My awareness of a campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage was followed by disbelief. The residents of Seattle managed to elect an out and proud socialist, but could our fair city make such a giant leap in socialist policies? It would take time, but I was determined to document it with my camera.
I knew a big leap in pay would make a difference in the lives of those it would affect, but was curious as to how it would be implemented. I expected resistance from the business community but found more support than I expected.
As the weeks went by, I saw the posters reflecting the $15-an-hour minimum wage campaign at events I attended. I began to see signs in yards and windows; even the overpriced condo down the street had a $15 Now sign. The public seemed to understand the math of the cost of living and stagnant wages. With sky-rocketing rent, cuts to bus routes, foreclosures and the never-ending mismanagement of resources by the city, Seattle’s low-wage workers were being neglected. Add the local issues to the present gap in income inequality, rising cost of higher education and high gas prices and it seemed like those without the same privilege I experience were seeing their hard work not meeting the needs of their families.
Kshama Sawant brought the fight for $15 to the forefront and gave people an opportunity to work toward something that would help them. It seemed to me that Sawant’s election to Seattle City Council gave people the hope that perhaps someone in a position to set policy would actually work for those in need, not the ones who filled their campaign coffers. Over time, I came to respect Sawant as a leader and someone who could not be bought. Though Sawant had scores of volunteers, her dedication to the issue proved rewarding.
I’m in awe that I’m writing this a little over a year after I first learned of the campaign. To me, that is a testament to the power of grassroots activism and the fact that change that can be made by taking issues to the streets.
Documenting this struggle, in the rain and wind and cold days or nights, has been a rewarding experience for me, both in seeing how this kind of work gets done, and also in seeing people so passionate about something that’s bigger than themselves. I’ve built friendships and relationships with people I might have never met. The minutes of solidarity and support as fast- food workers turned off the ovens and the lights, then locked the doors, will stay with me, reminding me why I do what I do.
While raising the minimum wage is historic, and a milestone for progressive politics, this law is not without faults. A tip credit is deplorable, as is a training wage. The phase-in idea is convoluted, but we should realize it’s a work in progress. Let’s be patient and see what happens.