The Fight For $15 Advances From Coast To Coast

Over just the past week, the Fight for $15 made major gains in the American heartland and beyond that positioned the $15 minimum wage as an emerging national standard. Illinois became the first Midwestern state to pass a $15 minimum wage, and sent the bill to Governor Bruce Rauner?s desk. In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a corporate-backed move to block cities from raising the minimum wage or adopting paid sick days protections, clearing the way for Minneapolis to approve a $15 minimum wage this summer. And in Congress, most Democrats in the House and Senate rallied behind a $15 federal minimum wage.

Each represents a big leap in the mainstreaming of the $15 minimum wage ? which just a few years ago was viewed as realistic only in places like Seattle or New York. Now $15 ? together with other key working families? planks like paid sick days and paid family leave ? are quickly emerging as key litmus test issues that will figure prominently in 2018 governors? and congressional races across the country.

In Illinois ? where Chicago?s minimum wage is already on its way to $13 without any negative effect on employment ? the $15 minimum wage approved this week would raise pay for close to 2 million workers by an average of $2,400 a year for a directly affected worker once fully phased in, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

In Minnesota, where the Republican-controlled legislature is blocking action on the minimum wage and paid sick days, Governor Dayton?s veto put the brakes on a push by corporate lobbyists to prevent cities from addressing these worker needs. Elsewhere, lobbyists pushing similar ?preemption? measures to prevent cities form helping their most vulnerable residents have found eager allies in governors like Wisconsin?s Scott Walker, former Indiana governor and now Vice President Mike Pence, and newly elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens.

In Congress, progressive and moderate Democrats also came together last week to introduce legislation calling for a $15 minimum wage by 2024. With the federal minimum wage frozen at just $7.25 since 2009, the Raise the Wage Act would raise pay for 41 million U.S. workers by about $3,500 a year. That?s enough to make a tremendous difference in the life of a preschool teacher, bank teller, or fast-food worker who today struggles to get by on around $20,000 annually.

It shows growing recognition that in all fifty states, even a single worker without children will soon need to make at least $15 an hour to cover the basics ? and those in more expensive states or with families will need even more. Equally significant, the latest economic evidence on the $15 minimum wages that are now being phased in around the country shows that the benefits vastly outweigh the costs.

But with the Republican majority in Congress and the Trump Administration focused on rolling back worker protections, no one is expecting action in Washington anytime soon. Which means that the minimum wage and other basic worker issues are likely to figure prominently in the 2018 elections.

For example, if Rauner vetoes the $15 Illinois increase, it is likely to return as a major issue in what is shaping up to be a tough reelection fight next year. The same is true for Wisconsin?s Scott Walker, who has blocked action on the minimum wage and repealed local paid sick days laws in his state, and for Maryland?s Larry Hogan, who just vetoed paid sick days legislation and could see a minimum wage bill on his desk before next year?s election.

As we?re seeing in the New Jersey and Virginia governor?s races this year, Democratic candidates are likely to run on a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days platform ? and push to make the elections referenda on these economic fairness issues. That?s when voters will get to decide whether they want to reward candidates who are standing up for working families ? or those like Scott Walker, Larry Hogan and Mike Pence who side with corporate lobbyists to block help for those most in need.


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The Orlando Massacre Was Much More Than A Wake-Up Call About Hate

Just two years ago, few of us would have imagined the frightening America we live in today. Instability, impulse and mad rantings rule the day. Many fear brutality, deportation, separation from their families. No one?s rights can be taken for granted, and for LGBTQ people, whose rights, like so many others, have always been fragile, it?s a harsh reality. Though we?ve organized and empowered ourselves in a forceful way across the country, standing strong against those who would harm us, we live on edge now, uncertain about the future.

But there we were, in the seemingly magical summer of 2015, basking in the glory of the strides of decades of work after the Supreme Court?s ruling on marriage equality. A president who made many promises but had a slow start and needed a push was by then moving at breakneck speed, soon reaching down to secure equality for even the most vulnerable among LGBT people: transgender military personnel and transgender students.

We thought we?d arrived, as the term goes, with no turning back. The hate that we?d endured for decades seemed like it had been vanquished. America was finally embracing us, as the media and the pollsters were telling us. It was easy to be lulled in that moment into a false sense of security and a feeling of final triumph ? ?victory blindness,? as I had called it that June in my book ?It?s Not Over,? trying to warn against complacency.

Sure, people were still being discriminated against, as only less than half of the states fully protected LGBTQ people by law. But many thought that would soon end. Activists and politicians were talking about a comprehensive federal civil rights bill, banning discrimination for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit nationwide, as being just a few years off. So-called ?religious liberty? bills were a last gasp of the religious right, many thought, and would be beaten back with help of big business in legislatures, in the courts and by a president who would champion our full civil rights and equality. 

The massacre was the latest wrenching wake-up call alerting us to the fact that the battle against hatred of LGBTQ people is an ongoing one.

But the whiff of authoritarianism was also in the air at that time, whether many of us picked up the scent or not. In the same month in which the Supreme Court handed down the landmark Obergefell ruling on marriage equality, Donald Trump announced his run for the presidency, on June 16, 2015. And as that authoritarian scent grew more and more unmistakeable as 2016 came to its midpoint, we were jolted by an event so horrifying, so staggering and ultimately so prescient ? a harbinger of a world in which we don?t feel secure and where hate is omnipresent. 

The gun massacre on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a queer nightclub where 49 people were killed and 58 were wounded, most of them LGBTQ people of color and some of their friends and family members, hit us like a freight train. It underscored in one terrible night in which so many died and so many families were shattered, that the hate we?d always lived with was still very much alive and deadly ? perhaps more deadly than ever. We found ourselves dealing with the grief and trying to make sense of it, collectively, while also seeing a sensational media ? and an America ? that completely misunderstood it. That was the second crash of reality, after the hate rearing its head ? the fact that even well-meaning straight people didn?t get it.

There was a rush to call the massacre an act of Islamic terrorism ? and thus a politically-based attack on all Americans ?  because the killer was of Afghan descent, raised in a Muslim-American family. But he was an American citizen who grew up in American schools and in an American society with a history of  violently homophobic attacks, and with hate groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family promoting the lies and bigotry that enable those who engage in violence. He had a history of violence himself, and only a week before the attack his father alleged he?d become angered when two men kissed one another in Miami in front of his son. And on that weekend last June he decided his target carefully: a queer space, where he would kill queer people.

No matter how much LGBTQ activists tried to focus the media on homophobia as the driving force, journalists were hellbent on dangerously simplifying the mass murder, slotting it as an act of foreign-influenced terrorism and downplaying homophobia, not to mention often failing to emphasis the impact on the Latino community of Orlando, heterosexual and LGBTQ. And Trump capitalized on all of that, at once using the mass murder for his racist campaign, promoting his hatred of Muslims, while implying he was a champion of ?LGBTQ people? because he would protect us from a ?hateful foreign ideology.? 

The fight for acceptance, equality and civil rights, we learned on that weekend, is not one that will ever really be over.

But it wasn?t a hateful foreign ideology that threatened and still threatens our lives every day. It is a domestic ideology that inspired the killer, a hatred of LGBTQ people bred in the country in which he grew up, embraced in a vocal way by a one political party for decades ? and most fervently in its platform in 2016 ? and even by U.S. presidents.

It was perhaps at that moment, when we were shellshocked and saw that even the media, and even our supposed friends among political leaders and even among some in Hollywood, just didn?t get it, that we realized how truly fragile our rights are. For Trump, who won the elections by the slimmest of margins ? losing the popular vote by three million and winning the Electoral College by less than 80,000 votes in three states ? any one moment in the campaign could be pointed to as making the difference, including this one.

The  massacre was the latest wrenching wake-up call alerting us to the fact that the battle against hatred of LGBTQ people is an ongoing one. But it was also a wake-up call about what would soon transpire, whether many of us would heed that call or not. Too often, all of us, no matter our sexual orientation, gender identity, race or class, believe the battle is won. We believe certain things can?t happen in America. We want to believe it because we?re optimistic and we see the promise of this country. We?ve seen how far we?ve come, beating back the forces of hate time and again, and securing our rights.

But the massacre at Pulse was a tragic reminder that we must always stay on guard. It shined a bright light on the fact that even places we see as our own, spaces in which we believe we?re protected, can come under brutal assault. The fight for acceptance, equality and civil rights, we learned on that weekend, is not one that will ever really be over.

And Trump?s jarring election win several months later only confirmed that. Winning rights is just half the battle, while keeping them from rolling back, protecting ourselves and our spaces, and beating back the hate is the rest of it. In that summer of 2016, it began to sink in that we must always live in this fight.  

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