September 12, 2016, several organizations headed to the State Capitol Building in Nashville, TN to demand higher wages in their “Fight For $15.00” to increase the minimum wage. Organizer Jayanni Webster and her mother accompanied participants to the rally.
Workers joined from Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis with this initiative. The unity rally was important because many workers cannot form a union in Tennessee without retaliation. Corporations profits daily, but refuse to pay their employees enough wages to support their families and to cover basic needs like food, health care, rent, and transportation.
In Memphis, poverty and crime are so overwhelming that citizens who work for minimum wages have to spend their hard earned money on security bars just to feel safe and sleep at night. Prior the departure for Nashville, ten people, trapped inside a burglar-barred home were killed while sleeping in an early morning house fire. BLMM “Butterfly and Healing Committee’s,” Representative Karen Spencer-McGee, stopped by to offer condolences to the Severson Street community. It was determined that one adult in the fire, Carol Collier, was a lifetime caregiver. She moved in with the family to be near her mother who lives two houses down the street. Collier called 911, tried to get out, but was unable to escape.
The fact remains that many persons who are employed cannot afford to provide necessities but have to spend their money on crime prevention techniques. It is the city’s responsibility to protect its citizens. Seven children perished in this house that allegedly started by a faulty air conditioner wire. Neighbors and community members disagreed and alleged that the “smart-meter” on the house contributed to the overheating of the air conditioner. In December 2015, the Memphis City Council approved a $240 million dollar contract to purchase “smart-meters.” MLGW removed this property both the “smart meter” and gas meter within minutes after the fire had been extinguished.
A candlelight vigil was held later that night in support the family. This tragedy is an eye opener to crime, poverty, and how valuable black lives are in our community can be lost.
A living wage is a moral issue that Tennessee Legislature neglected in previous sessions. Ironically, Governor Haslam called a special session to address other legislative issues, but the timing could not have been more perfectly planned. Fast food employee Dunetra Merrit, gave a heartfelt story about how the state took away the right for cities to raise the minimum wage. She elaborated on how difficult life can be as an underpaid worker and that this is ‘State Violence’ which denies others the right to health care. She came to the rally because of her grandchildren and believed they deserve better. BLMM activists observed a few elected officials in their fancy suits staring at their devices, in shock at the turnout. Perhaps they do not understand how their reckless decisions to pass improper legislation impacts Tennessee citizens.
Overcome by grief, the BLMM chapter found strength to stand in solidarity with clergy, and various organizations to make sure if the legislators did not hear the outcry for economic justice, that tourists and citizens in Nashville, TN heard our demands. We observed police positioned at the top of buildings attentively watched as several members spoke.
Nashville Democratic State Representative John Clemons offered a brief speech in which he saluted hard-working people and encouraged us by promising to keep the pressure on the Republican majority to pass better legislation. His passion appeared genuine, but a reminder of past transgressions lingered a few feet from the ladies room, inside of the State Capitol where legislators meet. It is a monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a small statue which is a grim reminder that economic injustice cannot be rectified until the dialogue is changed. Even in Nashville, subtle reminders of how far we have come also remind us of how far we have to go and will never dissipate until we demand “change” across our state.
As the demonstrators wrapped up the peaceful rally on the steps of the Capitol, we headed to the streets passionately chanting, “What do we Want? Fifteen!” When do we want it? Now!” The police remained non-confrontational as the “Fight for 15” marchers proceeded past Nashville City Center where the Administration Office of the Courts is located. People could be observed peeking out the windows, in disbelief of all the participants marching down the street chanting “Fifteen.” A few employees at the prestigious Hermitage Hotel threw up the ‘black power’ fist as we walked down Union Street in unison toward Broad Avenue.
Once at the end street, protesters circled and peacefully blocked the road. Clergy members kneeled in the road, and Memphis Pastor Earl Fisher led us in prayer. In the center of the prayer circle were also BLMM representative Pastor Steven Bradley, Pastor/Professor Andre Johnson, Pastor Glenna Shepherd, Fight For 15-Antonio Blair as they prayed for our state. The rally was concluded by chants, “We Will Be Back!” The rally unified like-minded activists from across the State of Tennessee. We left with the conviction, no matter what we face, poverty, crime, defeat or death, we agree “We Believe that We Will Win!” #blacklivesmattermemphis #BLMM # Fightfor15