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I love labor day. It’s a last breath at the end of summer. It’s the break that makes the beginning of the school year a tiny bit more bearable for the kids who are regretfully leaving summer break behind them. It’s a time when Americans gather and drink beer and eat barbeque and enjoy a 3-day weekend. It’s the morning after the glorious Sunday night, I don’t have to get up in the morning revelry.
But I also think it’s important to remember what labor day is really about. Labor Day was developed by the American Labor Movement as a day to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. Labor Day was first celebrated in New York City in 1882 with local parades and speeches. Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday in 1887. Following the deaths of several workers at the hands of US military and US Marshals during the Pullman strike, legislation was rushed through and Congress unanimously voted to make Labor Day a national holiday in 1894.
The same labor organizations and activists who organized and pushed for Labor Day also fought for important rights for American workers. Before the efforts of these labor groups, the typical American work week was 60 hours spread over about 6 days. And while one might argue that in many ways the American work week is once again headed in that direction, it’s clear that our current situation would be much different if it hadn’t been for those dedicating and sometimes even sacrificing their lives to make things better for American workers.
All of this has made me think how important it is to remember and thank all people everywhere who fight for our rights. And I’d like to expand that thinking towards those who have fought for our rights to exist, work, get decent medical care, equal pay and be treated with dignity in bodies of all sizes. I can’t begin to claim that I know who all of the important players are. But I can name a few that I have known personally. Marilyn Wann has spoken and shimmied and marched and chanted at so many amazing, ground-breaking fat positive events. And her amazing book “Fat, So?” was important for so many of us tentatively beginning to move towards body acceptance. Lynn Macafee is a fierce freedom fighter who has worked tirelessly with so many size acceptance organizations to get rid of prescription diet drugs that have unpublished and deadly side effects, fight for the rights of fat parents and so much more. Bill Fabray who founded NAAFA in response to the horrible experience faced by his wife simply because of her size. Katherine Flegal who’s work with the CDC debunked a lot of the common thinking about the health effects of obesity and faced intense scrutiny and harassment by many of her colleagues. Other important writers and researchers on the connection between obesity and health include Glen Gasser, Paul Ernsberger and the Cooper Institute. There are the lawyers, Paul Campos and especially Sandra Solovay who have written and spoken in so many important forums about the rights of fat people. There are so many of brothers and sisters in NAAFA and ASDAH and so many other important size acceptance organizations who have done so much to make things better.
While I’m pretty none of us feel that we are truly where we need to be in terms of universal size acceptance, it’s important to remember that so many of us have done so much to make life better for everybody. That’s why I think it’s important to look at histories like the one created by Barbara Altman Bruno for the ASDAH blog.
And that is why I am so very excited about the project my good friend and colleague Ragen Chastain is working on called In Our Own Words: A Fat Activist History. Ragen is recording interviews with many of these people who have been so important to the movement. She’s funding the project herself, so don’t be afraid to throw a few dollars and send a little love her way!
So by all means, enjoy your day off (if you have today off). Eat hot dogs. Go to the beach. Play all day on your Xbox. Whatever makes you happy. But remember to take just a few seconds to send a little thanks to those who have worked so hard to make your life just a little bit better.
The Fat Chick
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