“If you profess to be a Christian, but you do nothing after witnessing the injustices that marginalized people suffer, then you aren’t really living your faith…”
This month, the Florida chapter of United Methodist Women (UMW) is featured on the front page of the organization’s national magazine, Response, for their extraordinary passion for justice and commitment to Fair Food!
Read by Methodist families across the U.S., Response highlights the outstanding work of UMW members around the world to create a more just, peaceful society, ranging from standing with indigenous women to protect South American rainforests to providing much-needed healthcare to poor communities in the U.S. The June edition features a front-page spread on the UMW members’ decade-long leadership in the struggle for Fair Food, a movement that has been called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post. As even the casual reader of this site will know, Methodist women have demonstrated unflagging commitment to Florida’s farmworkers over the years, inviting the CIW into their congregations and communities, writing letters and op-eds, and marching shoulder to shoulder with workers in the fight for fundamental human rights in the fields.
The article, which for now is only available in print, highlights members of UMW in Florida and their involvement in the CIW’s campaigns with Publix and Wendy’s, including UMW’s participation in this past March’s Concert and Parade for Fair Food in St. Petersburg.
Here below are some of the highlights from the article:
Fighting for Fair Food
Rosemary Uebel has lost track of how many marches and protests she’s joined with other United Methodist Women members to create awareness and improve conditions for Florida’s farmworkers. […]
[…] Ms. Uebel, a member of First Methodist Church of St. Petersburg and the social action coordinator of the Florida Conference United Methodist Women, has seen her share of victories in the eight years she’s been involved with the farmworkers’ movement, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The latest came in January when The Fresh Market signed a Fair Food Agreement with the coalition ensuring humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms. […]
[…] Although there is plenty of work to be done, supporters are encouraged by the momentum to improve the plight of migrants who toil in the fields picking fruits like tomatoes, strawberries and oranges for poverty wages. And United Methodist Women members are credited for their high profile role as important allies to bring about that change.
“The United Methodist Women have been with us all along the way. They’ve offered so much support over the course of our campaign in so many different actions, right alongside the farmworker women,” coalition member Lupe Gonzalo said through an interpreter. “We’ve demonstrated that we have the power together to make a change and to ensure human rights for farmworker women in [the] fields.” […]
[…] Joining the movement
Before taking on the position in 2012 of mission coordinator for social action for the Florida Southwest District United Methodist Women, [Nancy Vanderwall of Venice] wasn’t aware of the gravity of the living and working conditions of farmworkers in her adopted state. That didn’t mean she wasn’t interested in human rights; as a longtime educator on the south side of Chicago, Ms. Vanderwall lived in a multiracial neighborhood and immersed herself in civil rights issues.
As she looked for areas to direct her interest in human justice, she didn’t have to look far. Some members of United Methodist Women from other districts throughout Florida were already immersed in the farmworkers’ movement. She joined one of their protests in front of the Lakeland, Florida headquarters of the Publix Super Markets chain — which to date has refused to get on board with the Fair Food Program — and knew immediately she had found a cause she could passionately support and get behind.
“It all made so much sense to me,” said Ms. Vanderwall, a member of Grace United Methodist Church in Venice, Florida, “This is about dignity, this is about fairness. If you profess to be a Christian, but you do nothing after witnessing the injustices that marginalized people suffer, then you aren’t really living your faith. Actions always speak louder than words.”
Ms. Vanderwall took her case to the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, encouraging United Methodist Women members to join her on a trip to Immokalee to meet migrant women face to face and hear their stories. Once you develop personal relationships with people from a different culture and background, she said, you will learn that their wishes and dreams are the same as yours. They want security and hope, just like you.
She expected a few dozen, at best, to take her up on the offer. More than 140 showed up.
“It was an incredible experience,” Ms. Vanderwall said. “I’ve always said there is so much strength when women work together. Start by getting to know each other, and you’ve laid the groundwork for so many possibilities to make a difference in this world.”
Among the highlights of her work in the movement: Taking part in the historic 15-day, 200-mile March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food in 2013. Hundreds began the walk on March 3 in Fort Myers, Florida, concluding two weeks later with a rally in Lakeland outside Publix Corporate Headquarters. Forty-five churches and community groups fed and housed the marchers, who carried placards and waved banners along the route to draw public attention to the campaign.
Ms Vanderwall’s role was to help organize the free meals and local churches in her district. Again, it was yet another way to build relationships between farmworkers and their growing network of supporters.
“You see all these people coming together, from all walks of life, and you know you are witnessing something very special,” she said.
Fighting for fair food
This March, she and Ms. Uebel were among thousands who traveled from as far as Massachusetts by bus, car, truck and plan to converge in St. Petersburg, Florida for a parade through the city in support of Florida’s farmworkers. The three-mile route purposely included taking the participants by Publix and Wendy’s, a fast food chain that has not joined the Fair Food Program. The day concluded with the first-ever Concert for Fair Food.
Though the mood was joyous and carefree on that sunny spring day, supporters acknowledged that there is much more work to be done. Their attention is now focused on bringing Publix into the fold. […]
[…] Ms. Vanderwall isn’t giving up. Although it sometimes feels like a David versus Goliath battle, she has seen enough positive changes in bettering the lives and wages of migrant workers to know obstacles can be overcome. After all, who would have guessed Walmart would ever have signed the agreement? So she focuses on the victories and continues to encourage her sisters in faith to never give up the fight. Their strength comes in working together for the common good.
“Whenever I give a speech, I remind them to be proud that they are Methodist women,” she said proudly. “Because Methodist women get things done.”
We are so very proud to see the great work of our longtime friends from United Methodist Women featured on a national scale. And the article’s release couldn’t come at a better time! Just next month is the Annual Conference of the Florida United Methodist Church, where delegates representing 700 Methodist churches around the state, including many United Methodist Women, will vote on a resolution supporting farmworkers’ human rights and calling on Publix and Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program.
So make sure to stay tuned for much more to come from the June Annual Conference and from Florida’s own United Methodist Women!