November 9 2015

You finally make your way past the crowd outside and in through the front doors only to realize that there is a tightly packed crowd in the lobby and your wait is far from over. No one is being checked in because capacity has been met. Your legs are making the case for you to find a chair but it’s a lost cause. There are no more seats available inside the viewing area. So, you wait…

You’re not waiting in line with the hope to see a new pop culture artist that has been all the hype. You’re not waiting in line to experience the joys of a theme park ride. No one is going to be walking back out through those front doors holding up a newly released iphone. You’re waiting in line for a seat inside Sacramento City Council’s Chambers with the hopes of listening to Sacramento’s discussion on if and how to raise our minimum wage.

This week I found myself waiting in that very line, patiently waiting for my opportunity to listen to my fellow Sacramentans voice their concerns about our economy and ultimately our community. Those to my left and those to my right were not onlookers waiting to hear what City Council members decided would be best for them. They were and continue to be change agents who have determined that their perspective and presence matter. And they will have a seat at the table even though the chambers are filled to capacity, the waiting room is full, and it’s standing room only in the lobby.

Sacramentans advocating for minimum wage hike on their way to City Hall.
Sacramentans advocating for minimum wage hike on their way to City Hall.

At first glance, you would think that this was a culmination of a hearing that was years in the making. It was not. This was the result of a power structure that knew it had to cede to the demands of the people in order for the power structure to truly fulfill its mission and purpose. It was the result of great organizing and good listening.

I was reminded about a great number of things that evening, like how where you live determines how long you live. The fact that your zip code is a better predictor of your life expectancy than your genetic code.

How your neighborhood shapes your health has increasingly become the focal point for researchers, policy analysts, news outlets, organizers, and politicians. The differences in life expectancy between zip codes illustrates how unequal America continues to be. For health advocates, zip code life expectancy differences help inform us about how much place matters. Where you live often helps determine your access to clean water, fresh produce, parks, recreational areas, hospitals, clinics, and arguably the most important…the quality of your schools.

So, with this information more readily available, why don’t people living in zip codes with less to offer opt to move into zip codes that seem to offer a better quality of life and, undoubtedly, a better opportunity to live a longer life? It’s almost always the economy! The mobility of families relies heavily on if they can afford to move.  There are probably a great number of parents who would do their best to move their kids to areas that provide them better opportunities to fulfill their dreams. But, who’s to say that this would be their preference? There are probably an even greater number of families who’d like to live where they are and instead see their own communities revitalized.

But, I’d be fooling myself to think that I could help my fellow Sacramentans bring a grocery store to one of our food deserts and help reduce food insecurity and improve the quality of food consumed. It’s almost always the economy! Food is expensive and proximity to produce, when you’re living check to check, only means that you’ll have a better chance of seeing produce not a better chance of actually eating it. Now, what are the benefits of a park when teens are forced to work at Taco Bell to help pay for rent. And, even the best teacher can only do so much when their students have to juggle classwork with a 30 hour work week. Health justice is inextricably bound to the economic justice for our most marginalized Californians. So, when they muster up the courage to directly address their needs, we must be courageous enough to stand behind them and let them know that we support their effort toward creating a healthier household and a healthier California. Now, back to the hearing…

Sacramentans advocating for minimum wage hike inside City Hall.
Sacramentans advocating for minimum wage hike inside City Hall.

After over an hour wait, I managed to sneak into the City Council Chambers. I stood in the back of the chamber and was able to listen directly to the second half of the meeting. I saw the dignified, low paid Sacramento workforce take their stand. Women went to the podium and testified. They explained how hard it is to try to support a family. A few talked about the difficulty of trying to position them for economic upward mobility when time, as a single parent, is so limited and the cost of going back to college is unaffordable.

They spoke candidly about their desire to be a part of the workforce but their reality of needing to rely on public assistance. Men also made themselves vulnerable with confessions about how hard it is to be a father when you work two jobs and the constant temptation of finding other means to support your family. Their allies took to the podium with unflinching support and selflessness. They expressed their understanding that the cost of certain items may go up but ultimately yearned for a Sacramento that can grow together.

In the end, City Council members arrived at the understanding that Sacramento’s minimum wage was too low and inaction was not an option. They decided to not wait on the state but move forward as a city and raise the minimum wage! Power to the people because when we ALL are willing to be as brave and bold as the people who filled the Council Chambers to standing room only, we will not only find ourselves leading a movement toward health justice, we will also find ourselves surrounded by one.