Social justice advocates in Minnesota today called for state legislators to raise the minimum wage, give judges more power to seal criminal records and restore the rights of felons who have carried out their sentences.
They also want lawmakers to make drivers licenses available to unauthorized immigrants.
Members of the Organizing Apprenticeship Project say one of the top pieces of unfinished business from last year is a push to boost Minnesota's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, a proposal supported by Gov. Mark Dayton. The group's leaders say 30 percent of Latino workers in Minnesota would receive a wage increase if the bill becomes law.
Advocates representing 30 groups gathered at the state Capitol to voice support for a "racial equity agenda." They say they want to expand on last year's success, which includes a law intended to expand job prospects for people with criminal records.
But Vina Kay, director of research and policy for the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, said she knows it will be tough to persuade some lawmakers to address issues of concern to communities of color.
"It's an election year. I'm afraid some of the legislators are afraid to take some risks," Kay said. "But I would like them to know communities of color, low-income communities, and Minnesotans throughout the state understand that breaking down the barriers to opportunity in Minnesota is good for all of us."
Minneapolis hip-hop artist Brother Ali, who led the event at the Capitol rotunda, said closing racial disparities in housing, education, and employment is in the best interest of all Minnesotans.
"We're gathering in this place to affirm the reality that racial justice is not a fringe issue. It's not a special interest. It's at the core of who we are," he said. "Humanity is only valued high when every single human person is valued the same."