Dear fellow members of the Working-Class Studies Association,
As I sit here writing this first presidential letter to the membership, I can’t help but remember attending my first WCSA conference at Stony Brook in 2004, as a later-life graduate student/PhD candidate attending my first academic conference. I didn’t know a soul. I set up lodging in the apartment of one of my former professors from Illinois State, who was out of town and was kind enough to offer me free housing on Long Island. When it came time for me to present that first paper, the session moderator failed to do her job and a fellow panelist took up most of the hour—and then the moderator said she was sorry, but she had other engagements and had to leave. Sensing my situation, a fellow attendee in the audience said (in so many words), ‘That’s fine, you may go, but we’ll all stay here to listen to the final panelist present.” I was awed and humbled. Later that week I became a charter member of the WCSA, and over the course of that week I found my academic home and my academic family—people who have been near and dear to me personally and academically ever since.
I open my letter this way not for memory’s sake, but to testify to this organization’s strengths: not only maintaining our focus on the issues of the working class and working-class life, but the WCSA’s real and enduring ability to draw people in, to make them welcome, and to maintain connection across time, distance, and discipline. Kindness, support, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging were offered to me—and here I am 14 years later as the organization’s President. I need only reflect on the countless times I’ve heard similar stories at each conference wrap-up session to know I am far from alone in this experience. It is one of the things that we do best, and it’s one of the things I intend to cultivate. My primary committee responsibility as President is Outreach, and I intend to take seriously the charge to find multiple and capable hands to expand the WCSA and carry its mission forward.
The current political moment demands exactly this. To use a term I learned years ago in Classical Rhetoric, we are experiencing Kairos—or, as Wikipedia puts it, “a right, critical, or opportune moment.” Working-class people in the US and across the globe are under attack politically, financially, and otherwise, as tax policy and political power continue a trend tipping toward the rich, while voting rights and workers’ rights are continually chipped away and government fails to provide protection or justice. The time for our message and our mission is now—uniquely and critically now. So please reach out to colleagues, acquaintances, labor contacts, students, and mentees. Send our Call for Papers widely and encourage people to come be part of our first WCSA conference outside the US at the University of Kent (September 3-6, 2019). If you travel to other conferences, put together a working-class studies panel and lend our name to the proceedings. Get the word out, far and wide. Bring others into the fold. And we’ll do what we do best and keep them here.
Our social media presence is in full force, with outlets on Twitter, Facebook, and our online journal, not to mention this web page, as well as a host of listservs that carry our message. If you have news or announcements of note, please pass them along to Michele Fazio at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will see that they get posted on our website or blog and passed along to other outlets. Don’t be shy about the great things you are doing—please share them so we can celebrate them and pass them on.
In closing, another memory … I found this organization because Sherry Linkon was teaching a Working-Class Literature course online through Youngstown State. That’s how I wound up in Stony Brook all those years ago, when the work from that course found its way into my dissertation, and my work found its way into the WCSA.
Next fall, I will teach an online English 101/composition course for Exelon—for workers at a nuclear power plant local to me, through a program with the community college where I teach. The nuclear power plant, oddly enough, is where I spent a summer working second shift while the plant was under construction in 1986—where I was a member of the secretarial pool, the summer before I started college. It was the first place I learned about “labor” issues, the first place I joined a union (the IBEW). It all comes back around. Reach out and be the next reason somebody new finds their place with us, and the reason someone realizes that what we do is particularly crucial in this particular moment.
If you have ideas to share, questions you need answers to, or a place on a committee to put your talents to good use, please let me know. Also, be sure to review the Centers’ Reports to learn about recent developments.