By Dale Martin
September 4, 2020
This weekend is the traditional holiday weekend to mark the end of summer. Although the purpose of the holiday that traditionally starts the summer season (Memorial Day) has been restored, this weekend’s Labor Day celebrations are still somewhat muted.
I was born, raised, and spent most of my professional career in Michigan, specifically metropolitan Detroit and what is commonly referred to as southeastern Michigan. This was the key region of the American labor movement, led, for the most part, by the factory workers manning the assembly lines of the massive automobile factories in Detroit and Flint.
Families in that region had generations of auto workers. Unions dominated the political scenes in Detroit and Flint. The blue-collar middle class residents of Macomb County (my home county and one of the three counties comprising metro Detroit) were the original Reagan Democrats, and are still commonly examined as a bellweather for significant national and state political races. As a very traditional “blue” state (Democratic women candidates swept the top three state-wide offices in 2018), Macomb County strongly supported President Trump in 2016 (53%), leading, in likely large part, to the President’s winning Michigan’s electoral votes. I anticipate that county again will be watched closely over the next eight weeks leading to November’s presidential election.
As my career took me outside of Michigan to Connecticut, I found the “labor” movement to be different. The union ranks in Connecticut were filled more with state government workers than traditional laborers. Admittedly, Connecticut, a much smaller state, did not have the manufacturing muscle of Michigan, but smaller, specialized, and technology-oriented industry. What I also discovered, and in the town I served no less, was one individual’s deep passion for the American labor movement.
Nearly five years ago when I was selected as to be the City Manager of Fernandina Beach, the very first person to congratulate me was Ms. Ellen Griesedieck. Ellen (that’s easier to type than “Griesedieck”) was very familiar with Amelia Island. She is a former Sports Illustrated photographer and her husband, Sam Posey, is an elite American race car driver. Those two aspects had her and Sam participate every year at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
My friendship with Ellen did not develop due to her familiarity with the Concours (at the time I was in Connecticut I had never heard of the Concours). Ellen had purchased an abandoned mill building, part of a larger complex of a textile manufacturer located in Winsted. These abandoned mills dot the landscape through Connecticut, but they are expensive to environmentally rehabilitate and structurally restore. Ellen went all-in.
Her goal is to create a massive indoor mural as a tribute to traditional American labor. She believes that the role of the American laborer in the development and success of this nation is being lost. She wants to keep that heritage alive.
The mural is forty feet high and 120 feet long. The roof of a portion of her mill building had to be raised to accommodate the excessive height. The mural will be interactive, with scaffoldings behind the mural to enable visitors themselves to be part of the mural, viewed from platforms on the opposite side of the gallery. Her artwork features truck drivers, utility workers, police officers, firefighters. The effort has drawn the support of athletes and celebrities, including the late Paul Newman (Ellen designed the label for Newman’s salad dressings). Ellen envisions her project, the American Mural Project (AMP) to become a regional, if not national, educational mecca highlighting the toils and success of America’s working class. For more information about the American Mural Project, please visit www.americanmuralproject.org.
I am proud to work with the “laborers” on the City staff. Most of them are unrecognized for the work they do in keeping the streets smooth and clean; the water and sewers flowing; the parks groomed; the permits, applications, and other paperwork processed; vehicles tuned; and the residents and property safe. Every day. Sun, rain, and even hurricanes. Our community has an incredible staff dedicated to serve the City.
Monday is Labor Day and the men and women who serve this community and others, who work in the factories and industry, deserve the accolades of the day. Thank you for your service.