Conducting an auto-ethnographic power analysis of a Service Industry Union (SIU) I use a feminist methodology to examine the ways women of color workers are accounted for, empowered, erased, silenced, or disempowered within advocacy organizations. As I examine the micro and macro structures of power between the SIU and the grocery store, janitorial, slaughterhouse, and union workers who compose this institution, I write with the goal of amplifying the voices silenced and lost in the translation of power in our everyday lives. Critical to this analysis are notions of advocacy, home, voice, and empowerment.
In “Voices: Power and Powerlessness in Experiences of the Self,” I write about my authoethnographic journey and the complicated sense of power I had within this organization, which often became a source of penalty. Throughout my work, I play on the etymology of advocacy—to give voice to another—and the idea of advocacy groups as “voices” for the seemingly disempowered. Concepts of voice and voiceless-ness, who can give voice to another, how, and if we should even be a voice for others, are a constant theme. In “Shadowing: Blurring the lines between Empowerment and Disempowerment Roles,” I explore moments where my translator role as a bilingual, among other roles, became imperative to my understanding of my own actions and those of others within the SIU’s advocacy. Lastly in “Speaking and Speaking Over: Getting tangled in the Web of the Relations of Power,” and in “Erasure and Representation: the Silences between the lines,” I capture a few of the ways the voices of others and myself were either amplified, spoken for, or erased whilst the Union attempted to advocate (“give voice to,” “call forth”) for workers using what I perceived to be a classic business-unionism model.
From my observations of the relations between workers and the union employees, I argue that the SIU operated within systems of power, and was often on par with corporations in terms of power. Then, I theorize that what is needed is a third-world feminist approach to unity and unions that seeks to dismantle all systems of oppression and reorganize the systems of power to end all kinds of oppression—not just class-based, worker versus corporation, oppression. This would be a solution to the problems of speaking for, silencing, and erasure that the union encountered. As I use a full-force combination of theory and activism in my “Praxis” chapter to make such claim, I delve into feminist of color ideals of solidarity. In a feminist solidarity, individuals are united by their differences, not by homogeneous experience or identity. I advocate for a third-world feminist approach to unionism through feminist solidarity, and I emphasize love and friendship as the backbone of such an endeavor.