In case you’ve forgotten, I am the columnist who sat at the West Campus bus stop in a folding chair to raise awareness of complaints made by Duke Transit employees. I now offer a follow-up column in easy-to-read question and answer form. But first, a little review.
From Kirschenfeld (11/18/2004): “Until I am satisfied, I will sit…with our University’s bus drivers to protest… their unfair and unnecessarily bad working conditions… [and] our administration’s complicit stance in perpetuating old systems of economic and racial dominance.”
Did you do this?
I mean, I did sit out there for two days. Yet aside from it raining on the planned third “protest” day, there was no good reason I stopped sitting. Was I satisfied? On one level, yes. I made my point. The focus needed to shift off of my sitting and onto the situation at hand. But, truthfully, it was more or less my own laziness and lack of commitment which ended the sitting.
Did you get any response from the administration?
Yes. On the second day I was approached by both Assistant Director of Transit Peter Murphy and Director of Transit Catherine Reeve. Ms. Reeve also penned a letter “appreciat[ing] [my] concern for Duke PTS employees and encourag[ing] all Duke students to be attentive to the outstanding work being done by our staff.” I was also treated to a tour of the Transit office and a sit down meeting with both Murphy and Reeve. During that meeting, we discussed various things, including where I was possibly being misled.
So, did anything happen?
What do you mean?
Did the situation get better for the bus drivers?
I don’t really know. I doubt it. I know it’s almost time for them to renegotiate their union contract. The column probably even further alienated dissatisfied workers from their bosses (or so I’m told), but I’m sure it did little else.
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Did you receive any other response?
Well, about 30 people came out to sit on the first day with me, which I appreciated greatly. I had one online comment castigating me for being a sub-par “martyr.” Congratulations, you obviously did not read my column and your comments were idiotic (“Are you going to sit in two feet of snow, barefoot, and uphill too?”). I did get some positive response too, but what’s the fun in talking about that?
If I’m concerned about bus drivers, what do I do?
A group of students is trying to start an organization to work closely with the bus drivers to further advance the complaints they want heard. I will not be the leader of this organization and never intended to be. I wanted to bring something to the attention of the Duke community that would not have otherwise been heard. I did not laud the bus drivers for their great service to Duke nor place them above fault for poor job performance. I just voiced a concern. That being said, for now try contacting Students Against Sweatshops as they seem to be dealing with the “protest” activities surrounding Duke employees.
Any final thoughts?
In his poem “I Am Waiting,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti writes that he is “waiting for a sweet desegregated chariot to swing low.” In a way, so am I. America’s (and really the world’s) race and class discrimination will not go away if Duke is more respectful of their bus drivers. Don’t get me wrong, Duke should be more respectful of its employees. We don’t need to bilk them or bully them (while we also needn’t blindly praise them, either). Will I ever feel like “I’m not a plantation owner” as I hoped I would? I’m not sure. White supremacy is so deeply embedded in our society that to look at it as a whole becomes unbearable. But I still think Duke is a good place to focus our vision of it and a good place to start acting.
Finally, remember that nothing is static, especially with the opinions expressed in my column. Take them for what they’re worth. I think I’m right when I express them while realizing I may not be later. In the case of our bus drivers, I still think I’m right in doing what I’ve done. I look forward to what comes next.
Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every third Monday.