Publix Truth Tour rolls into Alabama, Tennessee, hits the streets in action!

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For its second week, the Publix Truth Tour — infused with new energy after being joined by even more CIW members from Immokalee  — rolled into Tennessee and Alabama. This chapter of the Tour was defined by the mobilization of hundreds of stalwart southerners who raised both signs and voices to let the Florida-based supermarket know that its expansion north must be accompanied by a basic respect for farmworkers.

Once again, we turn to the CIW and ally staff on the front lines of the tour for beautiful photos and a first-person account of this exciting installment:

There could have been no better way to enter Tennessee than by winding our way to the renowned Highlander Center. As many readers will know, Highlander has dedicated itself to providing communities with the space and tools to build powerful movements for social and economic justice for over 80 years, from the labor movement of the first half of the 20th century to the civil rights movement of the second.  Indeed, some readers of a certain vintage might remember Highlander as the infamous “Communist Training School” of the old South’s fevered imagination, where Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks attended workshops on civil rights (being on the wrong side of history is never pretty…) :

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On Friday afternoon, as we rocked in their iconic rocking chairs — which inspired the fleet now sitting in the CIW community center — and looked out over the Appalachian ranges, we were reminded that as we go on writing our long-awaited chapter on the transformation of the agricultural industry, we must also draw on the movements before and around us.

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That night, we wound our way down from the hilltops and into the city of Knoxville for an evening of just that: Exchanging our community’s tools for organizing with other worker-led organizations. Focusing specifically on the CIW’s use of popular education as a lively mechanism for stirring community consciousness and participation, we prepared a two-hour presentation and workshop at the Birdhouse to explore the power of theater, radio, drawings, music and other mediums and activities for building awareness. We were joined by many longtime friends and allies — among them el Comite Popular, Dignidad Obrera (Workers’ Dignity) and Knoxville’s Jobs with Justice (who generously offered us housing for the night) — and spent the evening discussing the significance of Publix’s imminent move to town.

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Before we headed out the next morning, we swung back by the Birdhouse to deliver our saludos to one more inspiring movement for fundamental justice and human rights in the area: Mountain Justice. As these untiring community leaders met as part of their ongoing fight to save the mountains, streams, and forests of Appalachia, we wanted to pass on a word of our solidarity. Acknowledging the video of support many of them had crafted and sent during the 2012 Fast for Fair Food, CIW member Emilio Faustino Galindo may have put it best: “Our struggle is yours and yours is ours: We are all fighting for the recognition of life.”

Leaving the hills of Tennessee behind for a visit to one of the first great industrial cities of the South, we reached Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday, where we were hosted by Greater Burmingham Ministries (GBM) for a community meeting of faith leaders, leaders in the agriculture business community, and other key community figures. Among the group GBM had brought together were the leaders from the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Magic City Agricultural Project, the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to name a few.

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Before the CIW had even begun to unfold the storied campaign and the obstacles still ahead, Rev. Tommy Morgan  of Grace Christian Church announced that he had a quick tale to tell of his own. “Recently, I was shopping at Publix in the produce section alongside an older woman, when out from her purse she pulled a pocket knife. My attention now squarely on her, I watched as she picked up a tomato, took the knife to it and sliced a piece off. Alarmed, the Publix produce manager hurried over. ‘Ma’am, can I help you?’ ‘I believe you can,’ she quipped. ‘But until then, if you won’t pay for the whole tomato, then I won’t buy the whole tomato.'” Not having known where the story was going, the two dozen gathered burst out laughing. Rev. Morgan added, “So ya’ll should know that the fight for fair food is already alive and well in Alabama.”

On Monday afternoon, the tour doubled back to Tennessee, where we met the budding Murfreesboro Fair Food for their second official protest and our inaugural action as a combined group. As the sun lowered, more than thirty of us picketed, full of energy. After a non-stop week on the road of education and presentation, we were ready for an action — an opportunity to take to the streets with our joy for the new day of respect for human rights in the fields, and dismay at Publix’s unconscionable refusal to be part of that new day:

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From Murfreesboro, the crew caravanned up to Nashville for the tour’s most powerful evening yet. After Vine Street Christian Church hosted the CIW and Dignidad Obrera for dinner, and night had begun to fall, supporter after supporter arrived for an evening vigil. After igniting each of our candles, we filed out of the church two by two until the now nearly 100 of us stretched out along the main boulevard, singing as we strode, “Caminamos en el luz de dios,” or “We are walking in the light of God.” 

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A delegation was formed to speak to the store manager (below). As the group headed off, the rest of us turned to face Publix and formed a wall, three people thick, resuming our song.

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We sang round after round after round until finally the group returned and the delegation relayed its impassioned appeal to Publix management: that Publix’s participation in the Fair Food Program would carry a profound impact for farmworker families; that it has been four years without Publix even agreeing to a single face-to-face dialogue; and that we will be here, present, for as long as it takes.

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For an album of truly beautiful pictures from the vigil, click on the images below.  And check back soon for the next installment from the road on the Publix Truth Tour!