Just back from my second “official” visit to the State House in regards to upcoming legislation for raising the subminimum wage for tipped workers in Rhode Island which has stagnated at $2.89 for over twenty years. This time around our mission was to meet with the Rhode Island House of Representatives Majority Leader DeSimone. Apparently, the gentleman hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to hear from anyone in support of this bill. Mr DeSimone had however, heard plenty from his friends in ownership positions of the restaurant industry.
The conversation went quite well in that Mr DeSimone seemed genuinely interested and he asked a number of questions, which I understand to be a possible good sign for this particular legislation. At moments I felt waves of nervous energy that I tried to channel into humor.
After our appointment with Mr House Majority Leader, we took the opportunity to hang around the “halitosis halls” to attempt what is known as “lobbying”. This involved walking around throughout the RI House and Senate, discussing and debating the pros and cons of the legislation at hand. Many of the politicians were exceptionally polite and took some time to listen and discuss.
This was a strange feeling. I had interacted with some of these people as their servant in restaurants before, but in this scenereo they treated me more like a potentially intelligent human being. My greatest thrill however, came from talking to the representatives who were unlikely to support the bill. One or two of them appeared to have palpable disdain for myself and my cohorts. Really? Could this be? Have I said anything to make you upset? Can I say it again?
My intention in this was not to ruffle feathers so much as it was to help present the addressed needs and potential benefits of the legislation…but…Wow! In this society, receiving negative reactions from our leaders feels pretty good. As citizens we are neglected children who have mostly given up on begging for the paternal attention of our masters.
I have received vital encouragement and advice in going through this process. But the most astounding revelation has been to realize that I could have done much of this on my own had it occurred to me and had I understood this particular political process a little more. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of people living in Rhode Island who feel they have no voice in the world they have been born into. But the truth is hiding in plain sight. The foreboding Rhode Island State House has remarkably open access. Anyone could have walked in and given testimony in regards to this bill on the day of the subcommittee hearing. Sure I had a friend pointing me in the right direction, but no one asked me any questions as I walked in and signed up to give testimony. The only trick to it was knowing exactly when the hearing was taking place and in which room.
Now what seems most important is to spread the word. The comfortable elites are resting upon a myth impenetrable beaurocracy carved in stone. We can walk up those stone steppes if we choose to. Democracy doesn’t have to be over, if we want it.