When Wesley Autrey threw himself on top of a young man who had fallen onto the tracks to save him from an oncoming train, he not only reminded us that heroism is something that manifests itself in daily life as well as war and times of emergency, he gave new life and meaning to a great New York tradition. In a city of immigrants, where almost every person is a descendent of someone who took extraordinary risks just to come here, courage, especially physical courage, is an important part of the cultural capital of our city's neighborhods. It is no accident that Wesley Autrey was a construction worker, but he could easily have been a transit worker, police officer, firefighter, sanitation worker, elevator repair person, EMT, or any one of the hundreds of thosands of people in our city whose work involves some level of danger. Though the investment bankers, the real estate moguls, and the advertising executives are the ones reaping the greatest rewards in our post-industrial economy, it is still New York's workers who keep the city moving, fix things when they break, and rescue us both individually and collectively when we find ourselves in trouble.
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So in honoring Wesley Autrey, let us remember that our city's most valuable and honorable traditions, are not strictly commercial, nor are normally rewarded in stock options and bonuses,but rest in the lived experience of millions of working class New Yorkers of every race and nationality who know that generosity to others is the true test of our common humanity. Maybe some day that realization will come to guide our political priorities and our way of allocating resources.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Working Class Hero
From Mark Naison, History News Network: