A keynote address at the NRA Show was briefly interrupted by protestors in the audience who rose about 10 minutes into the speech by Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington to yell for an increase in the minimum wage mandated by federal law for restaurant servers.
A dozen or so members of the audience stood up and unfurled white signs reading, “$2.13 is not the American Dream” and began chanting “unfair wage” as a stream of people were escorted out of the room, some later handcuffed outside by police.
“I understand the demonstration,” Huffington said to the audience after it was cleared of the demonstrators. “We all need to be cognizant that we are going through a difficult time in this country. Where inequality has grown, where more people are in poverty. It’s a huge bipartisan problem.”
Huffington said that it’s a problem multiple presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have faced as the number of Americans in poverty swelled during their terms. “People are realizing that inequalities destabilize a country,” she said.
“These are very fundamental problems,” Huffington continued. “They are problems we need to address with a sense of urgency because certainly the last thing we want in America is where there are the super rich, living behind gates to protect their children from kidnapping while vast sways of the population are having a hard time putting food on the table.”
As a Greek immigrant, Huffington said she understands what it’s like to chase the American dream. “I was lucky to live the American dream, which is ultimately based on the assumption that you can have a better life than your parents,” she said. “That promise has been broken. And I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest to pretend this isn’t a major problem.”
That’s when Sweeney took the opportunity to champion the restaurant industry as a safe haven, despite the earlier protests. “We are in many ways the bridge and perhaps one of the last remaining bridges that can take you to the American dream,” Sweeney said, citing the large number of people within America’s workforce—as the second largest employer in the U.S. with 14 million employees—who are trained within the industry. “The American dream is at risk,” Sweeney said. “But we believe it alive and well in the restaurant industry.”
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