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A Message from SLAC—Effective Organization Necessitates Intentionality & Discretion

by Student Labor Action Coalition



Last month, the Oberlin Review article “Effective Organization Necessitates Call to Action” called the effectiveness of our recent report and exhibit about the 2020 mass layoff of Oberlin dining service workers and custodians, “It’s All About the Dollar,” into question. The project's primary goal was to educate the community on the effects of the layoff, and the harmful practices of the Board of Trustees and administration. The exhibit consisted of hours of audio from the fired workers, creating the space they deserved to tell their stories in their own words. It also included archived publications from the layoff period, and reports of Oberlin’s history of financialization and cost-cutting across several decades.

The Review article claimed that “On its own, the pamphlet serves the sole purpose of being informative, but overall fails to truly engage its audience.” Our goal wasn’t to repackage and exploit the lived experiences of respected community members in the interest of garnering your support—it was to educate and commemorate. The project was intended to establish institutional memory of the layoff, so that we may never forget that the College prioritizes profits over people. The effort to place such a critical and expository exhibit in the middle of Mudd (a central place on campus) was a feat that took months of preparation. While the article criticizes the exhibit for not providing “information on what steps students can take,” we were not allowed to make overt political statements in our exhibit description because of the institution-sponsored aspect of the project. Furthermore, we encourage critics of the campaign’s lack of action to join us at our weekly SLAC meetings so we can create engagement opportunities together.

Organizing is always a collective and collaborative effort, and effective power building will only come from enthusiastic relationships of mutual respect and learning. “It’s All About the Dollar” is indeed “part of something bigger,” but it wasn’t the time or place to launch a full-scale campaign. That’s why SLAC, along with Students for Energy Justice and other incredible community and student organizations, are working to foster a culture of organizing. Doing so effectively requires sustained commitment, and we envision a future where our community can uplift one another in our efforts to advocate for the conditions and opportunities we deserve. We hope to build a cooperative space that would bring students and townspeople together to prioritize affordable food and housing, activist organizing, and community outside the purview of the College. We’ve entered the planning stages for this endeavor, and as ambitious as it is, we are grounded in Oberlin’s rich history of cooperation.

SLAC meets every Monday and Thursday, and all are welcome to join us in working towards Oberlin’s cooperative and organizing-centered future.

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