Community Technology Centers · Social Justice · Teaching · Technology and Society

Labor Day and Digital Literacy for ALL Learners

The following is a post I just made to our project page for a project I am leading called “Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through their Eliminate the Digital Divide program. We are working at five public computing centers to teach basic computer and digital literacy skills by doing projects that matter to the community.  While the post was written for that specific project, I share it broadly in hopes that it will inspire reflection to all who work to build stronger communities, one aspect of which today usually includes working with digital technologies.


In honor of Labor Day, we shall not labor but take time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of workers everywhere. In Lieu of our meeting, here’s a reflection regarding the holiday and the parallels with today, but also my thoughts on what it means for our activities through this project this year.

CNN posted a helpful reflection on the history behind the holiday back in 2011 that’s a good starting point for the reflection:

Since its writing in which the author notes the lack of violence in our own time, we have seen more action in the streets, some of it seemingly unrelated to labor, such as in Ferguson, but perhaps less removed than we might at first imagine. Without reform, I wonder if we might see more?

Today and next week as you engage with community coming to your sites, pause for a minute and know that for many, they, their parents, or their close friends and family may be working 12 hour days 6 and 7 days a week with no holidays or benefits, as they cobble together multiple jobs to just eke out a living wage.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, labor reform champions like Jane Addams worked with people where they were at in their neighborhoods to learn, build relationships, and meet immediate needs. But they also worked to leverage their broader connections to champion systemic change for all people. Our approach is inspired by many of these historical leaders but also by our contemporaries like Virginia Eubanks who has been likened to a modern-day Jane Addams.

Take a minute over the Labor Day holiday to read through the article and to reflect on what our role might be this year through this project. I just came from Kenwood where I spoke in part about the amazing things they are doing because of their vision: technology and literacy for the community.

Let’s hold each other accountable to assure we never get this backwards. For as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

And let’s remember, too, Florynce R. Kennedy’s caution:

“Where the system of oppression has become institutionalized it is unnecessary for the people to be oppressive.”

I would argue our thing-oriented approach to technology specifically and our economic drivers broadly have become institutionalized. Therefore, how can we approach our activities every day as a people-oriented counter-hegemony, not just in honor of Labor Day but as leaders championing a new approach that others can also implement in their own activities?

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