I am a liberal. Much to the chagrin of most of my extended family.
I am happy to say, however, that I still get invited to reunions. They are still buying my book. This leads me to believe that blood is thicker than Fox News and MSNBC. Let’s see if I’m singing that same tune come November.
This past month has been a highly charged political time. Which is saying something, considering how highly charged we’ve been the last three years. And I am sitting on some very strong opinions. I’ve got thoughts on how we got where got. But for some reason, I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it.
Maybe it’s my recent stint in the hospital? Maybe it’s the fact that, on some level, I know that we are all facing this virus together. Despite what the protesters in Michigan yesterday would have us think. It also could be because we seemed to have settled so nicely Democratic nominee. It’s shocking to see how that all fell into place.
I’ve also been praying like crazy and mediating every day. I’m so Zen right now I might just float out of my apartment.
Whatever the reason might be— I’m just not as politically hostile as normal.
In fact, in a weird way, this situation has made me optimistic.
This optimism in no way diminishes the pain and anguish that I know people are experiencing. I’ve read the posts in my feed of people who have lost a parent to this disease. I’ve read chronicles of people of all ages who have been battling Covid themselves. But if there is one thing the past three years has taught me, it’s that in the midst of the darkest diagnoses, there is hope.
I truly believe that we as a nation have the opportunity to come together on something. That we have a chance to make a change for the better. To take a step to the left. I think this is the moment to take a leap towards a getting workers a living wage.
Do you all remember this meme that floated around a few years back? It was during a dust up of the fight for a $15 hour minimum wage:
It was shared by several of my more conservative friends, and of course it made me blind with rage.
There were so many things so wrong. Number one, the racial dog whistles were deafening. An unappreciative, African American fast food worker, juxtaposed against these humble, EMT workers, as White as the day is long.
And the critique was a total bad faith argument. No one who is fighting for a fast food worker making $15 is also going to say that an EMT deserves less money. It’s ludicrous to even suggest it, but memes don’t have fact checks.
This is an issue that I have spent some time with. During my time in New York, I was involved with the Fight for $15. I stood outside my restaurant protesting for higher wages for the dishwashers and line cooks. I stood with the Retail Workers outside of the Javits Center. And please don’t think I am breaking my shoulder patting myself on the back. I could have done much more.
But change comes through great love and great pain. The pain is obvious. The love should be overwhelming!
This lockdown has completely reframed the conversation around workers in this country. How can anyone walk into a grocery store or a Walgreens, how can a human order from McDonalds or Dominos and not be overwhelmed with gratitude for these workers? We have literally deemed them “essential” to the life of our Republic. How can we now say that these positions deserve less than $15 an hour?
These people “flipping our burgers” and “bagging our groceries” are risking their lives to keep our country functioning, and it is shameful that we allow the owners of these businesses to short them on their pay. That we allow them to lean on the social safety net to get away with paying them eight to nine dollars an hour. It’s un-American. Well, that’s not true. It’s actually the most American thing there is. It’s up to us to make it un-American moving forward.
And yes, I know the laissez faire argument. I understand the market and the invisible hand. No I am not a communist and do not think that capitalism needs to be thrown away. I’m out here hawking a book every day for goodness sakes! (davidleenelson.com/hopetinthetimeofchemo)
But we need to have a conversation about who makes the rules in our society. We need to treat the people who showed up to work for minimum wage during this life threatening pandemic like the heroes they are. And they are heroes, these grocery store workers, these retail clerks, standing behind small plastic partisans, risking their lives to deal with the worst among us. Because six feet apart happens if you’re lucky. People aren’t wearing masks! Jaimie was texting with someone she knew who is still going into work, and this person said their jobs don’t even allow them to wear masks! You know, the thing that Dr. Fauci said we needed to do?? Their work is forbidding it!! And they’re paying them less than $10!! Lots of punctuation marks!!
So I hope and pray that when this is all said and done, when we are back to whatever normal this new normal becomes, we take a good hard look at what we value. That we honor those who stood up. And obviously that means our healthcare workers, but it's way more than that. Let’s bring people to our side, liberals! Let’s make $15 an hour happen, and I’ll take my chances with the family reunion invitations.
I think it will all be fine.