Day Fifteen Photo Report: 1,500 march on Publix headquarters in massive show of support for Fair Food!
As Day Fifteen dawned, the marchers who had traveled the entire 200-mile trek together gathered their materiel, marshaled their troops, and moved out on the final six miles to Publix headquarters.
And troops they had. A march with a core of 100-150 marchers that regularly swelled by several hundred as it passed through cities along its way from Ft. Myers to Lakeland suddenly exploded to ten times its core size on the final day, as allies from across the state of Florida poured into Lakeland to show their support for Fair Food.
Before the march could start, final touches were put on the artwork for a phenomenal theater piece that would be one of many highlights of the rally later outside Publix headquarters...
... and the core marchers -- those who logged every mile of the way from Ft. Myers to Lakeland -- reflected on the bittersweet feelings surrounding the end of their two-week journey, the end of what was, simultaneously, a trying, often painful, sacrifice and a joyous celebration of human rights and the hard fought changes established under the Fair Food Program.
The new marchers brought fresh energy and enthusiasm to the final six miles, which would prove invaluable as the length of the march far outstripped the reach of the sound truck that had ably guided the marchers on the previous fourteen days.
The crowd swelled as it picked up van loads of people joining the march along the route through the streets of Lakeland.
The ranks of new marchers included hundreds of old friends from around the state of Florida, such as the National Farmworker Ministry's Youth and Young Adult network (YAYA)...
... and many new friends from beyond the borders of the Sunshine State, including the incredible Freedom Now singers from Atlanta, Georgia, who made their first ever public performance on the back of the march sound truck, and followed that with a knockout performance at the rally that drew cheers for an encore from the crowd and a standing ovation.
As a special treat we put together a short video featuring just one of their Fair Food-themed songs. Check it out above to enjoy a moment of their harmonies.
After four hours on the road -- four hours that many core marchers wished might stretch just a little bit longer -- the march hit the homestretch...
... to Publix headquarters...
... where core marcher and animator extraordinaire Pedro Lopez marked the occasion with the final mile marker of the two-week long trek.
Once arrived at Publix headquarters, the march transformed into a full afternoon program that celebrated the new day in Florida's tomato fields -- a new day based on respect for workers' fundamental human rights -- beginning with a recognition of the allies whose efforts over the past decade have made these groundbreaking changes possible....
... a recognition that was met with a very vocal show of appreciation from the marchers.
The program then segued into a profound examination of those new rights under the Fair Food Code of Conduct...
... led by the very educators at the CIW who travel daily to farms across the state of Florida to conduct the worker-to-worker labor rights trainings that form the very backbone of the Fair Food Program.
And then it was time for the theater piece mentioned at the top of the report, a wordless play in the tradition of Latin American "popular theater" that began with a worker trying, and failing, to push a field truck loaded with human rights out of a ditch, the truck representing the agricultural industry before the Fair Food Program that had been mired in a decades-old history of farm labor abuse and exploitation.
The theater then played out a brief history of the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food, as the worker who opened the play first reached out to a fellow worker, then to religious allies...
... and then to students (not without a bit of difficulty...) to build an alliance strong enough to push the truck out of the ditch and back onto the road to deliver its precious cargo.
With the initial alliance between farmworkers and consumers formed, it was time to seek out even more support, this time from corporations whose purchasing power, if properly channeled, would provide much of the muscle necessary for the heavy work ahead.
The play continued through the accumulation of more and more corporate support for the program, including some well known figures...
... only to encounter the resistance that would provide the essential conflict at the heart of the play -- Publix standing in the way of progress by refusing to do its part to help end its home state's harvest of shame.
But in the end, justice would prevail. With one final, united push -- as audience members (particularly the youngest ones) rushed to the assistance of the growing Fair Food alliance to help overcome Publix's resistance -- the truck was moved and put squarely back on the road to progress.
Taking a rare moment of rest to enjoy the show were three key members of a heroic logistics team that, against all odds, managed to organize a nearly seamless two-week event involving 45 meals, 15 nights of lodging, 15 days of showers, fourteen vehicles, medical support, and coordination with more than a dozen jurisdictions for permits and law enforcement escorts for, ultimately, a mobile crowd of several thousand people (clockwise from bottom are pictured, Claire Comiskey, Claudia Saenz, and Elena Stein).
Closing out the program, and indeed the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food itself, was a strong set by a stalwart friend of the CIW, Olmeca, who flew in from a recently wrapped European tour and whose performance added one more element to the cultural mix embodied by the rally and the march as a whole. Perhaps that mix was best reflected in the soundtrack of the two-week march, which ranged from 60's civil rights classics and 70's soul-funk hits to the global beats and genre-hopping of the Information Age.
That soundtrack, combined with the many different cultures of the marchers themselves, the smiles, the colorful banners and artwork, communicated a message not of protest but of celebration that earned the support of tens of thousands of people who came into contact with the march along its route. That spirit of love and unity, in contrast with Publix's cold and unconscionable rejection of fundamental human rights, not only won the hearts of onlookers over the past two weeks but will ultimately win the day in the campaign to bring Publix into the 21st century of social responsibility.