Walking out of the theater of the Charter School of Wilmington in late summer 2018 a good friend of mine who had attended the debate between Tom Carper and Kerri Evelyn Harris with me asked, “How could anyone who heard that vote for Tom Carper?” It was a rhetorical question.
It was a great night and a successful campaign in a movement whose success is measured over a longer period than a single election cycle. Kerri’s campaign got national attention. A fledgling group of activists called Justice Democrats came to help out (and, full disclosure, used our home for support). I met a coordinator from the Working Families Party of Pennsylvania who continues to organize people in Delaware. Some of those comrades ran campaigns to get new faces into the General Assembly. We see those faces today serving as elected officials in the General Assembly.
Shortly after Kerri’s campaign some observers noted a shift in the “Overton Window”. The Overton Window is a concept that attempts to gauge the boundaries and limits of the political discourse. Senator Carper himself sent glossy campaign mailers noting his support for “raising the minimum wage to $15 — over time.”
Nearly three years on, Carper had a chance to vote for an amendment to include the gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. Both Carper and his First State partner, Sen. Chris Coons, voted no.
Of course, this is merely spectacle. The excuses are built in and reinforce each other. This wasn’t a vote on the wage, you see. A Senate staffer known as the Parliamentarian ruled that the wage measure should be excluded from this type of bill. The Biden Administration, through Vice President Kamala Harris as the constitutional President of the Senate, could simply ignore the staffer’s judgement. This course of action, however, would force a vote on the wage measure itself rather than the amendment.
Moreover, I’d argue that this is all a cover so the most conservative Democrats (Senators Sinema of Arizona and Manchin of West Virginia) needn’t have their explicit votes on the wage measure noted in the record.
If it all sounds very banal and absurd to you, you’re not alone.
Everyone knows the minimum wage (and its even more pernicious cousins the so-called Training and Tipped wage) are starvation wages. No one believes you could work 40-plus hours a week and survive on this pay scale or anything near.
It is my hope the senators will, at the very least, feel genuine public pressure. To allow the $15 minimum wage to die in this way, when so many people are suffering, is inexcusable.