Posted 11:52am April 12
by Adela Maskova
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., made a 10-minute speech to a crowd of approximately 200 during a rally for workers’ rights held at George Washington University, Friday afternoon.
“The increase in living wages is a women’s issue and it’s a children’s issue — it is a family value issue,” Kennedy said. “It is a civil rights issue because so many of the workers of minimum wage are the men and women of color, and they should be treated fairly and equitably in this country.”
In addition to defining living wage as a “fairness issue,” the senator sited different employees like teacher assistants, janitorial staff, workers in nursing homes, and others who receive minimum wage in America.
The crowd of listeners comprised of students, union activists, and university officials of who many refused to identify themselves.
Timothy Kaldas, a member of the Progressive Student Union and a resident of Kennedy’s home state, invited and introduced the Massachusetts senator.
The PSU has been demanding that the university adopt a worker code of conduct that includes provisions such as a living wage and affordable health care.
The demonstrators demanded that the university affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium like other 122 educational institutions across the nation have done, including local District of Columbia universities like Georgetown and American universities.
Kennedy alluded to the living wage movement that took place at Harvard University about a year ago and said, “They were successful, and you will be too.”
Friday’s demonstrators also demanded that the university drop charges against 11 students that were arrested and charged with unlawful entry after staging a sit-in and setting up a “tent city” in one of the university buildings on March 29.
“We always love it when a senator or dignitary comes to the campus,” Matthew Lindsay, the university spokesman, said. “It’s great that the students could bring him too,” Lindsay said.
“I think it will gather a lot of student support to have someone so well known here; It will boost the movement,” said Allison Robbins, a student who has worked on the campaign for workers’ rights throughout her college career. “It will let the administration know we have people on our side that they’ll need to deal with.”
Kennedy referenced a recent Senate session during which the Republican leadership withdrew a Welfare Reform Bill after two and a half days of debate over a Democrat-proposed amendment that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7 per hour.
“Your battle here today is the same battle that we are having on the floor of the United States Senate,” the senator told the crowd. “What you’re doing here is about social justice and that is an important battle here to have at a college campus as it is in the mills and factories of this country as it is across this nation.”
Katie Ruppert, a student and moderate Republican said, “I support [Kennedy] fully even though I disagree with many of the things he says. He’s a voice of dissent. We need voices of dissent in this government, and I love him mostly because he stands up for what he believes.”
Kennedy said that while minimum wage had not been increased in the past seven years, pay for members of congress had increased five times.
“It really changed my opinion of him,” said Brandon McChesney, a transfer student who did not know Kennedy was coming to campus until he heard his voice while walking through the university’s Kogan Plaza. “It seemed that he really was passionate and genuine about what he was talking about, and it was cool that he came out when it wasn’t really required.”
The senator’s message directly contradicted George Washington University president, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who two days after the arrests wrote in a letter to tent city students, “So if it’s a matter of being ashamed, the GW Administration is ashamed — but not of itself. It is ashamed of you. You knew the rules. You agreed to the rules. You violated the rules.”
Kennedy said, “I commend the students because you are on the cutting frontline of social justice and fairness in this country and you deserve a lot of credit, and I am here to tell you that.”
“I feel so honored when he says, ‘I’m proud of you’,” said Mathew Mezzacappa, one of the arrested students who may face up to six months in prison. “Throughout history people broke the law for what was right and when we look back on it, we don’t think about the fact that they broke the law, but that they stood nonviolently for higher law which is justice, being treated with respect, and dignity.”