I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
–from Carl Sandburg, “I am the People”
A few months ago, Eileen Schell wrote me along the lines of the Sandburg poem above. “We have a habit of reinventing ourselves” with respect to the academic labor issues that are so evident in rhetoric and composition, she said, “People wake up and start things, then they atrophy or people get burned out and do other things or opt out.”
I guess this is the typical nature of anything, but I’ve found it to be particularly true of labor issues in our field. It’s on people’s radar screen, they work on it for awhile, then they get on to other things , burn out, or just drift away. Some avoid labor issues like the plague! Most people don’t know the history of labor issues in our field/larger culture, either, and don’t seem to feel responsible for our complex labor history—it’s almost as if every time labor issues come up, it’s there for the first time because people are feeling it differently based on where they are and who they are and how much time they have to even get into any of this history when they are fighting to survive. Yet there is a basic level of literacy that [we] should have, I think. That’s why I get impatient…
The occasion of our correspondence was messaging via Facebook with Seth Kahn to revive the Labor Special Interest Group (SIG) at this week’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) up the peninsula in San Francisco. If you’ll be at CCCC, and you want to participate, be sure to join Seth, Eileen, and a few dozen others at the Hotel Serrano at 5pm on Thursday, March 12.
If you can’t be there, be sure to watch for the splendid oral history of the Wyoming Resolution that Eileen is preparing with Jim McDonald. Already two of the major figures in the events leading to the resolution, James Slevin and James Sledd, have passed away. McDonald and Schell’s aim, they say, is to use “history as a whip” to those who encourage forgetfulness and silence. And rightly so.
I’ll be making a short appearance with Eileen at a workshop for faculty serving contingently, mostly talking about the successes, failures, and stresses connected with an effort to stabilize some writing faculty here at Santa Clara. In a nutshell, my conclusion is that the writing faculty involved succeeded to the extent they self-organized, and failed to the extent they relied on tenure-stream faculty and/or administrators to do the right thing/take pity on them/fix their problems from above, etc, etc.
The all-day workshop will be held at the Hilton Wednesday March 11 and is organized by the very thoughtful Greg Zobel. The workshop features a lineup of persons who are extremely visible writers, researchers and organizers in the movement. These are the best brains in academic labor, and well worth your time. They range from old hands like the essential Joe Berry to newer faces. Monica Jacobe, who is on her way to being a YouTube celebrity, will even sign your t-shirt.
Sue Doe: researching faculty serving contingently at a large university;
Monica Jacobe: the national picture of contingent appointments
Betsy Smith: using research in contract/union negotiations
Gregory Zobel: blogging about faculty serving contingently;
Sandy Baringer: newspaper writing, editing, and publishing
Michael Dixon: professor smartass
Bob Samuels: professional development funding;
Joe Berry: participatory action research; organizing
Marc Bousquet: employment security for faculty serving contingently;
Eileen Schell: translation of research to practice; the pov of administration.
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