May 19, 2020

We can achieve together what we can't alone: a talk with Sandra Jeong

Sandra Jeong-Lane is a proud APANO member. She identifies as Korean-American, and works professionally as a Union Labor Educator.

You’ve been a union organizer for over 10 years. What does labor organizing look like in the time of COVID-19?

The principle at the core of the labor movement is that we can achieve together what we can't achieve alone. COVID-19 forced me and other labor organizations to really throw ourselves into finding ways to support members who are on the frontlines to evolve our labor movement and organizing strategies, and find new ways to take direct action and call out power.

Even though it's been a devastating economic impact, we're seeing people come together in hundreds of walkouts across the country. On that front, it's been necessary and really energizing to just find new ways to organize and new ways to respond to this crisis in a way that can sustain beyond our current situation.

Are there any lessons we can take from labor organizing into other movements right now?

I’ve started to just get together with other tenants who live in my building or who share the same landlord. We've come together to create a community safety network between all of us, which is one of the things I think comes out of labor organizing.

One thing that we've done is created a community building pantry. If you run out of food, somebody has your back. That allows people who are in a position to give to be able to leverage that privilege to be able to provide for other people. We're all from different walks of life, but one thing we have in common is that we all share a roof over our head. If we look out for each other, then we'll be able to build care and support that is going to be stronger than any one of us just trying to do it alone.

What does leadership mean to you right now?

Grace Lee Boggs said “Do visionary organizing because it gives you the opportunity to encourage the creative capacity in people and it’s very fulfilling.”

Her words inspire me to meet people where they are at, what they’re experiencing right now, and how they experience it. If we bring all of those experiences together, then we can actually shape what we want the future to look like.

I'm really inspired by people who have been doing this work who have spent their whole lifetime organizing like Grace Lee Boggs. And still, until her last day, did this work from a place of compassion. That absolutely blows me away and inspires me.

What needs to change now?

This crisis has allowed us to ask important structural questions about who's in power, what kind of decisions they make, and why this economy hasn't been working for people for a really long time.

The change we need right now is for people to come together and build lasting organizations and lasting movements that can sustain through this crisis and beyond this crisis. We've seen that, like in this country. The labor movement in a lot of ways has been used to responding to crisis, and in some ways this is no different. What's really needed is building lasting organizations to come up to work through this crisis and come out of it stronger.

Sandra's Call to Action

Get involved with your union or talk to your coworkers about how this crisis is impacting you, and organize to get the health safety protection, sick days and hazard pay you deserve.

This blog post is part of the API Womxn in Leadership series to commemorate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This series is also under the banner of #CourageDuringCOVID, a larger project highlighting API Oregonians doing meaningful and radical work to protect one another. Learn more about our Courage During COVID series. This programming content brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.