Five Smooth Stones–for raising the minimum wage

There’s a story I heard long, long ago in Sunday school. I wonder if you’ve heard it, too.

A battle was about to commence, a fierce battle between two nations. No one likes to go to war. No one desires the devastation that happens to land and people, the poverty and homelessness, the terror and fear that come with war. So a plan was made to avoid the worst of it: two fighters would fight, one for each side, and one would die, and a fuller war would be avoided.

Each side picked a champion. One side had an enormous warrior, covered in armor and fortified with sword and spear and shield. He towered over all the fighters of both armies—he was a giant! Goliath, I think his name was, Goliath.

Who would fight such a giant? Who would dare to stand up against such strength? A teenager, not quite a man, was the one who dared, a shepherd, a small man, but one with a certain power in his heart. His companions put on him a suit of armor; they donned him with helmet and handed him a shield and a sword.

What a comical figure he made. The helmet made him lean over, and the armor so ill-fitting that he could barely walk. The shield was nearly his own weight and the spear unlike anything he was used to in his daily work as a protector of lambs. You can imagine the disappointment of the people for whom this David was their only hope. You can almost feel it, I bet, almost feel their expectation that this would be a battle that they would lose.

But this shepherd knew that there was a reason he was called to fight this battle, he knew that he would fight and he would win if he fought in the way that he knew how to struggle, if he fought using the tools that he knew how to use. And so David put down that sword and shield, took off that helmet and stepped out of that armor; and he pulled from his shepherd’s bag a sling, a little sling with which he would shoot stones. He glimpsed into a brook nearby and saw small polished rocks, five smooth stones he found, five smooth stones that he put into his pouch.

He had all that he needed to win!

We stand today facing a giant, this giant Wal-Mart, of course, but also the giant of the challenge for thousands of Maryland families of living on very low wages. We need to take up the smooth stones in our pouch, in our “justice” arsenal so that we can Raise the Minimum Wage. Can you say that with me, Raise the Minimum Wage!

The first smooth stone we carry is our sense of fairness. We know what fairness is! No one is saying that Wal-Mart should not be making money. But the most powerful corporations in the world are making their extraordinary profits on the backs of working people—and it isn’t fair. One in five workers in Maryland works for minimum wage, and giving a half a million people a raise will inject $492 million into our economy. That is good for our families, and good even for corporations, and it is fair.

Because we know what’s fair (say it with me), Raise the Minimum Wage.

The second smooth stone we carry is our willingness to work. Low wage workers know about hard work, know the benefit and dignity of working hard; and they work hard so that they can advance their own lives. Do you know that nearly half of minimum wage workers have gone to college? Nearly half hope to better themselves, better their futures—but with minimum wage stuck where it has been for decades, minimum wage workers are stuck, too. In the state with the highest levels of income in the country, we must connect the minimum wage to the cost of living.

Because we are ready to work, Raise the Minimum Wage.

I want to ask you a question about the third stone—who knows what it means to be put down in this society? Working people know what it means to be put down, women understand being held in their place, people of color clearly know what oppression feels like. And what’s their response? It is fightback. Women make up the majority of minimum wage workers, people of color—Black, Latino, Asian and others—make up 60 percent of minimum wage workers. These are the people who are most affected, and these are the people who know how to persevere.

Because we know how to persevere, Raise the Minimum Wage.

The fourth stone might be our greatest strength. We find strength in our families. People tell you that minimum wage workers are just kids in high school working to make a little money to spend on video games. It ain’t true! That is a lie! Three fifths of minimum wage workers work full-time, 87 percent are 20 years of age and older. Minimum wage workers are supporting families!

Because we love our families, Raise the Minimum Wage.

Finally, the last smooth stone is our sense of urgency. We can win this one! We have strong political support in Annapolis with more than half our Senators co-sponsoring the bill to raise the minimum wage, and 58 co-sponsors in the House of Delegates. Maryland has gained back four of every five jobs lost in the recession—Maryland is on its way back. But we cannot leave minimum wage workers behind. Now is the time to act!

Because it is fair, because we are ready to work, because we know how to fight back, because we love our families, because we know that this is the moment, Raise the Minimum Wage! Raise the Minimum Wage! Raise the Minimum Wage!


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