Saturday, April 4, 2015

Defining "The Movement"

If you know anything about me you probably know I'm relatively new to this whole union thing.  It means I see things with fresh eyes and sometimes awe which some mistake for naivet√©.  I just have a different relationship with the movement than many of our members. 
My editor said to me, "You write about 'the movement' and I know what you mean and you know what you mean, but I'm not sure all your readers know what you mean." 
How do you describe something you cannot see, something you cannot hold in your hand, something you must feel with your soul? 

I didn’t have a job where there is a union so for me the idea of THE movement is more literal. For me the movement is the the action one takes when they go from accepting the status quo to challenging it.  Literally moving from passive to active.

I saw them the 1st time out of the corner of my eye and didn't realize what was going on. When Kate grabbed my arm and said "John it's happening, let's go." I started piecing it together.  Karen had been featured in our newsletter and now the VP of nursing was down here to push back. Karen was holding her ground but we weren't gonna let her stand alone. As we walked down the hall going toward the conflict I felt my heart in my throat. The VP was on a mission to convince us we didn't need a union, that the hospital would "take care of us."  We weren't buying. We stood shoulder to shoulder with Karen, and by the time we were done, the VP left defeated and though we were still weeks till our vote, our union had been formed.  

Shortly after the nurses of my hospital voted to form a union, I was asked by AFT to go to Washington to testify before the National Labor Relations Board about the abuse and stall tactics we had to endure. 
Afterwards, at a reception at the AFL-CIO, I was asked to say a few words.  I told them that yes, I was new to the union movement, but I had grown up being taught: If a man has two coats, he should share one with the person who has none, I was taught all people, regardless of race, religion or station in life deserve respect and are my brother and sister, and no one should benefit at the expense of another. 

I returned from that trip with a new understanding of the movement and my place in it. 
Yes, I had just helped form a new union that wanted to put patients before profits, but we found ourselves part of this international movement that puts patients, students, workers, and all people before profits. A movement based on the ideals I had grown up with. 

I heard this story from a friend who was at the protest against the WTO in Seattle, when Labor, environmentalists and community leaders came together to protest a global corporate takeover.  When the protesters were being asked to leave and the police were staring them down They heard a whisper from behind them.  The protesters in the 2nd and 3rd rows were all whispering “Courage, Courage, Courage”.  I wonder if the same refrain was heard by the people in the front row on that Bridge in Selma in 1965. 

It's funny, but all these actions are what the movement is.  It's one little thing combined with a million other things.  Like grains of sand make a beach, little action on top of little action makes a movement.  They will say that our goals are too lofty and our heads are in the clouds.  We need to help them understand that when our feet take one little step the whole movement marches forward around the world.
So often in our movement we think it is all about the front row, staring down the boss, and giving the big speech, and sometimes it is. 
We must remember how important it is to be the person, two rows back, whispering:  
Courage, Courage, Courage

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