On the morning of December 5th, 15 fast food workers and 30 supporters gathered outside the McDonald’s on Highland in Memphis, Tennessee. After some picket-line discussion of tactics and their risks, one worker, Reese, said “I didn’t come here to stand around outside, we’re taking over that store!”1 In the blink of an eye, 45 people, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, mostly African American men and women, piled into the McDonalds. Another worker, Lee, jumped onto a table, joined by others, to the swinging bass rhythm of chanting: “We can’t survive! On seven twenty five!” Then, riffing on Drake’s hit, we switched to something new:
We started from the bottom, now we’re here
Seven twenty five, just ain’t fair!
Workers on the clock bobbed their head and put hands in the air while we danced on tables and in between the aisles. After 5 minutes we rolled out and headed to another McDonalds on Elvis Presley Blvd where the same thing happened again. We added exterior signs and an adjacent highway to our temporarily occupied territory, and rocked even harder: after all, it was Elvis Presely Blvd.
We in Memphis were part of a much broader day of action, the “Fight For Fifteen,” focused for the most part in cities across the Midwest and Northeast. The Memphis workers, along with workers from Nashville, TN, Columbus, Missouri, St. Louis, MO, and Lexington, Kentucky, had voted on the strike two days before at a regional meeting in St. Louis. Community supporters from Organization for Black Struggle, Jobs with Justice, and other groups took the stage, one after the other, to pledge support to a movement that was “picking up where MLK left off when he was struck down.” When Memphis workers took the stage they did it in a bumping group of two dozen people. From the lectern they broke into a spontaneous chant: “What do we want? More money!” while Carlos, a leading Memphis striker, bellowed “This is history in the making! History in the making.” The decision to strike was passed unanimously, 96 – 0.