Rainstorms on Friday night may have slowed traffic, but they did little to dampen the spirits of the approximately 200 people who attended a Unidos community celebration and fundraiser.
The event, which took place at the Casa de la Raza in downtown Santa Barbara, featured live entertainers performing music from Latin beats and folk to a traditional Spanish dance by local youth. The celebration was coordinated by the Living Wage – a countywide movement dedicated to raising the minimum wage and benefits for any state employee in the county.
Harley Augustino, field organizer of the Coalition for a Living Wage, said the coordinators raised a total of $1500 through ticket proceeds and raffle tickets, $500 short of their goal. Augustino said the fundraising campaign was not the only purpose of the celebration.
“More importantly we were trying to bring together the community in support of the effort, inform new members of the coalition and create a momentum for the movement,” he said.
The Coalition for a Living Wage is currently campaigning for an ordinance that would require any employer who receives state money to pay a living wage of $11 an hour, plus health benefits, Augustino said.
There are currently 56 counties nationwide who have implemented similar living-wage ordinances, according to Patricia Hiles, a member of the steering committee for the coalition. Hiles said the ordinance is a way of encouraging other employers not funded by the state to increase their pay, in order to keep attracting labor.
“It’s terrible for people to have to work for wages that will not provide a decent standard of living,” she said.
Cruz Phillips, the community organization director for the United Farm Workers, said if the living wage ordinance passes in Santa Barbara, the living wage would receive more credibility.
“A larger number of state legislators are representing cities with living-wage ordinances,” Phillips said. “Once that happens, we can start looking at it on a statewide level.”
Shirley Kennedy, a UCSB black studies faculty member, expressed concerns about the standard of living in Santa Barbara.
“I believe very strongly that the ordinance is the right thing to do,” she said. “The people here who can’t make ends meet are the people who make Santa Barbara what it is.”
Delilah Poupore – guitarist for Antara and Delilah and one of the evening’s performers – said she fears Santa Barbara is becoming too homogenized and supportive of the wealthy.
“If people can’t afford to live here we no longer have a diverse community. I want Santa Barbara, the place that I live, to reflect the diversity that is here,” she said. “This is a celebration of the community so that people see that this is what Santa Barbara looks like.”