Earlier this week, thousands of Fight for 15 protesters—a very substantial number of whom work in the fast food and restaurant sector—took to the streets to demand fairer nationwide minimum wages. The protests, sit-ins, marches, and rallies that were held this Tuesday took place in over 340 cities across America and were emblematic of not only Fight for 15's ability to steadily transform itself into one of the largest progressive movements in the country, but also of the untenable wages millions of working Americans earn today.
In Kansas City, Missouri, over 100 protesters were arrested and charged with failure to obey a lawful order after sitting in the middle of the road outside of a McDonald's. Kenya Banks, a 43-year-old mother of two who currently works at Taco Bell and has spent a total of 20 years working at fast food restaurants, told MUNCHIES, "The protests were pretty intense but it was worth it. We woke up early and stayed the night in jail to fight for fair pay and a better America. I feel like we accomplished something: we're getting more attention to the need for economic equality and getting our voices across that workers are struggling even though we work every day."
When asked why she decided to get involved with the Fight for 15, Banks explained, "It's harder work than people think it is. We work more than we're paid. I've had to deal with homelessness, not being able to eat, lights cut off, all while going to work every day. I started organizing about two years ago because no working person should deal with this. I want to fight for a better economy for us all."
Mikela Huston, a leader with Stand Up KC who also works at a Taco Bell and is the mother to a 3-year-old child, told us that as "soon as I sat down, I was arrested . . . I've never been arrested before so I was a little nervous. But I knew what I was there for. I knew it was important for workers to say we're not going anywhere. And I felt good that there were 109 people there to back me up. The whole crowd was behind us!"
When MUNCHIES asked Huston about any misconceptions some may have about the protests, she explained, "People aren't really educated around the reality that so many working families go through. And that it's serious for us. I know that we are working to change that by speaking out and standing up. If anyone has been paying attention to the cost of rent, the cost of a gallon of milk, of food, has been going up for sometime but our wages haven't. At Taco Bell, the prices have been going up since I've been there, they keep making profits but they keep wages too low. And the other thing is that if workers have more money, the more money we can put back into the economy and we can help boost the economy."
April Shabazz, a 45-year-old mother of two who has been a home health aide for almost 30 years and works a second job making deliveries for GrubHub, was arrested with her two children on Tuesday, both of whom are Jimmy John's workers. Shabazz told MUNCHIES,"My daughter got me inspired to be a part of the FF15 movement. When she started organizing, she was working at Popeye's and she started talking to me about it and I realized that man, I have to make a choice between paying a light bill or putting food on the table, and I shouldn't have to do that. No one should have to do that who goes to work every day.
While Fight for 15 has, in the past, successfully spurred Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to adopt a $15 dollar minimum wage, Tuesday was historic for being the first time Fight for 15 held a protest since Donald Trump became the President-elect. In a climate in which a state senator unabashedly announced his plans to introduce a bill that would allow most forms of protest to be labelled "economic terrorism" and deemed a felony—and where the soon-to-be President of the most developed nation in the world suggests burning the American flag should result in jail time or revoked citizenship—movements like the Fight for 15 and Stand Up KC are critically important, not only to the livelihood of our nation's restaurant workers, but to democracy as a whole.
Hutson says she "would like for [the] President-elect to walk in our shoes for a few weeks and maybe he would understand why this fight for $15 and a union is so important."
In Banks' words, "No matter what you might think, there are 64 million Americans who make less than $15 an hour and we deserve a living wage just like any other worker in America. We want to be treated fairly and paid fairly. We are human beings, we are all working Americans, and we all deserve better."