Two Movements Meet
Economic and social justice in Ferguson
Police brutality and racialized violence have been at the forefront of many conversations in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown.
But in the background, a picture not only of cultural and political marginalization has emerged, but one of economic strife as well. Just look at the sobering statistics about Ferguson where nearly half of adults are working, the median income—about 36,000 a year—has dropped 30 percent since 2000, and one and four residents live below the poverty line.
One of the groups that’s fighting for better economic conditions in the region is Show Me $15, a labor rights group that is advocating for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour and an unionized work force for low wage earners. Organizers say that the connection between social and economic conditions are clear and they are joining the frontlines to protest not only the treatment of African Americans by the police force, but for more stable and economically just communities. They say that the death of Brown and the protests that it has sparked is all part of a larger fight for better conditions for African Americans in Ferguson and it’s surrounding areas.
Here, in their own voices, three fast food workers tell why they’re standing in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson.
An 18-year-old McDonald's crewmember who lives in Ferguson. He works part-time and makes $7.60 an hour.
I've been out everyday since the death of my friend Michael Brown. He went to my school for a couple of years. When I first heard the news, I could do nothing but cry honestly. I heard it on the radio. When they played that song “It's so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” that's when I just started crying, cause it was like wow.
Police officers and minorities, I feel like it's a racial tension. There are times they bother me and my friends. They'll bother us and we ain’t doing nothing but just going to the park or just chilling on the front porch. They basically stereotype all young minorities as criminals or up to no good.
I wouldn’t say I'm scared. I’m more cautious. When I'm walking to the store, like, you never know who will bother you. First I was taught watch out for strangers and police officers--they’re supposed to protect and serve. But based off my experiences, I have to watch them as well.
I'm out not only for the support of my friend Michael Brown but I want change because I know what's going on now. It's really not working for everybody's best interests, so I'm just here fighting for equality.
“I'm out not only for the support of my friend Michael Brown but I want change because I know what's going on now.”
I'm a part of the Show Me $15 because I work at the McDonalds on West Florissant. The minimum wage- 7.50 an hour—isn’t enough to cover our expenses. Some people have vehicles and they have to worry about maintenance on their vehicles, some have to worry about household mortgages and utility bills and all of that. Minimum wage ain’t going to cover all their expenses.
I have to pay insurance, and insurance is high due to my age. I have an extended warranty on my car. I also help my mother and grandmother with bills around the house. Then I have to worry about clothing…and the phone bill, there's just a lot of expenses.
We're being underpaid. They work you very hard. You’re working all these other positions especially when you're short staff and still getting paid the same amount. We have to work two times harder just for the same position.
At my job, it will be a lot of people on front counter taking orders and doing all of that, but like in the kitchen area, it'd only be like two workers, so it would be one person on the assembly line, assembling the food and another person cooking the food, dropping food in the fryer and then still having to help the person on the table wrapping up assembling the food. Some days, it’s like a whole lot of labor and not enough pay and other days it don't be as bad. I'm still just looking for a higher paying job.
It's hard to find [good] jobs. They have higher requirements, higher standards which is understandable. You have to be in college, or have these skills, years, or whatever. I start college next month at ITT Tech, September 15 working systems administrations.
We're still going to start making groups and organizations that young people can come together and enjoy themselves and learn and not be violent. I'm hoping that people step up to the plate.
A lot of people still have that slave mind, we gotta fight back.
You got to standup and fight for what you believe in because if you don't then you're sitting there accepting what you're against. Don't just sit back and accept, cause you don’t have to. That's all I have to say.
A 21-year-old crew trainer at the McDonald’s in Ferguson. She makes $7.97 an hour.
I been out there since day one from the very beginning. Our people in the community are very hurt by this. Who would have thought this?
I’ve heard stories but I’ve never been harassed. The only thing they probably harass women on is like giving them a ticket or something like that. They don’t target us like they target young men. They target young black men by the way they look. If you have dreads or you have tattoos, they feel that you are a criminal. They think everyone is a criminal by the way they look-that’s young men and older men too that blacks.
We’re fighting for Michael Brown, we're fighting for justice but at the same time we got to think about the economics, like what’s going on in our neighborhoods. I think good job practices help the economy, and also help the community.
The black neighborhoods where the incident took place, a lot of them don’t have jobs, some of them do but a lot of them don’t. African Americans or people in general they feel like why go to a job and get 7.50 an hour and its not really supported. Who can live off 7.50 and pay utilities? Buy groceries or support their children for healthcare or dental? It’s just like ridiculous. Nobody should have to live in poverty.
“We’re fighting for Michael Brown, we're fighting for justice but at the same time we got to think about the economics, like what’s going on in our neighborhoods.”
You work extra hard for little pay. They don't pay you enough. They work you extra hard. They want you to do cashiering, maintenance, do the grill and then want to give you low pay; they don’t want to give you anything. They feel like their workers only deserve minimum wage and they just chose not to pay. It's not that they don’t have the money, they feel like we're not worth more than making 7.50 minimum wage.
They need the workers to have their business to run. No grown person with kids should be making 7.50 an hour. McDonalds is not no where I’m trying to stay my entire life.
I can’t even go to school because I don’t have enough money to pay. I deserve more. I want to go to school and work. They only give me like 15-20 hours. I don’t have any kids, but I do help my mother out because she lost her job and I help my little sister and my big sister out. I'm struggling with supporting my family.
Our minimum wage going up to 15 dollars and a union is going to help that.
Show Me $15 means workers coming together, united, organized for each other. We need a union because we need the basic benefits. Healthcare, dental insurance, paid vacation. If you work in that job more than a year you should get all that. We need a contract that is set that no one can take it away.
A lot of older people say they don’t understand why do we organize workers to fight. They don’t get it. They don’t see the older people that work there. We have to make change, like we got to stand together or we gonna fall down. As a black community we got to stand up for our rights for what we believe. I’m out there til justice gets served.
That’s why I fight and I will keep fighting everyday.
A 44-year-old who lives in University City, a suburb of St. Louis. He has worked as a part-time delivery man for Dominoes for over 20 years and makes $7.50 an hour plus tips. He's also a part-time officer manager for a nonprofit.
I never thought that the things that I learned in school would apply to today. You hear about the French Revolution and the class struggle and come to find out that it's potentially happening today kind of secretly.
When you talk about income inequality and how it affects me, I'm actually lucky because of the privilege that I have [as a white man]. I've been told that I'm seven times less likely to have been pulled over by police, the likeliness of me getting hired [is greater]…almost every level of upward mobility. When the job market was really really bad, it seemed that even in low paying jobs where employers had the opportunity to have who they wanted, a whole lot of white people showed up where a lot of black jobs used to be. It seems like there is something under the surface that hasn’t been discussed, that's just been avoided and that's kind of what's happening in Ferguson, the straw is breaking the camel's back. The people have had enough.
It's a rude awakening of how things really are. A lot of people are really tired of it. You don’t know exactly who to go after, but you know someone's taking advantage of you. You know your life's not going as well as you thought and there's plenty of people that stood on your shoulders that's pointing fingers at you.
“I’m an activist for life until things are better.”
I haven’t been to Ferguson. I went to Clayton to march [against Prosecutor McCulloch.] I have entertained the idea of going down there at night to Ferguson but apparently they have connecting streets blocked off and won't really let extra people in. But it's the right thing to do. I'm acutely aware of history and how it affects people and I've always wondered why people aren't more outraged than they have been. This is just something that shocks a lot of people, but to me, it’s just been bound to happen. I think the Governor said we need to have peace to have justice. It's never that way, it's exactly the opposite. And justice for the people hasn’t existed for a long time.
I don’t think necessarily violence will solve it… but it seems that’s when people start to listen unfortunately.
All the low wage movements, have brought together people across all kinds of lines because it affects everyone. Darker skinned people have always felt the hit the hardest. Now it’s just hitting so many people.
It seemed like things would get better but here I am 25 years later and my buying power is down. We plateaued how much drivers can get paid. The company has figured out ways to nickel and dime you wherever they can. I’ve never got a raise of more than probably a quarter. New employees come in and out and they can pretty much walk in off the street and make just as much as I do because of how wages haven’t kept up with inflation. I’m still with Dominoes part time, I actually took a few more hours because I haven’t been able to make ends meet. And I work a day job part-time.
Lack of money can kind of suffocate you. People are saying that [15 an hour] is unreasonable. People think that 10.10 is too much, but it’s just ridiculous and it’s an insult to hard working people everywhere. We really should be getting more.
This is a serious wakeup call that has the capacity to hit more cities and more places in St Louis. It’s due time people started speaking up for themselves instead of being railroaded by the money and the power and the abuse of it. I'll be wherever they go. I’m an activist for life until things are better.