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Caroling for the 99%

This holiday season, a group of us returned to Steinway Street in Astoria for our second annual Caroling for the 99%. With re-worked Christmas carols in hand, we went from one fast food restaurant to another singing carols to show solidarity with the fast food employees. Here are some thoughts on the experience from those who participated.

Caroling for the 99%

Caroling in Subway on Steinway Street.

Rich:

I participate in order to show solidarity with the fast food employees and hopefully educate people about this huge problem.
Caroling lets fast food employees know that there are people aware of their plight, people who are willing to advocate and fight for them.
It is empowering when we walk into a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell. I believe it is always empowering when you speak your mind. Being in a tight-knit group of like-minded friends makes it just that much more special.
We receive a wide variety of reactions. There is surprise, indifference, appreciation, wonder, curiosity, respect. We hope to pique people’s curiosity to the point that they engage in conversation with us, do some research online and, ultimately, become active in their own ways.

Wage Hike (to the tune of Sleigh Ride)

Just hear those profits jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too
It’s time to pay the workers for all the work that they do
Those bills just keep on rising and debt is through the roof
Come on let’s work together, it’s time to face the truth

Sam:
“Why carol? Because I care about people! And I don’t want anyone to suffer because of the 1% not noticing them and not giving them human rights. Caroling is a good way to convince the 1% to actually realize, ‘Oh, my workers are underpaid. Better make up for that!'”
“I felt really really good. I only got a little nervous when we found the cop in the bank.”
“A lot of people smiled. The cop looked a little scared and tense, ready to pull off an arrest.”
“I’m just saying… I also liked singing the songs. I could have… I want to be a man of many talents, I enjoy singing when there’s a chance and it doesn’t embarrass me. And singing with the rest of Occupy Astoria, I didn’t feel embarrassed, I felt special.”

It’s Time to Ask for More (to the tune of Auld Lang Sine)
May old slave wages be forgot
and replaced by something more
We can’t survive on $7.25
It’s time to ask for more

Michelle:
I participate to show solidarity, and also on the hope that some people will be interested, inspired to learn more about a living wage, as well as to interrupt the usual flow. On a personal note, I have always found this time of year to be deeply alienating, and caroling with you all takes an edge off that like little else has. Except for bourbon : ) I was late this time, but no matter, I find it frightening to do this because I think protest is criminalized and misunderstood. But I do it to hold out the idea that it is something any and everyone should do when and if they feel so moved. I only witnessed people being curious, and one person who was clearly in support of what we were singing/doing. But I also know some people have a negative reaction. I would expect that because any protest is a questioning of the status quo and most of us want predictability. It gives me hope to carol with you all, and that is really saying something.

Let It Grow (to the tune of Let It Snow)
Oh the minimum wage is frightful
but here’s something insightful
$7.25’s too low
so let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!

Jay Tee:
-Why did you participate in Caroling for the 99%?
-There are 4 main reasons: To raise awareness, show support, hang out with awesome people and have fun, which is easy to do while singing with your friends.

-What effect do you think it has?
-Even if people didn’t react, I think it plants seeds and helps buttress the point that things are changing.

-How did you feel walking into stores and singing?
-Sometimes I was a little nervous and thought we might get arrested, especially given the recent “charges” and threats brought against Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping for their wonderfully creative Golden Toads performance at Chase. There were 2 times when I was a little nervous. One time I couldn’t find the song we were singing and I felt all flustered as it seemed everyone was waiting for me to get it together, and the customers in the restaurant were just sitting there watching us. Aside from looking disorganized, my main concern was regarding whether or not this delay was enabling more time for a manager to call police. But all in all I felt very merry and wonderful! I felt that a lot of people supported us as they nodded their heads and clapped.

-How did people react?
-With the exception of a couple of people, the reactions seemed to range from no reaction to very positive. While walking down the street, some. perhaps most, people didn’t react. They may not have known how to as one rarely sees Christmas carolers any more. Some people also had ear buds in and couldn’t hear us. But I think just about everyone was reading our signs.

Inside restaurants, it seemed that most customers had a positive reaction. They clapped,smiled, nodded, gave us a thumbs up, etc…Even some employees clapped as we finished. This is quite bold and I think very encouraging.

I am really proud of OALIC for getting it together and Caroling once more for the 99%. I think performance and music are very powerful and represent one effective way of continuing to fight the good fight.

$7.25 (to the tune of Winter Wonderland)
CEO’s make a killing
Average Joes aren’t willing
to keep being paid the minimum wage
We can’t survive on $7.25!

Ted:

It feels good to gather with people and get this message out, especially in this way at this time of year. Singing is fun, though the message is quite serious. I participate to amplify this important message of economic justice as well as to lift my own spirits by doing something proactive with friends.

I think it can shake people out of their holiday shopping stupor. If only momentarily, it presents a starkly different perspective. People see a group singing carols, but then the message is actually about workers rights. Maybe it makes an impact on passersby and hopefully encourages employees of the fast food restaurants we carol in.

It feels fun because you’re part of a group and you’re trying to be a voice for those who need a voice. It also can feel uncomfortable in an invigorating, exciting way. I think that is an important part of it for me. Sometimes actions should take you out of your comfort zone and maybe make you uncomfortable.

Reactions range from no reaction to smiles to people taking pictures and thanking us. Some people came over to express support and engage in conversation. We encouraged people to visit www.fastfoodforward.org for more information. Ultimately, caroling is a small action in the face of a monumental problem but I think of it as the pebble thrown into the ocean, hopefully rippling out in ways you can’t fathom.

Pay a Living Wage (to the tune of Do You Hear What I Hear)
Said the 99% to everyone
Do you hear what I hear? (Do you hear what I hear?)
Workers rights eroding everywhere
Do you hear what I hear? (Do you hear what I hear?)