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NAACP President Rallies for Living Wage
Columbia Daily Spectator
Naomi Cohen

November 22, 2011
View the Original Article

The New York City Council is voting on a living wage act for mall outlet employees. Benjamin Jealous, CC '94, led a rally in support of the act at Riverside Church.

Over 2,000 labor and civil rights activists rallied at Riverside Church Monday night in support of a living wages act to be voted on today in the New York City Council.

“The battle for a living wage in this nation is fundamentally to ensure that our children’s generation is better off when ours is dead,” National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, CC ’94, said.

The act, which already has enough sponsors to override a veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would ensure that mall outlet employees earn at least the living wage of $10 per hour. The living wage rate passed by Bloomberg in 2002 excludes low-wage earners in the private sector.

The night featured a mix of religious spirit and Occupy Wall Street-inspired solidarity. Several speakers emulated “the people’s mic,” an OWS amplification strategy in which the crowd repeats the speech line by line to ignite excitement about the legislation.

After an homage to Martin Luther King and a wage-inspired gospel song, young leaders of the Retail Action Project shared stories of struggling on minimum wage. Activist Kimberly Ortiz said she was compelled to speak on behalf of “college graduates who can’t find a job and students who can’t afford to continue their education.”

Holding the rally in Morningside Heights was particularly significant—according to the 2010 census, the Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods have the largest income disparity in New York City, with top-fifth income earners making a median of $207,053, and lowest-fifth earners making $6,073.

Though local representation was strong—the master of ceremonies was Columbia assistant political science professor Dorian Warren—speakers and activists came from all five boroughs of New York City, emphasizing that bill could have a ripple effect across the rest of the state and the country.

City Council member G. Oliver Koppell, a representative of the western Bronx and the main sponsor of the legislation, said, “The living wage is a small step, but an important step, in reducing wealth disparities between the richest and the poorest.”

Living Wage NYC, an organization that campaigns for paying workers more, organized the Riverside Church event and is leading a rally in front of the hearing this afternoon. If the act passes, the group plans to continue supporting living wage legislation until it covers all New Yorkers.

“So goes economic justice in New York, so goes economic justice in the U.S.,” Jealous said.