Tour wraps up with powerful Bay Area finale! Days Six and Seven of the Trader Joe’s CA Truth Tour July 16-17, 2011

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The Trader Joe’s CA Truth Tour ended with a bang this weekend with powerful protests in two of the Bay Area’s most storied communities!

On Saturday, the CIW tour crew and farmworker allies old and new made their presence felt in the heart of Berkeley, while on Sunday, a finale march, pictured above, made its way (quite literally!) through the streets of San Francisco’s historic Mission District. And judging by the growing commitment and energy on display during these actions — and the entire tour, for that matter — the nation’s leading cheap-chic food retailer will have its hands full with the Campaign for Fair Food in the weeks and months ahead.


Before the action, Saturday began with a breakfast hosted by the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. With translation kindly provided by Natasha Noriega-Goodwin, Lucas Benitez gave the assembled community members a broad overview of the exciting and dramatic changes underway in Florida’s fields thanks to the Campaign for Fair Food. Lucas also put the spotlight on Trader Joe’s inexplicable refusal to support these promising reforms with its pennies and purchasing power.


Laura Germino, the CIW’s Anti-Slavery Campaign coordinator, also spoke, emphasizing the necessity of structural solutions, such as the Campaign for Fair Food, in eliminating the poverty and powerlessness that lies at the root of the worst labor abuse imaginable: modern-day slavery.


As has been the case throughout the tour, the event provided an invaluable opportunity for the tour crew to re-connect with long-time farmworker allies, including many veterans from the CIW’s early foray into California organizing with the Taco Bell Boycott ten years ago.

Soon it was time to line up outside the building with new protest art in tow, including these cleverly re-purposed Trader Joe’s shopping bags…


… and begin the 1/2-mile walk from the assembly hall to the Trader Joe’s store in downtown Berkeley.

Before long, the march, now boasting 75 participants, arrived at its destination and formed a festive picket line at the corner of University Ave. and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

One of the principal reasons that this particular protest was so lively (after all, it’s not every day you see people of all ages and backgrounds dancing outside a supermarket) was that the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s inimitable Liz Fitzgerald led the way, belting out tunes all morning long, including her slightly tweaked cover of Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” adapted for the purposes of the Trader Joe’s campaign.

As the action came to a close, the CIW was informed by police that a delegation of farmworkers and consumers would not be permitted to deliver a letter to the store’s manager outlining the reasons for their protest. In fact, according to the police, Trader Joe’s had requested that anyone who stepped onto their property be immediately arrested.

This reaction may seem strange for those familiar with the store’s carefully-crafted bohemian aura — and especially for a store located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in downtown Berkeley, home of the 1960’s Free Speech Movement, no less. However, truth be told, this is exactly the type of harsh and arrogant response that Trader Joe’s has adopted since the campaign’s escalation this spring (an approach, we might note, that is leaving a very bitter taste in the mouths of many of its long-time customers).


The next day, Raj Patel, bestselling author and friend of the CIW, kicked off a panel discussion at the Center for Political Education. In his comments, Raj provided additional context to the Campaign for Fair Food’s accomplishments and offered his take on the entrenched resistance of the supermarket industry.

After the education session, it was once again time for action…

… this time with a 1-mile march through the heart — and streets! — of San Francisco’s Mission District.

The march’s superb, volunteer MC’s kept the energy high with spirited call-and-response chants and now-familiar songs.

As the animated crowd made its way towards the Trader Joe’s in the South of Market neighborhood, it also happened upon a store belonging to the Kroger-owned Food Co. chain, yet another Fair Food holdout!

(For those who missed it, be sure to check out the recent report from the Kroger shareholder’s meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Campaign for Fair Food is also heating up!)


As it did the previous day, the march culminated with a crowded and energetic picket line outside Trader Joe’s…

… providing an ideal setting for Fair Food activists to mingle with Trader Joe’s customers and share the shocking truth about the company’s tomato supply chain.

Sunday’s action — and indeed the Truth Tour — wrapped up with a brief exchange between Lucas and a Trader Joe’s store manager. At first, the manager made clear that he felt the protest was inconvenient. Lucas said he understood, but assured him there were greater inconveniences at stake, like doing one of the hardest, most dangerous, most vital jobs in the country and never making enough to provide a decent life for your family. For a moment, at least, the manager was willing to listen to what his fellow human being had to say about the reality of suffering and the promise of a new day in Florida’s fields.

And while that lone store manager is clearly unable to effect company-wide policy, the brief exchange at least hinted at the possibility that Trader Joe’s executives may too lower their defenses one day and open themselves to the possibility of empathy and compassion towards the men and women whose underpaid labor has subsidized their company’s remarkable profitability. Until such a time, however, the campaign continues.

 

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