Today, I sit wilting in the smoldering reality of a late summer afternoon in Appalachia. Even the birds are languid in the heat, their usual lively chirps and songs subdued. Yet, amid the saturation of sunniness, there is a hint of seasonal change: the briskness in the morning, the red hues in the light spectrum, the early ironwood blooms and first tints of color in the leaves. Already another sultry summer is slipping past as we move into the busy season of fall.
As we do, I find myself pondering Labor Day. This celebration was designated a national holiday in 1894 in honor of all of the hardworking laborers in the country and the struggles they faced to secure fundamental human rights and safe working conditions. These tireless efforts led to the standardized 8 hour work day, child labor laws, and the flourishing of unions. More than 100 years later, however, workers are still fighting these same kinds of battles. 2023 was one of the busiest years for strikes on record. With only 11% of the workforce belonging to unions, it has become more difficult for people to advocate for themselves. Add in the extra complications for the migrant workforce and their lack of recognition and rights, and we see the cauldron brewing for unrest.
Why? Economists speculate that folks still reeling from the pandemic and its economic effects have been hit with unprecedented inflation rates, while wages have not at all kept pace. All of this, combined with decades of slowly declining work environments, is what many say is the primary cause of the unrest we are seeing today. It has also become clear that the disruption of the pandemic allowed many to question the underlying issues of business-as-usual. To put it simply, people are fed up with the status quo.
This is why grocery store clerks in Toronto, baristas in Boston, and writers and actors in Hollywood are striking. Folks are tired of our collective energy generating wealth that lands in the hands of an ever shrinking few, while the rest struggle to have our basic human needs met.
We collectively are understanding that our energy–our time–is our power. By withholding it, we redistribute that power.
Let us reflect on our history and where these trends come from. In the beginning, the wealth of this country was built on the genocide of the original people, with an estimated 56 million indigenous people murdered to make their land available. Simultaneously, at least 10 million slaves contributed an estimated 410 billion hours of labor to build up the wealth of this nation; allocated not to the majority of the people, nor to those who did the work; but to their exploiters. The descendants of these colonized and enslaved people are still here, and all too often continue to struggle with the consequences of this history.
We must address these truths in real and tangible ways, together. We must find ways to redistribute land and wealth back into the hands of the people who were, and continue to be, exploited through colonization. And we must energize efforts to bring resources and wealth into the hands of the majority of the people, rather than having it concentrated into the hands of an absurdly super-rich minority.
This will not be easy, and it is not clear exactly how to proceed. Now more than ever, we need to build strong networks of support, resistance and resilience. We must listen to and support indigenous voices and perspectives from the people around the world who are still connected with their ancestral land practices; who continue to share the wisdom, strategies and solutions that will mend the harm that has been done, so we may build a future within which all life is respected and empowered.
We are living in unprecedented times in history, experiencing the upheaval of the natural world in response to our ways. Cooperation and mutualism are what have always carried people through hard times, so let us support one another, sharing what we are abundant in: time, resources, skills, food, childcare, clothes, flowers, hugs.
And so we honor the force of our collective labor and all of the hard working people who power the wheels of change. By completing a project or task well, we experience a rush of happy brain chemicals that elevate our moods, relieve stress and anxiety, and stay engaged and present.
This is a big part of Firefly’s mission: offering opportunities for folks to experience the joy of of embodied skills and traditional crafts – from transforming a piece of wood into a functional spoon, weaving the willow into a beautiful basket, turning a tragedy of driving into a supple hide, to learning to communicate through hard times in loving ways. We work to engage with the natural world and each other in meaningful ways, reaping the rewards of hard work and a job well done!
May love infuse all of our work, and every facet of our lives as we co-create a sustainable reality together. Thank you for all you do.
About the Author
Marissa Percoco is the Executive Director of the Firefly Gathering. Having grown up in the concrete labyrinth of the San Francisco bay Area, Marissa escaped to the wilds in college and has never looked back! She is a naturalist by heart, and is deeply rooted in the Earthskills movement, anti-oppression work, her garden, and the old Appalachian soil.