DENVER — Three men were arrested today in a rally during which more than 100 protesters — workers, union members, organizers and supporters — called for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and a union for fast food workers. The strike was part of a coordinated national effort today in more than 150 cities.
“I was nervous getting into this, but once I read the news about everything that’s happened in other cities this morning I felt sure. I’m part of something big, something that will definitely make a change,” said Christian Medina, a 23-year-old McDonald’s employee.
Medina joined former restaurant worker and student Tucker Plumlee, and the Rev. Patrick Demmer of Denver’s Graham Memorial Community Church in civil protest. The three sat in the intersection of Colfax and Pennsylvania Streets outside a McDonald’s until Denver Police arrested them.
In the background protesters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Fifteen and a union.”
Medina said his protest today comes out of the feeling that his McDonald’s wage will never allow him the stability to buy a house or raise a family with his new fiancé, much less afford a pet.
“We are here because there are those who are making billions and billions of dollars and they do not care about the common, everyday worker who is trying to survive, trying to feed their family, on seven dollars an hour. That is wrong,” said Demmer into a bullhorn moments before the protesters headed down Colfax towards the McDonald’s.
Among those protesters was Yolanda Tellez, the single bread-winner for her five children and an employee of the McDonald’s outside which the rally took place. In Spanish Tellez explained that without sick leave or paid vacation it is difficult for her to care for her children. She lives paycheck to paycheck and budgeting is a near impossibility when she could get as many as 40 hours of work one week and just 25 the next.
Following recent history in Ferguson, Mo., of aggressive displays of police force in the face of protest, the Denver Police Department carefully filmed each of their moves — blocking traffic around the protestors, issuing a three-minute warning for obstruction of traffic and a direct order to clear the streets, and finally arresting each of the three men in a peaceable fashion. Along with journalists, nearly every protester recorded the arrests.
“The Denver Police Department not only recognizes everyone’s right to protest, we also respect it,” Technician Ron Hackett told reporters following the arrests. Hackett said that multiple violations — obstructing traffic, disobeying police orders — forced their hand but said that he felt the arrests went well.
In addition to law enforcement some would-be lawmakers were also in attendance today. Among them were State Treasurer hopeful Betsy Markey and Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs, who is running to replace State Senator Bernie Herpin representing Senate District o 11.
“The fact that union strength has diminished over the past few years correlates directly with the shrinking middle class,” said Merrifield, adding that raising Colorado’s minimum wage would be a top priority for him if elected.
[Plumlee mid-arrest, Demmer center, Medina right. Photo by Tessa Cheek]