Ai-jen Poo has been making trouble—and change—for years.
Before she became the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Poo co-founded Domestic Workers United—steering the organization toward a historic end when, in 2010, she played a key role in passing the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York state. The next year, she co-founded the Caring Across Generations campaign to center the needs of affordable care for the elderly and economic conditions for their caretakers. (She’s still the co-director.) In 2016, she wrote a book about the same two communities.
In 2012, TIME named Poo one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and Newsweek crowned her a Fearless Woman; in 2013, she became a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader; in 2014, Poo joined the ranks of MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellows; in 2015, Fortune called her one of the world’s 50 Greatest Leaders and the NonProfit Times put her on their Power & Influence Top 50 lists (they did so again the next year).
But Poo burst onto the social scene like never before when she took to the Golden Globes red carpet this year as part of the #TimesUp campaign’s “feminist takeover” of the ceremony. Attending as Meryl Streep’s “date,” Poo fielded questions about policy and women’s rights from entertainment reporters, helping change a tide in Hollywood and usher in a new era of celebrity feminism.
Poo spoke to Ms. about what it’s like to tackle issues of gender and economic justice with some of Hollywood’s biggest names—and what’s next for the #TimesUp campaign.
What was your feeling about attending the Golden Globes? Do you feel like walking the red carpet raised awareness? Do you feel like it was effective?
It was really powerful because right when you arrived, you could just see all the black, everyone wearing black on the red carpet. And the minute you arrived on the red carpet itself there was an energy that was about action and forward motion and it was really powerful to be there with other “couples” of actors and activists who were carrying the same message, which was really that women are united across so many different communities and industries to ensure that we have a future where we can all work in a safe and dignified environment. You could just feel a sense of both unity and urgency that day and it was incredibly powerful to see how much support we got.
When you were walking the red carpet and talking to different members of the press, did you feel like they were asking questions that were engaged with the cause? Do you feel like the nature of those conversations is changing for the better?
I do. I was really moved by what I felt was a really sympathetic press that day. The questions people asked were questions about domestic workers, about why we were there, what our message was. I didn’t get a single question about who I was wearing. People were prepared.*
Inside the Globes itself, did you feel like the conversations continued to be thoughtful and engaged in that way?
I do. I feel like every single speaker kind of picked up on the thread from their own vantage point of this idea, which Oprah really summarized well at the end, but the idea that we should have a world where our contributions are valued and where our humanity is really recognized and whether that’s in terms of vulnerability to abuse or assault or the fact that we’re underpaid…the scenes around the recognition of valuing everybody’s dignity and humanity and safety was really consistent throughout the night.
And how were your introduced to Meryl Streep, or did you become involved through Time’s Up?
We’ve been in contact in the past, but never had the opportunity to work together, and this seemed like a great opportunity. Many of the [actors involved with] Time’s Up signed up because it felt like an opportunity to make a statement together, so that’s really what it felt like, a sort of collective act of solidarity that was able to amplify our message in a powerful way.
What changes would you like to see going forward, in six months, in a year?
I hope that women in every part of the workforce and in every community really see that other women are supportive and that this is a movement. [And] that we’ll support them, and where they have a role and room, this is really our moment to come together across all of these differences, to realize the potential of our power together.
Do you think the entertainment community will be doing this again in the future?
You’ll have to see, the group is full of surprises! You know, I also think one of the most powerful things about it was who the different groups of women and workers and who the activists were representing. I feel like that is so important because there are so many groups of women who were represented on the red carpet who have been historically and systematically excluded from recognition in so many ways, and they need to be at the center of our solutions. So it was really wonderful to see almost that mosaic of all these groups of women who were in the limelight.