Aug 20, 2019, 12:00 PM, Posted by Aditi Vaidya
What does it take to build community power? A community organizer-turned-funder shares first-hand insights, as well as a new RWJF funding opportunity to advance this learning journey.
While many think of the Bay Area of California as the center of big tech and wealth, my memories of Oakland take me back to its Port truck drivers. Working an average of 11 hours a day, waiting in long lines at the Port of Oakland to pick up their loads, truck drivers in the Bay Area were isolated—living in the rigs they decorated with photos of their children and families. You can guess all of the reasons this is unhealthy—stale air, diesel fumes, no bathrooms or opportunities for physical activity, just to name a few. Their days consisted of sitting ... alone. And then driving cargo to a destination ... alone.
Like poor air quality, poor ergonomics and lack of physical activity, social isolation is also linked to poor health. Alternatively, people with more social connections live longer and are more likely to say they are in good health.
Back then, I was a campaign director advocating for environmental and occupational health protections for communities and workers. Part of my job included “walking the line” with faith leaders, visiting these truck drivers as they sat in their cabs and waited in long lines outside the Port to pick up a load. Some of them were recent immigrants working to support families back home. Most of them made low incomes, barely living paycheck to paycheck after paying for the cost of their $250,000 (or more) rigs. All of them worked grueling hours. We asked about their families, brought them food and water, faith leaders provided blessings, and we all encouraged them to get out of their cabs to socialize with each other. We also helped them advocate for access to bathrooms, cleaner air, and the power to improve working conditions.