When his mother was growing up in Georgia in the early 1930s, actor Danny Glover said her parents – Glover's grandparents - made a brave choice.
"At the time, when someone was my mother's age, you went to work picking cotton in September. They decided they were not going to allow that, and my mother went to school instead. In a sense, they were activists."
Glover told ILR students on Tuesday that this choice had a defining impact on his life. He came to Ithaca to meet with ILR students, speak at Cornell's Africana Studies and Research Center, and talk with students, faculty and staff across campus.
Bruce Raynor '72, union leader, Cornell trustee and close friend of Glover, helped coordinate Glover's visit to campus and introduced him in Professor Richard Hurd's collective bargaining class.
Glover, who grew up in a union family, told students that the "choices you make right now will affect your future, and the future of your children and your children's children."
"The choices I make to support working people are specific. The choices I make as an actor reflect choices I make as a citizen."
With 70 films to his credit, including performances in the popular Lethal Weapon series, Glover said his interest in social activism grew stronger during his days at San Francisco State University, where he was very involved in the Black Student Union.
"We were reading everything. This gave me an international perspective and helped me understand my world and history in relation to other people who were struggling."
Glover said he is "particularly proud" of the successes he and Raynor have had together in addressing challenges faced by workers.
They made a trip to a factory in Mexico that produced Gap jeans, not long after Glover had appeared in an advertisement for the retail chain. Following that trip, they helped persuade the company to adopt a different code of ethics for dealing with suppliers and factories.
Glover and Raynor also chose to "take on" designer clothing manufacturer Hugo Boss, when the company decided to close a factory outside of Cleveland, Ohio, leaving 600 people, mostly women, without jobs.
This happened just before the Academy Awards that year, and Glover decided to send a letter to members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, asking them not to wear Hugo Boss clothing at the event. Their efforts were successful.
He and Raynor also met with workers at the plant, where he said people had just accepted that the plant would close.
"Talking with the workers helped revitalize them and today, that factory is open. To see people empowered by this transformation, that was an amazing experience for me," Glover said.
When asked during a question-and-answer session about their view of the labor movement's future, Raynor said the big question is, "what will society look like if the labor movement continues to decline?"
"It's up to your generation to decide. My generation has failed to stem the decline," Raynor said.
Whatever the direction for unions, Glover said we should choose to focus the conversation in the right way and not separate it from an examination of other issues affecting our world, including education, poverty and the environment.
"If we don't have a planet to live on, we can talk about organizing all we want, but it won't make a difference."