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Take Back Your Time

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Workshop comes to Sandpoint

by Joyce Jowdy with Trish Gannon

Medieval peasants worked less than you do! Time poverty and overwork costs the U.S. billions each year and threatens the health of communities, the environment and our families. The Public Forum on Sustainability invites you to learn how a growing number of citizens are changing the paradigm of speed in America, at their first forum of the season. John de Graaf will look at the national Take Back Your Time movement, which is gaining momentum as more Americans are stopping to consider the pace of their lives, on September 16 at 7 pm at the Sandpoint Public Library, located at 1407 Cedar St. in Sandpoint.

This documentary filmmaker, author and activist will explain how America compares to the rest of the world when it comes to overwork and leisure time. De Graaf’s talk will offer ideas of how we can begin to make personal and policy changes in our homes and communities. He will share how civic leaders and urban planners all over the world are changing the way they design public spaces in order to slow the pace of speeding citizens and re-create community gathering places. Families, schools and institutions are valuing leisure over long hours, slowness over speed and the importance of unscheduled time; this presentation is an opportunity to hear how and why these changes are occurring.

De Graaf is the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time Day, an annual event scheduled for October 24, and a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and over-consumption in America. He is also the co-chair of the Public Policy Committee for the Simplicity Forum, a national think tank for the Voluntary Simplicity Movement.

In many communities, October 24 has been declared “Take Back Your Time Day.” The day was chosen because October 24 is exactly nine weeks before the end of the year. Nine weeks—350 hours—is the amount of time Americans work beyond the average hours worked by their counterparts in western Europe. On the national level, the month of October is National Work and Family month, with a goal of reducing conflict between work and family.

A poll commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream says that four out of five Americans wish they had more time to spend with family.

DeGraff has said that, “While we knew that American workers put in longer hours than (workers) in all other industrial countries, we had no idea that we also rank below many poor countries in regard to maternity leave, sick leave, vacation time and other indicators of work/life balance. American workers and their families are facing a real time crisis.”

In  a Labor Day press release, Take Back Your Time staff members faulted both Presidential candidates for their approach to American worker’s time crunch.

“I’m amazed at how little attention these issues are receiving (in an) election year,” said Gretcher Burger, a staff member for the national organization. “Instead of attacking President Bush for taking vacations, John Kerry should be championing the rights of all Americans to some paid time off.”

A board member for the group, Jerome Segal of the University of Maryland, said, “George Bush has said that he wants to give American families more time, but, in fact, his new Labor Department rules threaten to take away overtime pay from millions of Americans, and will actually encourage employers to demand even more overtime work.”

The group promotes a four-point legislative agenda, which includes:
1. Paid Family Leave. The group states that many poor Americans cannot take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid time to care for newborn children or sick family members.
2. Require three weeks minimum of paid vacation for every worker. The average paid vacation for American workers is two weeks. By contrast, the group states, a four week minimum is the law in all member countries of the European Union.
3. Give workers the right to refuse overtime after 48 hours on the job each week. American workers, they say, have no right to refuse overtime.
4. Make Election Day a holiday. Although they say such a step may seem insignificant, they believe it would symbolize national concern that Americans need more time for civic and community participation.

“Life is about more than the Gross Domestic Product,” Burger said. “Each of these reforms, if passed, would only give the US what all other industrial countries already take for granted. We could borrow a page from the Europeans’ book and live better  by working less… That would be a real Labor Day reward for American workers.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Americans are spending 20 percent more time on the job today than in 1970. An AFL-CIO survey, “Ask a Working Woman,” found that 37 percent of women earning less than $40,000 a year, and 28 percent of all working women, receive no paid vacation at all.

The movement, and the concern that launched it, is receiving national attention. Christian Science Monitor reports, “Slowly, however, a grass-roots revolt is brewing. Some educators and coaches are speaking out against overscheduling, even as more families sending their kids back to school this fall are finding the courage to turn down teams and tournaments, to limit activities to a few favorites so that they can rediscover time to be a family.”

The best-selling “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic,” and the children’s book, “David Brower, Friend of the Earth,” were co-authored by de Graaf. As an independent producer of television documentaries, he has worked with KCTS TV, the Seattle PBS affiliate, for 22 years. More than 15 of his programs have been broadcast nationally on PBS during prime time. De Graaf also produced the popular PBS special “Running out of Time.” As a recipient of more than 100 regional, national and international awards for filmmaking, his programs often address important environmental subjects.

PFOS is pleased to have partnered with SNAP’s Living Green Program, The Pacific Northwest Inlander, The Green Zone and the Sandpoint Public Library to bring this free forum to North Idaho.

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time, Public Forum on Sustainability, John deGraaf, Take Back Your Time movement, Labor Day

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