"People say slavery is done" [but] it's still there -- in the corner," says Gulnahar Alam, a domestic worker who, like many others, suffered workplace abuses. To combat this exploitation, often hidden away in employers' homes, Alam began organizing. "People feel very powerful and so much more confident when they see that they are not alone. They no longer feel ashamed."
Alam's story is one of 18 brought to life in Shifting the Universe: Spoken Histories of Work & Resistance by first-time author Candace Wolf.
Professionally, Wolf is a storyteller; she's also a keen listener. And from 2010-2015 she carved out time to hear the stories of regular people -- from different walks of life and parts of the globe -- who, despite serious challenges, evolve into troublemakers of the best kind.
The book couldn't come at a better time. Amidst today's political chaos, as President Trump stumbles towards possible impeachment, Wolf's book offers a longer view.
"The long memory is the most radical idea in America. That long memory has been taken away from us," said the late folk singer Utah Phillips, whom Wolf quotes. "We're being leapfrogged from one crisis to the next. You can't remember what happened last week because you're locked into this week's crisis."
Phillips' solution is to "Go find your true elders."
They are here, in Shifting the Universe, where readers hear from, in their own voices: an anti-war bicycle repairman in LA; a midwife inspired by Elijah Muhammad's call to "take care of our own"; an Egyptian factory worker-turned-labor leader; the founder of the political art group Bread and Puppet Theater; and Roger Toussaint, a union leader born and raised in Trinidad, who led a major 2005 strike that won rights for New York's beleaguered transit workers.
"I am proud not to have rested," writes Wolf, "until I... stitched their words together into this ballad of work and resistance."
In one chapter, Wolf shares the story of a young priest in a poor fishing village in India who refused to wear religious garb, preferring "the ordinary dress of the people."
Living among lay people, rather than in a customary mansion-like house, Father Thomas Kocherry spent seven years waking up before dawn to pray with the fishermen before joining them at sea.
With each passing year, Kocherry watched suffering grow as fish stocks dwindled due to huge foreign trawlers sucking up everything in the sea.
Kocherry initiated a fast, saying he would not eat until the government instituted an annual three-month ban on trawling so fish stocks could replenish themselves. After 11 days, the state finally responded by implementing a 45-day ban. "It was not what we demanded," Kocherry explains. "But even so, it was a really major victory." Or so it seemed.
Some trawlers ignored the ban and the police failed to hold them accountable. So the fishermen took on enforcement, too. A supporter recounts: