Joining an estimated 270 cities across America, the Fight for 15 movements in Tampa and St Petersburg flexed their muscles Tuesday. They packed Lykes Gaslight Park in Downtown Tampa for a rally that brought out politicians, economists and plenty of low wage workers in the afternoon, hours after after staging an early morning strike at a McDonald's on 62nd Avenue N. in St. Petersburg.
The events were part of the movement's nationwide effort to mark the one year remaining until Election Day. By organizing its largest strike yet, the organization aimed to illustrate its strength and warn that candidates ignore their calls for a $15 minimum wage at their peril. So far the two Democratic presidential frontrunners, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have voiced their support. On the Republican side, none have, and some candidates said in a Tuesday night debate suggested there ought to be no minimum wage hike.
While there were no members of Tampa's City Council at the Downtown rally, St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice was in attendance and spoke in support for the effort.
“Fight for 15 is much bigger than a minimum wage fight," she said. "It's how we begin to imagine that much more is possible for our country and the people who work in our country. It's about the vision for a just society. It's about re-instilling forms of respect and dignity so that all families and communities can thrive. Because it's not right and something is fundamentally wrong when we have to force working people into food stamps and housing subsidies just to get by.”
Rice highlighted the Pinellas County Commission's protection ordinance against wage theft, passed only hours earlier.
“[It] doesn't matter how much we raise the minimum wage if there is no protection if someone doesn't pay you the minimum wage,” she said.
Hillsborough wasn't completely lacking in political representation, with Naze Zahebzamani, a potential Democratic candidate for State House District 59, extolling the importance of voting for politicians who support a higher minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage will do more than just help people provide for their families and strengthen our community and economy," Zahebzamani. "It will help bring our communities together and strengthen us as a state and as a people. I stand with you and ask that you demand your elected officials do the same. Let them know they can't put this off anymore. And if they won't do it, remind them that you will vote them out of office.”
Noted economist Richard Wolff, in town for a separate speaking event, also took the opportunity to address the crowd, making reference to similar scenes he witnessed in New York City Tuesday morning prior to his arrival in the Tampa Bay area. Wolff expressed excitement over the success of the movement, along with enshrining its importance from a historic perspective.
“What you're doing is you're showing us in this country [is] what it means to no longer take it, to stand up and say 'I've had it with what they've done' and that you're making a change," he said. "You really are and you should feel the history of what you're doing. You are the next step, after Occupy, after Black Lives Matter, after the people who are standing up and saying they won't let it continue. ... You're the ones that are making people realize others like you can get together across this country and change what's going on.”
After two years of growth, expanding not just in terms of cities but also in the kinds of workers that joined the effort, Fight for 15 has captured the nation's attention. Clearly, that's even happening at even the presidential level. With Tuesday's GOP debate moderators making mention of the Fight for 15 protestors who were outside Milwaukee venue where the event took place, the 2016 election may serve as a defining year for the movement.