Off Broadway… in Immokalee!

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Popular education theater brings home message of courage, resilience in Immokalee…

Each and every Wednesday — since the founding of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the early 90’s through the intervening 25 years, without pause, to last night — farmworkers have gathered at the CIW center in Immokalee for the weekly community junta.  Across those countless meetings we have parsed the challenges of life in the fields, discussed the ebb and flow of U.S. and international politics, and reflected on the moments that have defined the last two decades of our history.  And to facilitate these community conversations, we have often turned to the medium of theater, probing complex issues through a creative mix of metaphor, message, and more than a bit of humor.  

It is popular education theater, the dramatic arts in their simplest, rawest form — not so much Hamilton as just ham — but it is effective and has helped build one of the most vibrant community-based movements for social justice in these times.

Last night was theater night in Immokalee once again, and this time CIW members chose a theme that is troubling the hearts and minds of millions across the country today:  Fear — dark, inchoate fear of the unknown, fear of what an uncertain future might hold — and how to overcome it to build a better world. 

And so today, we thought we would bring you the highlights from last night’s meeting — including video from the theater, fresh and raw as it happened — for a taste of how this community of longtime human rights defenders is endeavoring to stay on course through the raging storm of news battering us each day.  By doing so we hope that the Immokalee community’s analysis might help us all move forward, from fear and uncertainty to courage and resilience, as we embark on what is sure to be a long road of organizing and action for justice ahead.

We begin with a video of the theater:

And close with excerpts from the reflection, following the theater piece:

CIW staff:  “Ask yourself:  How many times have you hesitated to do something, out of fear?  Because you did not know what would happen?  And how many times have you overcome that fear, and taken a step into the unknown?”

“The people who cross over a frightening threshold do so because they have hope.  Their hope overcomes their fear.  They are carrying a dream.  So they go forward, even when the door may appear frightening.”

“We also have to ask:  Who wins when we are afraid?”

Audience:  “The bosses, the supervisors.  Corporations, like Wendy’s.”

CIW staff:  “That’s right.  It’s one of the reasons not all bosses want you to come to the Coalition.  Because you wake up — you shed your fear.”

“When we first began the Campaign for Fair Food, that was also scary.  We were afraid.  But we dared to cross that threshold anyway, we overcame our fear, carrying our hope.  Today, after two decades, no matter who has been in power in Washington, we have won real change for our community — something that for many generations of farmworkers was unattainable.”

“And we are not alone.  When we talk about those fighting for Fair Food, we are talking about church members.  We are talking about students.  Just a week ago, some of our brothers and sisters left for Ohio, to prepare for the action ahead of us.  When we say we will march in the streets, we are talking about thousands of allies who march alongside us.”

A longtime CIW member:  “I remember the march of 200 miles.  I remember actually stopping at a grower’s packing house, and there they were, waiting for us, with food.  Lots of it.  The company actually supports us now, even when we are on a march.  Many of you who maybe have never been on a tour may think — I’m afraid.  But I have been on these tours for many, many years.  I have never seen a single police officer block our way — they help to keep us safe.  We should not be afraid.  No, we felt pride, instead of fear, and grateful for the support of hundreds of people, right there with us.  We felt calm, safe, and joyful.”

CIW staff:  “When we faced obstacles, we did not choose fear, but rather chose a path that had been walked before, and we won a new kind of partnership, we won change.  If we had said — just give me the arrow, nothing ever would have changed for us.  On the other side of fear is our happiness, our wellbeing.  We cannot let ourselves be intimidated by our fear.”

“Maybe a new and frightening time has come before us — but we cannot let Wendy’s win, and think that we will be afraid.”

“Before change came to the fields, they stole our money, the bosses did whatever they wanted, women were grabbed and harassed, and nothing happened.  Do we want to return to that time?”

Audience:  “No.”

CIW staff:  “What do we need to do?”

Audience:  “Keep fighting.”

Of course, overcoming fear is one thing, organizing and taking effective action against powerful forces that would deny us our fundamental human rights is another.  And that is exactly what we, and thousands of Fair Food allies from here to Columbus, Ohio, plan to do next month, when we hit the road for the Return to Human Rights Tour and call on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program!   We hope you, too, will choose hope over fear and join us as we step through that door on the path toward a better world, a world of dignity and respect for human rights, not just for farmworkers but for us all.