By Ralph Nader
Day after day exposés pour forth about corporate and governmental wrongdoing and abuses of power from official reports, the media, lawsuits and citizen groups. Far more often than not, little or nothing happens. The organized culprits continue with their harmful and greedy ways.
The golden age of muckraking in films, books, and magazine articles – assuming they are seen or read – can discourage people because the forces of law and order don’t follow through.
The banality of exposés can be displaced by the activity of reform; if only the people will express their will in ways no one in officialdom or corporatedom can stop.
Let’s take the matter of raising the federal minimum wage (now $7.25 an hour) for 30 million working poor to the level that workers received at the minimum wage level in 1968, adjusted for inflation. That would be a $10.50 minimum wage today.
At least 70 percent of the American public supports this modest goal, which would stimulate the economy and make the major employers of low-income workers, such as Walmart or McDonald’s, stop capitalizing on a depreciating minimum wage. Other profitable businesses, like Costco, are already joining the fight and calling to raise the minimum wage above $10 per hour.
In a few weeks, members of Congress, the people in charge of raising the minimum wage to 1968 levels, will be on a two-weeklong recess. Many of these senators and representatives will hold a town meeting or two in their districts or state. Many of them need to have a couple of hundred Americans, especially the working poor, show up to demand a $10.50 minimum wage.
Two hundred citizens showing up at a local congressional office or town meeting is a tiny number in a congressional district averaging 650,000 Americans. But just that small number of people informed, determined and saying they’re not going to go away in the following weeks, will really jolt the lawmakers. Because, usually, very few people show up at such meetings, and when Tea Party partisans did during the August 2009 Congressional recess, the thunder clapped all the way to Washington, D.C.
Now we all know that no one can stop citizens from showing up at these meetings in the first two weeks of April (call your legislator’s local office for times and places of scheduled meetings). Or even demand a meeting in your area with your legislators if one is not scheduled nearby.
If one percent of the people turned out in April, that would be about 6,000 people in each congressional district. I can assure you the likelihood of reaching a $10.50 minimum wage would be very high. Remember, turning out includes telling your senator and representative that you are staying with this needed and just reform until enactment. Law makers respect and fear civic stamina.
If citizens take on this challenge, when Congress resumes in mid-April, the atmosphere on Capitol Hill will decidedly not be “business as usual.” The various poverty groups, civic organizations and labor unions that lobby Congress can point to a powerful constituency back in the districts where your town meeting presence has been reported in the local media. Many national groups are happy to keep you informed of the drive for a $10.50 minimum wage and what catching up with 1968 means for creating more jobs and better livelihoods.
Our website is Time For a Raise where you’ll see how civic organizations, prominent writers, economists and enlightened business leaders have come to the side of the 30 million Americans who have been shortchanged for many years by big companies reporting record profits and record CEO pay. For instance, the head of Walmart makes $11,000 an hour!
Other Congressional recesses are in May, around the Fourth of July, and almost the entire month of August. So you’ll have plenty of opportunities to plan for a great and determined turnout with your fellow citizens.
Remember, you “the people” number in the millions. Congress is made up of 535 representatives and senators. There is no way you can’t make them enact this modest measure of economic justice. The big corporations who want to continue with serf labor have money, but no votes. In the final analyses, members of Congress will have to value informed votes above sleazy campaign cash.
April is springtime when nature renews itself. It can also be the time for citizens to renew their civic commitments and flex their democratic muscle to end this 21st century wage slavery.
Riding herd on your members of Congress is fun. This is especially true when you vastly outnumber them on a very understandable reform for the 30 million American laborers who harvest our food, serve us daily, clean up after us, and take care of our children and ailing elderly. The working poor can’t pay for their most basic needs and those of their children.
We want to touch base and help organizers for these recess town meetings in your community. Please visit timeforaraise.org or send an email to [email protected], and see that what needs to be done is easier than you think.