What’s on her mind these days: “From Agriprocessors to Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on workers in Wisconsin to the continuous labor violations taking place in factories around the world, in recent years the power of corporate greed and its consequences on workers has only intensified. Because of this, I am currently very focused on the immediate need to build sustainable power for working people everywhere.”
It’s rare to go to college knowing what to major in. It’s more rare to go to college having already investigated national human rights abuses.
Morgan Currier is a student at the University of Washington majoring in law, society and justice, and minoring in music. She is an organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops and she runs campaigns for the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent labor-rights–monitoring organization, on the UW campus. She’s also involved in Hillel, and in addition to sitting on the board she spent last year as the Repair the World fellow. It’s a wonder she has time to play her saxophone and flute, let alone get her homework done.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Morgan campaigned for fairly made apparel in her B’nai Brith Youth Organization chapter, of which she was president. With the encouragement of good mentors, she met with the Progressive Jewish Alliance and traveled with a team to Postville, Iowa to visit the infamous Agriprocessors plant, post-bust.
“The raid destroyed the community,” Morgan says. She met with Central American workers, newly unemployed and unemployable, heading for jail or deportation. They had been underpaid, overworked and sometimes abused, and unable to understand their rights. They waited for their court dates with tracking bracelets that prohibited them from working or leaving.
The experience raised questions for this high school senior and Conservative Jew. For instance, she mused, “Is the kosher meat that’s coming from there actually kosher if it’s coming from there?”
To get the word out without lecturing her peers, Morgan created a short documentary and posted it around the web. The message: Don’t stand for this in our country. Even though we’re young, we can make change.
Morgan took that energy to college, where she has been active in the Kick Out Sodexo campaign. Sodexo, the company that provides food to campuses, has been faulted for poor labor practices. Kick Out Sodexo calls for termination of the university’s contract.
When the administration failed to respond sufficiently, “we had to take a bigger stand,” Morgan says, “so we took over their offices.”
Last spring, Morgan and her fellow protesters staged three “occupations” of the president’s office, the director of athletics’ office, and the office of admissions. “The issue became more about student voices being heard.”
For this rabble-rousing, Morgan was arrested twice.
How does she handle the inevitable cynicism and apathy about her cause?
“A lot of students are very skeptical,” she says. “The truth is that the companies make so much money. They come in, they take over the community…and because the workers are in this vulnerable position they have no choice but to work.
“Sodexo made a billion dollars in profit last year,” she continues, asserting that they can afford to pay their workers.
As to her own choices, Morgan admits it’s not easy to live her values. When people prod her to account for where her clothes come from, “the answer is, yes, it probably [was made in a sweatshop],” she says. “I do try to be as conscious as possible.”
One way of being conscious means buying products from Alta Gracia, a factory in the Dominican Republic that committed to fair treatment and fair wages. Morgan visited it — and made another short film — last February.
Rather than trying to change the system through daily choices, Morgan sees a bigger picture of human rights work. “What I’m waiting for and working for are those options,” she says.
As for how Judaism overlaps with her activism, she says, “Seeing how my heritage is part of this current struggle” helped it all click. For now, Morgan’s Jewish involvement revolves around the UW Hillel, where she finds a supportive network of friends. She imagines raising her children in the Conservative movement, but stops herself.
“Wow, that’s thinking ahead,” she laughs.
Robert Beiser, the campus/Jconnect Repair the World director at the UW who supervised Morgan’s fellowship last year, gave the young activist glowing reviews.
“If anyone wonders what it will take to build an inspiring, passionate Jewish community for the future, Morgan Currier is the model of young leadership that all others should follow,” Beiser said via email.
“Last year alone,” he continued, “Morgan helped literally hundreds of students connect with meaningful Jewish service” through the Kick Out Sodexo campaign.
Despite her driven path, Morgan admits that when it comes to deciding on a career, “I have no idea.”
After a moment, she clarifies: “I’ll definitely do something in support of unions,” she said. “I believe strongly that unions are important and the only way for workers to have a voice in the workplace.”