Days Six and Seven Photo Report:
Venice to Sarasota

On Day 7, the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food poured into Sarasota for a 12-mile parade along the city's main commercial corridor. The march route passed by three Publix stores, including Sarasota's newest store (a 50,000 square foot giant with a construction price tag of $8 million dollars), where hundreds of Sarasotans swelled the marchers' ranks for an energetic afternoon picket that virtually surrounded the building.

But before reaching Sarasota, the marchers started out Day 6 in Venice, where they gathered in the long shadows of a crisp early morning to reflect on what would become the day's theme -- International Women's Day, and the essential role that women play in the struggle to expand and protect human rights in the fields.

Lupe Gonzalo (right, accompanied by Claire Comiskey of Interfaith Action, left, who provided translation) examined that theme through the prism of the CIW's Fair Food Program:

"All the women here should feel proud to march, to ask for justice, and to demand respect, for our families, for our children, and for a better future. This is what we're seeing today with the Fair Food Program -- women who had experienced sexual harassment can now file a report and say, 'I no longer want to suffer sexual harassment. I don't want to continue to be humiliated by my supervisors.' That's why we're here fighting, and we'll keep fighting.

And we're going to invite Publix, who has refused to recognize that we have rights, as well as all of those who refuse to see women's realty, all of those that close their eyes. We're asking them to come to the table and make a commitment, because we too have rights. We are all human beings, and we deserve respect."

[You can watch excerpts from Lupe's moving reflection in a must-see video here.]

With the vision of changes already won under the Fair Food Program lifting their spirits -- and the reminder of the urgent struggle ahead that is, sadly, still necessary to expand those changes through the support of Publix and other supermarket leaders that stubbornly refuse to support the groundbreaking program -- the marchers hit the streets with renewed energy for another long day of marching -- 16 miles to be exact.

And after 8 or so of those miles, it was time for lunch and another reflection prompted by the day's theme, only this time with a more personal focus. The marchers gathered in a circle along the banks of a river, under an unforgettable canopy of live oaks draped with spanish moss, and each took a moment to name a woman in their lives who helped bring them to this place in today's struggle for human rights in the fields. As they did, they took a handful of rich dirt and added it to an urn as the first half of a ceremony to be completed later in the march (spoiler alert: The second half of the ceremony includes seeds!).

Following the reflection, the march left the cool shade of the park and continued northward toward Tampa.

But before Tampa on Florida's gulf coast comes Sarasota, and Day Seven of the march stayed in Sarasota all day, featuring a massive protest outside a massive Publix store...

... where the marchers brought the message of the new day of rights in Florida's fields -- embodied in the statue that has accompanied the marchers every step of the way from Ft. Myers -- to the doorstep of Publix's flagship store.

The marchers' numbers (and hearts!) were swelled several sizes by hundreds of Sarasotans who brought their own energy, and beautiful hand-made signs, to the protest.

The collective energy of the marchers and the local Fair Food allies was impressive...

... and most definitely left a positive impression on the thousands of onlookers who drove by the busy corner during the hour-long action and couldn't help but admire the color, size, and spirit of the picket.

Finally, smiles still firmly fixed on their faces from the energizing action, the marchers lined up...

... and filed out to continue their trek northward.

Now one week into the march, the marchers who left Ft. Myers on foot last Sunday have cultivated their own particular approaches to surviving the grueling miles on the road, including their unique arrangements to carry the many accoutrements of the march. Here above, the CIW's Gregorio Alonzo strides through Sarasota strapped with all the tools of a veteran marcher - towel over the shoulder for sun and sweat, handmade sun CIW hat, water bottle clipped to the belt, and sound maker attached to the backpack.

  But the most important source of support for the veteran marchers on Day Seven would be the arrival of reinforcements from Immokalee, and in particular more than a dozen CIW members with families who were unable to attend the first week of the march because their children were in school. But with Collier County's spring break starting Monday, those members and their children sped north to join the marchers for the second week of the trek, infusing Day Seven with a fresh new spirit that filled the hearts of the marchers and onlookers alike. Check out the video above for a 30-second window into the beautiful spirit that joined us on this day, and that will be with us along the rest of the way to Lakeland.

Day Seven wrapped up on the shores of Sarasota Bay, where students from New College organized an evening of great food, music, and reflection for the marchers. But before the festivities got started, the marchers flocked to the cool waters of the Bay to give their weary feet a well deserved rest, where they relaxed after a very good day and enjoyed a Florida gulf coast sunset...

... and, of course, played.

Check back tomorrow for more great video and photos from Day Eight of the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food!