newsies

And the World Will Know



Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that I was the oldest audience member in the Broadway theater last weekend, except for parents with their pre-teens. “Newsies” is, after all, a Disney musical. In our standing room only “seats,” my friend and I were able to dance along to all of the songs we had known by heart since seventh grade. As we sang along—sometimes a little too loudly — I realized a lot of the meaning of the lyrics I had missed years ago.

Open the gates and seize the day 

Don’t be afraid and don’t delay 

Nothing can break us 

No one can make us give our rights away

Arise and seize the day

…Wrongs will be righted

If we’re united 

Let us seize the day

No wonder our history teacher had let us watch this movie in class: it’s educational! A scene doesn’t go by without a reference—if not an entire plot-line—about child labor, unions, poverty or class. In a time when many teenagers’ only exposure to child labor is learning about international sweatshops, and their only knowledge of labor rights is from that day in history class when they learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, it’s nice to have something that sticks in your mind with a little more vigor. Even Jewish teens, with our tradition’s “strong commitment to labor rights,” have little understanding of how that relates to their lives. If you don’t know someone affected directly by these issues, if you or someone you know isn’t a member of a union for instance, a musical is a great way to feel some semblance of connection to an otherwise abstract issue. (“Rent” doesn’t have a monopoly on raising social awareness through Broadway.)

Although the plight depicted in “Newsies” happened over a century ago, the themes and problems raised in it are still just as applicable today. Just as the newsies fought an increase in prices (and thus a reduction in wages), workers and advocates today fight for a fair minimum wage. Just as the newsies had more power in a group, unions are still a major source of strength for over 14 million American employees. Just as the newsies were forced to resort to a strike to make themselves heard, millions of American workers don’t have the power to access basic labor rights in their workplace, including paid time off for illness or even paycheck fairness.

Maybe, one teenage audience member at a time, the world will know the rights that workers everywhere are entitled to… and the Journal too.

P.S. Thanks for the ticket, Mom!

 

Image from Twitter

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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