He was unemployed. Fired in fact. He acted as though he could be successful in a field where he had zero experience and it was said he wasn’t smart. Got himself arrested, too.
This week Chris Smalls made history. Under his leadership, nearly 6000 workers voted to unionize at the very Amazon warehouses where he’d been terminated two years prior after staging a walkout over safety concerns at the start of the pandemic. Amazon later had him arrested for being in the parking lot organizing. Smalls spent two years trying everything from TikTok to taking tacos to the workers while talking to them about unionizing.
For the last 20 years the local postal workers union has been my neighbor. But my heart for unions began as a kindergartener. My father’s wooden gavel impressed me. It was his for the duration of his tenure as president of the union at the soap factory where he worked to support our family of ten. (My sister reportedly embellished, claiming to her friends he was president of Purex Corporation.)
As a young feminist, I studied the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911— another historic moment in labor that took place in New York. 146 garment workers—most of them young immigrant women and girls—were killed. 62 people jumped to their deaths in a futile effort to escape the sweatshop where the stairwells and exits were locked. The horror led to workers organizing and the five words stamped in blue on the labels of the clothes I wore growing up and the vintage blouses in my closet—International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
Mr. Smalls did something that the big unions had been unable to do anywhere at Amazon, despite their millions of dollars, established offices, and decades of experience. Smalls had one coworker friend still working on the inside with whom he partnered. He had a GoFundMe account to fight Goliath.
His achievement is enough to garner admiration. His courage, tenacity, and commitment all inspire. But what struck me the deepest was that none of my usual excuses for not pursuing my passions or keeping my grit seemed to be absent for Chris Smalls.
Not enough time
Not enough money
Not enough talent, credibility, experience et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Surely Smalls must have had these thoughts. No doubt other areas of his life went by the wayside as he spent week after week dedicated to his mission. But when it came to his calling there was no excuse that stopped him. He’s now a global hero getting calls from organizers around the world and he’s a personal hero to me.
Have you ever taken on a battle with a giant?
Do thoughts of not having “enough” ever stop you from starting?
Who is your hero when it comes to taking on big challenges or staying your course?