The first time I watched legislators was when Senator O’Brien voted against the Dream Act this past session. Later that week I understood that his vote was a result of quick counting. The votes were not there to pass the legislation, with or without his vote, therefore he voted against it. This is when it hit me, to achieve Metro Justice’s goals of economic, racial, and social justice it’s not enough to raise our voice on issues we care. Not only do we need to pressure our local officials, but we also need to build a space where voting in favor of our issues is the only option. New York needs electoral victories to achieve our visions for a better future.
Primarily, Metro Justice is working on the Fight for 15/Lucha Por 15. This effort engages and encourages fast food workers to stand for the fair wage of $15 an hour, a union, and a real voice in the workplace. This is a new challenge for our members, we are organizing Rochestarians and empowering them; instead of advocating for an issue, or a third party. With this new approach, legislative campaigns are only one of the tools used to engage workers, and their allies throughout the state.
When workers and community allies take action, new legislative opportunities are created, which in turn, produce the opportunity for new movements. I believe it’s not a coincidence that we are again talking about raising minimum wage, even though it was recently raised to $8 an hour. The origin of the new call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, with index to inflation is rooted in the state and national organizing being done by fast food workers.
Those working on progressive issues, like minimum wage, had a role in the decision of the Working Family Party to endorse Governor Cuomo. The Unions had already decided to vote for Cuomo at the convention, but that the endorsement wasn't clear until community groups organizing predominantly low-wage people of color and fast food workers used the endorsement for Cuomo to completely reverse his opposition to key goals of their campaign. There is no doubt that members of the convention who are also members of Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, Community Voices Heard and other community groups swung the endorsement base on this chance for workers to organize for better lives. They endorsed the Governor under the agreement that the Governor would work to win a majority of progressive Senators allowing for economic and social issues to move forward.
It’s too soon to tell how this endorsement will play out, but the Working Family Party and Metro Justice believe that this is an important step for New YorkState, our works and communities. As a result of this measure, the New York State Senate will be more open to progressive issues, regardless of the political views of future governors.
For Metro Justice, our job is simple. Although we don’t endorse candidates, we continue to bring our issues into spaces, such as interviews with Working Family Party candidates, and into board meetings of Citizen Action. We continue to raise our voices in order to let our issues be heard when politicians are running for election and when they are working on legislation that affects all of us. Most importantly, we are a part of a bigger movement that is building Rochestarians ability to take direct action in the things that affect them the most.
Next time I am watching a local politician, I would like to think that they’re taking into account how their vote will affect Metro Justice’s next organizing effort. For better or worse.