Looking back on the eight weeks of the Long Beach living wage campaign, I could write about the conversations with voters, or the discovery of neighborhoods in a city I thought I knew like the back of my hand. I could go on and on about those I got to know through the canvassing work, the friendships that started and blossomed over the two months that went by so quickly.
But the real story is how we strengthened community in the city of Long Beach.
Yes, in the spring 35,000 people signed petitions supporting the workers in Long Beach’s largest hotels, helping them get one step closer to fair pay, sick leave and tip protection by placing Measure N on the ballot. And this fall not only did we get support from six city council members, we passed Measure N with the support of 63 percent of voters.
But we also succeeded in broadening our community. We now have voters joining activist groups they didn’t even know about. We have local business owners taking a stand for residents in this city. We have students and youth taking responsibility for what Long Beach will look like in the future.
For myself, I developed a true sense of pride in my city. I could happily rock a Long Beach sweatshirt this winter if and when it starts raining. I can proudly shop at more than 130 businesses whose owners took a chance by supporting Measure N and involving themselves in local politics. I can bump into voters I spoke to who now know not just about the campaign, but understand how many hotel employees work and live in Long Beach.
I am thrilled that some of these voters now know the stories of workers like housekeeper Maria Patlan and bellman Donald Blackwood, both of whom I had the immense pleasure of spending time with during the last couple days of the campaign. Getting to meet Maria and Donald gave me the extra drive to keep going. It reminded me who exactly was going to be affected by Measure N and why I was spending six days a week for two months canvassing everywhere from the city’s most affluent neighborhoods to its poorest areas.
Every day we hustled and knocked on doors, no matter how difficult or distressing the previous conversation was. For many of us, it was engaging with skeptical voters that fueled us to talk to even more people — to share with them these workers’ stories and remind them that as residents, and especially as voters, they had a responsibility to do their part and demand a better city for everyone in it. We reminded them how each and every single vote counts in a city like Long Beach, and that their support could improve the lives of more than 2,000 families.
We wanted voters to know that for some of these workers, passage of Measure N could mean health care for their children and their spouses. We explained that Measure N could mean their children would have a better chance of going to a good school, of having a desk to do homework on, of sleeping in their own room instead of in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment. We told them that Measure N would not only give workers and their families a healthier and more comfortable life, but also the chance to enjoy the city they live and work in — to occasionally take their family to see a movie, eat at a local restaurant, shop at a local market. In other words, to have a shot at the American Dream.
On November 6, Long Beach voted for these workers and their dreams. And we became a better city for it.
(Kayla Crow is a community leader and author of Finding Highways in Cracked Coffee Cups.)