Three for the Road Ahead

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I had a special assignment Thursday. Sen. Patty Murray was holding her annual “Golden Tennis Shoe Awards” luncheon, honoring unsung local heroes. My mission, besides hearing from Sens. Murray and Elizabeth Warren, was to get a copy of Seattle’s “No Wage Gap” campaign button into Sen. Murray’s hands.

It was the least I could do, since Sen. Murray has long been our hero working for wage equity for women and trying against all odds to pass a Paycheck Fairness Act.

What we – 1700 luncheon guests — were treated to at the “GoldenTennis Shoe” awards was Sen. Murray introducing us to three remarkable honorees, folks that you otherwise might not have heard about. First off there was Fitsum Abraha, who came to Seattle, age 10 from Sudan, speaking no English. He grew up in Yesler Terrace and after working to put himself through the University of Washington, he’s returned to Yesler as a Senior Property Manager and role model for children and residents there.

Sen. Murray also honored Maddy Brockert, who, as a sophomore high school student two years ago, lost her mother to domestic violence. Maddy has now become an effective advocate on behalf of victims and survivors, talking to thousands and giving them tools to recognize and combat domestic violence. The final honoree was Denise Costanten, who works to breed, train and give accredited service dogs free to wounded veterans and others in need.

The three honorees didn’t set out to change the world, but in each of their ways, they have done so much to make this a better, more caring place.

On the platform with Sen. Murray was Sen. Warren, who was in town to promote her book,  ‘A Fighting Chance.’ Sen. Warren told the story of her struggle as a single mom to raise three children while teaching law and, as she said, “failing at everything.” What changed her life was a tearful conversation with her Aunt Bea. Bea sensed despair and came to the rescue, complete with seven suitcases and a Pekinese dog named Buddy. Says Warren, “I was lucky I had a family member who rushed in to help. She stayed for 15 years.”

Sen. Warren concluded, telling the audience that there are three things that need to be done today to help women – who may not have an Aunt Bea. She pointed out that, since women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, they need “equal pay for equal work” and assurance that they won’t get fired for asking for what the guy down the hall earns. There needs to be paycheck fairness for women.

The second thing that’s needed for women, she said, is “raising the minimum wage,” something that, coincidentally, the Seattle City Council’s special committee had voted to approve that very morning.

Rounding out Warren’s three-pronged list was the need to address the burden of student loans. There exists $1.2 trillion dollars in student loans that must be repaid at what are currently usurious rates. The federal government makes money on those loans, partly because they have not allowed something granted to every other class of debtor: the ability to refinance at lower interest rates. Warren, who has been trying to pass a bill to correct the inequity, says, “The government is making huge profits off the backs of our students, a crushing burden for women everywhere.”

It isn’t a handout women look for. Instead, Warren believes, what they need is our help leveling the playing field.