SLAP members envision future of the group

SLAP's recent success is in parallel with a strengthening of Penn's activist community

· December 10, 2013, 6:11 pm   ·  Updated December 10, 2013, 9:52 pm

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Nathaniel Chan | DP

Members of SLAP, a student group that advocates economic justice, have acquired several victories on campus including unionization of dining hall workers. Recently, the group organized a flash mob in McDonald’s to support nationwide fast-food strikes.

In 2010, a small group of determined Penn students arrived at Penn President Amy Gutmann’s annual Halloween party, not to take pictures with Gutmann and eat snacks, but rather to hand out flyers and to protest Penn’s investment in a hotel chain that had cases of alleged worker abuse.

These students were members of the Student Labor Action Project.

Three years later, the group is a little bigger and just as determined. In the past year, SLAP has seen three victories on campus. It led a campaign for the unionization of Bon Appetit’s full-time employees, first at Hillel’s Falk Dining Commons and then won representation for full-time employees in the rest of Penn’s dining halls.

Just last week, the group won another victory when the University decided to require all of its manufacturers to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. After signing, manufacturers of Penn apparel must devise plans to improve fire and safety conditions in their factories and implement them within five years.

Related: SLAP performs flash mob in McDonald’s

Coming off these victories, SLAP is not sitting around. They recently held a flash mob in support of a living wage for fast food restaurant employees and are trying to figure out what direction to head in next.

“There’s lot of different directions that SLAP can take. I’m so proud that we’re such a strong organization now,” College junior Chloe Sigal said.

At their last meeting of the semester, members of the group were asked to set out what they want to see for the future of the group.

Their goals ranged from housekeeping like improving their website and blog to larger goals of connecting with other SLAP chapters in the area and potentially running a full living wage campaign in Philadelphia.

Related: SLAP petitions Penn to better workplace safety

The group has come a long way in the past few years, College senior Penny Jennewein said. In her freshman year, “[SLAP] was a little bit smaller, it was run by a core group of people,” and since then, “I think our group has taken what they gave us and we’ve really run with it,” she said.

Members of SLAP say they have changed their methods of working with others and how they approach achieving their goals. This includes trying to educate students in a way that non-activists can relate to.

“I think we’ve been making more of an effort about meeting people where they are,” said College senior and SLAP member Eliana Machefsky, who worked on the Justice on the Menu Campaign.

“We’ve [also] gotten smarter at dealing with the administration … and that’s a part of why we’ve had successes,” Sigal said.

Related: SLAP holds candelight vigil at President Gutmann’s house

Machefsky added jokingly that rather than going unannounced to the President’s office, they now make an appointment.

Jennewein attributes SLAP’s recent success and greater outside interest in their campaigns to the Occupy Wall Street movement and a general trend toward more progressive beliefs

“When I was a freshman, I was part of a very, very small minority openly thinking this way,” Jennewein said. “Now, post-Occupy, people are ready to make demands and take what’s rightfully theirs. All of a sudden, there were more new people coming in … It very much trickled into the consciousness of students [at Penn], and the base was stronger.”

Along with the greater number of people thinking this way, there has been a parallel growth in the activist community.

“I’m not sure Penn had a huge activist culture four years ago … [though] Penn has had really awesome activists. I think it’s something that’s just taken off,” Sigal said.

Related: SLAP to host event for garment worker awareness

This semester saw the revival of Penn Activists Coming Together, a coalition of 17 activist groups.

“There wasn’t a unity with different activist groups … PACT was created to allow all of us to discuss our agendas together,” College junior and Penn for Immigrant Rights member Cristian Montoya said. “It creates a sense of comfortability among the activist groups.”

When hosting events in the future, “I know I have the support of PACT,” he added.

For some, PACT also represents an important growing social space for students who are interested in a different kind of community. There has not been a formal place for students seeking an alternative social community in the past.

Related: Penn SLAP | Justice on the menu

Former SLAP member and 2009 College graduate Natalie Kelly said that “there was a small community on campus of like-minded people,” when she was on campus several years ago. However, “most of it took place in classrooms with professors.”

Even as recently as fall 2011, when Sigal first came to campus, she was the only new member in SLAP that semester. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t know where to find that community.”

Now though, with the creation of PACT and SLAP’s successes, Sigal feels that there is a strong community. “I win campaigns together with the same people I celebrate with,” she said. “We’ve been becoming a much stronger community.”

She hopes that in the future, “freshmen will be aware of [this community] as soon as they step on campus. PACT is another place they can go to.”

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