When Equal Pay Day rolls around every April 4, tons of essays about the importance of closing the gender wage gap and, more recently, the racial aspects of the gender pay gap flourish. Closing the pay gap has long been a priority of feminists, but the workers' rights group Fight For $15 is taking that desire to the streets on this Equal Pay Day. Fight For $15 is reminding us of race and class this Equal Pay Day — the same day as the 49th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, TN.
In tandem with the Movement for Black Lives, the Dream Defenders, and other racial justice organizations, Fight For $15 is re-centering the workers' rights conversation with an intersectional lens, and their joint voices deserve our full attention.
Simplistically, Equal Pay Day is about closing the pay gap between men and women, and that argument has often focused on a single statistic that says women earn 79 cents to every man's dollar. As most of us now know, that figure fails to take into account the racial aspects of the wage gap, which shows that white women earn 79 cents to each white male dollar, but that Black women earn 63 percent of what white men earn, and Latinas earn 54 percent. The pay gap is even more complicated by class -- and with these protests, Fight For $15 and the Movement for Black Lives are highlighting that disparity not only for pro-worker activists, but also among feminists who may not view the fight for a $15 minimum wage or Black Lives Matter as a "women's issue."
"We are women. We are powerful, and we need to stick together." -Adriana Alvarez, Fight for 15 pic.twitter.com/1frGMbDVhB— Grassroots Collab (@GrassrootsChi) March 9, 2017
Many of the protests led by local Fight for $15 chapter are taking place in states where legislation that might criminalize peaceful protest have been introduced by state lawmakers. The flagship protest is occurring in Memphis and culminating at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. The city is significant for another reason as well -- in March, Fight For $15 sued Memphis for allegedly engaging in surveillance of protesters as part of what they describe as an illegal campaign of harassment by Memphis Police against organizers.
According to a statement from Fight For $15, the organization spearheaded protests in cities around the country to culminate specifically on the 49th anniversary of King's assassination while supporting striking Black sanitation workers in Memphis. It also falls on the 50th anniversary of his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech, which marked his anti-war stance that became a highlight of the final year of his life.
Through both their organizational structure and their activist actions, Fight For $15 and the Movement for Black Lives provide a model of an intersectional focus on race, gender, and class among those looking to change the world. Their focus on King on this day does not detract from the importance of Equal Pay Day, but rather illuminates the civil rights icon's commitment to creating economic equality in the latter years of his life. They show all advocates of equality that resisting single-issue activism isn't just important, but powerful in changing our world for the better.