Wonman Joseph Williams is a third year student at the University of Virginia, and a football player for the Virginia Cavaliers. He hails from Sterling, VA.
I am a third year studying Political and Social Thought, and a student-athlete at the University of Virginia. Last Friday, 12 University students began a hunger strike to protest the economic and social injustices perpetrated by the UVa administration against the vast majority of the University’s service-sector employees. I joined two days later; since then, 5 more students have joined the hunger strike, which is now closing in on in its 7th day. Although the University of Virginia - Thomas Jefferson’s brainchild and the only US university designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - has the prestige and high moral traditions of other top institutions, levels of inequality exist here today that are reminiscent of Jefferson’s days as a slave-master and plantation owner - with one anonymous employee even referring to the University’s Grounds as “the plantation”.
Our University seeks to distinguish itself as a caring community and prides itself on traditions of honor and student self-governance. However, in our “caring community,” hundreds of contract employees may make as little as $7.25/hour while six out of the top ten highest paid state employees in Virginia hold administrative positions at the University. Many employees, mostly women and African Americans, do not receive enough pay for their basic necessities to exist in Charlottesville, where the cost of living is nearly 10% higher than the national average. This extreme inequality has disturbed and disillusioned students for decades, many of whom have tried to grapple with issues of race, class, and poverty in and out of the classroom. We have taken every conventional route towards this goal, garnered wide student, faculty and community support - yet our pleas have been consistently ignored and workers are still paid unjust wages.
On a personal level, this cause is one that hits very close to home. As one of four children supported by a single mother, I have experienced many periods of economic hardship in my life. Growing up, I moved over 30 times – including various stays in homeless shelters, the homes of family friends, and church basements. As a result of these experiences, I know firsthand what the economic struggle is like for many of these underpaid workers. One UVa employee anonymously shared that though she works full time for the University, over 40 hours a week, her family was still forced to go without electricity for nearly 3 months, unable to pay for the rent, electric bill and other basic necessities on the meager wages she is paid by the University. Such stories are the reason that I and countless other Living Wage supporters have chosen to take up this cause and give a voice to the many University employees who often cannot speak up for fear of retaliation from the administration.
We members of the Living Wage Campaign are sometimes met by opponents who have lauded the virtue of the Free Market Economy and praised it as the founding economic institution of our nation. Furthermore, they are "dismayed" at the thought of paying University employees "more than they are worth on the free market." Despite our countless attempts at negotiating with the administration, we have been encouraged by detractors of our cause to “follow the rules” and “work within the political system”. This type of rhetoric, that of “following rules” and the "virtue of the Free Market Economy", only serves to strengthen the resolve of myself and my fellow Living Wage campaigners. Though we are currently abstaining from food, this discriminatory language provides the sustenance from which we derive our strength. I know I speak for all members of the Living Wage Campaign and, hopefully, for all decent human beings in saying that I will forever refuse to "follow the rules" of any institution which places a monetary value on human life. I refuse to comply with rules, regulations, or restrictions that reinforce the discrimination, persecution, and exploitation of human beings.
In failing to implement a living wage for its lowest paid employees, the University of Virginia has also failed to uphold the moral standards to which it holds its students. We are engaging in this hunger strike to call attention to the administration’s moral hypocrisy and to finally produce results in the form of a Living Wage. Although I am exhausted, hungry, dry-mouthed, and emotionally taxed, I believe it is my responsibility as a member of the University community, and even more as a member of the human race, to stand up and speak for those whose voices have been silenced and whose livelihoods are marginalized by the policies of the current University administration. Thus, it disheartens me and my fellow campaigners that while these workers are being systematically discriminated against and exploited, there are plans to spend millions of dollars on superfluous additions such as a domed practice field for the football team, hundreds and thousands of flowers around Grounds, and countless other trivialities. In short, we, as hunger strikers of the Living Wage Campaign, students of the University of Virginia, members of the Charlottesville community, and fierce believers in the human race, refuse to lie down any longer and watch the exploitation and marginalization of University employees and, more importantly, our fellow members of the human race. So until this cause is heard and the University administration pays the wages that its employees have long deserved - we will be striking.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR DECISION MAKERS:
Helen E. Dragas
Rector of the BOV
Chief Student Affairs Officer
Chief Human Resources Officer
University of Virginia Board of Visitors
January 28th, 2014
In the State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is going to call for a national minimum wage of $10.10. Then in their response ...
January 21st, 2014
My New Year's Day op-ed in the New York Times seems to have kickstarted a discussion about how to make Obamacare better. I hope you ...
December 18th, 2013
This morning it was announced by the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board that my first film, 'Roger & Me', has been ...
December 14th, 2013
[View the story "Michael Moore Tweets on Eve of Newtown Anniversay" on Storify]
November 9th, 2013
Click here for this week's full schedule for the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Michigan. The day has arrived. For ...
September 10th, 2013
[View the story "John Kerry's Accidental Diplomacy" on Storify]
July 30th, 2013
Today Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including violating the Espionage Act, releasing classified information and disobeying orders. That's the bad news. ...
September 11th, 2010
OpenMike 9/11/10 Michael Moore's daily blog I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero. I want it built on ...
December 14th, 2010
Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that ...
May 12th, 2011
"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Michael Moore in ...
November 22nd, 2011
This past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and ...
September 22nd, 2011
I encourage everyone I know to never travel to Georgia, never buy anything made in Georgia, to never do business in Georgia. I will ask ...
December 16th, 2010
Dear Swedish Government: Hi there -- or as you all say, Hallå! You know, all of us here in the U.S. love your country. Your ...
November 2nd, 2010
This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from ...