Mierle_Laderman_Ukeles_Celebrates_American_Workers Breaking Bread

A Manifesto for the American Worker

Written by a Hell-raiser with a heart of gold.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles dreams of a culture where no one is forgotten and no one is left out. She turned this dream into her life’s work honoring American workers.

Ukeles was an OG rule-breaker in the 60’s. She even got kicked out of Pratt for her controversial art. After Pratt she wrote Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969  which has one main philosophy: cherish the maintenance of society, not just innovation and new ideas. It was pretty directly a jab at capitalism, and during the Cold War no less.

“The people who were taking care and keeping the wheels of society turning were mute, and I didn’t like it!”


american worker
Maintenance Art public performance. Photo: Mierle Laderman


Ukeles wasn’t afraid to raise a lil’ Hell when it’s called for.

“[Maintenance] is trying to listen to the hum of living. A feeling of being alive, breath to breath. And I know that that has to be a part of culture. Because if isn’t, then you don’t have a culture that welcomes in everybody. And, I mean everybody.”

A project she did in the late-70s, called Touch Sanitation, reflects this verve to give voice to the silenced. For part of it she visited the 59 sanitation districts of New York to shake hands with every single sanitation worker—more than 8,500 of them. Why? Because Ukeles knew each one deserved honor and acknowledgement but didn’t get enough of either.

Ukeles’ manifesto is timeless – there will never be a time when listening more and believing in our power to change the world ourselves is anything less than essential.


Photo: Queens Museum / Photographer Unknown
Breaking Bread

Claudette Colvin, Original Woman Who Refused to Give Up Her Seat

Before Rosa Parks sat down, there was Claudette.

Most history books forget that Claudette Colvin is an African-American who refused to give up her seat on the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks.

It was March 2nd, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when Colvin paid her fare and refused to get up from the seat for a white woman. She’d been studying Black history in high school that month and felt inspired by Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She felt the spirit of those two women pushing her down in her seat, telling her not to give it up.

“All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily,” Colvin told NPR. She was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail.


Claudette Colvin, age 15.


After the incident, her civil disobedience didn’t make much of a splash. She was young and soon became pregnant. Because of this, her courageous act went all but unnoticed for many years. In fact, people began to think of her as a ‘troublemaker’ within her community and she had difficulty finding employment, and soon moved to New York.

While the court decided she was guilty in her legal case and she was given probation, Colvin did go on to serve as a plaintiff in the historic Browder v. Gayle legal case, which ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott and segregation on public buses in the city.

Many think if it wasn’t for Colvin, the media wouldn’t have paid much attention to Rosa Parks and the movement that followed. For this, we offer her immense gratitude.

If you want to learn the rest of her story, peep her interview with Teen Vogue here. Then go read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, authored by Phil Hoose.


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