Sunday, April 18, 2010


I was born to listen to the blues. when I'm driving somewhere during rush hour, like friday's all-day union meeting, I put on some blues and crank it up, and you can tell which driver is me cuz my head is swinging like the polar bear at the como zoo. when traffic stops it just means I can close my eyes.

I'm a believer in the power of unions. I've been a teamster (for a very short while, long enough to walk a picket with them), a food service member (while working at a group home--it was the only union that would represent us), and for the past decade I've been with mscf (minnesota state college faculty) which I call "mischief." I'm a state delegate each year because union work is important and because there are few better ways to make an impact on my profession and other practitioners of it.

it's also like church. we gather from separate rooms and come together to hear the good word. there is a head priest, the union president, and his coterie, the board and campus representatives. we are given an order of service in the form of an agenda. there are no songs but there is a call and response (voice vote) and, as in the uu tradition, congregational dialogue (presenting questions, clarifications and challenges to individual proposals). there are rites and ritual since we operate by robert's rules of order and there is a parliamentarian who keeps track of procedure. just like in xian and muslim services there is a villain, in this case the governor, who cut $290m from higher education's request to the budget (which itself already reflected a rollback to the 2004 budget, thus cutting a number which itself hasn't changed in six years), and saviors in the form of legislators who support the needs of higher education, especially tom rukavina who chairs the higher ed committee (and whose run for governor the union supports in the next election).

we sat there from 10 o'clock to 3 o'clock, like good puritans, and in my experience this was a short meeting. but I was tired and wanted nothing more than to get home and beat traffic. I'd made plans to get together with my friend cheryl afterward and called to beg off. but she convinced me to get together for a single beer since it would force her to stop grading and out of her house. we met at sweeney's in st. paul and talked a couple hours, mostly about union stuff (she was a delegate last year but opted not to go since she was heavily involved in al franken's victorious senate run and felt politicked-out), but also about what was going on in our lives. and then she said something that made more sense to me than anything I'd heard or said all day. she said, "we need to connect with each other more often than we do. friends help friends keep it together through the bad stuff and we haven't been doing that."

I think she expected me to argue, if only because I argue with her all the time, but she was right. unions on the professional scale are necessary, but union on the personal scale is even more important. we aren't solitary, we're collective. we don't generally refer to ourselves as "peoples," emphasizing the plural and separation, but as "people," singular and connected. this is what union is in the real, unexpurgated world: people coming together for each other's benefit to share the good and bad times, to touch one another's hands and hearts and say, "you aren't alone."

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