A low-wage worker turns to minimum-wage activism after a life in poverty

By Eli Saslow Mar 9, 2020

She had been riding the city bus almost every day for the past decade without paying much attention to the people around her. Sara Fearrington, 43, was usually isolated in the fog of her own problems, commuting between working double shifts at Waffle House and parenting at home, but now she walked with uncertainty into Durham’s bus station late one afternoon holding a clipboard and studying the crowd of tired faces.

“Hi there,” she said to a man wearing a neon yellow vest and hauling a large toolbox. “Are you interested in joining a movement for -” but he was already past her.

She looked down the walkway and saw a woman in a hotel housekeeping apron talking on her phone. Sara smiled and stepped into her path. “Do you have a minute to talk about our poverty wages?” Sara asked, but the woman pointed to her phone and kept walking.

A woman in a KFC hat sat next to Sara on the bench and sifted through her purse for a bottle of Tylenol. Sara reached for her clipboard and stuck out her hand.

“Hi. Hate to bother you,” she said. “We’re out here trying to organize workers who want to fight for decent pay.”

The woman looked at the clipboard and shook her head. “I don’t have time for sign-up sheets or politics or none of that,” she said. “Me neither,” Sara said. She unzipped her coat to show the woman her Waffle House uniform. “I worked all day and made 67 bucks,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this, but what I’ve been doing isn’t working.”

“Sorry,” the woman said, standing up to leave. “I got my hands full just doing the math on how to make it from today until tomorrow.”

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