One of the seven people arrested in Tuesday's traffic-disrupting protest for a $15 minimum wage was Kieran Taylor, an associate professor at The Citadel and historian of American labor movements.
Tuesday evening, organizers held up signs and chanted outside of a McDonald's restaurant on the Septima P. Clark Expressway, a road named after a local educator and civil rights-era activist. Police arrested seven protesters on disorderly conduct charges when they blocked traffic on the expressway, also known as the Crosstown.
Protesters were arguing for union representation and a living wage, or enough for a full-time worker to supply his or her basic needs. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator, which tracks grocery and childcare costs among other indices, places the living wage for a single adult in Charleston County at $11.69 an hour. The living wage for a single parent of one child is $21.60.
The federally mandated minimum wage, which many restaurant and service workers earn, is $7.25 an hour.
"People out there are hurting, and I think they deserve a living wage," Taylor said. "I think we’re a better community, we’re a better country when people are paid a living wage."
Taylor has been active in local labor organizing circles for years, serving as a leader with the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment, but he said he had never been arrested for protesting before. He said he and the six other arrested, who included restaurant workers and retirees, spent a few hours in a holding cell at the Al Cannon Detention Center on Tuesday night before being released around midnight.
A historian who has researched Southern labor organizing movements and edited collections of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, Taylor had a personal as well as an academic interest in the protest movement that has unfolded in Charleston in recent years. When fast food workers started meeting in late 2013 to plan protests, Taylor said he was heartened to see they reached out for advice to community leaders like Mary Moultrie, a former nurse who helped lead a massive strike against discriminatory working conditions at Medical College Hospital in 1969.
The protesters paid homage to their predecessors Tuesday night, singing a modified version of the classic protest anthem "Which Side Are You On?"
Tactically, Taylor said the protesters had to take dramatic action to garner press coverage and public attention.
"If pulling together 100 people in a public park would attract the same press coverage and public interest, I’d much rather do that," Taylor said. "I don’t think any of us really enjoy being arrested, and none of us took any pleasure in making people’s commutes more inconvenient."
In a prepared statement about the protest, The Citadel said Taylor was "acting according to his personal convictions and not as a representative of the college." When asked if Taylor faces disciplinary action from the public military college, Citadel spokeswoman Kimberly Keelor-Parker said, "Not to my knowledge."
"He was not in uniform, and he was there as a private citizen," Keelor-Parker said. "Had he been there as an official representative of the college, without checking in with his supervisor or the provost, then I would imagine the outcome would be different."
Tuesday's protest was part of the Fight for $15 movement, which has close ties to labor unions and has organized nationwide walkouts and protests since 2012. When protesters previously stopped traffic on the Crosstown in September 2014, 19 people refused to leave the roadway and ultimately received $200 fines for their actions.
Before the January 2016 Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Auditorium, Fight for $15 protesters traveled from across the state to rally on Calhoun Street, prompting then-Democratic contender Bernie Sanders to wade into the crowd with a bullhorn and offer words of encouragement.
"People should not have to work for starvation wages,” Sanders told the crowd at the time. “Keep up the good work.”
The other arrested listed in a police report about the Tuesday night protest are Justin Stanley, 29, of Charleston; Paul Garbarini, 69, of Charleston; Leslie E. Porcher, 32, of North Charleston; Kellie Hendricks, 32, of Charleston; Erica N. Cokley, 36, of Charleston; and Sandra Candleria Grach, 76, of Charleston. Stanley's listed business address in the report is "Circa 1896," a likely reference to the fine-dining restaurant Circa 1886, and Porcher's listed employer is the Arby's on Ashley Phosphate Road. No business addresses were listed for the others arrested.