A confused coalition
April 4, 2011
The Living Wage Coalition cited Martin Luther King Jr. as inspiration for events such as Monday’s “We Are One” walk out. While some stances the LWC supports are related to those King supported, we believe it is not appropriate to compare this movement to King’s movement and the Civil Rights Movement. It is no longer 1968, and the art of protesting has changed. Drawing comparisons to King also misrepresents opposition to the Living Wage Coalition.
For the most part, we are not against higher pay for workers, better health care or any of the other goals the LWC hopes to achieve. Instead, we question how the group goes about trying to accomplish these goals. Instead of radicalizing their tactics, the LWC should take a more moderate approach without watering down its message for improved workers’ rights. Maybe then the campus would no longer regard the coalition as a polarizing group and instead would embrace it for its attention to an important issue on campus. Students, faculty members — and maybe even the administration — would become supportive.
To continue bombarding the College of William and Mary administration is completely pointless. College President Taylor Reveley is seemingly powerless when it comes to worker wages on campus — the commonwealth of Virginia controls the budget. Williamsburg hasn’t been the capital of Virginia for 231 years. The senators and delegates in Richmond are the ones with the power and authority to change workers’ salaries. It is time to move on to Richmond, and stop breaking down Reveley’s door.
It isn’t just the choice of who to target which is making the movement ineffective. The LWC is also expanding its platform, so much so that some of its original message appears diluted. The group began as a body of students dedicated to raising the pay for the workers who do so much for the College. It was a noble cause. Now its platform covers a variety of issues — maybe even too many. It is also partnering with other organizations, which may be a factor in the dilution of its mission.
For the walk out, the LWC partnered with NAACP, Voices for Planned Parenthood and the Young Democrats. While all these groups support the same ideology to a certain degree, they also have very different purposes. And partnering in a national movement doesn’t necessarily make a group more effective; it is the actions taken by a group and the results of those actions that make a movement successful.
Lately, the reputation of the group has been perceived negatively on campus. With seemingly endless complaints against it, the group has started to alienate people who could have been helpful in their mission. Although King did say moderates could be harmful because of their lack of action, he also understood that moderates need to be inspired in order to encourage participation and truly change a society. Moderates have the ability to influence both sides of the argument. Harnessing this group is important to any movement, and the LWC should seek their endorsement, not scare them away.
The LWC has the right to assemble. It also has the right to free speech. Both are wasted, however, when the message is lost in a dramatic radicalization of the movement in a way that demonstrates intense anger and dilutes substance. The LWC’s efforts are also wasted when the protest is aimed at the wrong people.
The LWC needs to go where the budget decisions are made — and that place is not Reveley’s yard.