Last night, I dreamt of warehouse workers. The dream was a performance, where they occupied the center of a stage divided into three areas: a small office, where a pandemic shopper browses online for sweatpants; a warehouse aisle, goods stacked high above the worker’s head and cameras trained on their body; and a worker sewing garments at a factory in Vietnam.
The shopper, having found the perfect sweats, clicks BUY, setting off a choreographed chain reaction across the stage. The garment worker leaps into action, sewing machine humming loudly as they squint to examine the stitching. The warehouse worker in the middle is frenzied, cameras trailing them as they try to balance the clicks still spewing out of the shopper with the sweatpants now flooding in from the garment factory.
But the choreography is all off, awkward and exhausting. Finally, the warehouse worker collapses in a mound of loungewear.
I dreamt that the audience cared deeply for the dignity and well-being of workers. That’s how I know it wasn’t completely a nightmare. But in my sleep, as I tried to wrap my arms around the audience and conserve their care, it slipped away, as desire tends to do in any dream. #EssentialWorkers
Beth Gutelius is the research director for the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a leading expert on the U.S. warehousing industry.
Dave Pabellon is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Columbia College Chicago and a design consultant under the moniker It Is Just Dave LLC, with a focus on partnerships with cultural institutions, contemporary artists, and activist organizations.