Summer for Respect: Organizing and Oral History

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1964, students from around the country traveled to Mississippi to participate in Mississippi Freedom Summer. Working hand-in-hand with civil rights organizations and African American residents of Mississippi, these students helped to shine a spotlight on the deep injustices of Jim Crow. At the same time, these students came to see the world with "Mississippi eyes," deepening their own commitment to racial and economic justice in ways that would last a lifetime.

To mark the anniversary of Freedom Summer, OUR Walmart and Columbia University's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) teamed up on a program to documentthe economic disenfranchisement that continues to afflict our country. Students from around the country, hand-in-hand with Walmart worker-leaders, participated in an intensive summer of organizing and oral history documentation.

The project lasted from May 26th to August 3. The program began with an intensive four-day training in organizing, oral history, and video co-facilitated by OUR Walmart and INCITE, at Columbia University. Students then traveled in teams to one of five regions across the country, where they embedded themselves with existing workers' organizations in Chicago, Orlando, Cincinnati, Dallas and Southern California. For the next nine weeks, students were part of ongoing organizing campaigns, with a particular focus on conducting oral history interviews with workers, customers, and community members. The group reconvened in New York City at the beginning of August (August 1-3) for a debrief and celebration and to plan next steps for the campaign.

Students learned to do the following:

  • Provide support and coaching to existing OUR Walmart leaders as they engage, recruit, and mobilize their co-workers.
  • Build relationships with Walmart workers in their communities by visiting stores, identifying friends and relatives of local union members and community members.
  • Conduct oral-history interviews with Walmart workers, customers, and community members.
  • Identify and produce compelling narrative "shorts" that succinctly articulate the impact of Walmart on workers, customers, and communities.