Optimist: a person who is inclined to be hopeful and to expect good outcomes.
Whenever there is good news I think of my mother, who despite the odds remained an optimist throughout her life. I didn’t exactly inherit her outlook, yet I’ve found that, now especially, with so much bad news out there, I positively pounce on the good. So after a period where it felt there would be no relief from the sad, scary state of the world, there are a few things to celebrate, the type of news my mom would have appreciated. I still can imagine her delight at any tale where justice prevails and the righteous or underdog rules the day and the unjust rue the day. Where babies are born and new beginnings are possible. Yes, it’s in this all too rare time of glad tidings that I think of her most, my very smart and devoted to causes mother, ever the optimist even in the worst of times and more so in the best of times. This would have been an especially nice week for her.
First there was the stunning victory in Staten Island by the upstart Amazon Labor Union which was formed by Christian Smalls, a man who had been fired and staged a walkout over a lack of worker protections, and was called “not very smart or articulate” by a senior Amazon lawyer in a memo that got leaked to 1,000 people (oops). Along with his work best friend and $120,000 budget raised by Gofundme, their totally grassroots campaign (think baked ziti and barbecues) was victorious over the Goliath Amazon, which shelled out more than $4 million in loose change on consultant fees and held mandatory meetings with captive audiences at which they urged workers to reject the union. The organizers won by being a persistent presence, letting the workers get to know who they were – fellow workers – and what they were about: higher wages, longer breaks (yes, workers do pee in bottles because they don’t have time for bathroom breaks and yes management is okay with that), paid sick leave and time off for the many injuries sustained on the job by warehouse workers.
I have a complex relationship with Amazon, probably like a lot of people who use it regularly as much as we don’t support their labor practices. It’s hard to give up something so user-friendly when so much in my life right now is difficult, multi-step, complicated. My cousin just had a baby and with just a few clicks I was able to send some swaddling blankets and a note that arrived a day later. And yet to support a place that is so worker-unfriendly doesn’t feel right. The best scenario would be unionizing. So I’m delighted with this victory and will try to honor my mother’s sense of optimism by hoping it is not an anomaly but a sign of more to come; quite possible since the pandemic has been a catalyst for pro-union campaigns, which are often organized by young people of color like Smalls.
The second first: a black woman Supreme Court justice (SCOTUS). Ketanji Brown Jackson, with all Democratic and 3 Republican Senators supporting her, paving the way for her confirmation in the Senate on Thursday.
I watched some of the hearings but it was hard to stomach the way she was treated, the questions she got flung her way, ridiculous and mean-spirited pontificating, asking questions about what a woman is and racist babies and her hidden agenda to put in place critical race theory in the schools, not that the people asking these questions even knew what they were talking about.
As reported in the Washington Post
in the four days of the hearings for Jackson’s nomination, senators on the Judiciary Committee used the words “child porn,” “pornography,” and “pornographer” 165 times. They used some version of “sex” (“sexual assault,” “sex crimes,” and so on) 142 times. They said “pedophile” 15 times and “predators” 13 times, one time more than the Bill of Rights came up.
And in the face of that she displayed what most of us aim for, although we may fall short: remaining calm and cool under pressure and showing grace in the face of what can only be described as its opposite. She was a role model especially for girls and young women, and an inspiration to millions who watched the proceedings.
In the midst of all this, via texts and emails I learn of the birth of one then two cousins in the span of a few days. Two brand new healthy beautiful beings launched into this crazy world. Both with middle names honoring loved ones no longer with us, linking to ancestors in a most meaningful and heartfelt way. With the love and commitment that went into doing that, the happy families, the sense of hope and possibility; my mother would have been kvelling.
I know she would be thrilled by all this good news, that it would buoy her spirits as it did mine, coming as it does after the daily reports from Ukraine that has taken up most of the news coverage of late. As the child of socially conscious Russian immigrants, she’d be heartbroken by the daily headlines, and heartened by these other stories– not ignoring one for the other but taking it all in with more focus on the upbeat than the down. I admit I’ll never be the optimist that she was and yet it’s nice to stop and catch my breath and revel in the good news of the past week