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Sitting in with Pittsburgh's very busy labor choir

Plus, one reason to root against the Phillies.


October 28, 2022
Inside this edition: Double jinx, set reminder, ghost school, dunk history, pickleball problems, 'kraut club, and protest music.

The Phillies are in the World Series, and Game One starts at 8 tonight.   

MarketWatch reports there's a "curious — if rather weak" historical link between a Philadelphia World Series win and what economic event? 

A. An upturn 
B. A downturn
C. Increased GDP
D. Minimum wage hike

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

» One thing worth knowing: Your county may be looking for poll workers for the Nov. 8 election. Read this and apply no later than Nov. 2.

» One thing worth sharing: There are lots of reasons to consider getting a degree at Pitt. More if you like the company of ghosts, per Pitt News.

» One more thing worth sharing: Defector has "the misremembered history" of that internet famous buzzer-beater from Bryn Mawr.

» One thing worth reading: Pickleball isn't a contact sport but there is plenty conflict, mostly between neighbors and players in Philly

» One thing worth trying: Make some bare-knuckle sauerkraut like the diehards in Elk County, via Megan's Desk. The New Year is coming.

Update: Last week we said the historic Yorktowne Hotel in York was taking reservations again after a years-long renovation. YDR reports the hotel has changed its opening timeline, and reservations will begin on Dec. 12.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» What Pa. voters are thinking ahead of the midterms
» Wolf, lawmakers fast-track fossil fuel incentives
» How redistricting could alter the Pa. legislature
» Most outside spending targets GOP's Mastriano
» Track how your town is using federal stimulus funds
» Pa. county charges an unusual fee for court records

🗳 Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on...

»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGBTQ Rights
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband
»  Taxes & Business Regulations
»  Election Security & Voting Rights

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. 

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
Edwin "Ted" Everhart of the Pittsburgh Labor Choir. (Colin Deppen / Spotlight PA) 

On a warm October evening in Pittsburgh, seated on the cavernous porch of a Quaker meeting house, Edwin Everhart tuned his guitar and checked his phone. In between he shuffled packets filled with labor song lyrics, and craned his neck to scan the street for the first arrivals.

"We'll see how many people show up tonight," he said. "It depends."

Edwin, the exceptionally enthusiastic director of the Pittsburgh Labor Choir, was eager for this week’s rehearsal to begin, and dressed for the occasion.

A blue pin on his sweater reading "PGH without the PG?" — a reference to the ongoing strike at the Post-Gazette, the region's largest newspaper — glinted in the porch light.

It is a busy time to be a labor choir director in this city. 

Unions are taking root in coffee shops, museums, libraries, universities, and public radio.

They’re also taking action at places like the Post-Gazette, where employees have gone years without a new contract or raises.

(The paper’s publisher says the Post-Gazette isn’t making money. Critics note the paper’s ownership company — the Block Communications Inc. conglomerate — certainly is.) 

Since forming in 2020, at the cusp of a resurgent moment for organized labor nationwide, Pittsburgh's labor choir has performed at least a dozen times at picket lines and pro-union demonstrations across the city. 

"Any time the whole big group is singing along, it's so phenomenal," Edwin said. "You get that electric… What’s the Durkheim word? 'Effervescence' moment."

Full membership, though fluid, can exceed a dozen people. 

Only a handful turned out for Monday's practice, which included Edwin, several other in-person singers, a group of people watching via Zoom, and the occasional passerby who gawked at the strangers belting out coal mining songs on a street in Shadyside, blocks from Millionaire's Row.

For an hour and a half the assembled choir members ran through a catalog spanning Woody Guthrie’s anti-fascist anthems and protest songs from Italy, Chile, and beyond. 

Edwin offered a little history between each. At the end of Guthrie’s "Pittsburgh Town," capped by the line "They're joining up in the C.I.O.," he asked a child in attendance if they wanted an explanation. The child said no and Edwin relented but then, seemingly unable to resist, offered one anyway, highlighting the 1955 merger that created the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The child nodded. 

Edwin is an educator by day. He said his choral awakening happened while completing his Ph.D in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His labor awakening happened around the same time, while he was monitoring a cadre of unpaid university interns. 

When Edwin left California and returned home to Pittsburgh, he brought the idea for a labor choir with him. Years later, he's leading one of the last examples in the state. (It may, in fact, be the last example.)

"There would have been a million of these things in the 30s and 40s," he explained. "There were socialist choirs and union choirs all over the place. Pittsburgh had multiple choirs per language group: The Lithuanian Socialist Choir, the Polish, the Slovenian, the Yiddish…"

The songbook he uses is something of a historical document itself, filled with century-old "bangers," like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Joe Hill." A good labor song, according to Edwin, is catchy, accessible, and adaptable — words are swapped to suit a given picket line or grievance. 

While the musical substance is heavy, the mood at Monday's practice was not. It was celebratory or, as first-timer Steph Sorensen put it, a moment "more about solidarity than the struggle directly." 

Asked why most people join a labor choir, Edwin said it varies, and pulled responses from a survey the choir conducted a while back. 

"One person said 'the songs are bangers … and participating in a choir is an embodied experience … just bringing people into contact with one another,'" he quoted. 

He paused and then read another: "Social change should not just be against barbarism but for joy."

Read more: 

  • Classic labor songs from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian)
  • Calls for solidarity in today's music industry (Vanity Fair)
  • Pa.'s old-school unions are evolving (100 Days in Appalachia)
  • Why Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalists went on strike (NPR)
Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Bedford's big coffee pot, via Don H. Which reminds me: The Haines Shoe House in York — 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths — is once again available for short-term vacation rentals. Book it here. But first... send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.

The correct answer is B: An economic downturn or recession. 

According to MarketWatch

  • The Philadelphia A’s won the 1929 World Series a couple of weeks before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
  • The Phillies won the 1980 series, coinciding with the early 1980s recession, which actually started months before.
  • And the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, which also correlated with what’s come to be known as the Great Recession. 

It's worth noting that the last federal minimum wage hike happened in 2009, the year the Phillies lost the World Series to the Yankees.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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