Monday, September 2, 2019

Honoring the Day

A few words about the day.

On Memorial Day we are often reminded that we wouldn’t be enjoying a day off from work with our families without the sacrifices of men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. We are exhorted to see the day as more than a holiday for picnics and trips to the beach. And rightly so. But when Labor Day rolls around the reminders to its origins are fewer. And quieter. And they tend to emanate from one side of the political spectrum more than another.

That’s a shame. Just as any American can fight for their country, any American can be a laborer who needs fair and safe treatment in the workplace. Service to our country is honorable. So is work. We should never forget the importance of either one.

But in the same way that people are squeamish at taking a hard look at systemic racism in our country, they often turn away from the horrors which promoted the rise of labor unions. Speaking out against civil rights abuses is now called “race baiting”.  Organizing against injustice, when it has the word “union” attached, is viewed as rabble rousing, less than honorable, inherently dishonest.

Don’t forget that in Maryland we have a governor who called teachers “union thugs” and still managed to get re-elected.

We’ve probably all heard the old saying,

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

I think we need to be honest with ourselves about what that really means. Vaguely remembering a few paragraphs in a history textbook won’t cut it. We are called to get “up close and personal” with our past, face its ugly truths, engage with its lasting consequences. This is uncomfortable work. Plenty of folks would rather crumple up each unpleasant fact and toss it behind them as they go, like so much litter.

But all that trash piles up. We forget where we came from, and more importantly, we forget why. Why people fought in wars, or marched on Washington, or organized workers to form labor unions. Our desire to turn away from things that challenge us or make us uncomfortable does not make us or our country stronger. It weakens the very things that our country claims to champion.

Today, on Labor Day in Columbia/Howard County I am thinking of our teachers, preparing for the start of the new school year, I’m also thinking of the thousands of people who work in Howard County but don’t have adequate housing or have none available to them at all. I’m thinking of workers and the value of their work.

And I’m thinking of all that has come before.

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