No picnics, no parades, but Freedom Library will mark Labor Day with virtual event on organizing Amazon

The East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul will celebrate Labor Day early and online this year, with a virtual discussion about worker organizing at the world’s largest retailer, Amazon.

The event, “Labor Day Ain’t No Picnic,” will broadcast on the ESFL’s Facebook and YouTube pages Sept. 3, bringing together activists who are using research, social media, art and on-the-ground organizing to build worker power at Amazon.

“A century ago, farmer, labor and community activists used an octopus to depict the ways they saw capitalist greed grasping control over work, business, community, and political life,” East Side Freedom Library Co-Director Peter Rachleff said. “Today, it is hard to imagine a more appropriate metaphor than such a creature for Amazon. Yet, the very breadth of its reach makes possible the weaving of intersectional and international alliances.”

All are welcome to join the discussion and learn how to get involved in ways that, as the independent, nonprofit library’s mission statement says, “inspire solidarity, work for justice and advocate for equity for all.”

The online event will begin at 7 p.m. Click here to register.

Lead presenters are Dania Rajendra, director of the Athena Coalition, which brings together more than 50 organizations wrestling with different aspects of Amazon’s power and influence, and Stacy Mitchell, co-director of one of those organizations, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Graduates of Macalester College, both have deep connections in the Twin Cities and to the East Side Freedom Library.

Rajendra is a poet, essayist and journalist who worked for both the St. Paul Union Advocate and the Minneapolis Labor Review in the early 2000s, then moved to New York to be associate editor of The Clarion, the newspaper of the faculty union at the City University of New York. Rajendra also has taught at the Institute for Labor Relations at Cornell University.

Mitchell is the author of “Home-Town Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores and Why it Matters” and “Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses.” Last year, Mitchell was a significant voice in CNN’s documentary film “The Age of Amazon.”

While COVID-19 has greatly expanded Amazon’s reach and CEO Jeff Bezos’ wealth, making him the richest man in the world, the pandemic has further revealed the corporation’s ugly sides, Rachleff said, pointing to its “disregard for workers’ safety and security, their resistance to workers’ efforts to organize, their economic impact on independent small businesses, and their political influence with city, state, and national governments.”

“Dania and Stacy will discuss their work to weave together the wide range of people whose lives are being undermined by the modern-day octopus, and they will be joined by some of the grassroots activists with whom they have been working,” Rachleff added.

“Grassroots responses to both COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd and others have revealed the potential power that still exists across this country, across this world. Learn how organizations like Athena and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are amplifying this power, and learn how we can become involved in productive and constructive ways to promote economic and political democracy.”

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