When San Jose voters went to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote on a higher minimum wage for our city, they had not seen a single television ad urging them to do so. They encountered very little advertising supporting a boost in the wage from $8 to $10 an hour. Nor had our daily newspaper endorsed the idea.
There were ads and editorials about Measure D – the official name of the minimum wage initiative – but nearly all of tthe ads argued against raising the minimum wage.
Yet when the votes were counted, 60 percent approved a $2-an-hour raise for San Jose’s lowest-paid workers.
Working Partnerships USA and the coalition we helped form and lead – San Jose Residents for Raising the Minimum Wage – won by mobilizing the energy of working families, students, faith congregations, unions, non-profits and local advocacy groups to produce a historic victory that reflects their values.
We had all heard laments about why nothing positive could be done to solve community problems: little political enthusiasm among progressives, the poor and the young would not turn out; people care only about themselves and people will no longer vote to provide opportunities for others, much less raise taxes for health care or schools.
But on election night, the results said those laments were wrong. They can be overcome by grassroots coalition politics.
Not only did Measure D pass, raising the minimum wage, but Measure A, a one-eighth-cent sales tax that provides a permanent funding solution for the Children’s Health Initiative, a Working Partnerships-originated health coverage plan for the county’s poor children, was also approved.
Voters understand that $8 an hour isn’t enough to survive on in expensive Silicon Valley. They understand the trauma that injury and disease can inflict on families with no insurance.
When we helped the poor and disadvantaged make their case for fairness, they discovered they were no longer alone.
For months before Election Day, Working Partnerships’ offices swarmed with volunteers. People made phone calls by the tens of thousands. They talked to friends and neighbors. Others took on more specific tasks. Faith leaders challenged misleading ballot arguments. Researchers disputed inaccurate reports about the minimum wage. Our coalition partners produced videos and put up websites.
They all brought to this year’s election something the million-dollar contributors can never understand – solidarity.
Our community is a better place because of this fight and this victory. Thousands of lives were changed forever on Nov. 6.
Cindy Chavez is executive director of Working Partnerships USA , a non-profit social change organization in California’s Silicon Valley’s. She is also a former San Jose city council woman, serving for eight years.