I have been a union member since the 2015 membership drive. That same year Porsche McGovern released her data on “Who Designs in LORT Theatres”, and I felt like throwing up. I felt like I had been lied to — how could I possibly become one of only 75 female lighting designers working in LORT?
I emailed Porsche, and we started working with Jenny Mannis and Dante Olivia Smith on an idea that would eventually become the USA 829 Diversity Committee. At the end of 2016, we sent out a demographic survey to the membership; nearly a year later, we were allowed to release some of the data to the membership in a newsletter most members don't read. To recap: only 16% of survey respondents identified as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color). As a mixed-race woman, I was not surprised: I was angry.
I spent two years as co-chair of the Diversity Committee, working on the fringes of a union that refused to acknowledge its contributions to the problem. During that time, I heard countless stories of talented and dedicated designers who were unable to join the union for lack of financial resources, or promising designers of color who were driven away by an industry and union filled with micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions.
So what now? I have been isolating at home in Virginia with my husband and two small children since March 13th. I am privileged to have a teaching position that will most likely be our primary source of income until the pandemic ends. What kind of an industry will we be coming back to?
How do we protect our members and keep our industries afloat? Where do we need to transform our practices? Our current leadership keeps on telling us that “the membership is the union.” But I find myself asking, “Does that leadership even know who the membership is and what we need?”
I believe the Executive Board needs to hold the Business Office accountable to the principles and values of the membership. The Union needs transparency, and the Board needs to earn the trust of the members. We need clear guidance on reporting grievances and harassment that does not involve the Business Office. We need to work with other unions in our industry to address systemic issues, and we need to take responsibility for the harm that has been caused by our union. We need to continue the ongoing work of making this union accessible and equitable for everyone with the calling to our craft.
I am endorsed by: Dante Olivia Smith (LD), Porsche McGovern (LD), Jenny Mannis (CD), Lindsay Jones (SND), Stowe Nelson (SND), Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams (SD), Jane Shaw (SND) Jennifer Caprio (CD)