I have 8 million reasons to love my new job. To be clear, 8 million is not an insanely bloated, shady-Wells-Fargo-executive salary. Nor is this an attempt at a record-setting listicle. As the new Executive Director at The Fairness Project I am joining a team that, if successful, in 2016 will have helped deliver meaningful raises to 8 million working Americans.
Our approach is not House of Cards-style political strategy nor behind closed door deal making. We’re not trying to elect one person who’ll save us all — a savior President or wildly effective Senator. Let’s be honest, it just doesn’t work that way.
We at The Fairness Project are hacking our broken politics. We are going straight to voters and putting power back in the hands of the people by using ballot initiatives.
Ballot initiatives are generally a simple — though rarely easy — form of direct democracy: a number of registered voters sign a petition to get a proposition on the ballot and if the majority of voters approve it, it’s law.
We are using ballots initiatives to bring balance back to our economy, starting by raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid sick leave for working Americans. These changes won’t end poverty overnight, but they will, as J.D. Vance puts it, “put a thumb on the scale” for working Americans. America’s 1% have had their whole hand on the scale for decades. It’s long past time to restore fairness to our economy.
When we talk about “the economy,” the big numbers make change feel distant or less real. But our work, and the change it will help deliver, is not an abstraction for me. I started my career teaching middle school in the South Bronx. My student’s hard working — often overworked — parents struggled to provide for their kids and wrestled with the emotional weight of financial instability. Many of my students would come to school sick. Their parents simply didn’t have paid sick days to care for them.
Many of my students’ parents had to work second and third jobs — missing out on time with their kids, sleeping just a few hours.
That’s just not right. And it’s not how America is supposed to work.
What has happened to our political system that is meant to serve “we the people?” Simply put, our elected officials have created and exist within a system paralyzed by corporate interests, regressive ideologies, failed leadership, and obstinate, destructive partisanship.
With so many working people in America being left behind in an economy that is fundamentally stacked for those at the top, we can’t afford to wait for failed elected leaders to lead.
That’s why The Fairness Project is working to put political power directly into the hands of voters to enact the economic improvements they want and need. That means we don’t have to rely on the whim of political party or a dynamic leader, instead we can support initiatives — like minimum wage and paid-sick leave — that are highly popular across party and ideology.
And we can do it in every election and in 23 states that currently have the ballot initiative process.
Ballot initiatives are not new, but they represent a vast untapped potential for political change. Ballot campaigns are often under-resourced, and lack the tools needed to both win victories at the ballot box and translate the energy of those victories into sustained momentum for the economic fairness movement. There are talented organizers working their hearts out on these campaigns, but what they need is back up. That’s where the Fairness Project comes in.
What we do is directly fund ballot initiative campaigns. And then we take it one step further. We partner with state organizers early in the process, using our national relationships to leverage additional support for and interest in the campaign. We help campaigners access the tools they need to compete and win: digital outreach and social media, data and analytics, strategic planning, opinion research, media support and national campaign coordination.
In the two years since The Fairness Project started, we’ve already seen that in some places we win even before we get to the ballot box. Ballot initiative campaigns that began in 2015 spurred governors and legislatures to pass significant increases in the minimum wage in California, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. in 2016.
The Lift Up California campaign, one of the earliest partners of The Fairness Project, qualified a $15/hr minimum wage initiative for the ballot and motivated Governor Brown and the state legislature to enact a $15/hr minimum wage into law. In Washington D.C., few thought that a $15/hr minimum wage was a likely reality. Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council were skeptical and unlikely to act, which is why The Fairness Project joined the fight. With our help, The DC for $15 campaign circumvented the council and filed a ballot initiative demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Sure enough, just months later the D.C. Council passed a $15/hr minimum wage and the mayor quickly signed it. Minimum wage didn’t have to go to the ballot for The Fairness Project to have an impact.
Between California and D.C, about 6 million working Americans are benefiting from a raise in minimum wage. And on November 8th, as the country chooses our next President, 12.3 million voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington will have an opportunity to say yes to a raise for 2.1 million minimum wage workers.
In Arizona and Washington, in addition to the minimum wage increase, paid sick leave is also on the ballot. More than 1.9 million working Americans would be provided with paid sick leave to care for themselves or a sick family member.
This Election Day I hope to have 8 million reasons to celebrate the work of The Fairness Project and our partners, when 8 million Americans will find it a little easier to pay their bills. But shortly after the celebration, I promise we’ll dig right back in. At The Fairness Project we recognize that we don’t have time to wait anymore.
We can’t wait for trickle down economics to magically work, we can’t wait for politicians to find their moral compass, and we won’t let working people wait for change any longer.
The Fairness Project is tackling an enormous problem with a disruptive solution, a workaround in our broken system, that has the potential and the promise to improve the lives of millions of Americans. It is that potential and promise that has me so excited to join this team.
I hope you will join us in this work.