Former Wonder woman amy jo hutchison is committed to Rattle the Windows for as long as it takes to effect real change
Years ago, Amy Jo Hutchison had her sights set on saving the swimming pool at her kids’ elementary school from closure. She thought it was the right thing to do, and she was in a position to raise her concerns. “I’ve always been the person that just speaks up when I thought stuff wasn’t OK,” Hutchison says. It wasn’t until much later that she realized what she was really doing was community organizing. It was activism, even if it didn’t look like what she imagined activism to look like. And it was something she could make a career out of while effecting real change.
That’s just what Hutchison, WV Living’s Lasso of Truth Award winner for 2022, has done in the years since. While working as a Head Start teacher and becoming involved with the parent organization at her children’s school, she started making connections with organizers at larger groups tackling poverty and children’s well-being. “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is almost radical,’” she says. “I’d never heard of anyone talking about people speaking up for themselves and working to change laws.”
Hutchison realized through speaking with these organizers that everyday people could rally together for large-scale change—that her habit of speaking up when something wasn’t OK could mean speaking up to lawmakers.
From there, she began making a name for herself and building a career as an organizer with Our Children Our Future. In February 2020, she was chosen to represent the group on a trip to Washington, D.C.—she would testify about the struggles of the working poor to members of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform.
In her testimony, Hutchison skillfully dismissed the assumptions that poor and marginalized folks are lazy or simply not trying hard enough. She broke down the math of minimum wage and what is left over—if anything—when supporting a family. She told stories of people who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet but were met with roadblocks at every turn due to insurance and benefit technicalities, food insecurity, expensive medications, and other structural obstacles that were outside their control. Hutchison told lawmakers she’d experienced many of those things herself, and she made clear how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty from generation to generation. She compared everyday folks’ wages to the salaries of the lawmakers she was speaking to and made the point that many of them had an annual office furniture budget that eclipsed what some poor folks in West Virginia make in a year.
“Shame on you. Shame on you, and shame on me, and shame on each and every one of us who haven’t rattled the windows of these buildings with cries of outrage at a government that thinks their office furniture is worth $40,000 a year and families and children aren’t,” Hutchison said near the end of her testimony.
Her words resonated. The video footage of the testimony went viral, #RattleTheWindows became a hashtag, and Hutchison found herself reaching more people than she ever could have imagined.
“I started receiving emails from literally all over the world,” she says. “One of the most popular themes was that they finally felt seen after that. The stories I told, we can pretend they’re not common stories, but the fact is, everyone that I do and have ever done life with, that’s their story.”
When she appeared on The Problem With Jon Stewart in October 2021 as a result of the viral video, Hutchison learned from Stewart that she was explaining things in a way he’d never heard them explained. “It made me understand that there’s really just this whole gray area of issues, especially economic justice issues, that are affecting us that a lot of people aren’t even aware exists,” she says.
Hutchison is now an independent contractor, working for causes that affect poor families, facilitating workshops that help people become involved in making change, and hoping to make activism as accessible as possible. “Activism can be picking up a phone and calling your senator because you want them to be moved to action,” she says. “It could be having three or four friends over with a couple boxes of pizza and having a texting party to get other people to call.”
The work is often slow and hard, and change doesn’t always come when you’d like it to, she warns. Personal testimonies are often difficult to share, and will not always go viral or make the impact you hope for. This is why Hutchison says it’s important to remember when organizing for your community that it truly takes a community.
“We need to continue to organize on the ground and have conversations with the people around us all the time and really start building this movement,” she says. “If I go in there by myself, it’s probably not going to be as effective as if I have 100 women going in with me. There’s power and safety in numbers.”
Join us at our 2022 Wonder Women T.A.L.K.S. event where Amy Jo Hutchison will be the keynote speaker.
READ MORE ARTICLES FROM WV LIVING’S FALL 2022 ISSUE
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