These last weeks have been tremendously challenging for those of us who live and work in the United States. Our fortitude, values, weaknesses, skills, intelligence and adaptability to change are being tested every day.
The damage wreaked by Covid-19 has dominated our lifestyles; but now the anger and explosive reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota has expounded the fabric of the ways we thought we could live.
I’ve had it pretty good. I have a Journeycard from my trade and a “middle class” income provided by that skill. I’ve had the privilege of a good education. I no longer have a mortgage. I have a guaranteed, probably livable, pension. I am white.
Even so, I have never known anyone, including my fellow decently paid trade union colleagues, men and women, who haven’t worried about job security or healthcare costs or paying the rent. And we make good money. There is something terribly wrong with those worries so I don’t want to dismiss that economic insecurity is a part of the reality of America. (The rich are getting richer and we aren’t….) But, nevertheless, we (and I guess I should say “I”) get by relatively ok.
But I don’t wake up wondering if today is the day I get murdered.
We are reading many stories from numerous outlets – Internet, TV, newspapers – with a constant bombardment of pundits and visuals of life on the streets. And beaches. And halls of government.
But the one narrative that stopped me in my tracks was the personal story from an African-American father who said that the only time he felt safe walking his dog in his own neighborhood while wearing his protective “mask” was when his young son agreed to come with him. For protection. Or cover. Or decoy. Or who knows what mindboggling thoughts he was explaining.
I don’t quite know what to say right now. And those of you who’ve known me over the years know that I am never at a loss for words. But...
...when people started to put up those empty black slots on FaceBook for their profile picture - in solidarity and support for the African American community after watching in horror the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis - the graphic video we’ve all watched again and again - I had already edited my picture by circling it with a BlackLivesMatter icon.
After this posting one of my cousins, a union Machinist from the Midwest responded:
“All Lives Matter!!!”
I was surprised, then appalled and disturbed, because I’d never been personally involved in that discussion when the clueless “alternative” phase hit the scene years ago. My FB retort in the comment slot was simply:
“No. Black Lives Matter!”
Those of us in construction who’ve shared lunch breaks on the job site know we can be pretty brutal. But, hey, we’re all really good guys and gals. When a rookie and new immigrant craftworker sits down with us on his upside down bucket on the raw concrete and unfolds his lunch - the homemade meatballs and fresh pasta obviously prepared by his Italian mother - we go right for the jugular. (as we scarf our big macs and roach coach delights).
One of us starts: “Mama’s boy, huh? If you can’t get your own lunch what makes you think you can ever make it in construction?” Laughter. Knock the guy down a peg. But, hey, we’re all good guys and gals.
Who of us stops to think that this kid probably loves his mother and that she’d prepared his favorite dish for his first day at his new union job in his new country just to make him feel good? Ha. Ha. Ha. Who cares what he thinks. It’s about what we think on our jobsite.
Well, it’s not what we think. It’s about what others think, too. And if my fellow travelers in the African American community say “Black Lives Matter,” that should be good enough for us.
Now we all know that one “phrase” doesn’t overturn injustice, but as union members we will never go anywhere if we can’t at least accept the value of this phrase.
(By the way, it is a Movement.)