I was waiting for the 14-Mission bus in downtown San Francisco the other day, and when it pulled up to the stop, something (aside from the woman who stepped off cuddling a chinchilla) caught my eye. The ad on the side of the bus was one I hadn’t seen before. “If cleanliness is next to godliness, then La Colectiva are angels” read the tagline, above which a group of five Latina women stood posing proudly—hands on hips or arms crossed—in a living room.
Upon doing a little bit of Internet research, I found that La Colectiva is a Bay Area cleaning collective of immigrant women formed by La Raza Centro Legal, which is a San Francisco-based legal organization dedicated to empowering Latino communities. The ad campaign, which launched in November of 2009, features portraits of La Colectiva members on billboards, transit ads, and bus shelters throughout San Francisco. La Colectiva worked diligently with advisory organizations such as UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program and the San Francisco Department of Public Health over the past year to churn out this campaign.
In 2007, SSIR published an article called “Unselling Meth,” which details how the Montana Meth Project uses consumer-marketing techniques—primarily a very graphic ad campaign—to fight methamphetamine abuse. Seeing this bus ad for La Colectiva reminded me a little bit of the Meth Project because La Colectiva is using its ad campaign more to sell its mission than to sell its product. La Colectiva seeks to empower immigrant women by teaching about better working conditions, effective and safe cleaning techniques (including nontoxic cleaning supplies), and worker rights.
La Colectiva developed all of their messaging and strategy in close collaboration with the women themselves through a series of meetings over the past year. To date, La Colectiva has offered six “Cleaning with Safety and Dignity” trainings to a total of 120 participants. Additionally, a highlight of the year was the much-anticipated release of “Behind Closed Doors: Working Conditions of California Household Workers,” a report coauthored by the Collective with Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the DataCenter.
On November 11, the day La Colectiva launched its ad campaign in San Francisco, members organized a rally where fellow advocates of worker’s rights gathered to speak about their experiences and make their mission known. Here is a video of the event, where you can see Yesenia Perez, one of La Colectiva’s members, talk about the importance of communicating “poder y esperanza”—power and hope.
We are inundated daily with ads that communicate superfluous messages. I commend La Colectiva for communicating a message that is quite the opposite of that: poder y esperanza.