The Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter Go Hand in Hand

Two lead organizers explain the promise of two powerful movements converging.

Police form a line outside the McDonald's on West Florissant Avenue during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Oct 19, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

A black woman. A fast-food worker. A student. A parent of a child slain by police.

These could be four different identities, or they could be four hats worn by one person. The overlapping and shared desire for better access to justice and equality those roles might share was at the core of a conversation on Monday between organizers from the Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter movements.

“I don’t have to be a worker today and a queer person tomorrow and a woman tonight. I can be all of those things at once,” Alicia Garza, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, told an audience at City University of New York’s Murphy Institute. “What’s important about the high levels of participation [in these movements] is that it signals that there is space for people to be who they are unapologetically and for us to fight among multiple dimensions.”

Garza spoke alongside Kendall Fells, lead organizer in the low-wage workers’ Fight for $15 group, about the convergence of the two movements. Rather than considering them as running on parallel or complementary tracks, Garza and Fells expressed optimism about what might be accomplished by the two together.

Black Lives Matter gained prominence after the death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer and became a common refrain in the many protests following the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in cities throughout the country this year. But Garza emphasized that it is not just a movement about police violence.

“What we are fighting around are the contours of black life,” she said. “We are multi-sector and multi-issue.”

One of those contours is economic justice—which is one way the strikes led by low-wage workers around the country pursuing better wages have converged with the goals of Black Lives Matter. Roughly 40 percent of fast-food workers are people of color, more than half of them are women, and most of them are between the ages of 25 and 54, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Fells recalled seeing this intersection in action in Ferguson after Brown was killed, when McDonald’s workers who had been striking for higher wages took up the fight against anti-black racism being waged in the streets.

“There is a natural intersection between what’s happening with Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15,” Fells said. “If we take advantage of this and link these movements together, we have opportunities to create more success in years to come.”