Having her voting rights restored gave this single mom a second chance at life.
Growing up in poverty, Jackie and her family never had quite enough to scrape by. As she grew older and began raising her own children, she was determined to do better for her them. For Jackie, however, a lack of opportunity to pull herself up meant that she turned to selling drugs to support herself and her kids.
Eventually, she was arrested, convicted, and served time for drug-related offenses. She spent those years in jail pondering what she would do when she got out. When she returned to society five years ago, she made the decision that she wasn’t going to go back to her former life. “I have five children who were separated from me for a while, and I decided I wanted a normal life for them,” she said.
Focusing—and working hard—for a better life
But for Jackie, having a normal life was much easier said than done. First, she had to get a job. Having a felony on her record meant numerous rejected job applications, forcing her to work at odd jobs here and there—barely scraping by once again. But Jackie persevered, eventually finding steadier employment at gas stations and fast food restaurants. Finally, she began to realize her goal of supporting herself and her kids—living, in her words, a “normal” life.
This normal life also meant getting involved in her community, joining a church, and working to better herself as well as those around her. For Jackie, part of her new-found commitment to civic engagement meant voting. In Virginia, however, Jackie’s felony conviction meant that her right to vote—a core part of her civil rights—was taken away for life.
Getting a second chance—the right to vote
Thanks to Governor McAuliffe, Jackie got her right to vote restored in 2014. To Jackie, having her full civil rights has made all the difference.
“When I vote, it means that I refuse to back down,” Jackie said. “I refuse to be regarded as less than because of the mistakes I made in my p
ast. Things need to change, and I need to be part of making that change.” Now that Jackie has her full civil rights back she is even more committed to using her voice to advocate for herself and her community.
How voting gave Jackie a path to civic engagement
When Jackie learned about the Fight for $15 movement that advocates for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, she immediately got involved. Why? Because “they [the movement organizers] went into the neighborhoods nobody else wants to go to” and were doing the real work to help people improve their lives.
When a person makes only $7.25 per hour (the federally mandated minimum wage) “you are working just to live,” according to Jackie.
By her own account, despite Jackie’s return to society and her gainful full-time employment, a 40-hour work week meant that she still couldn’t realize her dream of supporting her children and improving her life. When I spoke with her, she explained, “I still can’t afford my bills or feed my children. The struggle is very real.”
A higher minimum wage would mean “relief” to Jackie and a stable future for her kids
When the Fight for $15 movement succeeds in raising Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, Jackie will finally be able to live the life she’s always dreamed of. A higher minimum wage would mean relief for Jackie: “I could breathe again. I [could] sleep well at night. No more tears. No more thinking about how I can pay for things.“
“I could breathe again. I [could] sleep well at night. No more tears. No more thinking about how I can pay for things.“ —Jackie, community advocate for the Fight for $15 movement
Not only would Jackie feel an immediate sense of relief, but she would have options and be able to plan for the future. “I won’t have to cut from one thing to pay for another. I could pay for everything. My children could grow up without worrying about how to raise their kids. They could buy a house and not live in the projects.”
And that’s really what the Fight for $15 is all about—creating a bright future that everyone in our community can realistically work toward, just as Jackie is doing.
On November 7, Jackie is putting her vote where her beliefs are. Will you?
I’ll be joining Jackie and other members of the Fight for $15 movement when I vote on November 7 for candidates who support raising the minimum wage to support workers in our community. You should, too.
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