Words of support for the fast
March 3, 2012
Solidarity actions, words of support, media continue to flood in on eve of the Fast for Fair Food!
Tampa Bay Times op/ed: Publix "disingenuous"...
Solidarity faster in Boston (right): "It is a stony strength that allows people to gather, in Florida and across the country, and insist that Publix take notice and commit to honoring the work of those who make their business possible."
On the eve of the Fast for Fair Food, an op/ed by Bill Maxwell -- one of Florida's most respected journalists and a former farmworker himself -- flatly debunks Publix's stale and, in his words, "disingenuous", public relations responses to the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food. Here's an excerpt:
"Still fighting for a penny per pound"
... As much as I appreciate Publix's response to my questions, I believe the company is disingenuous when it accuses the CIW of asking it to pay the employees of other employers directly.
Gerardo Reyes, the CIW's spokesman, said more than $4 million has been distributed to workers since Jan. 11 through the Fair Food program, and none of the money has been paid in any transaction between retail purchasers and the workers. He said Publix officials know that.
"Not only does the Fair Food program not require what Publix is claiming, it does not allow it," Reyes said. "The fair food premium works like a fair trade premium does. And Publix pays and promotes that on every bag of its Greenwise Fair Trade Coffee. Tomato retail buyers pay a small premium to the grower on every pound of tomatoes they buy through the Fair Food program. The growers then distribute that money to their workers through their regular payroll as a line item on each worker's paycheck.
"Publix says they would pay the fair food premium if the growers would only 'put it in the price.' Well, they should consider their bluff called. The growers will put the premium in the price for any retailer who wants that, and we would sign a fair food agreement today with Publix stating they can pay that way if that is what they want." read more
We can only hope that, as the coverage of the Fast continues, other members of the media show the same willingness to question Publix's patently false statements on the Fair Food Program and hold Florida's largest corporation (with $27 billion in sales last year and $1.5 billion in profits) to the truth when it explains why it can't pay a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes and do its part to end decades of farmworker poverty and degradation.
Meanwhile, as workers in Immokalee and allies around the country make their final preparations for Day One of the Fast, the volume of messages of encouragement and pledges to fast in solidarity continues to grow so large it has become truly humbling.
And so, once again, we bring you a sample of the support -- so eloquently expressed -- from across the country:
From Arielle Rosenberg (pictured at the top of this post), a Rabbinical Student at Hebrew College who visited Immokalee on a Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) delegation this fall, has committed to a six-day solidarity fast in Boston. She's also working with RHR to encourage people across the country to dedicate their Purim fast on Wednesday to the farmworker struggle. Here are her words:
"And I returned and considered all the oppressions that were done under the sun and beheld the tears of those that were oppressed and they had no comforter, but on the side of their oppressor there was power, but they had no comforter." (Ecclesiastes 4:1)
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has issued an invitation to consumers again and again over the last twenty years to recognize that what enables the comfortable stupor of consumption are abusive working conditions, low wages, and environmental havoc. It has invited us to remember that we are not just individuals, mired in comfort, but instead form a grand network of people who share a common reality, common struggles. Not only does the CIW invite us to recognize this, but it asks us to take action.
The Fast for Fair Food is a chance for workers and allies to come together, to refuse the comfort of food for six days, and to grow strong together. There is a power in strength, in clarity of vision, in living into a reality that holds that those who harvest the food for this nation should not go hungry, that those whose labors form the foundation of this society should be recognized and work with dignity. It is a stony strength that allows people to gather, in Florida and across the country, and insist that Publix take notice and commit to honoring the work of those who make their business possible.
I will be fasting this week in Boston, and I stand with the CIW and all those who will be gathering in Lakeland. There is nothing comfortable about denying the body food, there is nothing comfortable about missing work for a week, or spending a week telling Publix what they should have recognized long ago. The Fast for Fair Food cannot be comfortable, but it will be transformative. That transformation will bring about a change at Publix, that's for certain. It will also bring about a change in how we see each other, and what we know to be possible."
From Boston we travel clear across the country where Lucy Butte, California Director of National Farm Workers Ministry, sends these words on the eve of the fast:
"I am in prayer for you as you begin this very beautiful experience seeking
The church stands with you as you fast for justice. My prayers are that each of the fasters may know that there are many who are joining them in prayer, some fasting and all in solidarity asking our God to break through Publix leadership's hearts and minds that they may do what is just, moral and responsible. And that is to come to the table with farm workers and Immokalee to address farm worker issues."
And finally, we return right back home to Florida, for these words from Professor Eric Castillo,
Assistant Director and Multicultural & Diversity Affairs Director of the Institute for Hispanic-Latino Cultures -- aka "La Casita" -- at the University of Florida:
"On behalf of the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures "La Casita," I want to express to you all our wholehearted support for your brave and valiant efforts. We are moved by your willingness to sacrifice so much of yourselves for such a worthy cause. While your bodies may grow weary from hunger, we are praying for your good health and success in bringing Publix to the table. We stand in solidarity with you and want you to know that your sacrifice reminds us of our responsibility to advocate for equity, parity, inclusion, and social justice for everyone."
He adds this PS, about two of the UF students joining the fasters in Lakeland: "Please take care of my students Juliette and Victor! They are remarkable young folks and we miss them!"
Tomorrow the Fast for Fair Food begins. Check back soon for a report from the workers' departure from Immokalee and news from Day One in Lakeland!
March 2, 2012
Flood waters rising... Statements of support, solidarity actions, media coverage come rushing in ahead of Monday's Fast for Fair Food!
Eric Schlosser: "It's a disgrace that a Florida company refuses to take responsibility for abuses occurring within miles of its stores."
(Long update alert!)...
With the Fast for Fair Food just a weekend away, awareness of the coming fast and of Publix's refusal to work with the CIW for human rights and justice in the fields is spreading like wildfire.
Statements of Support
Several new statements of support for the fasters made their way to Immokalee in the past two days, including the following note from best-selling author and producer ("Fast Food Nation", "Food, Inc."), Eric Schlosser:
"Publix claims, in its corporate mission statement, to be 'Involved as Responsible Citizens in our Communities.' Now it has an opportunity to give real meaning to those words--by helping to end the exploitation of farm workers whose backbreaking labor fills the shelves at Publix supermarkets with good food. It's a disgrace that a Florida company refuses to take responsibility for abuses occurring within miles of its stores. If McDonald's and Burger King and Taco Bell can commit to ending slavery and wage theft and sexual harassment in the tomato fields of Florida, then one of the state's largest supermarket chains can easily do the same. I'm sorry that I can't be in Lakeland to support the Fast for Fair Food. But I applaud the great courage and dedication to social justice that drives the Coalition of Immokalee Workers."
He was far from alone. Dr. Patrick Mason, Professor of Economics at Florida State University and Director of the African American Studies Program there, sent these words of encouragement along and pledged to join the fasters on March 10th:
February 29, 2012
Press Release: Kerry Kennedy (right), daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, to take part in March 10th Ceremony breaking the Fast for Fair Food!
Ms. Kennedy: "On March 10th we rededicate ourselves to brining dignity to US agriculture and real, lasting respect for human rights to our food system."
Martin Sheen: "... tomato pickers will, once again, teach Publix and actually all of us a vital lesson in courage, of how to transform inequality and upend injustice through the sacred power of non-violence."
The official Press Release for the Fast for Fair Food is online now. Here is an excerpt:
For generations, farmworkers in Florida have been among the country’s worst paid, least protected workers. That exploitation has been driven, in large part, by companies like Publix. Retail food giants have wielded their unprecedented market power to demand artificially cheap tomatoes from their suppliers. At the farm level, this downward pressure on prices has resulted in a thirty-year, downward spiral of farmworker wages and working conditions.
“While, for decades, there was no alternative to this structural farm labor exploitation, Publix could wash its hands of any direct accountability for the brutal working and living conditions faced by Florida's farmworkers,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “But that has changed. With the CIW's historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange in 2010, and the subsequent implementation of the Fair Food Program on over 90% of Florida's tomato farms, the opportunity exists today to right a wrong that has plagued the food industry for generations, to end Florida's Harvest of Shame.”
“Yet, despite this opportunity to do the right thing -- to support a proven model for social responsibility that is already backed by ten other retail food giants just like Publix -- Publix has refused to do its part, turning its back on farmworkers and on its customers who, in massive numbers, have demonstrated their support for farm labor justice,” continued Reyes. “Instead, Publix is deliberately choosing to continue to do business as if it were the last century, continuing to enrich itself at the expense of the state's most exploited workers. In other words, by turning its back on the Fair Food Program, Publix has moved from passively profiting from farmworker poverty to affirmatively perpetuating it. This is an amoral and fundamentally indefensible choice. As workers we cannot allow that choice to stand. And that is why we will be going without food."
February 28, 2012
Food movement leaders, Washington DC clergy latest to offer powerful words of encouragement to farmworkers, allies preparing to fast!
Raj Patel: "... And that is the great strength of this fast: it works... by reminding the people who work [at Publix] that they too are human, are capable of compassion, and of making change that is life-affirming."
Rabbi Charles Feinberg: "the farmworkers need to... push for what is due to them, but at the same time, they should know that they have many friends and supporters throughout the country"
Words of support continue to pour into CIW headquarters from across the country for the Fast for Fair Food, set to begin next week, Monday, March 5th.
This week, statements have come in from two distinct, yet deeply supportive, camps: the food justice movement and clergy, in this case clergy from the Nation's Capital.
On the food justice side, Raj Patel -- the British-born American academic, journalist, and author of the two widely read books, "Stuffed and Starved" and "The Value of Nothing" -- sent this moving message in support of the fasters:
"I confess that I couldn’t quite believe the Publix response to news that the tomatoes in their stores may involve modern-day slavery: 'If there are some atrocities going on, it's not our business.'
How do you confront an organization as morally numb as this? With compassion. The fast can’t succeed unless Publix recognizes the humanity of the workers in Immokalee. And that is the great strength of this fast: it works not by embarrassing a shameless Fortune 500 company, but by reminding the people who work there that they too are human, are capable of compassion, and of making change that is life-affirming."
February 26, 2012
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
This past Wednesday, CIW members used twine to create a visible network reflecting Martin Luther King's notion of "interconnectedness" that bounds up the fate of each person with the whole of the community.
As Fast for Fair Food approaches, workers in Immokalee preparing to fast draw inspiration from human rights movement across the globe, the history of creative non-violence in forging social change, each other...
With the Fast for Fair Food just one week away, workers in Immokalee planning to join the fast have launched a series of meetings with a focus on the discipline and use of fasting as a tool for social change... and are taking a moment to party, too!
The past ten days in Immokalee have been a whirlwind of activity, and at the eye of that storm has been a quiet and deliberate process of reflection. Drawing on lessons from the giants of social justice throughout modern history -- from Mahatma Gandhi to Alice Paul and Martin Luther King -- CIW members have taken time over the past ten days to deepen their understanding of the mechanisms of social change and to share their own experiences of struggle. The Lenten season has added a profound seriousness to the discussions, and provided an example of the spiritual power of fasting for bringing about social justice familiar to all.
The reflections have been some of the most moving discussions in the long history of the CIW, touching on themes well beyond the specific question of the fast as "a sword that heals" to include explorations of the strength we derive from unity (above, right, workers step out from last week's meeting to demonstrate that, together, it is easy to do what it is impossible to do alone -- in this case, lift and move a truck across the parking lot through the air!), the universal nature of human rights, and the role of individuals and communities in making the world a fairer, better place.
But, to paraphrase a great faster, man cannot live on reflection alone, there must be some action, too. This Sunday afternoon in Immokalee was the annual Year of the Worker Party and, like every year, it was an opportunity for the entire community to come together for music and laughs, to share the various cultures that make up Immokalee's cosmopolitan mix, and to celebrate of another year of victories! Here below are two photos from today's Party (on the left, the CIW's traditional Conjunto de Marimba plays to a crowd that swelled to well over 1,000 by sunset):
As allies from across Florida and across the country continue to answer the call, making their own preparations to join CIW members a week from now outside Publix headquarters and begin the Fast for Fair Food, workers in Immokalee are themselves readying for what is sure to be an extraordinary -- and unforgettable -- action.
You can join us, for all or part of the week, or just for the final day and the celebration ending the six-day fast. Click here for more information, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to learn more about how you can participate.
February 24, 2012
"... theirs (Publix) is a morally indefensible position and they can’t look the workers in the eye." Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, First United Church of Tampa, President, World Council of Churches from North America
Father Les Singleton, speaking at Wednesday's press conference in Gainesville, holds pennies from his change after buying a tomato from a local Publix store. He later tossed the change on the ground to dramatize the unconscionable nature of Publix's refusal to pay the penny-per-pound premium and support the CIW's Fair Food Program.
Faith allies making their voices heard -- loud and clear -- in lead-up to Fast for Fair Food!
With strong words -- and deeds -- of support, the CIW's faith allies have stepped forward in a truly inspiring show of solidarity as the countdown to the Fast for Fair Food enters the final 10 days.
On the heels of the announcement that the Rev. Michael Livingston, former President of the National Council of Churches and current Director of the NCC's Poverty Initiative, would be joining the fasters, and this week's inter-faith press conference declaring support for the fast from the Gainesville area faith and student communities, three more Florida clergy have added their voices to the growing chorus calling on Publix to work with the CIW to defend human rights in the tomato fields of Florida.
Earlier this week, the Rev. Kennedy McGowan of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Florida, who will be joining the workers for a portion of the fast and will help lead the ceremony breaking the fast on March 10th, wrote:
"As I reflect on the remarkable and sacrificial step of faith, these workers and their allies will be taking through this six day fast, these words of Isaiah spring to mind.
Rev. McGowan was also a guiding force behind the Faith Moves Mountains Campaign, launched this past January, an exciting new interfaith initiative to rally the power of prayer in support of the Campaign for Fair Food.
Next came news that the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson of the First United Church of Tampa, and President of the World Council of Churches from North America since 2004, had penned a remarkably poignant -- and sharply-worded -- reflection on the fast. We are including it here in its entirety:
"As we begin the season of Lent...
...it’s easy in our increasingly secular world to ignore it or in the world of superficial piety to privatize it. But the word from God spoken by the prophet Isaiah brings a different message. Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? In fact, God warns those who are fasting and tearing their clothes to shreds that God is not impressed with all that. Only when the people stop oppressing their workers, blaming each other for their problems and breaking relationships within their own families will God respond to their prayers.
It’s not a difficult jump to get from Isaiah to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Publix. A few weeks ago Trader Joe’s signed an agreement with CIW, only a few days before opening its first Florida store. So it’s still about Publix. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like my Publix store. I like the politeness of its workers. I like the cleanliness of the stores and the variety of the items they stock. I like their Buy One, Get One Free sales.
What I don’t like is the arrogance of their leadership (they never responded to our letter and thousands of dollars of cash register receipts) and their unwillingness to even sit down and talk with the CIW leaders. In every situation that the workers of CIW have encountered for a decade now, when they are able to sit down and talk with the heads of fast food conglomerates, tomato grower associations and food supply companies, they were able to see each other’s humanity and dignity and to find a place of agreement. Yet Publix leadership refuses to sit down or to talk, which only says to me they know that theirs is a morally indefensible position and they can’t look the workers in the eye.
In my sermons over the past months, I have focused on the difference between chronos time and kairos time. The old ways of chronos time are quickly disappearing and kairos time, God’s time, is upon us. The kin-dom is at hand. We can see that as old marriage inequality laws fall to the wayside, as old religious understandings of impurity disappear, as old oppressive political regimes and laws melt away. The unwillingness of Publix to sign with the CIW is the last vestige of the old agricultural order in the South which relied on slave labor and then share-cropping and segregation to support it. This too shall pass. The question for them is do they wish to be on the side of justice or oppression, the past or the future.
During the week of March 5-10 many of the leaders and workers of the CIW will be on a fast at the Publix headquarters in Lakeland. We are invited to join them throughout the week and on Saturday, when they end the fast. I will join them to lead their religious vigil the evening of Wednesday, March 7. I invite you to join me there or join us in prayer that evening.
Perhaps our Lenten discipline this year might be to pray every day that the hearts of the leaders of Publix might be softened, that they might sit down with CIW and sign an agreement which gives the workers just one penny per pound more for their labor. Remember Isaiah...
In Peace and Love, Pastor Bernice
Finally (for the moment!), we received today a copy of a letter from members of the Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples, Florida. The letter was written to Publix's CEO Ed Crenshaw and was accompanied by $22,000 of Publix receipts, collected by members of Vanderbilt Presbyterian's Christian Witness in Public Life Mission Team. Here below is an excerpt:
"This is not the first time that the Christian Witness in Public Life (CWPL) Mission Team from Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples, FL has contacted you about supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Your backing would lead to better working conditions in the fields, as well as providing a “penny-a-pound” increase directly to the pickers for their long unrecognized hard work. They harvest tomatoes for all of us: growers, buyers and consumers. We have heard your response that this is a labor issue which only involves growers (stating they alone control the price) and thus not your concern. Yet many other tomato buyers have signed on to the CIW pact, recognizing the major role buyers play in establishing prices. The most recent co-signer is your new Naples rival, Trader Joe’s.
CIW has the long standing support of Vanderbilt, and of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). Our congregation is committed to standing with Interfaith Action and the CIW now and in the future, come what may. As evidence of our support, CWPL asked church members to save their Publix receipts during the month of January, 2012. We are sending you these receipts, totaling approximately $22,000, as evidence that the many members of our congregation who shop at Publix hope to encourage you and your corporation to act in a caring and responsible manner and move to support CIW’s position. While conducting this collection, we also learned that others among our congregants choose not to shop at Publix because of its current stand on the CIW issue..." read the letter in its entirety here
The support of the faith community has been invaluable throughout the 17 year history of the CIW, but that deep and abiding fellowship is truly reaching new heights in the days before the Fast for Fair Food. Workers in Immokalee are drawing great strength from this heartfelt support as they ready for the coming fast.
February 23, 2012
Gainesville press conference: 3 UF students to join Fast for Fair Food!
Event brings together Gainesville faith, student, and civic leaders in united front for Fair Food...
With the Fast for Fair Food set to begin in just 11 days, people across the state and across the country are answering the call to action and declaring "I'll be there!" with the CIW at Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Florida.
Yesterday, at a moving press conference just across the street from the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, three UF students declared that they will be joining workers from Immokalee and other Fair Food allies in fasting all six days of the upcoming action. Further, dozens of UF students pledged to form a caravan to Lakeland for the Saturday, March 10th, picket and procession to Publix headquarters for the ceremony to break the week-long fast.
From the UF student daily, the Independent Alligator ("UF students to fast in support of migrants," 2/23/12):
"Three UF students will spend their Spring Break fasting to bring attention to the unfair treatment of tomato pickers.
Victor Yengle, a 23-year-old economics junior, Juliette Barbera (right), a 20-year-old criminology junior, and Rain Araneda, a 31-year-old environmental engineering senior, will join about 50 others in a weeklong fast to protest Publix's refusal to join a migrant workers rights campaign...
... Gainesville religious and political leaders thanked the activists for their efforts Wednesday afternoon during a press conference.
'I commend and I honor the work of the [supporters] for acting on these words,' said City Commissioner Randy Wells. 'That is powerful.'
Yengle and Barbera will join other supporters in Lakeland to fast. Araneda will fast on her own while she volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Georgia.
Yengle (left) said he is protesting to make students aware of the issues workers face, particularly those in Immokalee, Fla., who are fighting against below-minimum-wage pay, sexual harassment and a lack of basic human rights.
In addition, he said he hopes the UF administration takes his actions to heart if it chooses to work with Publix in the future. He said he hopes UF will encourage Publix to sign onto the campaign.
'I wouldn't want our academic excellence to be attached to any injustices,' he said."
Even well ahead of its launch, next month's Fast for Fair Food is clearly having a powerful impact, revealing the stark moral divide that separates, on the one hand, workers and consumers calling for simple and attainble economic justice, from Publix which, on the other hand, continues to stubbornly defend an outdated market that impoverishes workers at the bottom of the food industry.
The call for fundamental human rights in the fields is growing daily. Check back again soon for much, much more on this fast breaking action.
Rev. Michael Livingston, former President of the National Council of Churches, to join Fast for Fair Food!
Rev. Livingston, now Director of the NCC's Poverty Initiative, will be fasting all six days together with CIW members and other allies outside Publix headquarters in Lakeland...
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.
Rev. Noelle Damico of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) describes the significance of Lent:
"Lent is a time when Christians examine their lives and repent of the ways they have failed to love God and neighbor. In the gospels we read that Jesus was driven into the wilderness for 40 days by the Holy Spirit. There he fasted, turning aside from temptations to use his power for kingdoms or splendor, and pledging himself to God and God’s desire alone. What is that desire? The prophet Isaiah announces God’s desire in the biblical reading for Ash Wednesday, “is this not the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice…” (Isaiah 58:1-12).
On this Ash Wednesday, we are honored to announce that the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., now director of the NCC’s Poverty Initiative, will be fasting together with the CIW outside Publix headquarters from March 5-10th.
The National Council of Churches is the leading voice for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the US. The NCC's member faith groups — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Rev. Livingston has worked tirelessly to bring Christian communions together to witness and work with God towards justice for millions of men, women and children who have been made poor and vulnerable here in the US. As the head of the NCC’s Poverty Initiative he is a champion defender of human rights and dignity on Capitol Hill and around the nation. Throughout his career as a pastor, ecumenist, denominational leader, and author, Rev. Livingston’s spiritual depth and moral courage have awakened the consciences of countless Christians to God’s good news for the poor.
In his own words, Rev. Livingston explains why he has chosen to fast:
"I love tomatoes. Many of us do. But can we eat them in good conscience when we know that the farm workers who pick them are grossly underpaid and work under conditions that most of us do not and would not tolerate?
Can we live with doing nothing when the companies who hire them or who benefit disproportionately from their labor refuse to acknowledge their responsibility for the plight of farm workers and, like Publix, will not engage in constructive conversation about meaningful change?
We are all in this life together. We are all fed from the bounty of the earth. I am going to join farm workers in Lakeland, FL in a fast as part of the Fair Food Campaign. I do not regard this as a hardship on my part. By God’s grace I can offer the luxury of my time to brothers and sisters whose humanity I value as much as my own. I count it a privilege, as the season of Lent begins, to, as Paul asks of us in Romans 12:1: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
We are all deeply honored by Rev. Livingston's decision to join CIW members and Fair Food allies in next month's fast. We look forward to spending the days with him in reflection and action for economic justice, respect, and dignity for Florida's farmworkers.
February 17, 2012
Publix Fast: More words of inspiration for the fasters, more press ahead of the fast...
Earlier this week we shared the words of allies -- Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University in Atlanta and Barry Estabrook, the widely respected food writer -- written in support of the upcoming Fast for Fair Food. Today, we have more words of inspiration for the fasters, this time from Marley Moynahan, a student ally at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the Rev. Noelle Damico of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Marley Moynahan (DC Fair Food):
Why Fast? A Reflection on the Fast for Fair Food
"... Fasting as a form of non-violent action – the refusal to be compliant and silent in the face of profound injustice - is the tool of those who believe that every human being amounts to something more valuable than brick and mortar. Those who believe that the path of gross inequality and economic injustice is wholly and unequivocally unacceptable – primarily because it is deeply and morally wrong, and additionally because it is unsustainable in any realistic longer vision of our future.
The Campaign for Fair Food is an amplified collection of voices of farmworkers, young people, people of faith, and many other community members who are breathing life into the possibility of an alternative future. Already, in two decades, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies have made enormous gains: increased pay for farmworkers in Florida, basic rights in the field such as shade, water, and freedom from violence, and a growing partnership of actors spread across the food chain who are shaping an entirely new, concrete system that fosters dialogue, respect, and accountability. Only last week, Trader Joe’s joined the Fair Food family, demonstrating, alongside Whole Foods, that supermarkets can join the fast food and food service industries in transforming U.S. agriculture from the soil to the kitchen.
Even in the same moment that we congratulate Trader Joe’s and the nine other companies who have signed Fair Food Agreements with the CIW, there are still companies like Publix who are refusing to come to the table – who claim that their hands are clean and they have no role to play...
... That is why, as a young person profoundly invested in the future, as a Publix shopper, as a member of the human family, I am fasting for six days with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in March. I will not concede to a future which requires routine violence in the name of Publix’s profit – or a future which marks someone else’s suffering as my “gain” in the form of an artificially cheap tomato. The sustainable path that I want to construct, that I am depending on requires dignity and respect for the whole human family – period." read more
"Fasting is a spiritual practice embraced by many faith traditions. People of faith may be familiar with fasting at Ramadan within the Muslim community or fasting undertaken during Lent in the Christian community. Fasting has an ancient history and is part of scriptural texts that inspire faith...
... There are a variety of “purposes” for fasting, but a central purpose is that of reconciliation – to God and to one’s neighbor. From the practice of fasting we should be able to see God’s vision for our world more clearly and become determined to live with integrity. Fasting helps us identify the grave injustices around us, acknowledge and take responsibility for our participation and complicity in such injustice, and prepares us to act with God to transform ourselves and our world.
Prayer is an important compliment to fasting and focuses our confessions and intercessions. Practitioners of fasting often report an intensity to their prayer lives – as if the shedding of food for a period makes space in the mind, heart, body, and soul for God. While fasting heightens the believer’s spiritual awareness, it also brings lasting insights into the physical needs of the body and the daily struggles of those who are hungry and poor. When we fast, we physically experience in a small way the evil of hunger that daily deprives millions of our sisters and brothers of health and life...
... And so you are invited to join this fast for justice and fair food with members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. May it be a time of purification for you, as you seek truth and clarity. May it be a time of divine encounter, when you experience the presence and power of God. May it be a time of community, as the workers are strengthened by your witness, and you are strengthened by theirs. And finally, may it be a time of re-orientation, that you may name the patterns of injustice and commit anew to their transformation. May we be the change we wish to see in the world."
Thank you, Marley and Noelle. If you, too, have words of support or reflection on the upcoming Fast for Fair Food, please send them to email@example.com. They will be shared with the fasters and possibly shared with the rest of the Fair Food movement on this site.
Meanwhile, 17 days out from the beginning of the fast, the media are starting to take notice. Here below are links to two articles that came out this week:
- "Farm Workers Plan Publix Hunger Strike, Brandon Democrats Told," Brandon Patch, 2/16/12:
"The farmworkers’ message resonated with Democratic club members, said president Angie Angel.
'It’s not something that is new, we’ve been involved with the farm workers before, but I was really disappointed with Publix that the issue has not been resolved yet,' Angel said. 'I am also concerned that [the farmworkers] have been pushed to such drastic action that they feel they need to fast to get the attention of Publix.'” read more
- "Coalition of Immokalee Workers Plan a Hunger Strike at Publix Headquarters," Lakeland Ledger, 2/15/12:
"Last summer, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers rode 200 miles from Immokalee through Bradenton to Lakeland on bicycles to try to meet with Publix Super Markets CEO Ed Crenshaw, but were turned away.
Reyes said the farmworkers' efforts to have a roundtable discussion with Publix executives have so far proved futile and letters have not been answered.
'People in the entire country are awakening to the issue of respecting the person at the bottom,' he said. 'It's not with that type of response that you're going to solve the crisis of human rights of the workers at the bottom.'" read more
Check back soon for more as the Fast for Fair Food approaches, including the unveiling of the website where you can find all the background and logistical details on the coming fast as well as daily video and photo updates once the fast begins!
February 15, 2012
“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis, April 3, 1968
With 20 days to go before the March 5th launch of the Fast for Fair Food, allies planning to join fasters are penning words of support, blog posts, and more...
In an unprecedented show of support ahead of a major Fair Food action, CIW allies from across the country are sending in expressions of solidarity for next month's Fast for Fair Food.
We will be posting a sample of those words of support from time to time as we approach March 5th and the launch of the six-day fast. Here below is our first installment, a wonderful note from Carol Anderson, a longtime ally and professor of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and a short article by Barry Estabrook, food writer and author of the widely-acclaimed book on the Florida tomato industry, Tomatoland. Both will be visiting the fasters over the course of their week-long stay outside Publix headquarters in Lakeland.
From Professor Anderson:
"The decision to fast, to deny one’s body essential nourishment, to turn away from the very sustenance that gives life, can only happen when faced with a soul-crushing oppression that has rendered that very life precarious in the first place. Freedom fighters from Mahatma Gandhi to Anatoly Marchenko fasted to expose brutal systems of oppression. They fasted to make clear that there were no chains, no jails, no retribution strong enough to shackle the quest for dignity and human rights.
The Campaign for Fair Food is in the same spirit. Martin Luther King, Jr. summarized it best. In his journey to shine a klieg light on the horrific labor conditions endured by the sanitation workers in Memphis, King observed, in the last speech of his life, that “When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” That is the core essence of the Campaign for Fair Food and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers."
From Barry Estabrook ("Tomato workers turn to hunger strike," 2/14/12):
"The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) should be celebrating. Last week Trader Joe’s signed a Fair Food Agreement with the Florida-based labor justice group. The agreement grants basic rights and higher wages to Florida tomato harvesters.
But the celebrations were short-lived. The CIW announced that 50 of its members and their supporters would be going on a fast. For six days, beginning March 5, the Fast for Fair Food will take place at the headquarters of Publix Supermarkets, a $25-billion, Florida-based company that operates more than 1,000 stores in the Southeast.
“We are fasting today so that tomorrow none of our children are forced to surrender their dignity or to suffer hunger just to work,” Darinel Sales, one of the workers who will be taking part, wrote in an email. “We are fasting so that the people in charge of Publix can soften their hearts and sit with us to construct a reality in which prosperity is not based on the blood, sweat, and humiliation of farmworkers"...
... No food conglomerate has an excuse, least of all Florida-based Publix. Not only are the state’s tomato workers its customers, but the Publix website boasts about the firm’s “community involvement,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “commitment to our market areas.” It proclaims itself to be Florida’s “neighborhood grocer.”
Maria Brous, Publix’s director of media and community relations, did not return telephone calls. The company has said in press statements that it would be more than willing to pay a penny more per pound if that amount was included in the price the growers charged, but it refuses to pay pickers directly. (Which is odd because under the Fair Food Agreement the extra penny is, in fact, included in the price.) Slavery, Publix says, should be prosecuted under existing laws. And if labor conditions are too strenuous in the tomato industry, the company thinks workers should simply find another employer.
Like the farm owners in the 1990s, executives at Publix have steadfastly refused all requests to enter into dialogue with the CIW. They would do well to remember the famous words of the philosopher and writer George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." read more
There will be much more to come, as the Fast for Fair Food rapidly approaches!
February 13, 2012
200 turn out to turn up the heat on Publix!
Momentum building ahead of next month's Fast for Fair Food...
Yesterday's impromptu protest at a Naples area Publix turned out to be part massive picket, part joyous celebration. Over 200 Southwest Florida Fair Food activists -- a remarkably diverse and festive crowd -- switched tracks in the wake of last week's announcement of the CIW's agreement with Trader Joe's and moved their protest down Hwy 41 to a nearby Publix "Greenwise" store.
And after a vibrant, 2-hr action, the crowd gathered round to celebrate the Trader Joe's agreement with a custom-made Publix cake, inscription and all (on right, the cake, still in its box, reads: "Thank you Trader Joe's for signing the Fair Food Agreement")! It was the best money ever spent at Publix...
Click here for pictures from yesterday's high-spirited action, or here for the local CBS affiliate's report on yesterday's protest.
And check back soon for much more on the upcoming Fast for Fair Food!
February 10, 2012
Pivoting to Publix
Following agreement with Trader Joe's, pressure mounts on Publix as Fast for Fair Food approaches...
As reaction continues to pour in from across the country to yesterday's news of the CIW's agreement with Trader Joe's, the Campaign for Fair Food turns to Publix, demanding -- with renewed urgency -- that Florida's largest grocer do its part to improve wages and working conditions in the fields where its tomatoes are picked.
We'll get back to Publix in a moment, but first just a word on the overwhelming response to the Trader Joe's agreement. And that word would be... Wow! Twitter, Facebook, blogs and mainstream media all lit up like never before in the history of the Campaign for Fair Food, with well-wishers offering heartfelt congratulations -- to both the CIW and Trader Joe's -- and Fair Food activists letting Publix and the rest of the supermarket industry know that the time for standing in the way of progress is over. The general response was perhaps best captured in the following, beautifully written statement from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
Statement by the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and Linda Valentine, Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Counsel, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
On behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I commend Trader Joe’s and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on reaching this agreement. By joining the Fair Food Program, Trader Joe’s has strengthened this successful, collaborative model between farmworkers, corporations, growers and consumers, that is advancing farmworkers’ human rights, corporate accountability, and consumer confidence. This humane, cooperative Fair Food Program enables all of us to love our neighbors even as we feed our families.
Presbyterians care deeply about how the food that we purchase has been produced. For more than ten years our church has worked assiduously with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and people of conscience from across the nation toward that day when we will be able to enter a supermarket and purchase tomatoes knowing that the men and women who labored to harvest them were treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. Today, because of Trader Joe’s decision to join the Fair Food Program, we are one step closer to that day.
The supermarket industry buys most of the tomatoes harvested by Florida farmworkers. And so it is imperative that leading supermarket chains use their power to undergird the Fair Food Program. I take this occasion to call, yet again, upon Publix, Ahold and Kroger to stop standing on the sidelines. Inaction in the face of generations of exploitation and a proven model for change is not neutral. Your refusal to join the Fair Food Program threatens to undermine these important gains. The time is now for you to join Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market and the eight other major food retailers who are working with the CIW and Florida growers to eliminate exploitation and slavery in the tomato fields.
We celebrate this momentous agreement between Trader Joe’s and the CIW, the PC(USA) renews its commitment to strive with the CIW and its allies for a more just, sustainable and fair food industry.
We will have a complete media round-up on the Trader Joe's agreement next week. So for now, let's just take a moment to highlight a particularly powerful line from the PCUSA's statement:
"Inaction in the face of generations of exploitation and a proven model for change is not neutral."
That pretty much says it all.
It's one thing to passively profit from farmworker poverty, as Publix and other supermarket chains have done for decades, buying artificially cheap tomatoes off the market, no questions asked, unconcerned about how they came to be so cheap.
But it's something else all together to affirmatively perpetuate farmworker poverty, as Publix and the other supermarket chains are doing when they refuse to participate in the Fair Food Program.
Today, unlike in the past, a "proven model for change" does exist. And so, when a $28 billion supermarket giant like Publix refuses to pay a single penny more to do its part to fight farmworker poverty, it is acting to keep farmworkers, and their families, in desperate and degrading poverty. It is as if Publix is saying farmworkers should be poor.
And don't even get us started on Publix's position on abusive farm labor conditions ("If there are some atrocities going on, it's not our business")...
So, today, with now two national supermarket chains standing firmly behind the Fair Food Program, Publix and the other supermarket chains have nowhere left to hide. Which is why Rabbis for Human Rights - North America held a pray-in at a Naples Publix store this week during a three-day immersion visit to Immokalee (below - you can read more about the rabbis' visit here):
And which is why farmworkers and their allies will be fasting outside Publix headquarters next month in the six-day Fast for Fair Food.
The pressure on Publix is only going to continue to grow. How much longer will its leaders continue to needlessly soil the reputation of this once proud company?
February 1, 2012
January 26, 2012