ashland.news
May 19, 2024

Viewpoint: How I regained hope

Employees and supporters rally at the corner of Walker Avenue and Ashland Street on Thursday, March 9, to support the effort to unionize the freestanding Ashland Starbucks outlet. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
March 12, 2023

Participation in two rallies this week have boosted my hopes for the future

By Benjamin Ben-Baruch

Thursday, late afternoon: Ashland Starbucks employees rally to unionize

Earlier this week the employees of the Ashland Starbuck’s filed to form a labor union. They held a solidarity rally Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, these young employees did not know the rules for holding solidarity rallies and they violated the third rule: “Don’t hold a solidarity rally in the cold and rain — and especially not a windy city corner.”  Ashland was inside an atmospheric river with strong cold winds and rain. Several people showed up in solidarity. As far as I could determine, the group was comprised of the employees, two Starbucks employees from the Eugene local, and a few people from the OSEA and SEIU unions.

We stood on the corner of Walker and Ashland outside the store. We quickly became wet and cold. Our fingers became frozen and our signs began to disintegrate. At least one even blew away so quickly it was impossible to retrieve. I overheard one employee complaining that the wages were so low they could not afford rent in Ashland even when splitting it with a roommate. Other employees talked about long-standing grievances about Starbucks management.

It was  miserable.

All in all, it was an invigorating, uplifting experience, standing in solidarity with young people organizing a union for themselves and hearing the supporting honking from the many vehicles passing by. It is wonderful knowing that our local Starbucks workers are part of the nationally important unionization campaign at Starbucks stores. It is always inspiring to stand in solidarity.

Students lead chants denouncing climate change and the actions taken to stop it at a rally on the Ashland Plaza Friday morning, March 10. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
Friday morning: Ashland High School students walk out for climate action

About 250 Ashland High School — and a smaller group of Ashland Middle School — students walked out of class and marched to the Plaza where they held a rally for climate change action and for climate justice. One speaker talked about being sent away by her parents to summer camp to keep her safe from the smoke in the valley. (My parents sent me to camp for camaraderie with other youth receiving a Jewish socialist education.)

One student performed Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” (“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?  They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”)  She performed it solo with a guitar, I presume because she assumed that none of the other 250 or so  students knew the song.  For me it was a familiar tune by a favorite singer-songwriter.

Another very talented student with a guitar performed an original “double-entendre” song about electrification as the students kicked off their “Electrifiction of Ashland” campaign to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

There were many creative signs that the students created.  Two original signs that I had not seen in any demonstration before and that made me smile were:

“Climate change is more real than your wife’s orgasm.”

“I want a hot date – not a hot planet.”

As long as teenagers’ minds are on climate action (almost) as much as on sex, the future looks bright.

One “disappointment” was with the artwork.  Ashland High School, like our community, has the reputation of being “artsy” and having a strong arts department.  I wish that the artistic talents of the students — which are on display throughout the city — would have been more evident in the sign-making. But most of the placards looked like signs I quickly created in the past. I suspect students were not given time in art classes to do poster art for this event.

Another “disappointment” was the realization that most of the 1,000 AHS students did not participate in this walkout. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of pride in our public school teachers and in the education evident in their students’ organization of this action.

Unlike Thursday, Friday was a gorgeous sunny day.  So I was rather surprised how quickly students seemed to return to their classrooms. (Is the food served in the school cafeteria for lunch a strong attraction?)  But it was joyful to see a small group hang around the Plaza, put on music, and dance.

Seeing these young activists at this student walkout and rally they planned, organized, and executed was a powerful, uplifting experience.

Yes, Virginia, there is hope.  And hope is powerful.

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