By the end of the day on Thursday, December 4th, fast food workers will have walked off the job in 190 cities across the United States, the latest in a series of single-day strikes that have taken place over the past two years. The workers are demanding a base wage of $15 per hour and the right to unionize.I recently got involved with the fast food workers’ movement through Michael Kink, the executive director of Strong Economy For All, an advocacy group fighting for economic justice in New York State. Michael has put a lot of effort into bringing together yogis, meditators, union representatives, and fast food workers. In the couple of times that we’ve all met, we’ve had valuable discussions about what we can learn from the spiritual roots of the civil rights movement and how to best grapple with the anger that arises from social injustice. Even more important, we’ve heard directly from fast food employees working full-time and still living in homeless shelters or having their hours reduced unexpectedly and not being able to eat. It’s always powerful to meet people as people, not as abstractions. Hearing directly from people and seeing their courage—seeing them stand up even though they could lose what little they have—I realized that I wanted to support them however I could.
That’s why I’m speaking out today in support of striking fast food workers. Standing up for your right to fair treatment, which is the choice that underlies this movement, epitomizes the notion of lovingkindness for oneself.
My own practice of lovingkindness has opened me to the power of compassion and to the fact that all beings want to be happy. Everybody wants to have their innate dignity recognized and to recognize the innate dignity of others. Over the years of my meditation practice, I’ve also opened to a greater understanding of emptiness. That greater understanding has become interwoven with a deep sense of connection—a vision of inclusivity rather than a narrow dichotomy of “self and other,” “us and them,” “I count and you don’t.”
I’ve met some incredible people who work in fast food, home care, retail, and other low wage sectors. They work very, very hard and receive little compensation for it. On one level, I find it heartbreaking. On another level, I find it inspiring as they fight for a living wage and the right to unionize. They are fighting, above all, for the dignity of their being. It is only a matter of time before they prevail, and we will all be better for it when they do.
Sharon Salzberg is a founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. She is the author of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace.
Image: Max Zahn