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June 18, 2010

labor action update

(At Roger William's own First Baptist Church in Providence, RI) I owe an update on the situation that I reported yesterday. I am attending the American Democracy Project meeting, which is taking place in the Westin Hotel under a union boycott. I have spoken at some length to three union organizers (one of whom had also read my blog post) and several Providence-based colleagues who are well informed about the situation. I attended a union rally at 7 am. I then crossed the picket line and moderated a plenary discussion at which colleagues addressed how to handle such controversial issues. Union leaders attended--as they had every right to do--and answered questions from the floor. In the afternoon, I marched on the picket line. I have also spoken separately with many fellow ADP colleagues and participated in a breakout session devoted to the labor dispute.

For what it's worth, my views are:

Conservative critics of higher education--and especially of "civic engagement" projects--might assume that participants at an ADP conference would be automatically and reflexively pro-union. What I actually perceive is a lot of deliberation and openness to diverse ideological perspectives. Conferees know that a labor dispute is a complicated business--it can cause collateral damage to third parties, for example. And we have come to this conference under all kinds of complex circumstances, not having individually chosen or paid to attend.

But none of that erases the individual obligation to make a decision. If you attend the ADP conference at the Westin, you have decided to cross a picket line. No amount of rumination on complexities and analogies negates that complicity. Yes, the hotel management and various other parties have perspectives that one can listen to. Yes, you should study and respect libertarian and other forms of conservative thought. But in the end, you have to decide. You can't take refuge in intellectual neutrality or in the other work you do--like educating young people, or creating open spaces for democratic dialog. A commitment to teach democracy back on your own campus doesn't make things any better for Local 217 of UNITE HERE in Providence. You own what you do--it's as simple as that.

June 18, 2010 5:58 PM | category: none



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