Photo Report: CIW families, consumers teach Publix the true meaning of Labor Day!

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CIW’s Women’s Group leads the way in big Labor Day Weekend of Action across Florida…

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Four years ago, CIW members took their call for Publix to sign a Fair Food agreement to the streets for the very first time.  This past weekend, CIW members once again loaded protest art, water, and a formidable team, led by farmworker mothers and their families, into four vans and headed north.  As was the case on that very first Publix protest four years ago, the CIW members were fueled this past weekend by a fierce determination to make Publix part of the solution to the age-old problem of farmworker exploitation. But unlike four years ago, the workers this time had a powerful new weapon in their arsenal as they headed into the long weekend of action — the Fair Food Program, the unparalleled human rights program that, in the course of the past three years, has become the model for social responsibility in the US agricultural industry. The program that Publix inexplicably, and unconscionably, continues to reject.

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As they have during the entire four years of the campaign, Publix officials refused to speak with workers from start to finish of the weekend’s many protests.  Company representatives were on hand in five cities across the state of Florida to trail the CIW protests — to watch from afar as workers, their families, and Publix’s own customers called for the humane treatment of farmworkers.  But despite the untold resources spent on surveilling the CIW’s efforts, not a penny was spent on dialogue, on understanding why some of the state’s hardest working, worst-paid workers would be spending their precious free time protesting outside Publix stores across the state.

But this weekend, even Publix’s intransigence could not dampen the spirits of the CIW and their friends across Florida. If anything, the actions were bigger and livelier than ever.  And so, without further ado, we bring you the photo report from the big Labor Day Weekend of Action.  

The weekend festivities began on Saturday morning in Fort Myers (below). With over 50 people present, the colorful protesters picketed for an hour before sending a delegation to attempt to speak with the manager (which was met with a polite, but empty, “thanks for coming”… a refrain that would become all too familiar over the course of the next three days).

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From Fort Myers, the CIW headed up U.S. 41 — retracing a large chunk of the route of last spring’s March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food — to Sarasota. Many of the hand-made flags from that same March accompanied farmworkers this Labor Day, as modeled here below by the youngest member of the caravan.

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In spite of the 90+ degree heat and August humidity, the crew from Immokalee still brought quite a bit of energy to the Sarasota corner that hosted one of the largest protests during last spring’s march. Nely Rodriguez of the CIW, pictured below in yellow, kept spirits high with the CIW’s chants…

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… while allies (below) from across the city made sure Publix knew where they stood on the matter.

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Before leaving Sarasota in this photo report and heading north to Tampa, we want to take a moment to sincerely thank our friends at the First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota (pictured below) — who fed the entire CIW caravan a delicious lunch on Saturday — and the members of Hyde Park United Methodist Church of Tampa, who welcomed us for dinner. As has been the case from the earliest days of the CIW’s work, our allies’ willingness to open their doors and support farmworkers on the road — as well as to join farmworkers in the streets — has made the wildly successful Campaign for Fair Food possible.

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The first day finished with a protest outside a Tampa Publix on Saturday in the late afternoon.

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In the evening light (and welcome shade!), workers were joined not only by the faithful Fair Food allies of Tampa, but also by participants in an anti-war protest down the street, organized by long-time CIW allies St. Pete for Peace. Even after being out on the corner for several hours at their own event, these Tampa residents happily joined the CIW to swell the ranks to more than 60 marchers.  

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The injection of animo helped bring the first day to a powerful close.  Publix’s empty responses — not only to the women who put food on their shelves, but also to the women who buy that food — pushed the CIW crew to work harder until that indefensible silence is broken.

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After a good night’s sleep at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, the caravan rose early on Sunday to visit communities of faith across the city of Orlando — and also to visit some of the local sights, such as Lake Eola’s excellent playground.

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Several Catholic parishes of the Diocese of Orlando — whose Bishop published a powerful op-ed about the Fair Food Program in Publix’s hometown paper not too long ago — invited farmworker leaders to speak about the significance of Publix’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program at nine Catholic masses. The message reached thousands of parishioners, many of whom would decide to join our protest that very afternoon.

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In addition to the participation of Catholic allies, long-time CIW supporters from the First Unitarian Church of Orlando and YAYAs, the youth arm of the National Farmworker Ministry, also came in en masse, bringing the numbers at the protest to a whopping 80+ people, whose voices echoed off the walls of Orlando’s downtown Publix.

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Meanwhile, to support the caravan from afar, allies further north in Tallahassee (below) organized a protest for the Weekend of Action!  Joined by traveling CIW members, the small but lively picket included students from the Florida State University’s Advocates for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as well as prominent members from the faith community.

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Finally, the CIW crew celebrated Labor Day itself with a truly remarkable protest in Stuart, Florida, where the CIW caravan teamed up in person with Treasure Coast Fair Food for the first time (and certainly not the last!)….

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The many dozens of picketers braved the Florida sun…

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 … equipped with homemade signs as well as some classic CIW art.

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Later that day, during our lunch with Treasure Coast Fair Food at the Temple Beit Hayam, the CIW women’s group summed it up nicely: the real treasure we found there was the people. The generosity and hard work of TCFF left a powerful impression on the hearts and minds of the farmworker community, even as the CIW’s presence solidified and fueled the commitment of the group to fight for Fair Food.

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That’s all for now! Make sure to stay tuned this week for press from the weekend as well as a video documenting this most memorable Labor Day…

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