Tonight, I ate at Frary. Earlier this week, a number of my friends expressed interest in breaking the boycott. However, when six o’clock came around today, lo and behold, suddenly they “had to be at a meeting” or “were supposed to go to a special off-campus dinner.” And so the two of us that decided to honor our commitment to eat at our beloved Pomona dining hall (sorry Frank… you’re just awful) headed off to North Campus with our heads held high. Before crossing 6th street, we could hear chanting. Uh-oh! I thought to myself. I thought the workers were just going to “tell students about the boycott.” I had no idea that they would be chanting outside of the dining hall. 100 feet from Frary, my comrade decided to go AWOL. When she saw that it was not just workers chanting—rather, that a number of students (including her sponsor) were picketing on the steps—she decided that the social costs for breaking the boycott were simply too high.
Alone now, I approached the steps to Frary. I, like my fallen comrade, was afraid. I was afraid to be different. I was afraid to have a voice. I was afraid to have an opinion, a belief, or even a thought that was outside of the norm. I was terrified to stand up for myself and walk up those steps. Head tilted slightly forward, so as not to attract too much attention, I bounded up the steps and into Frary. A few people moved from the picket line to try to block my way to the door, but somehow I made it in. (Being a nimble, 130-pound stick figure probably helped.) I was so determined to get out of the picketing crowd that I almost ran right past the card-swipe counter.
As you might have guessed, the dining hall was virtually empty. There were all of four people eating, and they were all gathered in the center of the room. They waved me over and invited me to sit with them. These brave few protest-protesters were not what the WFJ has painted them to be. They were not a white-washed group of rich, spoiled kids. They were not snobby or unkind. They did not hate the workers. Hell, all but one said that they would support a union.
One might ask: Why were these people there, then, if they are not snobby, worker-oppressing white kids? As it turns out, half of the people at the table originally had no intention of rocking the boat by eating at Frary. However, when they saw how the protesters were obnoxiously turning away students, blocking the door and pointing them away (yes, this actually happened—one of the table members actually had to barrel down a protester to get into the dining hall), they felt compelled to stand up and show the protesters that one can’t simply bully Pomona College students. The rest of us were there because we honestly believed, like President Oxtoby, that card check is not the best method for unionization, and we did not want to demonstrate implicit support for the method by eating elsewhere.
One of the positive aspects of being in Frary alone (aside from there being no food lines) was that we all got a chance to have real conversations with the workers. This gave me insight into two things. First, there are workers who do not support unionization, and there are many more who don’t support card check. Second, I found that much of the frustration of both the workers and the administration seems to be coming from the two sides talking past each other. It appears that both sides would be willing to compromise and use the secret ballot method (if conducted fairly), but neither side seems willing to actually create a concrete proposition for resolution. I can only hope that the workers will eventually concede to a secret ballot so that we can all move on; however, after talking to them, it seems that pride might be the driving factor in the workers’ choice to continue their push for card check. Nobody wants to walk away from the table feeling like they got less than they set out for.
Setting aside thoughts on how to resolve labor, I think the most important thing I learned today was that Oxtoby is my new hero. If the fear I felt and intimidation I saw outside of Frary today is any indication of how the pro-unionization workers will handle a card check vote, then I believe Oxtoby really does have the best interests of the workers at heart. Thinking back on those few moments I spent walking up Frary’s steps, I would never wish that feeling of fear—that terrible desire to cover who I am and what I believe in—upon anyone else, and a secret ballot prevents just that.
And so to you, President Oxtoby, I tip my hat. You do an honorable thing by letting yourself be the bad guy. Every day, you fight what I, and a great number of silent supporters, believe is a good fight, even if it means that much of the student body hates you. I genuinely hope that you stay strong because the sad truth is that most of us, myself included, are weak and scared, and somebody needs to protect the little guy. Cheers, President Oxtoby! Cheers!