Happy Labour Day! If you’re reading this morning from Canada or the US, you know exactly what today marks: the unofficial end of summer and the start of the “new” year (for all students, parents, teachers, and anyone like me who worships autumn).
You might not know, though, that Labour Day has been an official holiday since 1892 in the US, and 1894 in Canada, and that it traces its roots to 1872 Toronto, where a mass printer’s strike achieved legal protections for unions and marked a huge step toward entrenching labour rights for working class citizens.
Labour Day, in other words, is a day of rest that celebrates the recognition that rest is essential for the human body – so that it can be more productive, so that it can be healthier, so that it can be happier, and also so that the humans connected to it can be healthy and happy too.
I was thinking about all of this yesterday, when I decided to pass up the chance to go on a solo bike ride under near-perfect weather conditions in order to play tennis with my partner D instead. He adores tennis (and is really good at it – I am not) but doesn’t yet do long-distance cycling, so a solo ride would have taken me away from him for a good three hours on a rare Sunday together. Moreover, D doesn’t get a lot of chances to play tennis with a partner (however unskilled). I knew it meant a lot to him to play on this glorious day, and I wanted to share that with him. I also wondered if perhaps NOT riding would do my body some good; a change, when it comes to fitness, can be as good as a rest, after all, since different muscles get stretched and worked and your body and brain can enjoy learning something new.
Tennis is the kind of sport that, however intensely competitive players may be, really requires working together. If you offer up a bad serve, the rally won’t ever get going; if you don’t think about landing the ball somewhere that your partner can play it, ditto. For me, right now as I learn, a lot of tennis is about just figuring out how to return the ball, period; that means that D also has to be supportive and kind in his returns, hitting me balls I can play rather than the fast, hard balls he would send the way of a more skilled and agile player.
Here, too, my tennis adventure connects with a core principle we celebrate on Labour Day: the power of collective action. Anyone who plays team sports knows how essential it is to play with and for one’s mates, as opposed to for one’s own gain; the latter might win some games but it will never win the long haul. In any sport that includes others, however – racket sports; group cycling; canoe adventuring; even marathons or triathlons – it’s equally important to be aware of and attentive to the needs of those around us, because our achievements are measured in the small ways we help each other to excel, to be our best selves on the court or on the road or in the pool.
Taking care of one another’s needs, knowing that we might need the same courtesy at any moment, is fundamental to the ethos of all sport, and this ethos is one of the reasons sport is such an immense character-building opportunity for people young and old.
The same is true of life out in the regular world, though. Working together, for one another, knowing that we all benefit that way, makes all our lives better. Together we have the power to stand up to injustice, to stand up for fairness, and to raise our voices together in order to ask for the concessions we need in order to live our best lives. This is why socialized medical care is a massive success around the world, and why nations like New Zealand, with a strong commitment to equity and fairness, have weathered the pandemic incredibly well. It is also one of the reasons that protest movements – like the kind we have seen these past few months in support of Black Lives Matter, in the wake of the deaths of ordinary human beings like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – quickly gather speed and catch our attention. Humans thrive by working together for common causes, and despite our differences. Differences are as natural as shared human need; we benefit from recognizing the former even as we join forces to meet the latter, every single time.
We talk a lot on the blog about the importance of resting our bodies to build and consolidate strength; we also talk a lot (and feel strongly!) about what it means to be in this together, a team working toward our feminist fitness goals, even when those goals are individual ones. Resting, and celebrating our community, is a big part of our blog ethos; it’s also a Labour Day ethos.
This autumn marks a choice point for the nation that brought us Labour Day under President Grover Cleveland in 1892. It’s worth reflecting on this Labour Day 2020 about what it will take in the years ahead to return America to a place where shared human needs are addressed by shared (not divisive) social vision, where rest is valued by and for all – not just for the richest and most powerful among us.
Readers, how are you spending your Labour Day? Let us know.