by Joe Courter
“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.”
–This was the slogan of the Eight-Hour Day movement in May of 1886.
Now personally I think that 8 hours for work is a few hours per day longer than optimal, but we were then coming from a system of 10 and 12 hours (or more), so it was a great step in the right direction. What I want to focus on here is the “what you will” part, and the vast array of options open to us in the here-and-now of 2017. And within that, moving beyond the social and familial responsibilities to the stuff we choose to put in our heads, and what we do with our non-sleep, non-work time.
The choices we have now are literally mind-boggling. Technology has given us the tools to see and hear almost anything that has ever been produced for human consumption. Music, movies, documentaries, cute and adorable animals, practical jokes, science, religion, games, porn, cartoons, car crashes, satellite weather, even satellite and street views of our homes. Whatever you will. It is so seductive, and it is endless.
So what’s it done to us? I am sure there are many and varied studies, and this is not one. But I do think the lack of a common narrative in our collective lives has led us to this mess we are in where so many people are so lacking in a sense of community and so alienated from politics, that many people have chosen to simply tune out, or to just assemble a world view around a simple slogan or belief system, find a comforting tribe to join and say, that’s good enough.
The trouble is, the door has been opened to a gang of people who have a very well organized agenda, and a powerful belief system that they are convinced is correct. Beginning in the ’70s and ’80s, the wealthy elites of this country found a willing partner with evangelical Christians, and the combination of newly created right-wing/libertarian think-tanks, the blossoming of right-wing talk radio and television ministries, and the expansion of cable television gave them the tools to challenge the growing tide of social justice, human rights, and science-based environmental policies. Capitalizing on the fact that the elected leaders on the Left tend toward compromise, the Right has smashed the union movement to a shadow of itself and rewritten the rules of high finance to allow even more wealth to flow to the top. (See Editors’ Picks on page 24 for a longer piece on “Mike Pence as the Messiah.”)
The Right has been playing the long game. Knowing the Democratic base tends to vote less in non-presidential years, they put huge effort to win in 2010 (a census year), and in doing so were able to redraw voting districts to favor themselves. We are halfway through 2017, and the 2018 elections must start the momentum of change. Then in 2020, hopefully, the gerrymandering done in 2010 can be reversed.
So, back to “what you will.” More like “what we will.” We will need to step up our civic responsibility, understand that elections have consequences, and understand how the electoral system works.
Locally there are numerous ways to get involved. The Say YES to Second Chances effort to get restoration of voting rights. Alachua County Labor Coalition regarding raising the minimum wage and the establishment of a Medicare For All single payer system. The successor to the Bernie campaign: AC Rev, also Florida Women’s March and Indivisible. League of Women Voters. Sierra Club and other science-based organizations. I know each of you have varied responsibilities, and for some, “what you will” time is mighty scant. No guilt here, you have one life and you are entitled to live it fully. But know these are critical times we live in, worth paying attention to, and to be ready pitch in as you can. D