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Thoughts on the Theme — Time — February 2021

We’re already out of time, but…

There’s a sentence that has stuck in my mind for years. I think it was in a book written by Ralph Ellison (the author of Invisible Man), but I’m not positive.

This is the sentence: It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we’re not going to do it.

Take this talk about “healing,” how we need to heal; to unify the country. How about we try providing everyone with an equal opportunity to be a contributing member of society? What if we were to pay people in proportion to their contribution? All that nice talk about essential workers and how much we depend on them would be reflected in wages that communicated their importance and the high value society puts on their contribution.

Here is one thing we could do in pursuit of this goal. Senator Elizabeth Warren and others have repeatedly introduced a bill called “Schedules that Work” that would help working people to balance professional responsibilities with individual and family needs. It would address businesses’ unstable, unpredictable and rigid scheduling practices, like putting workers “on call” with no guarantee of work hours, scheduling them for split shifts, sending them home early without pay when demand is low, requiring works to work the closing shift one day and the opening shift the next.


Punishing workers who request schedule

This bill has been introduced repeatedly and is described as “having no chance of passage.” Yet we can all see that having regular shifts, time off and time to take care of your family, receiving a good wage—are things that would chip away at other problems: domestic violence, neglected children, depression.

Racism is the preeminent illustration of knowing what to do but refusing to do it. This also relates to the question of “healing” and unity. The Kerner Commission report on urban violence in 1967 was clear that systemic racism had caused the riots:

“White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The nation, the Kerner Commission warned, was so divided that it was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies—one black, one white.”

The Kerner Commission Report included detailed recommendations that would entail aggressive federal spending and new policies to move away from a racist society.

The backlash was immediate. Polls showed that 53 percent of white Americans condemned the claim that racism had caused the riots. There would be no government spending. The US was wealthy enough to go to the moon, but as one commentator observed, politically, spending billions on space travel was more saleable than striving to correct racial inequality.

White response to the Kerner Commission helped to lay the foundation for the law-and-order campaign that elected Richard Nixon to the presidency later that year. Instead of considering the full weight of white prejudice, Americans endorsed rhetoric that called for arming police officers like soldiers and cracking down on crime in inner cities.

Sound familiar? What happened to our resolve at the end of the demonstrations about the death of George Floyd, and to the realization that policing was part of the problem?

I think of the other issues where we know what to do. We know what would diminish domestic violence, end the opioid epidemic, reduce homelessness—policies to encourage unions, mandate a living wage for all jobs, create and fund high quality childcare, invest massively in community-designed public housing, redesign the health care system to promote health…

We know what to do to diminish the destructive consequences of climate change—phase out fossil fuels and their derivatives, redesign and build a public/community infrastructure (transportation, recreation, education) to replace our excessive and consumptive addiction to personally owning one of everything.

Is it time to do these things?


Cover photo by Ricky Osborne.

Upcoming themes

  • March:  Things revealed by the pandemic. Deadline Feb 15
  • April:  Work vs Jobs vs Pay. Deadline Mar 15
  • May: The Ballot or the Bullet. Deadline April 15


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