CI-151 and the “Seven Days at Minimum Wage” project

In case you haven’t seen the news recently, there’s an election coming up, and there are other things on the ballot besides a couple of fellas jockeying for a Montana Senate seat. And besides the terrible trio of Rich-funded and -implemented initiatives, there’s a couple of Montana initiatives, including CI-151, which will raise the minimum wage in the state.

Although I’ve yet to come out one way or the other on the initiative, it’s probably obvious to my readers that I support the bill. And I do. There’s a lot of noise from the folks who feel it’s their duty to protect big business to point out that, well, not too many people actually try to live off minimum wage, it’s a temporary thing, etc & co. Of course, there’s the flip side to the argument, that companies see the minimum wage as an acceptable amount to pay people because it’s within the law — while ignoring the fact that it’s not a livable wage. Big business will scr*w us if they can, and they often do.

Raise Montana has posted the MSU-Billings poll (pdf) that shows the minimum wage initiative is quite popular with Montanans (but not Conrad Burns or Dennis Rehberg), as 76.3% of respondents favor the wage increase and a meager 14.4% oppose it. So it’s not like this initiative needs a lot of support right now, but it’s a good cause and worth writing about.

Chicago blogger Mike Doyle gave me the heads up about a pretty cool project called Seven Days at Minimum Wage, a series of web-based videos hosted by Rosanne Barr about people who live on a minimum wage. The stories are pretty d*mn moving, featuring people working their *sses off just to keep afloat.

To understand the impact these stories should have, consider Doyle’s experience helping film some of the project:

I never thought I’d be called on to interview anyone. But this past week was crunch time and I had a video camera. So I mobilized my friends and colleagues and set out to find a few folks who wanted to tell America their stories of living at a wage that, though legal, is in most cases incapable of allowing anyone to pay rent. Or in the case of one woman I interviewed over the weekend, to buy food for both her and her four children.When someone not much different than you, about your age, sitting five feet away, begins to cry uncontrollably because she tells you–and maybe you’re the first person she’s ever admitted it to–that she can’t figure out anymore how to feed her family on a consistent basis and doesn’t feel like she has a future, it’s hard not to put down the camera you’ve got pointed in her face and reach out to hug her. Pretty much all you can do is cry with her too, trying to keep the picture from shaking around too badly or your own sobbing from being picked up on the mic.

This was my experience more than once in the past few days. In Chicago. In Hammond. Different people with different backgrounds, all united by the burning desire to get the hell out of poverty. And all uttering the words, through unexpected, bitter tears, “I hate it.”

That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s easy to talk about abstract economic theory when opposing something like the minimum wage — or in the case of Burns or Rehberg, it’s easy to support your big-money backers — when you forget that this is an issue that is life-and-death for some people. And when you meet some of those people.

Vote for CI-151. And vote for the candidates that support it.

Update: In the comments, Jim Fleischmann warned against complacency, reminding me of the minimum 1996 wage initiative’s fate:

I don’t think that anybody in Montana should be complacent about the minimum wage’s current favorable polling. In 1995, the polling was equally “good” close to the election. Then the Montana Restaurant Association dropped a meager $250,000 on a single TV buy and we lost the initiative despite being up by about 30 points two weeks out from the election.

The Notorious Mark T posted about his experience with that effort ten years ago. It’s well worth a read.

D*mn good point. There are moneyed interests who have a vested interest in seeing this initiative go down in flames. Good ideas don’t necessarily float through the process on their own: we need to fight for them. Keep the buzz going on the street that CI 151 is the right thing to do.

  1. Jim Fleischmann

    I don’t think that anybody in Montana should be complacent about the minimum wage’s current favorable polling. In 1995, the polling was equally “good” close to the election. Then the Montana Restaurant Association dropped a meager $250,000 on a single TV buy and we lost the initiative despite being up by about 30 points two weeks out from the election.

  2. Read more about it here . I was a signature gatherer in 1996, and saw how that ad campaign changed people’s attitudes overnight. It was a sophisticated PR button-pushing hack job, disgraceful but effective. I fully expect something similar is in the works this year.

  3. Jay, I’m so grateful you stayed on this issue and wrote about 7 DAYS. I said it all on my own blog, I guess, but this is been a life-changing experience for me. Watch Jessica on Thursday night, we’re showing her 13-minute interview uncut. She was the person who blew me away. It was just Jessica and me alone in an office, and her eloquent story of raising four kids on no money, and eventually we were both crying on both sides of the camera. She’s my age. My age. I don’t know what to do with that.

    A latte should cost five bucks. Not an hour of human labor.


  4. Thanks again for covering 7 Days at Minimum Wage. With Election Day finally upon us, I wanted to let you know what the project team is up to in support of the six minimum-wage ballot initiatives in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio.

    I won’t kitchen-sink you with all the details–you can browse the 7 DAYS project website for that, at . But if you do click through, you’ll find information about phone banks, door-knocks, prayer vigils, canvassing, election observations, and watch parties sponsored by ACORN and AFL-CIO throughout the six key states. (You can also find a lot of this last-minute info on ACORN’s and AFL-CIO’s ).

    It’s obvious why these increases are important: an hour of human labor should cost more than a Starbucks venti latte. That the federal government thinks it’s ok to pay you or me or anyone else $5.15 an hour is positively obnoxious–and most of those hours are below full-time and without health insurance.

    I know I’m angry about that, and sad for the way the people we interviewed are forced to live because the law says it’s ok to keep them earning below the poverty line. I know how deeply that fact affected me through my work on 7 DAYS. If the project touched just one other person out there to go to the polls and help raise their local minimum wage, then I know we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.

    Please remember the folks we interviewed when you consider your state’s or your city’s minimum wage…or the next time you tip anyone, anywhere, for that matter. Do click through and see how to support minimum-wage increases in your state. And most of all, thanks for watching. Good luck to everyone on November 7!


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