hard won rest

When you're a kid, you don't appreciate the value of a day off. It's like getting an extra scoop of ice cream or something -- it's nice but you take it for granted. When you work forty hours a week, though, you become acutely aware of the federal holiday schedule. Little oases of relaxation carved into the calendar. Carved, fought for after long years of struggle by labor unions. I don't think any of us ever really stop to think about how much we owe to the labor movement: eight hour days, overtime pay, vacation days, benefits. These ideas were once utopian, now they're standard practice. Why? Not because these rights were given to us from on high by the government, but because people came together collectively to demand decent treatment. The profit impulse must be curbed occasionally if people are to be treated like human beings.

Anyway, it's a shame that no one these days seems to think that sort of collective action is possible. Think what we could accomplish for inner-city communities, for the poor, for the public schools if people only believed that change was actually possible. The death of the Left in contemporary politics is a failure of imagination (I stole that phrase from the 9/11 commission). Numbed by our oversaturated media culture, we have a narrowed sense of what's possible, what individuals or small groups can accomplish. If we want to reverse the conservative ascendency, we have to embrace dreaming and idealism. We have to start training a new generation to have expanded hopes.

Wow, all of that prompted by one day off! What is Presidents' Day exactly? An occasion to commemorate Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays? An excuse for a sale at Macy's? Really it's just a chance to give working people a break. If anyone out there reading this doesn't get Monday off, I apologize if it seems like I'm rubbing it in. But long weekends have such a different feel from standard ones -- the elongation releases the pressure. I've slept past 2pm for the past two days! Thanks to the AFL-CIO.


Blogger woolf said...

At Sarah Lawrence, we don't get this day off--we also went to school on labor day, which I think shows some interesting class distinctions. Enter fancy-pants voice: oh, weeee don't need to take such days off...that is for the peasant folk.

12:52 AM  

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