Ballot Initiatives Offers Voters a Real Chance to Reduce Income Inequality

For too long, we've read the headlines: income inequality has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression, wages have stagnated for all but the very top and equal access to opportunity, the pillar of American greatness, is disappearing before our eyes. Plain and simple, our current economic system does not work for millions of Americans.

For the last year, I've been traveling around to various states meeting with community organizers, thought leaders, business owners and minimum wage workers. And over and over I've seen that people across the country are ready to make a change.

In Maine, I sat at the bar and overheard two fathers wondering aloud how they'd send their kids to college. In California, I had dinner with new parents fretting and empathizing over how hard it is to find affordable childcare and affordable housing for their growing families. And in Washington D.C., I met young people just recently out of college who worried they'd be unable to find good jobs and would remain saddled with student loan debt for decades.

These are the stories of our nation. They've been told countless times, in books, articles, interviews, and documentaries.

Yet the challenges that face working families are surmountable. In fact, we know how to fix them. Simple and reasonable steps like raising the minimum wage, providing earned sick days, and easing the burden of student debt would provide immediate benefit to millions of low-wage workers and middle-class families alike.

Still, Congress and state legislatures refuse to act. Paralyzed by partisan disagreement, time and time again our elected officials have turned their back on common sense economic policy that would benefit working families.

In the face of this inaction, we have a powerful tool at our disposal to make change: the ballot initiative. The Fairness Project, along with our state-based partners, plans to harness the power of the ballot initiative, push forward economic policies that are supported by the majority of citizens and improve the lives of millions of Americans across multiple states.

But ballot initiatives aren't simple and they aren't cheap. Starting up an initiative campaign is analogous to revving up a business to full speed in 12 to 18 months. This requires strategic investors, tremendous coordination, teamwork, tireless volunteers, dedicated staffers and determination.

Over the past six months we've built The Fairness Project which supports state based ballot campaigns, by delivering cutting-edge tools and services - including opinion research, websites, social media messaging, data and analytics - and aims to drive a national narrative that highlights the stories of low-wage workers and the efforts of state-run campaigns.

The Fairness Project is built to be a long-term effort. For the 2016 cycle, our focus is on raising the minimum wage. From there, we will work with our supporters and partners to choose the next economic based issue to focus on.

We firmly believe that ballot initiative campaigns represent the best political investment available to any individual, organization, or foundation. That's why we built an operating model that is a twist on the best parts of early-stage investment firms. Instead of investing in companies, The Fairness Project is investing in campaigns for the common good.

This translates into early action in states across the country. In California, this means developing a sophisticated website that enables targeted outreach to voters. In Washington D.C., our early investment provides additional time for the campaigns to collect signatures and communicate with supporters. And in Maine, our support empowers the ongoing grassroots effort turning supporters into volunteers and advocates. Our work already has the potential to directly impact 3.5 million workers in the 2016 election cycle and we are hopeful that a number of other states will be inspired by this national momentum and place minimum wage on their ballot.

Why minimum wage? Because, quite frankly $15,000/year is not enough to live on. No one who works full time should be living in poverty. No state should accept this. No business model should support this. And no family should have to endure this.

Furthermore, a higher minimum wage makes sense for businesses, communities and the economy. Increased wages means more money in the wallets and pocketbooks of workers, which creates a virtuous cycle. Those workers become new customers for local businesses and those businesses in turn hire more workers.

From our partners in Maine, D.C. and California to states that are still laying the foundation for their work, communities across the country are ready to raise the wage. We hope that millions of Americans will join The Fairness Project recognizing and embracing the power of ballot initiatives and support us in our quest to allow millions of workers to vote themselves a raise next November.