants understand their own identities and histories and connect those to the experiences of African Americans. The overall aim was to help both groups recognize their commonalities, thus providing a basis for joint dialogue and worker justice organizing.

Finally, this workshop series represents only one component of MPOWER’s Solidarity/Solidaridad: Building Cross-Cultural Understanding for Poultry Worker Justice program. The other part was a semester-long (30 two-hour meetings) language class built around a workers’ rights framework. Each unit had one “rights” class followed by three “language” classes on the theme (unions, workplace health and safety, right to get paid, etc.). The course, titled Raising Our Voices: Workers’ Rights and English [Spanish] Language Learning, was taught approximately 10 times between 2005 and 2008.

Curriculum acquisition information

To obtain this curriculum, contact Angela Stuesse at astuesse [at] usf [dot] edu.