Stay and Fight

Ausma Malik is Atkinson’s Director of Advocacy and Organizing.

What is it with California?

The conclusion of the six-part Hustled podcast left me with this question. If you haven’t tuned in yet, Hustled goes behind-the-scenes with Foodora food couriers battling for decent work in the gig economy.

In the final episode, host Sara Mojtehedzadeh heads to California to see what it looks like there, and what it means for gig worker organizing here in Ontario.

Let’s be real: pop culture loves the idea of ‘California dreamin’. All sun, surf, smiles and social progress in the Golden State.

I’ll admit I’ve been captivated too. Not just by the balmy weather or celebrity watch, but policy and organizing wins too. From making it easier to vote, taking serious measures on the climate crisis, investment in public higher education, getting real about personal data collection by Big Tech, to now fixing the gig economy, California is one to watch.

Several years ago, journalist Jennifer Hollett introduced me to this speech by Harvey Milk in a training on public narrative — a leadership practice that links our story and values as individuals, to that of our community, and to collective action. As I listened to the conclusion of Hustled, Harvey’s words came to mind. A political activist in the 1970s, Harvey was the first openly gay elected official in California. Being reminded of his words during Pride month is not lost on me.

Harvey evokes hope and urgency in a few short minutes. He shares his barrier-breaking election through the eyes of a young person coming out somewhere else in America, making a choice between following his win and deciding to “go to California” or taking heart from his win, and deciding to “stay and fight” where they are.

His words stuck with me because I work at the intersection of movements for social and economic justice. He captures what I have witnessed the very best organizers embody. They see beyond, are inspired by, and learn from, wins in other places and by other people. They harness hope, act in solidarity and make connections with different movements, to stay and fight — in common cause — right where they are.

When I heard about the gig worker wins in California, I thought again about what makes us stay and fight in the face of injustice, instead of packing up and leaving town for warmer and more hospitable places.

The food couriers here in Ontario have been inspired by a movement of gig workers in California, and their win at the Ontario Labour Relations Board to be recognized as employees and join a union, has already spurred on Uber drivers looking to do the same — and will motivate many other groups of workers.

Through these efforts, maybe ‘Ontario dreamin’ might just become a thing when the future of work here means decent work for all.

Perhaps the real question worth asking is: what is it that makes you stay and fight?