Progressive Maryland’s Organizing Efforts Lead to Statewide Impact

Posted on July 1, 2019 | Jennifer Dwyer, Progressive Maryland

Progressive Maryland’s statewide organizing group.

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Progressive Maryland was founded to empower communities to act for social and economic justice by developing leaders and cultivating allies in order to build a grassroots movement with the power to advance economic, racial, and environmental equity. Key to advancing equity is increasing the minimum wage. Nowhere in the entire state of Maryland can a worker earn less than $15 per hour, only a little over $30,000 per year at 40 hours per week, and be self-supporting. Despite this, that’s the very situation that over 600,000 workers and their families, including 273,000 children, find themselves in right now. Women and workers of color are disproportionately impacted—25% of women and people of color are currently paid less than $15 per hour—and, contrary to popular belief, 90% of workers making less than $15 are adults over the age of 20 trying to support themselves or their families, or minimize the burden of student debt.

That’s why, since 2015, Progressive Maryland has educated and mobilized residents and policymakers across the state, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, to fight for $15. In coalition with our labor, faith, environmental, and advocacy allies, our members have knocked doors, rallied, called their neighbors, circulated petitions, written in to their local newspapers, and testified at public hearings. We’ve reached out to the workers at our local grocery stores and restaurants who are struggling to pay their bills and showed them how to advocate for themselves. We’ve met with policymakers to educate them about the successes of $15 wage laws at the state, city, and county levels across the country, and to share our personal stories about what a higher minimum wage would mean for us and our families – how the cost of a month’s daycare can eat up an entire paycheck, or how the status quo has made it impossible for one of our members to afford the round-the-clock care her child with special needs requires. We’ve organized and mobilized policymakers at the city and county level to speak out to the media about why their communities need at least $15 per hour and how urgent the needs of their constituents are, as well as to join in the community education efforts around this issue. We’ve built relationships with local business owners who were eager for the boost to the economy that rising incomes in working class communities would bring.

After years of work, our organizing efforts paid off this spring when Maryland became the sixth state in the nation to adopt a $15 per hour minimum wage, and to create greater economic security for hundreds of thousands of residents across the state. The policy isn’t perfect—tipped and agricultural workers will still be paid a subminimum wage, a shameful relic of the post-slavery economy— and so we’ll keep organizing to ensure that all workers are eventually protected by minimum wage. But with the passage of this bill, we saw the power of community organizing cause the tide to shift in Annapolis, where the voices of everyday Marylanders are being heard, not just those of the wealthy and well-connected.

Jennifer Dwyer is Director of Development and Policy of Progressive Maryland. A Rhode Island native, Jennifer moved to Prince George’s County in 2004 to pursue a degree in Latin and Ancient Greek at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2013, while working on her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr College, Jennifer discovered Walmart had plans to build a 24-Hour Supercenter 150 feet behind her home in a quiet neighborhood in Bowie, Maryland. She organized her neighbors to stop the project–and they won! She joined Progressive Maryland in spring of 2016 as the Lead Organizer for Prince George’s County, and now serves as the organization’s Director of Development and Policy.

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