Solidarity and Star Power
As a fan of the Green Bay Packers, winner of Super Bowl XLV, I’m proud of the team members who pledged support to the public workers and teachers fighting against Wisconsin Governor Walker’s ploy to destroy unions. The players’ action helped raise public awareness of the fact that union members are no different than the rest of the working people – that they are the working people.
Today’s unions have managed to insulate and isolate themselves from the public, which too often perceives labor as a narrow interest group only concerned about protecting ‘their jobs’ and ‘their rights.’
Those of us who have long been part of labor know this is not true, but we have yet to craft an effective message that can persuade people not only of the things unions have done for our de-mocracy, but that we advocate for the welfare of all workers, and not only those who are union.
Like it or not, we live in an era where star power gets more attention than social upheaval – so maybe we can put the two together. Football and baseball players are unionized, as are many in Hollywood, including actors and screenwriters. Maybe we need to ask actor Matt Damon to support us, and ask Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback, to talk about why it’s important to have a union contract.
Piven & Politics
I came to New York from my home of Puerto Rico in the fall of 1998 to pursue a doctorate at the CUNY Graduate Center, one of the truly great institutions of our state. My very first semester, I found myself in Dr. Frances Fox Piven’s Social Movements class, a subject that she has studied, written about, and taken part in throughout her entire career.
It was through that class, and through Dr. Piven’s scholarly work and personal biography, that I came to fully understand and appreciate how politics work.
Democratic government doesn’t work unless it bends to the will of the people. Government doesn’t work unless those like myself and my colleagues in the State Senate are prodded by the col-lective action of the people. Dr. Piven taught me that. If you look at the history of this country – from the abolitionist movement, to the women’s rights movement, to the civil rights movement, to the anti-war movements and movements for workers’ rights – progress has come when ordinary people have stood up and fought for their rights.
But as accomplished as she is as a scholar, Dr. Piven is an even better mentor to her students. Soon after I took that first class with her, I began my own college teaching career. And ever since, I have aspired to be the type of teacher in the classroom that Dr. Piven is. And I dare say that I wouldn’t be a state senator today if it weren’t for her inspiration.
This March, I was honored to be able to introduce a New York State Senate resolution, S 676, recognizing Dr. Piven as a great teacher, a great scholar, a great New Yorker, and a great Ameri-can. I hope you will check out the text of the resolution online at tinyurl.com/PivenResolution.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera
33rd Senate District, Bronx