Two of the largest movements focused on improving the lives of Black people and other people of color, Fight for $15 and The Movement for Black Lives, are joining forces April 4 for a national day of protest: “Fight Racism, Raise Pay.” Faculty are united with the social movement because we know firsthand, as I say here, “how racial and economic inequality are interconnected social problems and how they're working in higher education to perpetuate those inequalities in society at large.” Protests will occur in more than 24 cities, across the United States on the 49th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. This is especially appropriate in light of the fact that King was in Memphis, Tenn., to protest with sanitation workers and had begun to connect how capitalism benefitted from both racism and poverty and how they were inextricably connected when he was killed.
This protest couldn’t come at a better time with racial and economic tensions higher than they’ve been in decades, under a divisive president who earned the lowest approval rating in record time. Trump has shaped an agenda that is menacing, aggressive and violent toward all people of color who live in the United States. He has stated support for stop-and-frisk laws which unfairly target Black men and boys and threatened to send the feds to Chicago. He has referred to Mexicans as rapists and will not denounce numerous hate crimes that have happened. He still has not publicly acknowledged the murder of Timothy Caughman, who was targeted by a white supremacist, or the increase in hate crimes targeting Jewish people. He supports law enforcement, refuses to address police brutality, and has encouraged increased ICE raids. He has attempted to ban Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States—twice.
This violence has extended to economics as well. This president has made a federal budget proposal that slashes deeply into many social net programs, including Meals on Wheels, school lunch programs, Striving Readers Literacy Program, Minority Business Development Agency, and Community Services and Development Block Grants, and will harm rural communities and poor people the most. The White House has also indicated that it will focus on tax reform which will benefit the richest Americans and ignores the needs of people who are not in the top 1% of income earners. Even before our current administration, wages were not livable, and the average American needs to make $20.30 an hour to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment. In Florida, 44 percent of households are struggling to afford basic needs. Nationally, income for the bottom 50 percent of income earners has been dropping since the 1960s. Evidenced by the chart below, income for the top 1% has steadily risen during the same time period.
Many CEOs fall into the top 1% of income earners and there is a stark difference between what they are paid and what their lowest-paid workers are making. For example, in 2013 the average McDonald’s worker made $7.69 an hour ($15,995 a year) while their CEO was paid $13.8 million for the year. A McDonald’s worker would have to work 863 hours just to earn one hour of CEO pay. Wal-Mart is even worse and other corporations aren’t much better:
Thankfully, all of this has spurred an increase in public engagement, protests are at an all time high, and movement leaders are seeing that they can reach more people when their voices are united. “Fight Racism, Raise Pay” is a manifestation of Fight for $15’s commitment to intersectionality, a reimagining of King’s protests, and his message that Black and white poor people needed to come together. In the last year of his life, King began addressing how racism and poverty were intertwined, and said: “The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of Black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor—both Black and white, both here and abroad.” This sentiment is echoed by home care worker Lauralyn Clark in her speech at the Fight for $15 National Convention when she describes how racism has impacted work since slavery:
White babies drank from our breasts, but we couldn’t drink from their fountains. White families relied on us to care for their elderly parents, but we couldn’t ride the bus with them. We cleaned their schools, but our children couldn’t attend. We cooked their food, but we couldn’t sit at the table.
Naquasia Legrand, a Fight for $15 National Organizing Committee member, points out this connection as well, when she writes for Huffington Post:
There are 64 million workers paid less than $15 an hour in the United States. That’s nearly half of the American workforce that is paid less than $15. These low-wage jobs are some of the fastest-growing jobs in our economy, whether fast-food, child care, home care, retail, airports, etc. These jobs do not pay enough for people to provide for themselves and their families without some kind of public assistance.
If we expect to overcome this exploitation, it will take all of us raising our voices together. It is not just necessary to bridge race when addressing these issues, we must also come together across industries and job titles. Many of us face the same issues in our employment and same type of mistreatment by our bosses. Many industries are starting to employ the same tactics as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, including my own—higher education. As Tina Sandoval said in her speech at the FF$15 National Convention, if we want things to change we “must realize we’re in the same boat. Fast-food workers, adjunct professors, home care, child care, airport workers, farmworkers and many many more … ”
This is exactly why I’m raising my voice in support of Fight Racism, Raise Pay both online and in real life. I will be putting my feet on the ground with everyone from Fight for $15 and the Black Lives Matter groups April 4. Will you?
Cheryl DeFlavis is an adjunct professor in sociology at Hillsborough Community College, Saint Leo University, and Pasco-Hernando State College in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area.