Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
In 2016, I wrote about how we celebrate Labor Day, and how far it has moved away for many people from the origins of the holiday in the labor movement and celebrating workers. Instead, Labor Day for many had become a day of sales and shopping, as well as barbecues, requiring even more low-paid workers to work on a holiday.
Have things changed for Labor Day in the midst of a pandemic?
What Labor Day was
The origins of Labor Day in the US haven't changed, and I have to honor Labor Day by starting with the original meaning of Labor Day, as a day to celebrate workers grounded in the labor movement.
As I wrote in 2016, my genre-colored glasses let me see the origins of Labor Day through its genres--union charters, picket signs, and protest songs, as well as official proclamations and Senate bills. Those genres reveal the actions people took to make Labor Day happen.
The first Labor Day was called in New York City in 1882 when the Central Labor Union organizers declared a strike to get workers the day off. Jay Zagorsky in The Conversation recounts the origins of Labor Day in labor unions.
The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
In 1894, President Grover Cleveland in the US signed the Senate bill making Labor Day a national holiday for federal workers. For a bit more of the history behind Labor Day, check out the Department of Labor's brief history, or watch History's youtube video.
So how will Labor Day be celebrated in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic?
Surely we are more aware of the value of workers who have provided essential labor at their own risk in grocery stores, as delivery drivers, food suppliers, and essential workers of all kinds.
Surely this is a moment to support all unionized workers and advocate for improving wages and working conditions of those workers we depend on.
As Leslie Nielsen in the movie Airport said, " Don't call me Shirley."
Labor Day is still some days away, so maybe new things will still happen. But so far, all I see are the same genres, the same actions as usual—and even fewer of those that celebrate workers.
What Labor Day is
Giant Labor Day Sale!!!
Sale, Labor Day only!
Labor Day Weekend Sale!!!!!
Behind every one of those ads is a group of workers having to work on Labor Day. Labor Day is supposed to mean a day away from labor, recognizing and rewarding those who have labored for us. Not a day they should labor harder
So much for our recognizing the value of essential workers during the pandemic. So much for appreciating and rewarding those who risk their health so others can shop the sales.
Even if more people do their Labor Day sale shopping online, online stores require workers, and most stores have been reopened and need workers physically present.
Barbecues, speeches, parades, oh my!
Maybe there will be fewer family barbecues if people follow health guidelines (please do stay physically distant and avoid larger gatherings!)
But that also means fewer or smaller gatherings of union members.
Fewer or smaller parades honoring workers.
Fewer speeches recognizing and applauding workers.
Traditionally, the president delivers a Labor Day address. FDR in 1941 praised the value of workers in winning the war. Obama in 2016 described what his administration had done to improve working conditions.
Will the current president even give a Labor Day address? My search of the White House website found proclamations issued in late August before each Labor Day in 2018 and 2019, though I could find none for 2017. But no speeches.
A duckduckgo search for "Obama Labor Day speech" found many links, including YouTube videos of his Labor Day speeches. The same search for "Trump Labor Day speech" found a few speeches, but none marked as Labor Day speeches or apparently any given on a Labor Day.
So maybe more than the pandemic makes this Labor Day different from ones in the before-times.
What Labor Day can be
In a time when jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, in a time when low-wage jobs carry even greater risk to workers, we should all be more aware than ever of the value of labor. We should all be even more aware of the value of labor unions. Even my own (pre-retirement) job as a university professor, as privileged as it was, carries with it now additional labor and additional risks, adding even more reasons to unionize.
So Labor Day during a pandemic is different in some ways—more reasons to value labor, fewer occasions recognizing labor.
And Labor Day during a pandemic is the same in some ways—sales, ads, and business as usual.
But we can do something to recognize Labor Day differently ourselves during a pandemic
And if you’re a worker who has been putting yourself at risk in your job, I thank you. If you’re a worker who has to work on Labor Day, I thank you.
To all of you, dear readers, I say take care of yourselves. Skip the Labor Day gatherings. No barbecues or picnics except in households. Stay physically distant. Wear a mask.
Labor Day can remind us, as does the pandemic, that we are all in this together. An injury to one is an injury to all
My last post, on my starting retirement, must not have modelled clear communication since I’ve received several responses that make me think I miscommunicated—badly. So this post is to clarify. Please read so I can do a better job of telling you what I think, plan, and want, including what I want from you!
I started the last post with a list of things I won’t do anymore, including department meetings, paper grading, but also office hours and feedback on student drafts. To clarify—These are things I will not have the opportunity to do anymore because I won’t be working in a job as a professor/teacher anymore. These are NOT all things I don’t WANT to do anymore. Regular citizens don’t get asked to grade papers very often, and students aren’t lining up at their office hours, even if they do hold them.
I loved my work as a professor, and I loved most of the things I did. I loved teaching and interacting with students. I loved research and writing, even when it was really hard.
Some version of some of those things will continue now that I am retired. I am continuing to lead seminars and workshops on writing, and I will continue exploring other ways I can teach and interact with people who want to learn and discover with me, including being a student myself. I will continue to write, though I expect the nature of my research to change from more scholarly topics to more everyday life. I am keeping open to all possibilities of how I might continue with some of that work I loved, just in a different form and with less time pressure.
Which leads me to the second clarification: I am not at a loss for what to do, and I don’t see retirement as nothing but not doing things. I am definitely looking forward to having more space and time, and I am looking forward to having more freedom to decide what I most want to spend that time on. But I know that I will be busy, probably happily so. I will sign on to doing things because I want to do them, and those will create some obligations for me. But I am hoping to spend my time on new obligations I choose to take on. Many of the old obligations, again, were ones I enjoyed—meeting with students, designing classes and syllabuses, writing my blog, and more. Finding new versions of those old obligations will be a pleasure, not a duty.
I’m sure there is more that I need to clarify. The initial post was a rare one that I wrote quickly, within a couple of hours, and posted without asking my trusted reader to give me feedback first. That will teach me. Let that be a lesson to us all! Reread and revise more than once. Get others to read drafts and revise after considering what those trusted readers say. And listen to the feedback you receive after you publish, as I’ve done. Fortunately, a blog permits follow-up posts and clarifications. Phew. [adding comment August 7 to note that several readers have since written to tell me they found the first post perfectly clear!]
I hope this clarifies what you might have been thinking about after reading the original post. Please let me know if not. I am sad to say good-bye to many of the things I have done for 38 years as a professor. I plan to stay even more active and to say yes to many new challenges as a retiree. And I definitely want to keep interacting with you, dear reader, either through this blog or Twitter or emails or other opportunities we discover we share.
Our adventures continue…