On June 8, a group of more than 1,100 workers across book and media industries, most of them junior staffers, will take collective action to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and "the many other Black lives lost to racist violence in America."
The action includes taking a day off from work to spend "in service of the Black community: protesting, organizing, fundraising support, phone banking, mutual aid, etc.," according to a letter shared by the group via a Google Document. The entire effort, they say, is to "speak out against racist murder, white supremacy, and racial capitalism." Participants will donate one day’s pay to one of a number of fundraisers rounded up by the group in a Google spreadsheet and are asked to make the donation a monthly commitment, in addition to taking further action.
Each participant has been asked to employ the following out-of-office message via email, which the collective called "the result of sustained consideration, discussion, and legal advice" and recommends keeping uniform "for the sake of unity and for your protection." The statement, which was sent to PW on Monday, reads:
"Today, June 8, 2020, workers in publishing and media commit to a day of action in solidarity with the uprisings across the United States in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the many, many others in the long history of Black people murdered by the state.
We protest our industry’s role in systemic racism, its failure to hire and retain a significant number of Black employees or publish a significant number of Black authors, and its pursuit of profit through books that incite racism.
We stand together against the systems of white supremacy and racial capitalism that legislate these murders and today refuse to participate in complicity. And we dedicate this day to acts of service towards that end (protesting, phone-banking, donating, providing mutual aid, working on books by Black authors). As BIPOC and allies, we also set this day aside for Black publishing workers to rest and heal. If you stand in support of the cause, consider a donation to one of the many fundraisers providing material support to the grieving families and the protesters out on the streets.
A list of fundraisers can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Pf76L5azQN9ahbhbt7MRmKb5sBZgeUWbXKLoPJO592Y/edit#gid=0
I will be donating one day’s pay to [insert fundraiser] as part of this day of solidarity. I hope you will join me."
The collective landed on this specific course of action, it said in its letter, for a number of reasons, among them the intention to "keep the focus on solidarity with Black people in the face of the racist murders" of Floyd, Taylor, Arbery, McDade, and others at the hands of police, and in order to "shift focus from publishing itself to the larger systems of white supremacy and racist state violence, in which we are complicit." The action, the letter said, "is meant to be disruptive—our goal in this action is not to collaborate with corporate publishers on demands we might make but to build separate, collective power across the people who work in this industry. We are disrupting and taking action by refusing to participate in a system complicit with white supremacy and racial capitalism for a day."
Upcoming plans will involve the development of "a democratic process for organizing and decision-making," the letter reads. "Building collective power and having an activated base first is necessary to achieve this kind of action down the line." The collective notes that the "right to concerted activity is legally protected. You may join with fellow workers to improve working conditions, which in this case, involves demanding to work in an anti-racist environment. (This is not our only reason for doing this, but it is the one that protects us legally.) Employees may not be fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity."
The action is tangentially related to a statement of solidarity that began circulating via Google Forms over the weekend, dated June 8, that was drafted by a group of 20 or so individuals attached to the initial action and signed by nearly 1,500 members of the book business. (Disclosure: several Publishers Weekly employees, including the author of this article, were signees on the statement.) That statement has been taken down as of this morning. The reason for its removal, said Danny Vazquez of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, was to keep people focused on the initial plans for collective action.
Vazquez is one of the five Macmillan staffers, four of whom identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and one of whom is white, who drafted the initial language for the action. The action, Vazquez said, was created in response to the emails CEOs of the Big Five publishing companies sent to their companies in recent days, addressing the protests and the current political climate—statements the group considered inadequate in addressing issues pertaining to white supremacy, racial capitalism, and the murders of black people at the hands of police.
“I’m part of the Black diversity and inclusion initiative and the Latinx D&I initiative at Macmillan to keep in touch with Black and PoC colleagues at Macmillan personally, and there’s nothing I think those initiatives can give to me, or to the world, that I want to see, besides keeping me in touch with my colleagues," Vazquez said. "This action was a response to the really shitty notes we were seeing from CEOs. They were doing their job, and that was not enough. And we thought, 'if this is them doing what they need to do, what do we need to do?'"
Vazquez stressed that the final language for the action was created collectively by the 1,100+ individuals who have signed on—and that that was precisely the point. "As it was built, everyone shared collective power over the action," he said. "We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and we went about convincing people to take the action that we’re taking.” Vazquez and his colleagues wanted to ensure that everyone who was involved in the effort saw every version of their language as it evolved and had a chance to make their voices heard in whatever they were sending out publicly.
"We really wanted to build collective power, and building collective power means taking in anyone who might be interested in joining that collective power," he said. "Good organizing looks like a document that 1,100 people worked on together: messily, but semi-democratically." He added: "This was publishing people doing what publishing people do: we went through draft after draft after draft. Who’s better equipped to build collective power than publishing workers?"
Correction: an initial version of this article misidentified the five Macmillan staffers responsible for the initial language of the action. This article has been updated for clarity and with further information.