Two years ago, Domestic Workers United (DWU) asked if we’d support them to analyse the domestic worker industry in New York. As we talked through how to approach the project, it became clear that reliable information could not be gathered from existing labor market research sources—DWU would need to collect it. And so DWU embarked on a community-based project conducting surveys amongst their membership and community of domestic workers. The project was designed, carried out, and led by domestic workers. Although DataCenter has long integrated popular education methods into our trainings, this project opened up for us an additional approach to flatten inequities that exist between researchers and communities that are researched.
We see it as “de-colonizing” research—creating a synergy between research and organizing, challenging the power dynamics occurring between research organization, organizing group and membership base, valuing community-driven research as opposed to solely placing value on “top-level” information sources such as census data, news media, and academia, and leaving research outcomes (report, campaign, etc.) in the hands of grassroots membership.
One particular area where we’ve seen the “de-colonizing” research play out is in community-based participatory documentation projects. DataCenter has been building up its infrastructure to support grassroots organizations that are choosing to design, conduct, and lead their own survey projects. Our Economic Justice program is currently supporting seven organizations with their survey projects: the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and South Asian Network that are surveying taxi drivers’ working conditions in New York and Los Angeles; Desis Rising Up and Moving and CAAAV’s Women Workers Project that are surveying immigrant, undocumented communities in Queens, NY; two domestic worker projects (in the Bay Area and NY) with Domestic Workers United and the Bay Area Coalition for Domestic Workers Rights (Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Day Labor Program Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro Legal, and People Organized to Win Employment Rights); and the National South Asian Advisory Committee that consists of grassroots groups and technical assistance providers from around the country and is conducting a needs assessment of South Asian organizations.