published in Fashion Revolution Fanzine #001: Money, Fashion, Power
part of The Price of Our Clothes
In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, not
militant, tree hugger, synonyms on Thesaurus.com.
ACTIVIST means Kalpona, Bangladesh schoolgirl,
family breadwinner, age twelve.
ACTIVIST means Kalpona, GARMENT WORKER,
awake, on her feet in a tiny, narrow clothing factory
twenty-three days straight, cutting cloth
into trouser belt loops, showering in the shared bathroom,
drinking tap water laced with toxins, tamarind cheeks burning
from supervisors’ slaps. Kalpona, afraid to say: No.
No to six dollars a month, four hundred fifty hours of work.
No to the one building exit barred by stacks of pants—
locked. No to colleagues kicked, necks pressed hard
by supervisors. No to private overtime shifts under managers
thrusting like needles into female employees’ fabric. No voice
until “strike” from the mouths of her co-workers pushed
Kalpona to the front line, to defeat’s shadow, to the flint
of a union class, spark for her first luminous NO
and YES to talk between supervisors and colleagues.
Her voice so bright she was fired and blacklisted from the industry.
ACTIVIST means Kalpona, VOICE, who flies from Bangladesh
to the New Jersey office tower of Children’s Place—
international retail brand of onesies, kids’ jeans,
boys’ shirts—to bring the C.E.O a message:
please give more than one hundred forty dollars
to families of garment workers, who, while sewing
Children’s Place clothing in Bangladesh’s
Rana Plaza office tower, were maimed or killed
when the building collapsed. Know
that Children’s Place’s demand for the cheapest
clothes on the quickest deadlines
created Rana Plaza.
ACTIVIST does not mean Garment Industry Destroyer,
name given Kalpona by Bangladesh garment factory owners—
many of whom sit in Bangladesh’s Parliament.
The Ministry of Commerce tells the New York Times
the garment industry fixed itself after Rana Plaza.
Kalpona says: WE STILL LAG BEHIND,
points to unions controlled by factory owners,
worker’s unions forbidden to speak to workers.
In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, but
I AM A WOMAN, HUMAN, is what Kalpona says.
Her bicycle leans against the wall
by her office desk. Her wide smile embraces me.