On November 30, thousands of retail, airport, childcare, healthcare workers and allies called for a living wage of $15 an hour in nationwide Day of Disruption protests. Among the protestors was Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP who delivered a passionate speech at the Democratic National Convention in July. He—alongside dozens of others—was arrested for his participation.
While I do not take lightly the restraint of my free movement or the consequences of criminal charges, I did not feel that I had a choice. I had to stand with the Fight for 15 because of choices I made long ago.
As a Christian minister, I follow a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus. In his very first sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to say that he came to preach “good news to the poor.” The word he chose for poor—ptokos in the Greek—means “those who are made poor by unjust systems.” Jesus came to preach freedom to people who work for slave wages.
Barber went on to explain why he feels this fight is key, making clear the role that race plays in the discussion:
When Francis Perkins, a labor secretary motivated by the social gospel, was buoyed by a moral movement to press Franklin Delano Roosevelt toward a New Deal, a sitting U.S. president declared, “No business which depends for its existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
That was 83 years ago. America knows that it’s past time to guarantee all people a living wage and the right to form a union. It took us 400 years to go from zero to $7.25. Working people are not about to wait another 400 years to get to $15 an hour. …
I was arrested this week because it’s wrong for the richest nation in the history of the world to pay half its African-American workers and 60 percent of its Latino workers less than $15 an hour.
It’s wrong that extremist politicians continue to appeal to the so-called “White working class,” pitting poor White people against poor people of color when 50 percent of all workers make less than $15 an hour.
Read the full essay here.