Posted by: MC | September 3, 2012

Building it.

Of late a good deal of national opposition has arisen around the words “build it.”  Some months ago, our president made a point in a public (and arguably campaign) speech about the labor that supports most, if not all of the social activity in this country, including business.  Some folks heard his comments as indicating they shouldn’t get credit for their work.  The media and campaign publicity machines got hold of the misunderstanding and – PRESTO – polarization.

So, what is it that we build?  Where do our labors go?  Whose labors are they?  Are they recognized and compensated?  How?

It’s Labor Day.  Here are a few Americans I’ve seen at work so far today.

  • Early this morning, I saw a police officer tending to a fender bender.
  • Barristas at the coffee shop on the corner of 28th and E Burnside have been working since 5:30 a.m.
  • By mid-morning, a Street Roots guy was selling papers in front of that shop.  Street Roots is the newspaper sold by homeless people as a transition to jobs and housing.
  • Three guys are running saws and wielding hammers on the house renovation site down the street.
  • One of my favorite bus drivers is driving the #12.
  • Manuel, a friend who rides the bus, is headed for work on the Tree Farm where he’s told me he works 7 days a week, no matter what.
  • My friend Anthony is selling toys at his store in the mall, my friend Kitty is seeing hydrotherapy clients, and my friend Steve is working on fixing someone’s garage door.
  • Then there’s my friend Marjorie Hass who’s the president of Austin College in Sherman, Texas.  We spoke briefly this morning to reschedule a call.  It seemed a good idea since she’s right in the middle of greeting first-year students and their families, not to mention all the other things that go into getting an academic year underway.
  • Just before I walked home, thinking about this blog along the way, I had a great exchange with a man named Coach who is checking at Trader Joe’s.
  • And even though no one is in at my doctor’s office, I did hear an ambulance siren a few minutes ago, so health care is happening.

Then there are the signs both of it being a holiday and of everyday neighborliness.  Like the strangers I passed – one asking and one giving directions.  Just as I walked by they shook hands, exchanged first names and moved into chit chat about where they’re from.  As I was on the way home just now, a man walking toward me on the sidewalk smiled and said, “How’s your Labor Day going so far?”  I said, “Fine, how about yours?”  His smile got even bigger as he passed hurriedly.  “I’m up to 12 so far,” he said.  “Collecting all the neighbors I can for a swim in the river.”

By the way, after years, it’s safe to swim in the Willamette, the river that flows north through Portland and into the Columbia.  This is because of thousands of Oregon state and City of Portland employees who have worked diligently to amend or eliminate pollutants in the river basin.  A lively smile on a man walking up the sidewalk and the holiday outing of a lot of his neighbors got built in part by years of labor on the part of people none of them know.

So, building any “it” takes lots of effort by lots of people.  All of it is valuable.  Even the unpaid stuff like moms or dads raising children who will be workers and citizens helping us move forward from here.


  1. Nicely said. It was observed in the book “Where God Was Born” by Bruce Feiler that when Paul Bremer was Ambassador to Iraq there was a sign on his desk which read, “Success has a thousand fathers.” I would add, “and mothers.”

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