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Tom's Homilies 2013
Tom's Homilies 2014
November 27th, 2014
Today is Thanksgiving Day, but many of us can’t shake the images we’ve been seeing from Ferguson, Missouri.
For those living under a rock, take heart: almost none of us had heard of this suburb of St. Louis before August 9, 2014. On that date police officer Dennis Wilson responded to a call of a young black man stealing cigarillos from a local store. Arriving on the scene Officer Wilson found two young men walking in the street, one of whom (Michael Brown) fit the description of the man who stole the cigarillos. Two minutes later Officer Brown had redness and swelling on his right cheek and Mr. Brown was dead from at least six gunshot wounds.
Protests began almost immediately. Many in Ferguson, and elsewhere, believed Mr. Brown was killed by law enforcement because he was a young black man. Had he been white he would still be with us.
This perception was exacerbated by the fact that the city of Ferguson is 69% black (according to the 2010 census) while the police force is 6% black. This is due, in no small part, to the changing demographics in Ferguson. In 1980 the population of Ferguson was 85% white, but by 2010 it had plummeted to 30% (you can see the article here).
This led to a perfect storm where the majority of the population was black while the majority of law enforcement was white. I call this a perfect storm because it brings back reminders of the history of slavery. From 1630 to 1865 the majority of Africans experienced America as a place of enslavement. From 1865 to the present day many of them have experienced America as a place of discrimination.
This is not universal and the fact that our President is African American gives of proof that we live in a nation that accepts people of different races.
That said we should never forget that discrimination continues to exist and seemingly random events focus us toward this reality.
The events of August 9th gives us just this reality. In the last few days I’ve read some of the testimony of the grand jury (and I encourage you to do the same here).
It’s a complicated series of events but I agree that the grand jury got it right and Officer Wilson was in the right.
At the same time I continue to understand that much of the protest is justified. This isn’t about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson: it’s about the state of race relations in the United States. And it has to be talked about.
All of my experience of law enforcement have been positive but mine is not everyone’s experience. People of color (of all ages) recognize “the look.” They know that they come under extra scrutiny when they walk into a convenience store and countless of them have had experiences with law enforcement that I would find more bewildering that offensive.
And when someone like Michael Brown is shot to death it feels like an attack on an entire community. I briefly lived in Memphis several years ago, less than a mile from the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. I remember speaking with people from the neighborhood who lived there then. They felt that his assassination was the first shot in a war against them and this feeling was exacerbated when they saw National Guard troops in tanks rolling into the neighborhood. The residents of Ferguson certainly had the same feeling when they saw the National Guard roll into their town with weapons from the 1033 program. The 1033 program provides local police departments with weapons designed for warfare. If you’re in law enforcement it’s free stuff; if you’re a minority it looks like you’re unarmed and at war with someone who wants you dead.
We also need to view these events against another reality: race relations in this country are riddled with crimes against people of color where justice was promised but not delivered. In 1963 the civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers was shot to death in his own backyard. This killer was not convicted until 1994. That same year four young girls were killed in a bombing at their church. The first of the bombers was not convicted until 1977; two more were convicted in 2001 and 2002 (a fourth died in 1994 before he could be brought to trial). In 1964 three civil rights workers were slain in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1967 seven men were convicted but none of them served more than six years.
All these cases involved lies from law enforcement that these crimes would be investigated. I ambivalent about this, but I’ve been reading about the charge that the district attorney in Ferguson convened the grand jury with no interest in indicting Officer Wilson.
I write this with a certain amount of discomfort, and maybe that’s the point. The events of Ferguson in the last three months has shown a light on a topic many of us would like to ignore: we’re not done working to achieve true harmony of skin color.
As long as I don’t get “the look” when I walk into a store but someone else does, we’re not done. As long as I see a peace officer and feel protected while another looks at the same peace officer and feels unsafe, we’re not done. And as long as anyone believes the end of slavery 149 years ago means we’re done, we’re not done.
November 10th, 2014
In an earlier post I spoke about the close race for my U.S. Representative. Two years ago we unseated Brian Bilbray by electing Scott Peters; shortly after that, Carl DeMaio announced he would run against Scott in 2014. Carl served on the San Diego City Council and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012.
Carl is nothing but bad news for those of us who want a good future for our city and nation. Nancy had a few occasions to watch Carl live as a member of the city council. She found him to be a slimy bully.
When he planned his campaign to unseat Scott he tried to brand himself as a team player, a problem solver, and a “new type of Republican.” He wasn’t any of those. Carl is gay and is in a long term relationship with Jonathon Hale; he claims that he is hoping to make the Republican Party more accepting of gays.
As a Democrat I applaud him and hope he is successful. Alas, I don’t think he will be successful because I don’t think he’s honest. All along he’s assumed that because he’s gay he would automatically get the San Diego gay vote. He didn’t and it never occurred to him that he would have to actually have to work for the gay vote.
I’ve spent the last several days waiting for his concession and hoped he would be gracious. Yeah, right. Toward the end of his campaign there were allegations that he sexually harassed two of his campaign aids. This is never good news for someone running for office but Carl’s strategy came down to accusing Scott of planting these stories.
It was his last opportunity to show some class and he blew it. Good riddance Carl.
November 7th, 2014
As of yesterday it’s been 10 years since I started this online blog. At the time I was on the cusp of leaving my job as a chaplain at Odyssey Hospice, which is now part of Gentiva Hospice. I wasn’t sure where my path led, but I knew it didn’t follow the same path as Odyssey Hospice. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be a hospice chaplain and I took some time off to explore my next step.
I was “between jobs” from November 13, 2004 until February 14, 2005. I learned a number of things, but mostly I learned that I don’t do unemployment well. I caught two colds, suffered several days of indecision, and learned that I like the simple pleasure of a good days’ work. As I look back on the blog I have to admit a certain amount of embarrassment over the blog posts in the first few months: it had a “dear diary” flavor to it. That only changed when I started working again; I posted less, but thought more.
Since then the blog has turned into my honest thoughts. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written, and in 2007 my friend Chip suggested that I move my page to his server. Since then I’ve had a page that gives you the ability to search my page and give me feedback. It’s been good.
Hopefully everyone who reads this will keep reading. I love writing, and I love (even more) getting your feedback.
November 7th, 2014
On Tuesday night I stopped blogging at 8PM, mostly because all the news coverage was all about the stunning Republican landslide. The idea of Republican control of the Senate, even without the 60 vote filibuster proof majority.
It’s been a few days and I’m starting to feel a little more hope. While things on the national level didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, things in California generally went well. We re-elected California Governor Jerry Brown for a 4th term. By all accounts he’s done a remarkable job of reversing the downward slide we experienced from Arnold Schwarzenegger and he was able to win re-election with little campaigning.
Two years ago Scott Peters narrowly unseated incumbent Brian Bilbray. The race was so close that it took 10 days after the election to be sure Scott won. A congressman faces his toughest re-election after his first term and this was no exception. From Scott’s first day on the job Carl DeMaio, a former city council member, announced his intention to run for Scot’s seat in 2014. The race was neck and neck and on election night Carl was winning the counted votes by 752. On Wednesday night it was reversed and Scott was ahead by 861 votes. At this point all the votes cast on election day and most of the mail in votes had been counted; all that was left were the mail in votes that were dropped off on election day and provisional ballots.
Frankly this time last night I was pretty optimistic. Most mail in ballots skew Republican and were mailed in early. I’m not sure I’m proud of this but most people who wait until the last minute vote Democrat. I also believe that most provisional ballots would skew Democrat.
In any case I was pretty anxious waiting for the results. I was hoping that Scott’s momentum would continue and afraid it would reverse. The results were so good I had to check a few places to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Scott’s lead went from 861 votes to 4,491 with somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 votes left to count.
In my mind this finishes the election. For the sake of simplicity I’ve rounded the number up from 4,491 to 4,500. If there are 15,000 ballots left to count, Carl would have to win 9,750 of them. If there are 10,000 ballots left to count, Carl would have to win 7,250 of them. Either way it’s a hard hill to climb.
On the Republican side I’m impressed that Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham beat back challenges from the tea party (I refuse to link or capitalize). I’m hoping that will make moderate Republicans more willing (or less fearful) to actually work with President Obama.
Finally, I read an excellent column by David Broder who speaks eloquently about the reality that Republican demographics are diminishing. Almost nobody who has recently become an American citizen or has recently become old enough to vote thinks their future lies with the Republican party. I think David is right and I’m happy to think so.
November 4th, 2014
It’s my tradition to blog on election as we follow the races. I may not follow them as far into the night as I usually do for a few reasons. The first is that I’m generally disappointed with how the candidates are running the election.
The Republicans are running this as a referendum on a President with two years left on his political life. The Democrats are running like President Obama doesn’t exist. I’m proud of my votes for him, I think he’s done an excellent job given what he faced in January of 2009, and I’m angry that my party is trying to pretend he’s not there.
The other reason is a more simple one: I don’t think there is as much at stake tonight. Nobody believes the leadership of the House of Representatives will change, the Presidency will certainly not change, and while the majority may shift in the Senate we likely won’t know tonight. There are close Senate races in North Carolina and Louisiana but they likely won’t be decided now. Both races have more than 2 candidates and require 50% plus one to win. In other words it’s a fair bet that both races will require runoffs.
7:00PM Pacific Time, 10:00PM Eastern Time, 3:00 AM Greenwich Mean Time: The polls don’t close for another hour here in California so I have nothing to report. I’m disappointed but not surprised to see that Mitch McConnell survived a strong challenge. He had to fight for the Republican nomination from Matt Bevin, a member of the Tea Party. He won the nomination and I had hoped he would be so wounded that the Democrats would unite against him. Alas, Mitch won, and if the Republicans win the Senate he will be the majority leader.
I’m also disappointed by the 7th Congressional district of Virginia. In a stunning upset in June, Dave Brat defeated Eric Cantor. Dave is an economics professor at Randolf Macon College, and this placed him against the Democratic nominee, Jack Trammell, who ironically enough, is also a faculty member at Randolf Macon. Jack was supposed to be the guy Eric Cantor would destroy in the election. When Brat won, I hoped the Democrats would unite and defeat Brat, but it didn’t happen. The 7th Virginia Congressional district is still pretty Republican and I’m guessing that moderate Republicans who liked Eric held their noses and voted for Brat.
On the other hand I’m pleased with New Hampshire. Senator Jean Shaheen was challenged by Scott Brown. Scott was born in Maine, but moved to Massachusetts as an infant. In 2010 he won a special election to fill the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy who died of cancer. Scott expected that this would lead to him holding that seat for a long time, but he lost to Elizabeth Warren in the general election in 2012.
Scott then moved to New Hampshire and challenged Jean. Tonight’s projections show that he will lose to Jean. I find this good news because it shows Scott as an opportunist. He doesn’t care who he represents, he just wants to be a Senator. This makes the charge that he is a carpetbagger who will go anywhere and say anything to gain power.
8:00 PM Pacific Team, 11:00 PM Eastern Time, 4:00 AM Greenwich Mean Time: The polls have closed in California but almost nothing is certain where I live. My congressional race pits the incumbent Scott Peters (Democrat) against Carl Demaio (Republican) and almost certainly won’t be settled tonight. In fairness, two years ago Scott’s victory wasn’t announced until 3 days after the election. It may happen again. While my district is trending Democrat, it may be a few more years to turn it blue.
We voted on several ballot measures, but the measure that I cared the most about was Propsition 46. As most of you know I’m married to a doctor. If you’ve been harmed by a doctor on a medical procedure you can sue the doctor. If it’s found that it was malpractice you can sue on a few grounds. If the doctor’s malpractice prevents you from ever working again you can sue the doctor for the wages you would have earned for the rest of your career and there is no ceiling on what you can sue for. If the doctor’s malpractice causes you to need medical care for the rest of your life you can sue for the care you need for the rest of your life.
So what is left? Well if you sue somebody you can claim the money you need to care for the injured person and to replace his (or her) wages but you can also sue for “pain and suffering.”
“Pain and suffering” is the money you get for saying that the plaintiff was irresponsible. It’s meant as a scare tactic against large companies who feel that settling lawsuits is a good financial decision. Right now in California there is a cap of $250,000; that is, no matter what happens a plaintiff can’t collect more than $250,000 for pain and suffering. Proposition 46 would raise that immediately to $1,100,000 and index yearly increases to inflation. To be fair the $250,000 cap has not moved since 1975. But Prop 46 would have had a catastrophic effect on malpractice insurance and the ability of doctors to practice medicine in the state. There may be room for an intelligent discussion on pain and suffering caps, but this was nothing more than a money grab for lawyers.
OK, I’m getting sufficiently depressed that I need to stop blogging and get a night’s sleep.
October 31st, 2014
I’m upset that this isn’t a bigger story, but the standing Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas is in the political fight of his life. This is news because he is a Republican.
Remember this is Kansas. The state that has declared war on teaching evolution.
Four years ago Sam was elected Kansas’ governor in a landslide after a 14 year career in the U.S. Senate. Sam is a strong believer in “supply side economics” or what many of us call “trickle down economics”. Basically this economic theory claims that if we cut income taxes, especially to the richest among of us, that will stimulate the economy. The people who get to keep more of their money will invest it. Ordinary people spend more money. Small businesses, who benefit from this increase in spending, will expand and hire more workers. The money lost on the tax cuts will be offset by more money in income taxes by the people who are hired and the sales taxes paid by the people who spend more.
The best part of this model is that it both looks good and feels good. Who doesn’t want to raise revenue by cutting taxes? Here’s the problem: it doesn’t work. It’s like all the “eat whatever you want and lose weight” diets.
Four years ago Sam was elected and he promised “an experiment.” OK, I have to ask this: someone who has declared war on science is conducting an experiment? In any case he promised to cut state income taxes on small businesses and wealthy individuals and he did. Small business taxes were cut to 0% (that’s right: no taxes) and the highest individual tax bracket was cut by 24% (you can see this here). He promised that while state revenue may take an immediate hit, it will be soon made up by people and businesses who move to Kansas to take advantage of this experiment.
Did it work? No. The NPR story provides an excellent outline of what happened, but basically this is what happened: small businesses benefitted because they didn’t pay taxes but they didn’t expand because there was no increase in business. NPR spoke with Alex Harb, who owns a computer store in Wichita. He spoke about how his tax cut allowed him to purchase more products for his store, but this has not led to an increase in business. Because of this he has not opened new stores or hired more employees. He has not become a job creator.
Is there a downside? Amazingly the supply side/trickle down guys don’t talk about this. Kansas anticipated a drop of $300 million in revenue while the tax cuts kicked in. Alas, they saw a drop of $600 million with no end in sight. If you are wealthy Kansan or a small business owner you have more money in your pocket. But if you work for the state you’re screwed.
The town of Marquette, Kansas was so devastated by the tax cuts that they had to close their last remaining school. You can read this on the Topeka Capital-Journal website. Amazingly the loss of jobs by the school district wasn’t expected by Sam.
So how has the state done? Sam promised that his “experiment” would show that Kansas’ economy would outpace the economies of neighboring states. Has it?
No. Employment in Kansas has grown by about two percent in Kansas, which sounds fine until you recognize that, according to the NPR article, Kansas has fallen behind the national average and three of the four states that border Kansas (and they all have higher tax rates).
I found this at the web page for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Senate. They track several trends, and I looked at private sector job growth since February of 2010. Kansas and its neighbors (Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nebraska) showed these results:
- Colorado: 12.8%
- Oklahoma: 10.8%
- Kansas: 6.8%
- Nebraska: 6.1%
- Missouri: .8%
According to this Kansas is in the middle of the pack. That’s fine except Sam promised they would leave their neighbors in the dust. Clearly he hasn’t.
The best part of this story for me is the loyalty Sam expected from his fellow Republicans. He should have recognized Republican loyalty is a synonym for jumbo shrimp. Given the opportunity they headed for safety. This story shows how 100 prominent Republicans are endorsing his Democrat opponent Paul Davis. Do you think these Republicans endorsed Davis out of principle? Neither do I. They made a political decision that their future lies in abandoning Sam after cheering him on.
Sam may win or lose, but if he wins, the people of Kansas lose.
October 19th, 2014
Nancy and I each drive a Toyota Prius. I bought mine in 2006 and she bought hers in 2011. A few days ago I got a call from Toyota asking if we wanted to trade in Nancy’s car. The teaser was this: they would sell us a comparable 2014 Prius at about the same monthly payment and we would get a car 3 years newer. I declined because Nancy is happy with her car and we’re looking forward to paying it off. But it got me wondering if this is a good deal or not.
This is where the math nerd in me kicks in. In the days following this I began to wonder if this would have been a good deal for us. Truth be told I’m a child of parents who grew up in the Great Depression and I still think of debt as a necessary evil. I’d be most happy if I didn’t have to pay off our home or our cars. Still I found it a fascinating question and I tried to crunch the numbers. It wasn’t easy because the auto world changes dramatically. The hot new feature of a few years ago is standard now. Think of anti-lock brakes and airbags.
Still, I started looking into the numbers. When we bought Nancy’s car in March of 2011 we paid $33,070.20 and financed the whole cost at 2.9% interest (her old car was so old we donated it to the San Diego Zoo). It was a five year loan with a monthly payment of $550.52.
Had we taken the offer we would get a comparable Prius for $30,930. It’s essentially a wash as the cost increased by only a little over $200. Interestingly enough the interest rate has decreased from 2.9% to 0.9%. Had we done this our payment would have been $527.42, a savings of $23.10 per month. At face value that sounds like a good idea: We pay less money each month for a newer car.
But wait: If we keep Nancy’s car we can pay it off in March 2016. But if we get this newer car we’ll be paying it until October 2019. That’s 3 1/2 years longer to have a car payment (assuming Nancy’s car lasts that long, and since my car is 8 1/2 years old and has nearly 189,000 miles on it, we can). What if we sell Nancy’s car now and use that money for a down payment on a 2014?
Glad you asked. The current blue book value of Nancy’s car is a little over $17,000. Let’s use that as a benchmark. OK, we sell Nancy’s car and use that as a down payment on a 2014. We still owe $9144 so we’ll need to deduct this. Our downpayment goes down to $7,856. If the car is $30,930 and we put down $7,856, the finance price goes down to $23,074. I’m not sure Toyota will finance this, but my Credit Union will finance the car for 1.99%. On a five year loan that makes our payment $404.34. By the way, if we did get the 0.99% rate from Toyota, our payment would decrease to $394.30
Thanks Toyota, but we think we’ll pass.
October 7th, 2014
When we see a shift in public opinion about something we sometimes talk about a “tipping point,” that is, a time where it appears that the momentum has shifted and what was once a minority opinion has now become the majority.
It’s hard to remember this, but just a few years ago this was thought impossible. In 1996, 18 years ago, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. It mandated that the federal government not recognize any marriage except between one man and one woman.
Fifteen years ago, in 1999, California led the country in issuing domestic partner licenses; it provided some of the benefits of marriage. Other states followed.
Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first state to allow gay couples to marry. But because of DOMA these married couples could not file joint income tax returns, or benefit from each others’ social security or other benefits. There had been a residency requirement (that you had to live in Massachusetts or plan to live there). This was a 1913 law and was intended to prevent Southern interracial couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. It was repealed in 2008.
Also in 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that the state could not ban gay marriage under the rules of the state constitution. Almost immediately there were calls to amend the California constitution to prevent marriage equality. Later that year Proposition 8 amended the constitution, though the state upheld the marriages that were performed between June 16th and November 4th.
In 2010 the District Court of Northern California ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional (even though it was an amendment to the constitution). In 2012 the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling; it was appealed to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court ruled against them in 2013. Ever since then marriage equality has been legal in California.
There is much more to this and I encourage everyone to read the entire timeline at here.
The 50 states are divided into 11 circuits: you can view the map at here.
The 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits have all ruled in favor of marriage equality. In a surprise to many, the Supreme Court refused to hear any these appeals.
It’s a bit of a disappointment to those of us who favor marriage equality; we were hoping for the equivalent of Loving v. Virginia when the Court ruled that bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional.
That said, it’s a devastating blow to those who oppose marriage equality. It appears that as of today Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Utah will start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Because they belong to the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina will soon follow.
The Supreme Court could still take cases from the other circuits (the 5th circuit is looking at this) but I think this sends a clear message to the other circuits that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality.
It appears that homophobia is the latest casualty in the march for justice.
September 10th, 2014
As I write this we’re in the middle of a crisis with ISIS (or ISEL or the Islamic State, or whatever). This is one of those times where I don’t envy President Obama and how he needs to respond to this threat to our safety.
One of the reasons I don’t envy him is that he needs to govern when the opposition party cares little for the health of our country, its citizens, and its descendents but instead cares only with the desire to destroy him and his party.
Today I saw that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is likely going to run for President in 2016, wants to revoke the citizenship of any American citizen who joins Isis (or Isel or the Islamic State).
This is playing well with Faux News and the rest of this country’s knuckle draggers, but it’s not Constitutional. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that anyone born in the United States or naturalized is a citizen of this country. An article here shows that someone who is a naturalized citizen can have his citizenship revoked, but anyone who is born a citizen cannot have his (or her) citizenship revoked.
If Ted really wants this to pass he needs to amend the Constitution. It’s not an easy process (and it shouldn’t be). There are two ways to do this. The first (that has never been used) requires that two thirds of the states petition congress to call a Constitutional Convention. The problem with this method is that a convention can rewrite the entire Constitution and I don’t know anyone who wants this. It ignores the collective wisdom of the last 225 years.
The other method has been used 27 times. If two thirds of both the Senate and the House vote in favor of an amendment and three fourths of the state legislatures agree, it becomes an amendment of the Constitution.
Senator Cruz is clearly not aware that he cannot simply propose legislation to revoke the citizenship of natural born citizens. Or perhaps he does, and he is doing this as a publicity stunt. In any case, we shouldn’t stand by and allow him to do this.
It’s time to demand that our lawmakers understand the law. And it’s especially time to require anyone who wants to be President to understand the Constitution.
September 1st, 2014
Today many of us have the day off from work to celebrate Labor Day. For many it’s the traditional end of summer and the beginning of the campaign season for November’s election (even though campaigning these days seems to be continuous).
But it got me thinking about labor and the role of work in our lives. Earlier this year I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Both men were members of the Republican Party and both were President (Theodore Roosevelt served from 1901 to 1909 and William Howard Taft served from 1909 to 1913).
They were also progressives and did much to advance the cause of the working man and woman. The late 1800s and early 1900s were very good if you were rich and very bad if you were poor. While we know the names of the wealthiest, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan (among others), we don’t know the millions of people whose labor made their fortune.
It was commonly held back then that if you went to work for someone, he told you how much you were getting paid and you accepted it, even if if meant you and your family were going to live in abject poverty with little hope of relief. The Bully Pulpit gave me a quote that succinctly describes this. George M. Pullman developed the railroad sleeping car and dining car and founded the Pullman Palace Car Company. When describing the conditions of his workers he made it sound like a paradise. The lived in homes owned by Pullman, shopped in stores owned by Pullman and worshiped in churches owned by Pullman. The problem was that Pullman cut their wages in 1894 claiming that the company needed to do that to survive. It was later learned that the company paid out dividends to its stockholders that year of over $2,000,000 and reported profits of $25,000,000 (this in 1894 dollars).
When the workers attempted to arbitrate with the company, Pullman responded that there was nothing to arbitrate. He insisted that workers have nothing to do with the amount of wages they shall receive; that is solely the business of the company (you can read this on page 186 of Doris’ book: she footnotes Ray Stannard Baker). This, and hundreds of other examples, launched the labor movement in the United States and the organization of unions. We often look at this time as the era of Robber Barons.
Even the Vatican weighed in. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical called Rerum Novarum, commonly translated as “On Human Labor.” The Pope was concerned that workers were being exploited and wrote about the dignity of the individual worker. Truth be told he was equally concerned that the backlash against the Robber Barons would be acceptance of socialism, but his words are worth a read.
In the time since there have been incredible reforms. We now have a minimum wage. Child labor is (at least legally) almost nonexistent. Most of us work a 5 day, 40 hour week with paid vacation, holidays and sick leave. Most of the time we have recourse if we feel we are being treated unfairly. Most of the time we work in safe environments and are compensated if we are injured on the job. But none of this came easy. Our parents and grandparents had to fight for every one of these reforms and none of them are guaranteed to our children and grandchildren.
In my family I am the first generation who never had to work in a factory. My parents grew up in Gardner, Massachusetts where almost everyone, at least at some point in their lives, worked for the Heywood – Wakefield Furniture Company. The work was repetitive, exhausting, and boring. I am who I am because they worked hard to give me a chance to move beyond that. I will never forget that.
We honor Labor Day not by cooking hot dogs or going to the beach. We honor Labor Day by honoring laborers. Let’s all agree to keep fighting for the things they fought for.