I Am Somebody is a short film documentary covering the 1970 strike of hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina. Initially just 400 black women went on strike for equal pay to their white colleagues, a raise in their wage of $1.30 an hour, and an end to derogatory comments made about their sex and race. Soon joined across the nation by other unions and different chapters, the SCLC and civil rights activists, and student protestors. After 113 days on strike, they cost the city millions in a consumer boycott and lost labour, and were given concessions addressing their wage, equality, and dignified treatment.
It really is inspiring to see, watching everyone chip in to support each other. It starts small, with a group of people who have been told they are the lowest of the low, whose labour and dignity is worthless. And by the end the kids are out of strike from school, £100,000 has been raised by their union’s New York chapter to support them, and Coretta Scott King is flying in to give rallying speeches.
What’s really heartening is to watch the white, jowlly Governor state that marches and demonstrations have never had any influence on state policy, and never could influence state policy. That state policy has only ever changed due to considerations by those in authority. Ha! It’s like when they say, “If it changed anything, they wouldn’t let you do it”. Well, they try like hell to keep them from doing it. For something they’re not scared of, they sure bring an awful lot of tear gas, guns, and busloads of arrestees to jail.
I liked this because, in this day and age where Dr King’s image is adopted as some mascot of mild and unobtrusive consensus-building around racial equality, its important to remind people of the reality of his activism, which was radical wealth redistribution, anti-militarism, and anti-capitalist activity that would still see him vilified today. Strikes and boycotts are things they still make as illegal as they can.
While Charleston will have statue after statue of slaveholder after slaveholder, I guarantee you there is no statue of the Black hospital workers who gained such a victory against all the odds. I Am Somebody is a chance to see some of the faces, and the overwhelming crowds, who made history.