by Sean Raycraft
It began several years ago, on a balmy November afternoon, while eating lunch with some of my closest friends. We discussed the high cost of living here in Davis, and the surprising efforts of one small city in Washington to raise the minimum wage for airport workers to an actual living wage. We asked ourselves how amazing it would be if we could do something like that in town. None of us had experience doing anything political. A shop steward, a student, unemployed lawyer, and a stage hand. After that I became more than a shop steward. I became an advocate for the disenfranchised—for all working people who are struggling to make it, and feel like they have no voice. I have marched, organized letter writing campaigns and fast food worker strikes, demonstrated in civil disobedience twice, participated in panels, and have spoken at public events.
Activists and advocates like myself have helped to win paid sick days for all California workers, helped to win a statewide $15 minimum wage, and expanded paid family leave. We do not do this work because we seek recognition. We do this work because we believe our cause is just. When a friend of mine made a late night call informing me that I had been nominated for the Thong Hy Huynh Award for Civil Rights, I was stunned. It is true that I have worked tirelessly for several years advocating for low wage workers and their rights to form unions, but never did I think, or expect, that I would be publicly recognized for my efforts. After a few moments of disbelief and a few more of reflection, I concluded the City of Davis Human Relations Commission knows what Martin Luther King Jr knew and fought for. Union rights are civil rights. Dr. King was assassinated organizing and supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Those workers lived in poverty, and King knew that through the power of unions and collective bargaining they could live better lives.
In Dr. King’s famous “Three evils speech”, he discusses the evils of militarism, racism, and economic exploitation. The Fight for 15 movement addresses two of these great evils. If you ever have the chance to participate in a Fight for 15 rally or march, then you will see [ or maybe witness for yourself] that this is not just about the minimum wage. You will see Black Lives Matter organizers speaking out against racial injustice. You will see Dreamers, an Immigrant advocacy group, speak out against the fear caused by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). You will hear undocumented workers speak out about being management’s threats to call ICE if they go on strike, report wage theft, or even speak to reporters. You will see fast food workers speaking out about sexual harassment, wage theft, and the need for a union contract. Without a strong union, these abuses are not reportable, and laws are not enforceable. I am proud to be a part of this movement.
I am honored to accept this prestigious award, and I thank the City of Davis, the Human Relations Commission, and Gloria Partida. In many ways, this award also belongs to the broader Fight for 15 movement. I feel compelled to state there are many other community activists who deserve this award just as much or more than I do. Brandon Buchanan and Kyla Burke have been extraordinary in their efforts, speaking out for marginalized communities on campus. Their work combating ignorance, intolerance, racism, worker’s rights, transphobia and a better UC should not go unrecognized. The challenges they face are greater, and the potential consequences for their advocacy are dire. I have only had to deal with being called names, receiving strange looks from the conservative crowd, occasionally harassed online, and I have experienced my own frustration at the lack of progress. In contrast, Kyla and Brandon face threats of violence, loss of academic scholarships, racist, sexist and transphobic insults on a regular basis. It is my hope that this small gesture on my part will give them a fraction of the recognition that they and their movement deserve.
Activism and advocacy produce their own rewards. The last few years have been the most meaningful and fulfilling of my life. I would encourage everyone who reads this to get involved in advocacy of some kind. You and your community will be better off for it. I will continue to advocate for worker’s rights, union rights and civil rights until we live in a more just and equitable society where everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labor, and live in peace, with dignity.
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident, who works at a grocery store in south Davis where he proudly serves as a shop steward.