Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ben Kuss came to the Jewish Organizing Fellowship after working for a year as an Americorps VISTA. As a Fellow, he worked with low-income people in Boston’s inner city to improve their neighborhoods. After finishing his Fellowship year, he got a job working as the Community Organizer for Service Employees International Union, Local 615. Last year, as protests heated up in his home state over collective bargaining rights, Ben drove to Wisconsin to help organize. One Sunday afternoon, after driving all night from Boston, Ben made the following speech in front of The People’s Filibuster at Wisconsin’s capitol building:
“Hi Wisconsin! Last night I drove in from Boston to be here with you, because I am from Milwaukee and I am one of you. I work for a labor union in Massachusetts and I love our members, but when I heard that our state was hurting I had to come. And I came for three reasons: love, anger, and hope.
“I came out of love for my high school teachers at Nicolet High School – Ms. Keane and Ms. Byrne – who taught me how to think freely and critically. I came out of love for the nurses, residents, and health care workers at Wisconsin’s Children’s Hospital who took care of me when I underwent heart surgery five years ago. I came out of love for my mom, who works 60 hours a week at a dry cleaners for minimum wage and no benefits, who supports my dad who is unemployed and my youngest sister who is on Social Security because of lifelong learning disabilities.
“And I came out of anger at this proposal [to end collective bargaining rights], which will hurt all the people I love. This proposal will cause my high school teachers to lose their right to negotiate over the conditions of their work. It will make them work longer hours with more students for less pay and deteriorate one of the best public school systems in the country. The proposal will force the nurses and residents who took care of me to accept more patients per shift when they are already overworked. Even Badger Care – the already meager, poor, pathetic public assistance medical insurance program that allows my mom to see a doctor once a year to deal with her backbreaking arthritis is at risk.
“Finally, I came out of hope. Like I said, I drove 18 hours from Boston straight to be here with you, and I hate driving. I did it because your courage, your compassion, and your commitment to each other is inspiring. You know, they’re saying that this right here might be the rebirth of the labor movement. No. It’s the rebirth of the People’s Movement!”
The Fellowship taught Ben to connect his story to the stories of others so that they, together, can make change.
Ben Kuss is fighting for good jobs. What will you fight for?