The De-Bug Writings
May 2009. Under construction. This archive so far includes only a few of my own writings for De-Bug, but I hope to expand this to high light some of their other great writings.
De-Bug means to me and whole lot of other folks in the South Bay much more than the ‘About us’ page on their website can capture. Maybe its a subject for a future reflection piece. Nonetheless I felt it worthwhile to compile my writings for them on this page- which despite my involvement with them over the years has not amounted to a huge amount, as I mostly focused on organizing work with them.
The name De-Bug stems from the origins of the group as a discussion and writing circle of young folks who were low-wage temp workers in the high-tech economy of Silicon Valley during the boom times of the late 1990’s. On a high-tech assembly line whenever a problem would arise, the Debuggers were a team deployed to analyze the source of the problem and fix it. The group first met at a Vietnamese pho restaurant on North 1st Street, outside of downtown San Jose and published their first articles about being young temp workers as an insert in YO! magazine (Youth Outlook).
Then after recieving sponsorship by Pacific News Service (now New California Media) they first began publishing their own semi-regular magazine. The original name and tag line for the magazine was “Silicon Valley De-Bug, Voice of the Young and Temporary” and members distributed it to co-workers and through taco trucks that would visit worksites. The group and founder/coordinater Raj Jayadev recieved a fair amount of publicity and noterity even when they were featured in the expose documentary The Secrets of Silicon Valley, looking at the underside of the high-tech miracle that Silicon Valley proclaimed itself to be.
Once the boom pulling a generation of young people into low-wage temp work turned into the dotcom bust, most of the members of the group found themselves unemployed. At this point the focus of writings took a turn towards a more youth and community perspective, though still largely written from the first hand perspective. Also the group developed into a major hub of sorts where members launched various creative projects in media, music and street art.
I encourage folks to check out their webpage. Its updated frequently with commentary, videos and other media, all by youth about current events in San Jose and world. There are also more personal and reflective pieces such as poetry as well. Above all De-Bug functions as a sort of barometer to the happenings of many young and working class folks in San Jose. It captures a bit of the pulse of what’s happening in the minds of many young people in way few other mediums even attempt or even acknowledge.
From their website:
Silicon Valley De-Bug is a collective of writers, artists, organizers, and workers based in San Jose, California. We are a project of Pacific News Service, a national news service located in San Francisco. De-Bug started in the Spring of 2000 by reporting on the hidden experiences of working people who were employed as low-wage temporary workers. As we grew as a collective we began exploring all of the issues of our community – in the workplace, schools, streets, relationships, and everything else.
De-Bug is about allowing everybody to tell the stories of their lives, and their opinions on the world, both near and far. We operate by the principle that experience is the ultimate authority. In this way, we are creating a platform for otherwise unheard stories to be communicated to each other and the world around us.
A Super Market Story:
Get Out As Fast As You Can
By Adam W.
This piece was written specifically for De-Bug magazine’s forth coming book compiling a combination of best articles, poetry and content appearing in the magainze as well unpublished original content (though it seems to be on perma-hiatus as far as the process for getting this work published).
Working at a grocery store is a world to its own. Although the customers strolling through the aisles may not see it, the workers at a store can be like a family brothers and sisters, older parent figures, crazy Uncles. And just like a family, there can be generation gaps. At my store, we had mainly two kind of folks, the 20-something-workers, many who were slowly working their way through community college, and the older workers we called the “lifers.” It wasn’t just how the young folks saw them, but how they saw themselves — stuck.
In the break room was where I would chop it up with the lifers. When the managers would do their paperwork in the early mornings, Gary, a lifer with words of wisdom, would sit across the break room table from me.
“You gotta get out of that credit card debt, start saving money right away. Are you going to school?” he would lecture. With a stern look and a pointing finger covered by a rubber glove, he would talk straight to me like an older uncle. He would tell the story about back in his day, working at was like being a teacher, nurse, or a firefighter. It was a respected job that you could buy a house and send your kids to college with.
But not anymore. Over and over, Gary and the other workers would tell me how it wasn¹t like how it used to be any more. They would sigh and say, “Get out as fast as you can.” They wished they could, but they had worked there so long that they couldn¹t even think of doing something else. Most of the younger workers brushed it off, as they would be moving on. But a few would wind up staying, like the ones who were getting married and needed the benefits, or those who just couldn¹t get themselves through school.
To the lifers, buying a house seemed out of reach. They couldn’t afford to send their kids to college and they would always try to catch the occasional overtime or holiday shift where they could make double-time. Each of them had different strategies to get their own piece of the pie – their way of trying to get ahead when they were being pushed behind.
The kick-back produce department was where Gary worked. If you
planned on sticking with the supermarket job, then this is where you wanted
to wind up. The produce section was its own little castle. Unlike the checkstands where management was always hawking over you, all the workers at the produce section had to do was meet their quotas, keep the stands looking
clean and the manager didn¹t ever mess with them. While most of the departments were on lower wage scales that topped $15/ hour, all the produce people were on the highest wage scale that went up to $20. But you couldn’t just walk off the street into produce. You had to work in the store for a couple of years and be approved by the older guys who worked there.
A middle-aged white guy, Gary started working at my store as a bagger straight out of high school in the 60¹s. Now, he has a mortgage and two kids in college. His thing was day trading. Every morning, the phone in the backroom near produce would ring and someone would say, “Hey Gary, it’s your broker.” You could tell when the market was hot because you could hear him arguing about which ones to buy or sell through the whole backroom. That’s how he was trying to make up for his lack of savings.
Then there was Jack. We would always talk when we worked in the
checkstands together on slow mornings. He always looked completely exhausted with his coffee cup in hand. He would drink five cups every shift and
sometimes eat nothing for lunch, except more coffee. His hands were calloused and sometime blackened because every morning at 3am, he would wake up to deliver newspapers to vending machines around the city in his VW bus. He was married, though I got the impression he was never really able to spend any time with her.
The person that everyone loved to talk smack about and hate on was Debra. She was a single mother who dropped out of college while studying
chemistry some years back. Something told me she probably had her share of
fun then. Her strategy was pretty clear: she was trying to impress the managers so she could move up the ladder and become a store manager or work for the corporate office in . Everyone knew she was working off the clock and on her days off. After she was promoted to supervisor, she would write everyone up for the slightest thing, even for being a minute late coming back from break.
Anytime the jackpot would get really high, say $80 or $100 million, Brenda would organize the lotto pool. She was a short Filipina who worked in the cash room that none of us were allowed into. Her husband worked at another too. When she would come by to give more change, count our drawers or refill our change machines, she would talk to all the checkers, especially if it was a slow day.
When it was lotto week she would come around asking everyone to pitch in $5. Part of this ritual was everyone dreaming up stories of what they would do if we all won the money. Some would say we could all retire
together in , never having to work again.
While a few people would talk about being able to buy a big house, one guy would always talk up how he would buy the store up so he could burn the whole place down and laugh. He was a white guy who wore jerseys and ported his tattoos on the back of his arms on his days off. About 21 years old, he was always trying to act like a thug, and his attitude always got him into arguments with the customers. While I was sure that he would get fired one day for another argument with a middle aged housewife, he always thought his way out was his hiphop T-shirt business that he swore would take off.
One of my favorite co-workers was this older, light skinned, Argentinian checker Alex. Having been the longest running checker at the store, he had a following of customers that would only go through his line. He checked so slow other workers would make call him “Mr. McGoo.” But he didn’t care. He only had a few years until he retired with his pension, and no matter how many “Productivity Training Sessions” management made him attend, he knew they couldn¹t touch him.
Checking began to make my back and wrist hurt all the time and
sometimes, I would even hear that “beep” sound in my sleep. But I loved talking with the customers everyday. I worked there for a year, and never ended up as a lifer.
This was written during the movement of which later would become the 2006 immigrant rights movement. It was just beginning to peak in a series of large and mostly spontaneous marches that built up to May 1st, 2006. I think this lays down some of the optimism and worry that others and myself felt at that juncture.
From Si Se Puede to Si Se Pudo
A Labor Organizer Looks at Changing a Moment into a Movement
Story Adam W.
Photos by Jessica Valdez
In this profound moment of world-wide doubt in leaders and governments, a wave of day laborers, cooks, janitors and high school students have suddenly become a powerful force bringing a new conversation to dinner tables and law makers across the nation.
This past week of marches and high school walkouts across San Jose in protest of HR 4437 was as beautiful as it was significant. Optimism was high returning from the March 25th journey across the city and back. The chant was no longer, Si se puede, but, Si se pudo or, Yes, we did it. Over the next week students made their own mark as they defied administrations, marching from school to school to spread their walkouts as well.
Less than a week later, another call is spreading by word of mouth and over the internet. May 1 st will be the next day of protest, boycotts and even worker strikes- a tradition called paros civicos in Mexico’s social movement. But as we ready for the next storm of protest, could the fire of the movement leave as quickly as the spark was lit?
Many are taken back by seeing thousands of ordinary people marching in the streets and even parents chuckle as they hear of high school students organizing through myspace.com. But being a labor organizer over the years, I’ve had the chance to find myself standing side by side in everyday people’s movements — though never one with such attention or numbers.
Whether it was Vietnamese newspaper delivery drivers in San Jose or Mexican and Sikh Indian truck drivers who spread their work stoppages across the West Coast using Nextel walkie-talkies, all took brave risks and were expressions of fleeting moments of collective power. Sometimes they’ve known this taste in distant homelands, but often never on the soil of their new home in America.
But as soon as that charged moment passed and quicker than a victory could be celebrated, the powers that be would begin working to whittle the gains away. Leaders would not be fired after a successful strike, but eventually pushed out once things returned to what passes for normal.
Only months ago, a friend at the protest reminded me, the bustling heart of the San Jose Latino community, King and Story Road, was a ghost town. Rumors of raids by La Migra scared folks so bad that they wouldn’t leave home even to buy groceries. Today’s protesters are aptly seizing the moment, perhaps realizing both that with such attention the threat of La Migra seems less likely, and that unless they speak up now, they may never be heard.
As hundreds of thousands and maybe more will be taking to the streets this coming month, right now victory looks within reach. The result of the battle could be the opening of the door to millions gaining the rights of citizenship but it could be setting the stage for even further anti-immigrant reaction. Or maybe worse, though the laws are changed, the movement comes to an end and the people become a footnote to the day when a politician signs a bill in Washington, DC.
The people have the center stage and spotlight now, but will the movement be able to move beyond this moment? What has been unleashed is something new, powerful and which previously was just as invisible as the people who make up the movement — but these actors need to decide what is next.
Stop Crying About Bush:
Creating An Alternative to the Despair of the Next Four Years
Stop Crying About Bush
Creating An Alternative to the Despair of the Next Four Years
Story by Adam W. // Art by Wesley Vara
Only a few weeks after the elections, I’ve become overwhelmed with all the depressed reactions around me. At a bar friends would cry into their drinks in disbelief that supposedly Christian zealots from the Mid West had taken the country over.
While many had set the election up as a battle against the devil himself, I personally didn’t find myself sweating the fact that Bush won. While I voted by absentee ballot and drove a friend to the polls at the last minute, I had very little invested in the election. Except for a few bets that Bush would somehow win.
I had seen dedicated community activists who were working to get out the vote, wondering what all their work had gone towards. Post election, they suddenly were struggling to find relevancy. It was is an identity crisis of progressives – If we can’t present the alternative that people will choose come election day, why are we here?
One commentator tried to console his audience like a preacher to his congregation. He said that after the tears stop, to overcome your feelings of despair and grief and attempt to gain important insights from this event. After reading this it made me realize what the greatest tragedy of the election was.
The real shame was that those on the left, who profess themselves as trying to create an alternative to today’s despair, “Anybody But Bush”? meaning vote for John Kerry, was the best that could be offered.
Around the world I do see a good number of alternatives. In Argentina I see people from the neighborhoods, the unemployed, coming together to cook food and help each other with their basic needs in spite of a collapsing economy. In Italy, when they protested the war, a million people launched a strike across the country and filled the streets. Even better is Brazil, where despite the election of left wing President Lula de Silva, landless workers have expanded their take overs of land to meet their needs. Puts the increased American voter turn out in some perspective.
Two weeks after the election, I look around at the faces in my neighborhood, my family and the folks I work with and I don’t really see a change. All the same problems exist, but I don’t think anything they heard in the election really spoke to what’s going on in their daily lives.
Here in America, no matter who the President is, my mom won’t get her job back, sky rocketing costs of community college won’t go down for me, the shootings in my neighborhood won’t stop and my cousins will still be deployed in Iraq.
Rather than sobbing over not being able to drum up enough votes to defeat one millionaire, Yale educated, white man with another, we should instead be taking a cue from our comrades around the globe on how to build a movement. We should instead be thinking of real alternatives that can touch people’s hearts, their minds and help them put food on the table.
Perhaps then those talking about making change in this country could have an impact far greater than who wins the next presidential campaign.