Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
Before turning to Eleanor and unions, one quick thing: Time magazine has released its “Top 10 U.S.-News Stories,” and with no surprise at all, “Occupy Wall Street Protests” is number one on the list. You can see the accompanying spread here.
Now, about Eleanor Roosevelt. Suzanne Kahn asks the question: Would Eleanor Roosevelt Support Occupy Wall Street?. Obviously the answer is speculative, but I still found it an interesting read.
In 1962, she (Roosevelt) answered a question about another set of mass protests – the anti-nuclear rallies of 1961 and 1962. Asked if she saw any value in women’s groups marching in front of the White House for peace, she wrote:
‘The average person has a sense of frustration because he can think of no way to express to his government or to the world at large his desires for peaceful solutions to the difficulties that confront us. The demonstrations you mention are important if only because they dramatize the lack of more useful ways for people to show their devotion to the cause of peace.’ (McCall’s, May 1962).
Similarly, in 1961 Eleanor also wrote about the frustration individuals felt about not being able to do more to prevent nuclear war. In ‘My Day’ (her syndicated newspaper column) she wrote that the best an individual could do was ‘register with our government a firm protest.’
The response regarding demonstrations, that they “dramatize(d) the lack of more useful ways” of expressing concerns for peace, isn’t the most vigorous endorsement, I suppose, but then, she was speaking to the “frustration” of getting the government to listen to your concerns. It would be very nice if such actions weren’t necessary, but when your government ignores your concerns, and at this point, has the electoral system so stacked against voters getting real choices, taking to the streets may very well be one of the most “useful ways” to get the message out.
Kahn’s analysis includes this:
OWS provides the average person with a way to express frustration and register a firm protest about an unfair economy. Critics have demanded that OWS propose solutions, but Eleanor might have pointed out that OWS makes clear the important point that there aren’t easy, direct ways for the average person to fix the economy.
Viewed this way, OWS is doing something both Eleanor Roosevelt and the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s really understood: consciousness raising. Consciousness raising was a method of political mobilization developed by feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s. Formally begun by women’s liberation groups, consciousness raising groups allowed women to share personal experiences and frustrations and come to understand that these were not isolated instances, but part of a larger pattern of political relationships that defined women’s personal lives. Many feminists embraced consciousness raising methods because they hoped the realizations they inspired would move women to more concrete political action.
I know, “consciousness raising” was derided endlessly, became the butt of multiple jokes, along with the “bra burners” and other stereotypically and largely uninformed sexist responses that avoided addressing actual issues. Kind of the way Occupy is treated, by some.
Okay, now to unions, via NY Times, where Steven Greenhouse writes, “Occupy Movement Inspires Unions to Embrace Bold Tactics”:
Organized labor’s early flirtation with Occupy Wall Street is starting to get serious.
Union leaders, who were initially cautious in embracing the Occupy movement, have in recent weeks showered the protesters with help – tents, air mattresses, propane heaters and tons of food. The protesters, for their part, have joined in union marches and picket lines across the nation. About 100 protesters from Occupy Wall Street are expected to join a Teamsters picket line at the Sotheby’s auction house in Manhattan on Wednesday night to back the union in a bitter contract fight.
Greenhouse notes that labor has watched Occupy’s use of Twitter, Tumblr and other social media, and is making changes accordingly.
‘The Occupy movement has changed unions,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. ‘You’re seeing a lot more unions wanting to be aggressive in their messaging and their activity. You’ll see more unions on the street, wanting to tap into the energy of Occupy Wall Street.’
Unions have long stuck to traditional tactics like picketing. But inspired by the Occupy protests, labor leaders are talking increasingly of mobilizing the rank and file and trying to flex their muscles through large, boisterous marches, including nationwide marches planned for Nov. 17. …
‘We think the Occupy movement has given voice to something very basic about what’s going on in our country right now,’ said Damon Silvers, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s policy director. …
Of course there isn’t total agreement on what the relationship between Occupy and labor unions should be. Some Occupiers talk about the need to work closely together, others express concerns about maintaining autonomy, about being co-opted. From the union side of things,
María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said it remained to be seen whether the unions and the protesters could, by working together, achieve concrete change.
‘Workers are with the Occupy movement on the broader issues; they’re with them on the issue of inequality.’ … ‘The question is, can the labor movement or the Occupy movement move that message down to the workplace, where workers confront low wages, low benefits and little power?’
Eleanor, unions and Occupy. Now it’s your turn.
( Poster via Occupy Posters )