by Annette Bernhardt
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines a protest as “an event at which people gather together to show strong disapproval about something.” Sociologists would add that protests are attempts by the powerless to wield political power. But I’ve learned they are much more than that. In 2008 I picked up a camera and began to document what turned out to be a wave of new forms of protest: first Occupy, then the immigrant rights marches, then the fast food strikes, and most recently BlackLivesMatter. What I’ve come to understand is that protests are above all a profound expression of hope. Sometimes it’s a fierce hope, or a joyful hope, or a hope that is struggling to emerge from deep pain. But the act of protest is first and foremost a belief that change is possible. And that’s what I see in the faces of the people I march with.
New York City 2013: One of the first fast food strikes in the country, at McDonald’s in the Bronx.
New York City 2013: Strikers in large downtown march the next day.
Oakland 2014: Start of Fight for $15 march in Fruitvale.
Oakland 2014: March arrives at McDonald’s and takes over the store.
Oakland 2014: Fast food worker after leaving her station behind the counter and joining the protesters in the store.
Annette Bernhardt is a visiting professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, as well as a visiting researcher at Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Previously she was policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, where she coordinated policy analysis and research support for campaigns around living wage jobs, enforcement of workers’ rights, and accountable development. A leading scholar of low-wage work, Bernhardt has helped develop and analyze innovative policy responses to economic restructuring in the United States. She has also been a leader in collaborating with immigrant worker centers and unions to develop innovative models of community-based research. Her current research tracking the low-wage recovery and growing inequality has received widespread media coverage. Bernhardt’s most recent book is The Gloves-Off Economy: Workplace Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Market, which she co-edited. Previous books include Low-Wage America: How Employers Are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace and Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market. She has also published widely in journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review and the Journal of Labor Economics, among others.