On June 29th, summer volunteers and interns in Indianapolis put on a creative and attention-grabbing action at a busy farmers’ market downtown. The action was a parody of an advertisement of Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), a Hyatt subcontractor. HSS’ advertisement depicts sullen, uniformed hotel workers in a police line-up, implying that they could be criminals.
At the action, four volunteers dressed up as hotel workers, holding mug-shot placards and standing against a white backdrop designed to look like a police line-up. Another volunteer acted as an auctioneer, wearing a suit coat and top hat, advertising “the cheapest labor around!” to passersby while others handed out fliers.
I spent a portion of the action taking photos, and in doing so, was able to take a step back and pay attention to the reactions of the people around us. The most significant thing I noticed was how responsive and receptive people were: most readily took a flyer, and many even paused to have a brief conversation about the boycott. Almost all who did so had previously been unaware of the boycott and – more importantly – unaware of the reasons behind the boycott. I spoke with a group of construction workers who, after I told them about the boycott, were not only supportive, but able to draw connections between the struggle of the hotel workers and their own experiences as workers.
This action was not just fun and creative, it was effective. It piqued the curiosity of passersby enough to overcome what can sometimes be the most difficult step when flyering: getting someone to take a flyer and engage in a conversation. Yes, we looked a little strange standing in front of a bedsheet on the sidewalk; yes, it was probably jarring to hear a man pretending to auction off workers (“Cheap, cheap labor! Only $7.25 an hour!”) in a voice much like that of a circus ringleader. But stranger than both of these things is that the advertisement we were mimicking and the stories we were telling were true. That is, unquestionably, the most ridiculous thing of all.
-Kylie, Summer Organizer, Indianapolis