Indiana, “right to work” laws, and “Power in a Union” – Fridays with Billy

This week, my neighboring state of Indiana became a “Right to Work” state — which sounds oddly like it’s now a better place to work, rather than part of a larger, nation-wide effort to gut unions and strip away the rights that the labor movement has battled for decades to establish (and from which we all benefit, whether or not we are union members – as but one example: Planning to enjoy a two-day weekend this week? Thank a union).

Are unions perfect vessels of workers’ better angels? No. Nothing humanity does is. But I figure unions are an awful lot like democracy: A terrible mess that is immeasurably better than anything else on offer.

My great-grandfather Carl (married to great-grandma Emily) was a union organizer in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I have never felt anything but deepest pride in that fact. It breaks my heart that working men and women are having to fight so hard to hold on to, or entirely re-establish, the kinds of rights that I’m sure he wanted to see made permanent — such as the simple right to organize, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23, sec 4).

And so, given the ongoing assault on workers’ rights (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, anyone?), it’s time to allow my beloved Billy Bragg to be his most rabble-rousing socialist self, and remind us that there is, indeed, power in a union.

Which is precisely why the right doesn’t want unions to survive.

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.

full lyrics;What is Fridays with Billy?

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Whither humanity? I have no idea.

I find myself struck by the enormity of the times we’re living in.

I don’t know what will happen next, but when my grandchildren learn about the early twenty-teens, it’s clear they’ll be taught that this was a time in which humanity — turned.

Of course, there’s the ongoing upheaval in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), while here in the United States, we have the right’s astonishing over-reach on unions. In both cases, I don’t think anyone on the ground has a clear sense of the direction we’re all going, but given the sheer quantity of dynamics and cross-dynamics, both here and abroad, I believe we’re likely to wind up in some pretty unexpected places.

In terms of workers’ rights and the American electorate, I genuinely believe that this is one of those moments in which people are woken from their slumber, and the GOP’s business-led right-wing will face tremendous push-back in the coming years. You don’t try to tell Americans that teachers, cops and firefighters are our enemies — are what stand between this country and fiscal security — and expect it to fly for long.

In MENA, well, who knows? Forty-one percent of Egypt’s eligible voters (the highest turnout in history) just voted to accept constitutional changes that some credible opposition voices wanted to see rejected. Good for Egypt? Bad for Egypt? I don’t know, and I would suggest that anyone who says they know for sure has delusions of grandeur. Issandr El Amrani (who blogs at the always interesting The Arabist) wrote a really helpful piece for Time : Egypt’s Referendum: What the Nation’s Historic Vote Means, concluding “This time, even if it was far from perfect, it meant something.”

And Libya? Truly: No one knows. It bears repeating: No one knows, no one knows, no one knows. The sheer cacophony of controversy surrounding the decision to declare a No Fly Zone should serve as our most powerful indicator that no one knows what the future holds in that part of MENA (though I will grant you that there are some, such as POTUS, who should surely have a better grasp on it than the vast majority of us).

I hold out real hope that the NFZ is preventing another Rwanda, but even if that proves correct — then what? Preventing slaughter doesn’t necessarily translate to the establishment of liberty and justice. Not to mention: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, and Iran. So, yeah: In ten years, we’ll all be able to see what happened in that part of the world, but right now? No one knows. (If you, like me, find yourself constantly trying to catch up on the MENA goings on, here’s a terrific interactive feature at the New York Times, “Arab World Uprisings: A Country-by-Country Look” ).

And finally: Japan.

It’s easy, and perhaps tempting, to think that the multiple disasters that have struck Japan affect only Japan — it’s population, economy, future.

But we forget: Japan is a global power-house, the third largest economy in the world. Whither Japan goes, we will all follow, to one degree or another.

If Toyota’s recovery isn’t quick, that means something for the many workers at Toyota’s American plants, and the American businesses that supply them. If Sony suffers a serious set-back, that means something for Sony’s competition, and the potential for some other firm to stake a bigger international claim. If Japan, a highly industrialized nation, proves incapable of controlling a potential nuclear disaster, that means something for the future of the world’s energy supply.

Far beyond the normal ripple effect (every action having a positive and equal reaction, every change bringing change to something else), the level of catastrophe that unfolded and continues to unfold in Japan has the potential to create enormous change across the globe.

Of course, it bears remembering that whatever happens, it actually started a while ago, on all these fronts.

If the GOP has over-reached, it’s only because it’s been reaching so far for so long that all those governors — and the Koch brothers, and Koch brother-analogues, behind them — thought they could keep going. No matter the results of the revolutions across MENA, they clearly didn’t spring up out of nowhere in January. And Japan only recently slipped behind China economically, falling from second to third place, meaning that there’s been some serious geo-economic shifting going on for awhile (one outcome I expect is that the fear-China noise will start getting much louder before the summer dawns).

But be that as it may, humanity tends to look back at certain moments, certain events, and say: “There! That’s when it all changed.” We just don’t always recognize those moments at the time.

This time? I think we can be pretty sure.

You might want to take notes — because in 30 years, some enterprising youth is going to want to ask you all about 2011.

And, as folks keep reminding us, it’s only March.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Insufficient memory.

Note: I spent last week dealing the world’s Horrible Things and though they’ve hardly abated, I’ve decided that this week, I won’t write about them. I’ll tweet, or comment elsewhere, but this space will be Horrible-free — except at the end of each post, where there will be a few links to Your Day In Horrible, should you feel the need.

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Note the second: Sooo. The day got entirely away from me, in ways so many and varied, that I wouldn’t want to begin to explain where it went. So I won’t! But I’m allowing myself the luxury of re-upping a column I wrote a few years back in the Dallas Morning News about the fact that — resist the truth as I might — I am an irredeemable birdbrain. No — you read the following (about which very little has changed in the intervening years, other than the girl’s need for a binky), and then try to think otherwise of me. I challenge you.

Insufficient memory

(It's forget-me-nots. Get it? Plus: So pretty!)

Recently, I was forced to come to the conclusion that, deny it as I have tried my whole life, I am, inarguably, an airhead.

Ok, I’m an intellectual snob, too, so let’s call me “absent-minded.” Like a professor, only without a teaching position. Or office hours.

I may approach it with humor, but it’s a truth I actually loathe. I’ve spent my life devising and maintaining systems by which to mask the fact of it (from myself primarily, I guess. The world’s probably caught on).

I’ve tried everything from calendars with copious notes, to lists on the door, to (and I mean this literally) keeping a running total in my head of the things I left the house with, so that I don’t leave anything behind. It can become a bit of a mess if I leave the house with something that was intended to be left behind. Like, you know, the dry cleaning.

And yet, in spite of these efforts, I am always forgetting things – objects, plans, dates. Thank God, I have yet to forget people, but my (two) children know I may forget their names. When my son was three years old, if I posed the question “What would Mommy do if she could take her head off?” he would say: “Lose it.”

I will say that, at the very least, this forgetfulness has granted me a deep faith in people. I’ve left my backpack in a cab in Istanbul, my camera in a store in Tel Aviv, and (my personal favorite) my sister-in-law’s pearls in a taxi in Washington, DC. Around the world, people have consistently saved me from myself and returned these items to me, often going out of their way to do so. The kindness of strangers, indeed.

On a recent morning, a stranger – a county official with whom I had an appointment in order to appeal my property taxes, a date you might think I’d want to keep – called to ask where I was. Not to reprimand me for blowing her off, but to suggest with a smile in her voice that perhaps I should make my way down to her offices.

Then, on the way there, I drove nine blocks the wrong direction, because, after living in my town for more than seven years – five of which were spent three blocks up from the address to which I was headed on the same street – I got confused about where the north/south demarcation starts on our grid.

As I started to compose the “I’m so sorry for being even later” in my head, I heard myself thinking “I don’t want to seem so disorganized,” and it hit me: I am. I am just that disorganized.

Anyone who has ever: had her babysitter look for her wallet so that she can get on a plane; left that same wallet at home on her way to a store 40 minutes away; forgotten her debit card in the hands of the gas station attendant, is a complete space-cadet. Bona fide.

When I got pregnant with my son seven years ago, having just moved to a new place, new friends kindly chalked my muddle-headedness up to pregnancy, and then to post-partum, and then to exhaustion. And then a second pregnancy. With two kids running around the house, they now say, who can remember anything? You lose a piece of your brain with each placenta.

I’m happy to leave them their delusions, and I will certainly concede that all of those things have not helped. I will even admit, with some genuine pride, that when it comes to the kids, I’m mostly on top of who needs what and has to go where (even if I don’t, as I say, reliably remember what we’ve called them). It’s my own stuff that goes missing.

Seriously, I take some comfort from that. Because there are days when it feels like all of this means that really, underneath my carefully constructed façade, I’m out of control. One misplaced piece of paper from the unraveling of my entire life.

But if I can keep it together for my children – old What’s-Their-Names – I figure that will have to be enough. Just admit the truth, accept who you are, and move on. I can make it without my coat; my daughter, on the other hand, would be lost without her binky.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago. As far as she can remember.

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Your Day in Horrible:

  1. Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a heartbreaking column about the uses to which the horrific murder of children have been put in the last week in Israel: “[M]ost of us, on both sides, are people who, despite everything – despite their grief and their rage and their one-sided, blind-eye narrative and their truly unjust history and the guaranteed injustice of any possible solution – actually want the same thing: a future for their children in an independent country living alongside and at peace with the people who are now their enemy. For every child. Both sides. For every child.”
  2. Bullets Stall Youthful Push for Arab Spring – “The Arab Spring is not necessarily over,” writes the New York Times [which will soon be behind a paywall, not that I’m bitter], “but it has run up against dictators willing to use lethal force to preserve their power.”
  3. OH! And another thing the GOP apparently hates (in addition to: workers, women, the Special Olympics, puppies, and the earth itself): Parks. “This week, in an unreleased portion of [Gov] Kasich’s proposed budget, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would be given authority to lease 200,000 acres of state park land for oil and gas exploration.”

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

The perils of kindness.

Last night, sitting at my desk, trying to write a book review, I finally just burst into tears.

The book deals with Israel/Palestine, and the many brave and noble people attempting to find a path to true peace and genuine justice, and it comes on the heels of two other books that dealt with what amounts to the same subject matter — and last night’s book and the earlier two came at either end of days and days in which I was dealing quite intensely, in my writing and in my heart, with the topic of rape (a couple of times on this blog, on and on at Twitter, and elsewhere across the wilds and in the corners of the blogosphere), while all the while, people living across a swath of the world that holds a place very deep in my soul are being shot at from their own fighter jets and by their own police forces. And the public employees in some quarters of this country — teachers, for God’s sake! — find themselves faced with the possibility of losing their freedom to ever collectively organize again. And at some point I discovered that a (male) blogger had accused me (specifically) and other women bloggers of “raping” Lara Logan by choosing to use the story of her assault as a reason to write about rape. And then an earthquake in New Zealand….

What finally reduced me to tears was a good friend being kind.

In this case, the good friend happens to be a truly, genuinely lovely person who has spent his life telling the truth about Israel/Palestine, and the one clear thought I could get to (as I read his completely unrelated email and cried) was: How can the world still suck so hard, when there are such beautiful people in it?

I’m tired. I’m tired of the world sucking and of beautiful people dedicating themselves and their lives and all too often their deaths to trying to heal a world that still sucks. I’m tired of the ever-peeling layers of suckage — after all, just under “pro-democracy protests turn violent in the Middle East,” you’ll find “well-founded fears of chaos,” “well-founded fears of military takeover,” and “well-founded fears of economic collapse and further human suffering.” Under which, of course, you will also find “Lara Logan was brutally assaulted and more than 80% of Egyptian woman complain of constant harassment and women are raped everywhere, anyway.” Under which you will find… many other things that I cannot bear to think about right now.

It matters not that I’m tired. Not really. Despair and exhaustion are luxuries, and I already live in the lap of luxury.

But I confess that I have found it easier to not know over much about about Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, or Wisconsin and Indiana over the past 24-48 hours (oh, and Ohio. Where apparently someone decided it would be a good idea to lock the people out of their own statehouse) — or even of New Zealand, where, after all, it’s not the sucky people, it’s the sucky tectonic plates we have to thank for the wave of grief and sorrow now washing over a nation. It feels wrong to admit this. I confess that, too.

I’m going to the J Street Conference this weekend, and I think that will have to count as my good deed for the next week. Me being tired doesn’t matter — but me crying doesn’t help.  I think it’ll be helpful to go hang out in a room full of compulsive do-gooders for a couple of days.