Organizing isn’t a job done once and done with. If organizers don’t renew their efforts every day of their lives, then only the grasping and greedy people remain active.
When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
The latest snapshot of the U.S. working class shows that unions are in trouble, their ranks thinning amid a backlash against organized labor and a still sputtering economy.
But California and a few nearby states in the Southwest are showing a vastly different picture — labor’s ranks are on an upswing. The Golden State’s union organizers signed up more than 100,000 new members last year, while the nation as a whole shed 400,000, according to data released Wednesday.
The reason: Latino workers.
I’m hoping this will be my last move for a while. And yet there’s something about packing and unpacking in rapid succession that is very revealing.
I find comfort in objects. I’m a pack rat. Sometimes years go by and a thing that I haven’t looked at in forever will remind me of a person I haven’t thought about in forever.
Today, as I was unpacking a box of books, I came across a set of red cardboard binoculars that I’ve had since I was a senior in high school. Why have I hung onto them for 25+ years? Where did I even get them to begin with?
They are vaguely linked, in my mind, to a friend I had then named Sherrie, and an afternoon the two of us spent editing the Entertainment section of our high school newspaper, at the Central Record in Medford, NJ. Sherrie was a tiny girl, barely five feet tall. She had an enormous car—maybe a Lincoln Continental?—that had been handed down by someone in her family, a grandmother who could no longer drive, perhaps—and she sat on a stack of phone books to be able to see out of the windshield.
I have kept those red binoculars through countless moves—through college, to California and back, to Collingswood to Philly and back again. And every single time I’ve lifted them out of the box, they’ve reminded me of that girl, and that afternoon.
Moving is also the time when I tend to flip through old journals, which is always a chancy experience. When I was packing to move here, I came across the journal I had around the turn of the century—the one I had when my kids were born, when I almost never wrote anything, because I was so caught up in the stress of balancing work and parenting and never ever having enough sleep.
It’s dangerous, reading old journals—it can derail you with the emotion of ten or thirty years ago. At one point while packing this month, I found a journal entry about the death of my favorite cat, Hank, and I had to stop packing, stop reading, and just lie on my bed and remember him for a while.
Hank died the same day that Isaac was born, and the profound joy of that day will always be slightly tinged with grief, for me.
I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to be the kind of person who hung onto less stuff. I have cases and cases of books—most of which I’ll never read again. Why do I keep them? Why do I keep the trinkets that are in them—some tea that a Russian actor I worked with for six weeks once gave me, a Venus of Willendorf in black stockings that a sculptor I once dated made for me, or a postcard with an inside joke that only my ex-husband and I will ever understand, an empty jar of sour cherry jam?
In part, I suppose, it’s because they remind me of a version of myself that isn’t around any more, some idea I once had of myself and who I might turn out to be.
At some point, all my memories will be gone with me, and the objects themselves will survive. My children will have to deal with those, and I expect the red binoculars, being meaningless to them, will go into the trash.
But even in a digital world, stuff has meaning. Some of my stuff will, I’m sure, develop meaning to the kids too—not the same meaning it has for me, but enough for them to hang onto, and haul around to whatever apartments or houses they live in themselves.