Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Lessons

As a respite from the hectic pace of New York City life, two friends and I took a day trip to Hyde Park, NY over the Labor Day weekend. There we visited Springwood, the home, gardens and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and, just a few miles down the road, Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home after FDR’s death.

As we wandered through the detailed exhibits in the presidential library, I was struck by how similar today’s challenges are to those that Roosevelt faced during his dozen years in office. Like him, our political leaders must contend with an economy in a downward spiral, troops at war, and, as Hurricane Gustav raced toward the Gulf Coast, a natural disaster that, not unlike the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, had the potential—yet again--to further destroy America’s crumbling physical infrastructure, and wreak personal and economic havoc on countless of its citizens.

Because our visit coincided with Labor Day weekend (a holiday that, ironically, was initiated in 1882, the year of Roosevelt’s birth), I could not help but notice, too, how many of his New Deal initiatives were designed to put Americans back to work and, more importantly, to ensure that from their labors, they and their families would be assured of some measure of social and financial security.

Yesterday, as many of us refrained from our own labors, I was cognizant that, in addition to celebrating the last gasp of summer with a leisurely day of picnics, swimming and, perhaps, shopping, we must be grateful for the very work of our hands, our minds and our hearts. More importantly, it is incumbent upon us to promote fair labor practices, a living wage, and workplace rights, as well as to discourage workplace discrimination in all its forms, and to guarantee health and safety standards for all who work in our factories, our offices and our homes. In so doing, may we honor Roosevelt’s memory, and serve as a model for our current and future leaders that they may follow our lead.