What’s the Occupy DC movement about? At this Learn-in, DC-area professors saw for themselves. At McPherson Square, the main site of Occupy DC, professors talked to Occupiers, watched (and participated in) consensus decision-making in the General Assembly, and experienced Occupy DC.
Monday, November 14
McShain Lounge Small
Cindy Hahamovitch is Professor of History at the College of William and Mary and past president of the Southern Labor Studies Association. Her new book, No Man’s Land: Jamaican Guestworkers in America and the Global History of Deportable Labor was published by Princeton University Press in 2011.
On Monday, November 7, 2011, the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor brought the nation’s Poet Laureate, Philip Levine, to Georgetown as part of its Labor Lab series. Mr. Levine is the author of numerous collections of poems, including On the Edge, Not this Pig, and, most recently, News of the World.
Mr. Levine spent the afternoon with Georgetown students and workers who are aspiring poets. He helped workshop their work and spoke about his experiences as a poet.
In the evening, Mr. Levine gave a public reading in Gaston Hall to an audience of some 200 faculty members, students, workers, and community members. Jennifer Luff, Research Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative, framed the event within the Initiative’s Labor Lab series, which aims to look at labor from different angles. While poetry may not be able to guide policy directly, it can help us communicate and recognize the humanity of workers. John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, thanked the Initiative and welcomed Mr. Levine to the stage.
Mr. Levine spent much of his youth working in auto factories in Detroit. He recounted how this experience left an indelible mark on him and his identity. And yet he did not feel comfortable writing poems about work until much later in his life. Mr. Levine read a selection of poems, many of which draw on his recollections from his youth in Detroit. He also spoke of his time in college and said that some of the most inspiring classmates he had were World War II veterans.
After the reading, Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and critic-in-residence and lecturer at Georgetown, engaged Mr. Levine in a discussion of his work and took questions from the audience. While he has been identified as one of the few modern poets to examine work, Mr. Levine was quick to point out that he is not the voice of other workers.
Taylor Griffin, a second-year student in the College, said of his visit, “It was a crucial time to have him come and share his experiences in the working world through the lens of poetry.”
Click here to see a video of Levine’s reading.
On November 7, 2011, the Kalmanovitz Initiative invited 2011-2012 U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine to campus for a public reading. Prior to the reading, Levine led a workshop for Georgetown students and workers.
Levine, a Detroit native, worked in auto factories in his youth, an experience that shaped his poetic voice. “I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry, I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own,” he recalls. “I could embrace it with some degree of joy.”
Levine is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington calls him “one of America’s great narrative poets,” someone whose “plainspoken lyricism” has illuminated “the hard work we do to make sense of our lives.”
Levine joined us to read a selection of his poetry and discuss his life’s work with Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and critic-in-residence and lecturer at Georgetown. After the reading and discussion, Mr. Levine held a book signing.
In an interview with the Library of Congress, Levine later said about Georgetown University and the Kalmanovitz Initiative, “I didn’t know there were still little groups of people coming to college to learn how to make our society more equitable and democratic.
“I’d thought of Georgetown as the home of basketball, the place where John Thompson and his son raised great centers like Ewing, Mutombo and Mourning.
“It is much more, for the place has a powerful social conscience, and the folks there take their ethical and civic duties very seriously. This may be one side of Christian faith that we need more of, the side committed to hope, charity and humility – when those virtues are harnessed to intelligence, energy and willpower, you get something astonishing.
“I went away asking myself if I were doing enough to enrich my community and help my fellow citizens. I was humbled.”
Watch a video of the event here.
On Tuesday, October 18th, the Kalmanovitz Initiative sponsored its third event in the Labor Lab series. KI Executive Director Joe McCartin lead a discussion with a panel of former air traffic controllers and a government mediator, all of whom played crucial roles in the 1981 Patco strike.
In his new book, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America, McCartin investigates this strike and its crucial influence on the future of American public sector unions and the fight for workers’ rights.
The panel included Jim Stakem, who lead the strike at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center; Ken Moffett, who mediated the failed negotiations; Stanley Gordon, who helped organize Patco in New York; Richard Jones, who co-founded the Coalition of Black Controllers and did not participate in the 1981 strike; and John Leyden, PATCO’s president from 1970-1980.
The panel spoke in vivid detail about their day-to-day experiences leading up to and during the strike. Some panelists described their shock and feelings of betrayal by the president who had once lead the Screen Actors’ Guild and who PATCO endorsed in the 1980 election.
Professor McCartin emphasized that the effects of this strike went far beyond the 11,000 controllers who lost their jobs. Reagan’s hard hand gave private-sector employers the confidence to quash strikes. Indeed, the strike has largely disappeared from labor’s toolbox over the past thirty years.
Click here to see Professor McCartin discuss the PATCO strike on the Dylan Ratigan Show.