Today was the day I taught the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which as you all know, is depressing af and a tragic moment in American history.
I teach it because I want to teach students about women and labor history and Frances Perkins – because she was the first woman to be part of a US Cabinet (FDR’s, of course) and because she made it her life’s mission not to find out what she wanted from life but to find out what life wanted from her. She’s one of my heroes along with her own hero Al Smith.
But today, after the umpteenth school shooting and so many people just wrecked with sadness and frustration and overall outrage exhaustion, it strikes me that the real lesson from Triangle is that we don’t have to do nothing.
We don’t have to just complain on Facebook.
We don’t have to convince our friends and families.
We have to decide that enough is enough and begin to dedicate ourselves to changing the world in a way that reality becomes more tolerable for everyone.
I don’t know what to do about guns but people in 1909 didn’t know what to do about sweatshops, and once those 146 women died, they figured out how to change shit. Here’s a short list of what they changed, which included, basically, extensive changes to the fire code, working conditions, child labor laws, legalization of union organizing, votes for women, and, um, the New Deal.
Just saying. There is hope, but you have to be it. I am not sure why we are not all out in the streets refusing to work for even another minute until reform happens and children stop dying. But I do know it will take organizing like that for any change to happen. As you go about your day and worry about dinner or your job or a promotion or your vacation, try to remember that 17 more families are on that long list of families mourning young people who don’t get to grow up. I really don’t understand why every parent in this country hasn’t pulled their kid out of school or stormed the PTA to get some movement on this thing.
Find a thing to do. Reform is possible, and sadly, it’s always more possible after a tragedy. Don’t let them die in vain.