Fasters survive wet and wild Day 3 of Freedom Fast…

The fast site turned into a sea of umbrellas as Day 3 of the Freedom Fast dawned under skies heavy with a cold, wet mix of rain and snow. While the weather put a damper on some of the day’s planned activities, the fasters’ spirits remained strong, and new support rolled in from high places.  New photographers showed up on Day 3 as well, including Terry Allen of Vermont (a close ally of Vermont’s Migrant Justice), who took this photo, and whose gallery from the day you can find here.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami sends fasters warm letter of support;

CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo visits the United Nations, just blocks from the fast site, as part of the UN’s annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women…

It was a tough day at the fast site outside the Park Avenue hedge fund offices of Wendy’s board chairman Nelson Peltz, as the fasters awoke to a brutally cold snow mixed with rain that fell well into the afternoon and soaked them without pity. 

But the crew from Immokalee — no strangers to punishing circumstances — and their allies found ways to cope with the weather, buoyed in no small part by strong new support for their cause, sparked by the power of their sacrifice and coming from several important directions.  And when the sun finally came out again at the end of the day, the CIW children came out to join their parents at the site and brighten everyone’s evening with their seemingly boundless energy.

Here below is the video from Day 3, followed by your photo report.

And, now, the Day 3 photo report:

Just blocks from the fast site, safely inside away from the storm, thousands of women from around the globe were gathering at the United Nations annual session on the Commission on the Status of Women (which goes by its initials, CSW).  The theme of this year’s gathering couldn’t be more tailor made for the Freedom Fast and Time’s Up Wendy’s March: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls…

Fittingly, representatives from the fast have been invited to join meetings and panels throughout the week at the CSW, and Day 3 was no exception, as the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo (on the left, proudly sporting her yellow faster’s armband), accompanied by translator Melody Gonzalez (on Lupe’s left), spent much of the morning in detailed discussion with women leaders from around the world searching for solutions to the exploitation — economic, social, and sexual — of rural women.  Given the proven success of the Fair Food Program, it was a match made in heaven.  As one of the participants exclaimed midway through the meeting pictured above, “We’re here in an effort to develop strategies to empower women, and you at the CIW have already built one that works and is scalable!”  News of the fast and of the CIW’s presence just blocks from the UN session has run through the CSW gathering like lightning, with large numbers of participants already committed to joining the Time’s Up Wendy’s March on Day 5 of the fast.

Meanwhile, back at the fast site…

Despite the rain and snow, the fasters set about their appointed mission: putting their own bodies and on the line to raise awareness of the fact that farmworker women, here and in Mexico, face harsh, humiliating conditions at work; that the Fair Food Program has given women the power to stand up to their employers and stop the abuse; and that Wendy’s stands squarely in the way of expanding more humane conditions to thousands of more women in the fields.  On Day 3, that mission included a visit from dozens of school children from New York’s Riverdale Country School and Cornelia Connelly Center.

The fasters and the children had a blast, talking about where our food comes from, about the families that help harvest our food and their lives, and learning about the Wendy’s boycott.  Before leaving, the kids practiced a few boycott chants in preparation for their return on Thursday for the big march!

After the excitement of setting up the fast site in the morning’s trying conditions and receiving the school kids on their visit, there’s really no other way to put it… the middle of the day was a long, hard slog.  The fasters’ own children were tucked safely away from the elements at the nearby Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and New York’s usually teeming sidewalks were relatively quiet.  The hours passed by slowly in conversation and reflection, until the afternoon brought the welcome news of strong new support for the fast from friends in high places, some old and some new.

On the old friend side of the ledger, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami sent the fasters a letter that harkened back to a time several years ago when he joined CIW members on a long march in Florida and encouraged the fasters to draw on the determination and commitment they showed then as they face the challenges of today’s struggle.  His message couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Here below is an excerpt, and you can see the full transcript of Archbishop Wenski’s letter here:

On the new friend side of things, Vincent Alvarez (above, with the Alliance for Fair Food’s Patricia Cipollitti providing translation), President of the AFL-CIO’s New York City Central Labor Council, visited the site and spoke with the fasters in the name of over 1 million organized workers in New York.  He congratulated them for their efforts, both in successfully building new protections for workers in the fields and in undertaking the tremendous sacrifice of the fast to press for the expansion of those protections to the hundreds of thousands of farmworker women and men who still face unimaginable exploitation without the power to fight back.  He, too, promised to mobilize the city’s countless unions in support of Thursday’s Time’s Up Wendy’s March. 

Following Vincent Alvarez, Martha Herrera (above) of Migrant Justice in Vermont — who has been fasting with the Immokalee crew from the start and has contributed her own unique warmth and courage to the fasters’ collective spirit — took to the mic to talk about the deep and ever-growing relationship between the two farmworker organizations, and about the exciting new Milk with Dignity Program, launched following the signing of Migrant Justice’s historic agreement with Ben & Jerry’s. The program is already up and running, with dairy farmers onboard, worker-to-worker education sessions underway, and baseline audits on track, and promises to transform Vermont’s iconic dairy industry, benefiting workers, farmers, and buyers alike.

As the skies cleared and the fasters’ kids left their sanctuary from the storm at St. Bart’s, life returned to the site.  In one particularly touching exercise, the youth crew reflected on the meaning of freedom and came up with their own definitions, which they committed to poster board and filmed for a short video.  The video will be shared with CNN today for its #MyFreedomDay project to raise awareness about modern day slavery, airing today.

Finally, as they do every day, the fasters closed the day by turning to Nelson Peltz’s offices with their signs…

… and raising their voices in unison, making their message — demanding long-overdue justice for the countless farmworker women and men who live in poverty and face unconscionable abuses every day to harvest the fruits and vegetables that companies like Wendy’s buy and sell to millions of consumers for billions in profits — heard along midtown Manhattan’s skyscraper-lined corridor, and up to the top floor of the towering building at 280 Park Avenue.