There’s always been a kind of fame that comes from being the first to do something. First man on the moon. First Black President. First female President (some day). Even, (alas) first Orange President. And, in the same way, there has also always been a certain kind of fame that comes from being the last to do something. The last US helicopter to fly out of Saigon. The last state to end segregation. The last band to have a myspace page. Oftentimes—especially when the “thing” is something no one should be proud of, the “fame” of being the last is more akin to notoriety. Think about it: no person, city or state wants to be remembered as the last to do the right thing. Case in point: no one has ever suggested that Arizona add “last state to approve MLK Day” as a selling point in our promotional brochures. By the same token, being the first to do the right thing is something to brag about. For example, Flagstaff proudly proclaims itself to be the first “Dark Sky” city, and it is right to be proud of that.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy fight. A town that lived (and still does live) on tourism wasn’t an easy town to convince to dim the lights, especially in an era dominated by the idea of “the more neon, the better.” Small business owners gnashed their teeth and wrung their hands over the prospect of losing the signs that made their businesses stand out amongst all of the (equally overly-lit) competition. It was the end, they said, of Flagstaff business. Except of course, it wasn’t.
Then came the smoking ordinance. Flagstaff was the first city in Arizona to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. Again, the death knell was sounded. The letters to the editor poured in (this was before Facebook), lamenting the end of Flagstaff small business. No one, the letter writers asserted, would ever stop have lunch in this town again. Why would they, they sneered, when they could just keep driving another thirty, fifty, or seventy miles and have a lunch that included a satisfying smoke at the conclusion of their meal? (Or rather, more to the point, at the conclusion of everyone else’s meal around them.) Who would ever want to go see a show in Flagstaff when you couldn’t prove you had been out the night before just by smelling your clothes? Flagstaff, they claimed, was through. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Again.
Thirty years from now we are going to look back at the fight for a living wage and it will be the same. We are going to tell our grandchildren about the days when people were convinced that their right to pay low wages outweighed other peoples’ rights to live with dignity, and they will give us exactly the same look as our children do now when we tell them about the time everyone thought their right to smoke outweighed other peoples’ rights to breathe. And that look will be, “What, were you all crazy?”
Personally, my response will be the same: “No, not all of us.” I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I did what I could to help support a living wage. I’ll be able to tell them that I, for one, continued to support well-run local businesses, even if if that meant I had to pay a little more while doing it. I’ll be able to tell them that instead of being bitter and resentful that a higher minimum wage meant less of a financial gap between me and the people “below” me, I was sincerely happy other people would now have a chance to experience financial security.
In other words, I’ll be able to tell them that when it came down to it, I was on the right side of history. Truly, it’ll be my best claim to fame ever.