Are you ready? Parade and Concert for Fair Food just one day away!…

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If you’ve never seen Ozomatli perform live, get ready… you are one day away from experiencing one of the best live shows in music today!

Workers, artists, allies putting final touches on preparations for Saturday’s huge action!

The paint on the banners is drying, the artists are flying, and the floats are making their way north to St. Pete from Immokalee, as all the ingredients for the first-ever Parade and Concert for Fair Food are coming together ahead of tomorrow’s big action.  By now you’ve read all the tweets by the bands, and seen the photos of all the allies across the country preparing gorgeous protest art for the parade shared on social media:

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But today, on the eve of what’s shaping up to be possibly the biggest action in the history of the Campaign for Fair Food, we wanted to leave you with some good old-fashioned words, words to read and reflect upon from a beautifully written and argued op/ed in the Tampa Bay Times by Rabbi Michael Torop of Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg.  We are including it here below in its entirety.  

If you are already planning on coming to the action tomorrow, read the Rabbi’s words to fuel your trip.  If you are still on the fence about joining us, we hope you’ll read the editorial so that you might climb down off the fence and walk with us on the side of justice.  To borrow the conclusion from Rabbi Michael’s piece:

… We know that our religious obligations extend beyond the ritual to the ethical, beyond prayers and blessings to an active engagement in our community and our world to pursue justice, to protect human dignity, and to ensure that fairness, equity, safety and freedom are experienced by all. Surely this is no less an obligation for all people of faith and for all communities whose mission is aligned with these concerns. 

See you tomorrow in St. Pete!

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Column: The struggle for workers’ rights

This Saturday at noon, farmworkers, rabbis, students and people of many faiths and community groups will gather by the thousands in a parade from Bartlett Park to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. Capped by a five-hour concert, this event will celebrate the extraordinary gains made by Florida’s tomato pickers in dignity, safety and wages, particularly the “penny per pound” premium. Worker rights are human rights — and this human rights story is taking place in our own community.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers will host the first Parade and Concert for Fair Food, where we will unite behind the leadership of these farmworkers who have transformed the face of the tomato industry, adding our voices to the call for the Fair Food Program to be adopted by corporations like Wendy’s and Publix supermarkets who still resist this human rights effort.

In October, I was one of eight “#tomatorabbis” who were part of a delegation to Immokalee organized by T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. One morning we watched as the parking lot across from the community center filled up with pickup trucks, colorful buses and an assembly of men and women from Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico. They were hoping for a day of work helping to prepare the fields, staking up the seedlings and laying the groundwork for tomatoes that would grow across the state.

We came to realize how woefully unaware many of us are of what is happening in America in the agricultural industry at the start of the food chain that results in our abundant plates of fresh fruits and vegetables. Historically, farmworkers have faced some of the lowest wages and harshest working conditions in the United States in order to harvest the food on our plates — this includes subpoverty wages, systemic wage theft, rampant sexual harassment and, in extreme cases, modern-day slavery.

But such injustices are finally being rooted out from the fields. Through two decades of work, the CIW has forged the Fair Food Program, a historic partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers and 13 multibillion-dollar tomato retailers including Walmart, Whole Foods, Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s. By committing to the FFP, participating retailers require more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers, agree to purchase exclusively from those who meet these higher standards, and pay a penny-per-pound premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out to workers by their employers.

FFP ensures workers are protected against physical and sexual abuse in the fields. There is also increased attention to health and safety issues, and a structure to audit and monitor compliance at every level of the industry.

By creating the Fair Food Program, CIW has radically improved the conditions for tomato pickers, demonstrating the power of a traditionally disenfranchised workforce to sway opinion at the highest level of American corporate power structures. They have achieved some of the most extraordinary gains in human rights the United States has seen in recent years.

Whereas Florida — the epicenter of the tomato industry — was once known for abuse in the fields, because of these worker-led efforts it is now leading the way toward change for the rest of the country’s agricultural industry. As one worker recently said, “Our dignity has been restored.” In the words of another, “They used to treat us like dogs; now they treat us like humans.”

But the expansion of these gains can only occur if corporate holdouts like Publix and Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program and take part in this proven solution to abuse. Both are large buyers of fresh tomatoes in their respective industries, and the call for them to join this long-sought solution to the exploitation and abuse of U.S. farmworkers will be amplified by the events of this weekend.

As a religious leader within the Jewish community, it is clear to me that just as T’ruah has long been an ally in the CIW’s efforts to create justice in the fields, it is our community’s responsibility and mission to also take action and make our world and our community a better place.

We know that our religious obligations extend beyond the ritual to the ethical, beyond prayers and blessings to an active engagement in our community and our world to pursue justice, to protect human dignity, and to ensure that fairness, equity, safety and freedom are experienced by all. Surely this is no less an obligation for all people of faith and for all communities whose mission is aligned with these concerns.

Rabbi Michael Torop leads Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.