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Enormous Power of the People Sways the November Elections

From increased minimum wage wins to local fracking bans, the people made their voices heard this election.

Photo Credit: Salcedo


Sometimes it feels like elections are an exercise in futility. We live in a mirage democracy in which major party candidates are vetted by the corporate machine before they get on the ballot and third party candidates who represent the values of the movement are undercut by actions in which the major parties collude against them.

History instructs that in this environment, it is important to build the movement and use what tools are available to shift power to the people. San Francisco-based lawyer-activist Randy Shaw writes in his new edition of The Activist’s Handbook “that neither politicians nor political parties are the prime movers for progressive change.” He lists actions that should be taken regardless of whom is in power to further the movement’s goals.

The elections this week provide many lessons for the movement. Third party candidates built their bases and honed the skills of their campaign teams so they can try again next time. The greatest successes and lessons from failures were in the area of direct democracy through voter initiatives.

There were multiple examples of the people winning on issues in which the resistance movement has been active, as well as a couple of examples where money overcame people’s movements. Of course, as in every week, there were a lot of non-electoral movement activities too.

We may be at the beginning of the end of poverty wages for workers.  Two votes showed progress in the minimum wage battle. In Washington State, residents of SeaTac voted for a raise to $15 per hour for airport workers. In New Jersey, a statewide vote raised the minimum wage by $1 to $8.75 an hour, still not a living wage, but the initiative also changed the state constitution by requiring automatic raises based on inflation. The New Jersey vote is also of interest because it reversed a decision by Governor Chris Christie who refused to raise the minimum wage. South Dakota, Alaska and Idaho will likely be voting on raising the minimum wage in upcoming elections.

It is urgent that the race to the bottom in wages ends. A report this week showed that 40 percent of Americans earn under $25,000 annually.  In this 40 percent the average income is $17,500. Fifty percent of Americans earn under $30,000.  These numbers emphasize that the U.S. has become a nation of poverty-wage workers, rather than one with a vibrant middle class. 

Even worse, as the Economic Policy Institute put it this week, “Low-wage workers are robbed far more often than banks, gas stations and convenience stores combined” by their employers who ignore minimum wage laws. Workers lose 15% of their already low income in theft. The laws are not enforced because there is only one inspector for every 141,000 workers. And now, due to cuts in food stamps, we expect the situation to deteriorate. Josh Eidelson reports that hunger is a spark for riots.

There is no question that votes on the minimum wage were empowered by the actions of low wage workers and the highlighting of the wealth divide by the Occupy movement.  Strikes by low-wage workers continued this week. In Los Angles, Walmart workers went on strike with the support of hundreds of community members standing in solidarity with them. Workers and their allies escalated to nonviolent resistance actions, resulting in more than 50 arrests. This is the right time to escalate and we hope this tactic spreads nationally.  In Las Vegas, culinary workers went on strike and were arrested when they held a sit-in at the Cosmopolitan casino. In these insecure economic times, it takes great courage for low-wage workers to stand up to big corporations. Communities should stand with them and realize that their success is good for all of us. 

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