Social media chatter surges around the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food!

Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere alive with messages from marchers, well wishers as the final touches are put on preparations (including the 8-ft. tall statue, right, that will accompany marchers every step of the way)!

Cheryl Queen is an executive with Compass Group, the country’s largest foodservice company and one of eleven multi-billion dollar food industry leaders that has signed on to the Fair Food Program.

But she is also a person of strong faith who believes deeply in the mission of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and as such will be joining workers from Immokalee and hundreds of other Fair Food allies for part of the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food. And to share her excitement about the coming march, she sent this statement to the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Facebook page:

“I’m very proud to join this year’s March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food. Since 2007 Compass Group has enjoyed a partnership with the Coalition and the Fair Food Standards Council that reflects the highest levels of ethical behavior, transparency and authenticity. The Coalition embodies passion and integrity coupled with humility, and that’s what brings about lasting change in a way that honors and recognizes everyone. On a personal level it is always feels like a homecoming to return to Immokalee and visit friends and partners. Sharing this March together, particularly during the Lenten season, feels like a walk of faith, transformation and celebration. — Watch this page for more posts from Presbyterians as we lead up to the march and embark Sunday, March 3rd!” read more >>

Shane Claiborne is a prominent Christian activist and a best selling author. Shane is also a longtime CIW ally who joined us 13 years ago for the March for Dignity, Dialogue, and a Living Wage.

He too took to the pages of Facebook to remember his experience at the 2000 march — including a particular stretch of the march he termed a “sacred moment” — and to express his excitement at being able to once again march alongside farmworkers from Immokalee in support of fundamental human rights:

“It’s March. That means that in 3 days the Coalition of Immokalee workers will begin their 200 mile march for “Rights, Respect, and Fair Food”. It’s going to be amazing. I’ll be there for part of it, and hope to see you. The CIW have been friends of ours for over 10 years… in fact they just sent me a photo from a march we did together in 2000, when I looked a little younger. I’ll post it here along with the excerpt I wrote about that march and the CIW (in my first book). Now over a decade later, they have managed to bring national attention to the issue of modern day slavery and win-over some of the largest corporations in the world. Publix is next in line to make this important commitment to justice and dignity. HERE WE COME!(excerpt from The Irresistible Revolution)One of the groups many of us in Philly have grown to admire, because they exemplify the gentle revolution, is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — They are farm workers and day laborers who pick tomatoes for companies like Taco Bell (and Publix!). We’ve worn out some shoes together marching hundreds of miles in protest. One summer a few years back, the workers told us they were organizing a walk from their fields in Florida to the growers association in Orlando. As usual, we joined them. On the back of a truck, a fourteen-foot Statue of Liberty led the way, only instead of a tablet, she held a bucket, and in place of the torch, she lifted up a tomato. Along the way, hundreds of pedestrians came by to voice their support, along with actors, musicians, politicians, and clergy. They made headlines in nearly every town we passed through. As we neared Orlando, public attention had reached a pinnacle, and the police told the workers they could no longer have the statue on the back of the truck. We were disappointed. But one of the workers grabbed me. “They said we cannot have the statue on the truck,” he said pensively, “so we will carry her.” He was serious. So each of us grabbed a corner and hoisted her up on our shoulders, and we began walking, taking turns. One of the mighty women who helped carry the statue whispered, “If Jesus can carry that cross, we can carry this statue.” And we did. Dripping with sweat, singing, and chanting, we carried her to the front doors of the growers association.

It was a sacred moment. The executives tried to ignore them. They issued a statement that “the tractors don’t come up to the farmer and tell him how to run the farm.” With tears in their eyes, these workers with calloused hands and leathery skin from long days in the sun-scorched fields cried out, as if to God, “We are not tractors. Tractors do not bleed and cry. Tractors do not have families and children. We are not machines; we are human beings.” It seemed to me the whisper of James was never as clear as it was on that day: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you” (James 5:4–6).” read more >>

Meanwhile, over in the world of Twitter, the march is a hot topic, too. Here are a few of the latest tweets from allies readying for Sunday’s big launch:

Finally, Kandace Vallejo is a Kellogg Food and Community Fellow and a longtime social justice activist. She posted a more long-form reflection on the upcoming march, entitled, “Why I’m walking 200 miles with the Immokalee Workers.” It’s a great piece, well worth a quick read. Here’s an excerpt:

“… The changes won thus far have been monumental. Workers now receive a Fair Food Premium’ in their pay. Sexual harassment is no longer tolerated, and growers provide bathrooms, water and shade structures under which workers can rest. Tomato pickers are educated on-site about their new rights under the program, and there is a hotline that workers can call to report violations. These changes are a direct result of people organizing in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and it is all held in place by one crucial force — consumer power.Agreements are backed by market consequences, but as long as a low-bar market for tomatoes still exists, growers and retailers who don’t want to participate don’t have to. Coalition member Leonel Perez recently told me, “We are far from system-wide transformation. We need more corporate buyers to come on board, and we need consumer support to make that possible.”William E. Crenshaw, the current CEO of Publix, is holding out as long as he can. After four years of being asked, he is still refusing to get with the program, sending PR reps out into the world saying things like, ‘If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business.’ Although it’s too bad that Crenshaw can’t follow Jenkins’ lead and ‘do the right thing,’ we aren’t going to let him forget the founder’s powerful words.

On March 3, I will fly home to walk for 15 days alongside Publix consumers throughout the southeast, shoulder to shoulder with Florida’s tomato pickers — some of the poorest workers in the country. We will retrace some of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ original steps from the 2000 march for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage. On March 17, we will arrive at the doorstep of Publix, where we will call on the company to do the right thing and help end poverty and human rights abuses in Florida’s tomato fields.

When the opportunity to participate in this march arose, I knew I had to say yes. In my eyes, our work parallels the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s in which organizers relied heavily on cross-racial solidarity and massive acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Like them, we will go to great lengths because we believe we can live in a world where every individual — regardless of skin tone, country of origin or the nature of the work they do — will be treated with dignity and respect. From March 3 to March 17, we will march to expand a tangible, lasting example of how businesses in our society can honor the wishes of consumers and the rights of workers.” read more >>

These are just a few examples of the buzz around the march that is growing stronger by the minute as the launch fast approaches. If you are in the southwest Florida area, be sure to join us Sunday for the first steps of the 200-mile, two-week trek to Publix headquarters. Click here for all the details on what is sure to be a jam-packed first day!