From Timid to Towering

‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world," Margaret Mead once said. "In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." Watching the documentary A Day's Work, A Day's Pay will convince you that Mead had it exactly right.

The hour-long film, shot from 1997 to 2000, traces the personal and political evolution of three welfare recipients living in New York City who move from welfare to work through a program called the Work Experience Program (WEP). An opening scene contains Mayor Rudy Giuliani's claim that the program would provide welfare recipients with dignity and full-time employment. After watching A Day's Work, it's obvious that WEP was more about getting people off welfare rolls than out of poverty and into good jobs.

Jose Nicolau, who thought he was best suited for custodial work, was assigned by the WEP program to be a janitor. One moving scene shows Jose washing out trash bins. "Like an artist puts his signature on a drawing," he says, "I want to put my signature on the way I work." Jackie Marte, a 23-year-old mother of two, says, "All we want is decent jobs. We want to live like everyone else. We want to get paid for the work that we do."

Juan Galan is a former WEP worker who turned organizer when he was hired by ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). After experiencing extreme working conditions in the program and the harassment of people on the streets toward WEP workers, he decided he was "not going to take it any more." Galan began to organize WEP workers around a bill introduced in the New York City Council that would secure a grievance procedure, better pay, and job training for WEP participants.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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