Fifty years after the sanitation workers in Memphis marched with Martin Luther King Jr. to demand higher wages and safer labor conditions, Fight for $15 and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber are planning a fast-food workers strike in two dozen cities across the Southern United States to advocate for racial justice and voting rights.
"There's no separation between the moral battle for voting rights and participation in democracy and the moral battle against systemic poverty. Those battles go together," said Barber, who last year revived King's Poor People's Campaign and has supported the Fight for $15 minimum wage movement.
In a statement announcing plans for the protests, which are scheduled for Feb. 12, Fight for $15 compared the plight of the sanitation workers 50 years ago to that of fast-food workers today. "Now, we carry on the same fight," the group declared. "In 1968, 40 percent of Memphis sanitation workers qualified for public assistance; in 2018, 52 percent of fast food workers are on public assistance."
While Barber and members of the new Poor People's Campaign will march in Memphis with 1968 sanitation workers as well as advocates for labor and civil rights, Fight for $15 is urging its supporters to organize events across the country.
"We're bringing two movements together—people fighting for a living wage, a lot of young people, along with poor people, moral leaders, people of faith," Barber told The Guardian. "We believe we can build a movement that can shift the narrative. Right now, we have an ugly narrative—'Elect me, I'll take away healthcare, I'll hurt the poor, and I'll give tax breaks to the wealthy.'"
Affiliated groups turned to social media Thursday to promote the states-wide strike:
50 years ago, black sanitation workers went on strike with MLK. The signs they carried boldly declared their humanity, saying, “I AM A MAN.” On, Feb. 12 the #FightFor15 will honor their legacy in a day of aciton. Make YOUR sign and we'll carry it with us: https://t.co/ggt6SarvZn pic.twitter.com/q71RXcXVHI
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) February 1, 2018
"On 12 Feb, hundreds of fast-food workers from around the south and across the US will converge on Memphis to march in honor of the 1968 strikers and to throw @fightfor15's support behind a renewed #PoorPeoplesCampaign, the movement King championed." https://t.co/fx6XJoP6oB
— Poor People's Campaign (@UniteThePoor) February 1, 2018
Fast food companies have made billions by exploiting their employees. It's time to share that wealth.https://t.co/YOjBmrwx1B
— Union Seminary (@UnionSeminary) February 1, 2018