By Aziza Nassar
January 31st was a day that I will never forget.
I joined 67 of my fellow brothers and sisters in faith in Springfield, as part of the Raise Illinois coalition, to present petitions to our state legislators to pass Senate Bill 1565, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Illinois. The petitions we presented were in the form of a scroll that included signatures of over 200 religious leaders from all over Illinois.
I was overwhelmed to be a part of such an action because it is so personal to me. Being the eldest daughter to a widowed mother of five, I felt like it was my responsibility not just for myself, but also for my family. After my father passed away in 2002, money was tight; with no family to turn to, my mother had no choice but to work a minimum wage job. Remembering this motivated me as I struggled with my wheelchair on the Amtrak train we took from Chicago to the Capitol.
“You are so strong,” said Shon Robertson of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, as we were boarding out of the train. I knew I had to be. A raise of one or two dollars per hour may not seem much for many, but it would make a huge difference for my family. As a Muslim, my faith taught me that I should work hard and try to perfect all that I do because there will be baraka, blessings, in my earnings. Similarly, many faith traditions including Islam stress the importance of just compensation.
Once we arrived in Springfield, Raise Illinois held a press conference in the capitol rotunda. Revs. Norval Brown, Jackie Lynn, Bonnie Osei-Frimpong and economist Ron Baiman were among those who spoke. Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, brought a great spirit to the conference when she presented a scroll of faith leader signatures stretching 5 feet long to Senator Kimberly Lightford, the lead sponsor of the bill, and led the crowd in an uplifting chant that brought a powerful energy.
The excitement encouraged us as we proceeded to our legislators offices. Although I was not able to meet legislators from my district, I met with State Rep Al Riley. At first he seemed hesitant to speak to us before the press conference, explaining that this may not be the best time for a raise in minimum wage, but he supported Raise Illinois in the end by saying that we should continue building relationships because strength is in numbers.
Although it was my first time in Springfield, I felt at home. I was comfortable knowing I had made a difference. You can too. Make your voice heard by taking action. If you live in Illinois and/or are a Faith Leader, please sign one of the petitions and join the fight for fair minimum wage in Illinois!
-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago