Campaign for Fair Food cited as example of new, diverse, grassroots movement with universal human rights as its compass…

Farmworkers and consumers protest outside a Publix store in Lakeland in 2014.

National Economic and Social Rights Initiative Executive Director Cathy Albisa, in In These Times: “Effective human rights movements are not aimed at merely naming and shaming. They build power.”

Some of you who follow this site closely may recall our first post — entitled “The arc of the moral universe is still ours to bend” — following the presidential election in November, 2016.  Here is an extended excerpt from that post:

… Today, many people may find their faith in that prophetic phrase shaken.  Indeed, to many it may feel that our nation’s better angels have failed us, that our country has turned back from its path toward justice, that recent events may have actually succeeded in twisting that majestic arc toward a time of lesser freedoms, of greater fear.

But nothing, in fact, has changed yet.  Yes, a new president was elected.  But presidents have never been the hand that bends the arc — people, common everyday people, have.  From the slave rebellions and the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, to the suffragettes and the civil rights movement of the 20th, people have fought and sacrificed to protect and expand our freedoms.  While presidents, and other elected officials, have eventually embraced the moral high ground that emerged from those movements, they never led the charge.  In the words of the late historian and activist Howard Zinn: 

What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but “who is sitting in” — and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.

In short, the arc of the moral universe is still ours to bend, and if the story of the Fair Food movement is any indication, bend it we will.

The Fair Food movement is fundamentally a human rights movement.  Yes, it is about immigrant rights, but non-immigrants work in the fields too and they are every bit as exploited and abused as their immigrant brothers and sisters.  And yes, it is about labor rights, but it is about women’s rights as well, both in the fields and at home in the fight against domestic violence.  It is even about consumers’ rights, the right to demand that, in the 21st century, food corporations no longer turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains, but use the power of the market to help fix the poverty and exploitation that their purchasing policies have driven for so long.

Indeed, the Fair Food movement is fundamentally a human rights movement, a broad and inclusive human rights movement.  And that, perhaps more than any other factor, has been the secret to its success.


If we as Americans are to protect the fragile progress toward ever-greater social justice that we have made across the generations, we must fight together, in a broad and inclusive movement to protect our rights — immigrant rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, labor rights, our right to health care, our right to religious freedom, our right to a clean and sustainable environment, our right to a fair and equitable economy, and more — our human rights.  If each of those sectors faces the challenge alone, we will be weak, we will be on the defensive, and we may lose ground.  Together, however, we can define the agenda, one that fosters a vision of universal human rights, and we can win. 

America has given birth to many great movements across the centuries, from the fight against monarchy to the fight for universal civil rights.  In this new century, perhaps it is time for a new American movement — the American human rights movement.  

If so, the Fair Food Nation will be there.

In an excellent new article published online last week by In These Times, Cathy Albisa, Executive Director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), looks out across the landscape of social justice campaigns today and detects the beginnings of a broad-based, grassroots-led American movement for universal human rights.  

Albisa’s article, entitled “From The Women’s March to The Poor People’s Campaign, A Call for Economic Human Rights,” begins:

Teachers in Kentucky marching for health care and students organizing against the school to prison pipeline have a core value in common: They are fighting for human rights. Yet, an elite framing of human rights has consistently ignored the people on the frontlines. This week, a new Poor People’s Campaign is engaging in direct action in communities across the United States for the rights to housing, education, healthcare, decent jobs and more. It’s time to recognize that these grassroots struggles for a social safety net and a decent standard of living add up to a larger and meaningful demand for a society that recognizes the human rights and dignity of everyone… (read more)

She goes on to write:

… The notion that every human being is deserving of a broad set of fundamental rights is a moral concept that has been embraced by rising movements. The values and principles document for the Women’s March affirms, “We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights,” and later states, “We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity.” These are integrally connected for leading-edge social justice movements in the United States…

And among those “leading-edge social justice movements in the United States,” Albisa cites the CIW’s Fair Food Movement:

… Effective human rights movements are not aimed at merely naming and shaming. They build power. The Fair Food Movement in the United States is spearheaded by the farmworkers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—a self-described human rights organization that defines its vision using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The CIW has been the only worker organization to bring 14 major transnational corporations to the table through massive consumer campaigns that led to legally binding agreements transforming conditions in their supply chain… 

With the Fair Food Movement counted among a number of leading human rights movements past and present, Albisa concludes her analysis with a call to action:

… People’s movements—from civil rights, economic justice, women’s rights and gender justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, racial justice and more—are where human rights movements emerge. And when these movements call for a human rights vision, grounded in a moral framework that centers our humanity, elites make every effort to erase the message. As a result, not many people today in the United States think of human rights in connection with our domestic fight for social justice. This is not an accident, but a direct result of a repressive political history. 

As Carol Anderson documents skillfully in her prize-winning book Eyes off the Prize, when the Civil Rights Movement embraced human rights, in particular economic and social rights, it was attacked by elite allies and had to tactically narrow its vision publicly. But moral leaders from Reverends King to Barber have always based their struggles in universal human rights, and seeing that connection will help us to build towards the larger vision we need to meet the very serious challenges of our time.

You can find the article in its entirety here.  It is an excellent read — and real food for thought — as we enter what are certain to be difficult times ahead, times that indeed call for a new American movement, an American human rights movement.