Ai-jen Poo, Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Ai-jen Poo (Chinese: 蒲艾真; pinyin: Pú Àizhēn, pronounced / ˌaɪ d͡ʒn puː/) (born 1974) is an American activist. She is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
She is also the co-director of Caring Across Generations, a national coalition of 200 advocacy organizations working to transform the long-term care system in the US, with a focus on the needs of aging Americans, people with disabilities, and their caregivers.
She is a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award.
In February 2015, The New Press released her book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America
On any given day you could walk into any neighborhood, look around at the houses and apartments, and not know which homes are also workplaces. On the other side of these doors, there is a quiet army of mostly women – often women of color – working. Their work is skilled and emotional, difficult and rewarding, critical and yet invincible.
They care for our children, ensuring that they receive attention and nurturing during some of the most formative years of their development. They support people with disabilities to live full, independent lives. And, they enable our aging loved ones to live in their communities, aging at home on their own terms, even as they are more frail. This growing workforce of Professional caregivers makes all other work possible, yet their work exists just below the threshold of our public policy and popular imagination. It is ever-present and still invisible.
This invisibility has defined domestic work for as long as anyone can remember, and more of us are becoming part of the story. Our cultural notion of productivity and value is associated with a time in history when we produced more things we could touch.
Today, much of our workforce produces services. We cook, serve, and deliver dinner. We drive people to work. We keep people healthy. We help people find new clothes. We assist. We care. Harder to hold than the goods of old, we produce time, health information, and peace of mind for other people.
Yet somehow in our human service-driven economy our very humanity is invisible. Our contributors have become less visible and our work less valuable. We serve more and connect less. What we have left is a few winners and too many losers locked in a profound battle over the dignity and value of work itself. How could so many of us be worth so little.
But, the story does not end here. Each day, each moment, is a beginning. At any point, we can choose to see one another. You who drive the bus – I see you. You who checks me in for my flight – good morning. You who rises before the sun to brew coffee for me and thousands of others on the way to work – thank you. You who helps children cross the street – thankful for you. We see one another, and we realize we need each other. We awaken to to the possibility that it is humankind – you and I – whose work makes this world. We can remake it again and again. We can decide that all work has dignity – beginning with the least visible among us; all life has value – and become fully human in the process.