“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus
I grew up on Staten Island, in the shadow of The Statue of Liberty. Her presence inspired me. I remember where I come from, a gateway for all immigrants, not just my own tribe.
In 1972 I visited Liberty Island with Senator George Mc Govern, my candidate for President. We were both combat veterans, believed in the American Dream, in democracy and in our political system. We were inspired, fighting to end the Vietnam War and to rebuild our nation.
In this blog I reflect on my values and America’s strengths, as our struggles continue. In his 1961 inaugural address JFK inspired me with these words: “Let the word go forth…that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans tempered by war… proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
Despite our mistakes I still hope for and believe America is evolving and that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” My time at war in Vietnam shocked me out of complacency and turned me into an activist. I joined the struggles for peace, for civil, women’s and gay rights, the environmental, workers, healthcare movements and more. We had victories and defeats and we must now encourage younger activists to advocate for the best American values.
As I become an elder I see new generations step forward; My children, their friends, my staff and many others pick up that same torch. They hold it high, using new technologies to communicate, to organize and to inspire. I am proud of them all, yet sometimes wonder where I belong, whether I am still relevant. My time as a leader will pass. I may surrender the role or it may be taken away from me. There is the natural order of life. We must make room for the next generation and pass on what we’ve learned.
“I invite staff and audience participation… prioritize clarity over consensus and show respect for those who disagree with me.”
I am inventing a new role for myself, as an elder, explorer, writer and teacher. These are not unknown aspects of my repertoire. It is a matter of emphasis, a conscious commitment to sharing what I know. Inspired by Paulo Freire I promote dialogic learning—conversations in which we all speak, all listen and learn. As a director, writer and speaker I bring broad experience and specific expertise. I frame the context of conversations. When I present my perspective, I want to hear from others. I invite staff and audience participation, am an active listener, prioritize clarity over consensus and show respect for those who disagree with me.
The focus of this blog is America and work.
I am a reflective practitioner. I’ve been publicly engaged in American social, community, political and economic issues all my life. As founder and executive director of the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) I’ve been a leader and innovator in the field of work for decades. The nature and organization of work has changed profoundly. Compensation and benefits are less secure. I write to empower workers as they struggle to protect their economic security.
Democracy is threatened when our guiding principles are devalued and we remain silent—when we lose confidence in government, our news media and each other. Democracy demands our participation in public debates.
I’ve started wearing an American flag pin. It is my intention to reclaim our flag from those who would corrupt the American Dream, remove our Statue of Liberty’s welcome sign and steal democracy through voter suppression. Let’s discuss America, jobs and light candles, together.
“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”