On Wednesday, dozens of social justice advocates, fast-food workers, clergy members, labor leaders and members of the local community descended upon Los Angeles City Hall to stage a rally in support of the 15 women who have been fasting for more than two weeks for “Fight for 15,” a nationwide campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Thursday marked the 15th and final day of their public fasting.
The issue of income inequality disproportionately affects women, particularly women of color and single mothers who try to make ends meet in expensive cities like Los Angeles. Gilda Valdez, president of the $15 per hour minimum wage campaign launched by Service Employees International Union and one of the women fasting, pointed out that “of the 48 percent of workers in Los Angeles who make less than $15 an hour, two-thirds are women.”
“L.A. cannot wait for five years,” said Valdez in reference to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to gradually increase the current $9 an hour minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017. “These hard-working families need $15 now.”
In response to why the women chose fasting as their modus operandi for protesting, Valdez noted that “extreme measures” needed to be taken “under extreme conditions,” and that oftentimes many low-income families involuntarily fast when forced to skip meals with little to no income leftover for groceries.
“How much money do you spend on groceries?” asked Elena Popp, executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, who was also one of the core fasters. “With the minimum wage as it is now and after paying rent and the bills, some of these families have $20 leftover to feed their families.”
Mayor Garcetti spoke with the fasting women earlier in the day on Wednesday—an unexpected but hopeful sign of progress for the ongoing fight for income equality. Later, the core fasters, several clergy members, and various labor organizers entered City Hall and spoke directly to council members about their demands.
“I feel very powerful because we spoke to power, and we are now one step closer to victory,” said Popp. Later, Popp echoed what many at Wednesday’s rally felt—that despite these crucial steps forward, the fight is still far from over.
“The people in these communities need access to affordable housing, food, clean water, health care, education, and public and legal services,” she said. Despite eating nothing for 14 days, Popp said she felt “powerful and strong” because of the energy of the people she had been working alongside for weeks.
In a recognition of solidarity, Anggie Godoy, a 19-year-old cashier at McDonald’s who also participated in the fast, looked out into the crowd on North Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles and poignantly remarked, “I thought I had a family of four. I see today that it’s much bigger than that.”