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“Publix must turn from its pride and arrogance and turn towards its partners in business, the workers from Immokalee…”

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24-hr vigil at Publix ends with march of 1,000 through downtown Lakeland!

 

The 10-day, 10-city Now Is the Time Tour ended Saturday with a massive march through the heart of Lakeland, Florida.  Responding to the marchers’ infectious high spirits and passionate call for human rights in Florida’s fields, the townspeople embraced the march with honks, waves, and thumbs-up, leaning out car windows and pouring out of homes and businesses along the three-mile route.  Lakeland’s response sent a clear signal that, even in Publix’s hometown, the grocery giant’s stubborn stonewalling of the Fair Food Program is growing increasingly unpopular and that the time has come for Publix to set aside its pride and join the growing partnership for farm labor justice.  

The final day of the tour started bright and early, with a gathering at sunrise around the impromptu stage erected at the vigil site during which workers and allies shared stories of how they became part of the Fair Food movement and what the movement — and the New Day of rights and dignity dawning in the fields — has meant in their lives:

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The reflections shared in that early morning light were heartfelt and deeply appreciated by the participants, the perfect way to emerge from the cold, dark night of the vigil into the light of the big day of action ahead:

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… though not everyone was able to shake off the effects of Friday’s all-night vigil quite as easily (and you thought we were kidding about the whole “head hits keyboard” thing in Saturday’s update!):

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But soon even the most sleepy among us would have to be up and at ‘em, as the vigil that began to grow the night before with the arrival of reinforcements from Immokalee and other worker communities around Florida truly swelled on this last morning of the tour, with hundreds of allies from around the state pouring into Lakeland for the march.  As the numbers rose throughout the morning, the picket outside the landmark Southgate Publix grew:

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… and grew:

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 … and grew, until it was finally time to step off the curb and into the street:

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… steadily unwinding from the sidewalk site where workers and allies had gathered over the past 24 hours, transforming the vigil into a march, 1000 strong:

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… for the three-mile trek through Lakeland’s streets:

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And a wild three-mile journey it was.  With a bouncing soundtrack from the flatbed truck at the head of the march and the ablest of animation from the CIW’s irrepressible emcee crew:

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… marchers making their own noise at the farther stretches of the column, beyond the range of even the sound truck’s stout speakers:

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… impossibly cute kids handling outreach from the back of the truck:

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… and still others doing their part on the ground:

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… and, of course, countless colorful, handmade signs:

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… the draw of the march on onlookers along the route was irresistible.  

And in return, the marchers were buoyed along their way by the remarkable — and remarkably consistent — positive feedback from the people of Lakeland, whose waves:

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… applause:

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… and smiles:

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… made it abundantly clear that the Fair Food movement’s message was hitting home in Lakeland (outside of the Publix executive echo chamber, of course, where one can only imagine the apocalyptic terms they use to describe the Fair Food Program and the existential threat that they perceive it to be).

As the march neared its destination:

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… and turned the corner into Lakeland’s downtown district and the final stretch of the route: 

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… it would soon become clear that the thoughts of Publix’s executives were very much on the minds of those who would be speaking at the final rally (as the headline of this particular post foreshadows).  

After landing at a beautiful spot on the shore of Mirror Lake in Lakeland’s Kryger Park:

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… the marchers settled in for a rally that included theater, music, and some truly stirring speakers (be sure to check out the video at the top of the post for a fuller sense of Saturday’s excellent speeches).

The rally began with the final performance of the the CIW’s original popular theater piece “Lo Bueno y lo Horrible,” which, after a blockbuster ten-day run, will make its way into the storied annals of CIW theater, props and all:

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The Reverend Michael Livingston (pictured below), the National Policy Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the former Director of the Poverty Initiative of the National Council of Churches (not to mention a participant in both the Fast for Fair Food in 2012 and the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food in 2013!), got the rally off to a rousing start with an interactive cheer, with one half of the crowd chanting, “Journey towards justice,” and the other, “Now is the time!”  

Rev. Livingston also struck the first of what would be many sharply critical notes during the day’s speeches by drawing a stark contrast between the Fair Food movement’s unique warmth of spirit, on the one hand, and the Publix executive’s cold response to the movement, on the other, saying, “We’ve been on this journey towards justice together, and while we’ve been doing that, Publix has been standing still, telling lies, denying justice. Publix is just standing still, telling lies, while we are growing together, and embracing one another, and loving one another.  So we’re on a… (audience) Journey towards justice… Now is the time!”

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His words were beautifully translated by Melody Gonzalez (speaking below), a longtime member of the CIW’s extended family who has extended her own family recently with the beautiful Tonalli, shown here at his mother’s feet practicing his own emcee skills during the rally:

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Representatives of students and youth from across the Fair Food nation (group picture, below) spoke next.  Echoing the voices of students at Jacksonville’s River City Science Academy at last Thursday’s Publix protest, Lis-Marie Alvarado of We Count! in Homestead sounded her own cautionary note for Publix’s leadership, with a focus on the future and the changing dynamics of the 21st century marketplace, saying, “Publix, we want you to know that you do not represent Florida.  You do not represent our families, you do not represent future generations, and you do not represent us, the young people and students.  Sign the Fair Food agreement if you want our loyalty as customers.  It must be earned by doing the right thing.”

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As the rally wound to a close, faith leaders from across the spectrum were next to speak (below), choosing their words for Publix directly from the Gospel.  Brian McLaren, shown speaking here, provided a true highlight of the rally when he addressed Publix executives directly: “I want to say something to the leaders of Publix, based on this book (holding a Bible aloft).  Love your neighbors.  Love your neighbors who work on the farms, love your customers who care about those workers.  Turn from your pride and arrogance, and turn towards your partners in business, the workers of Immokalee.”

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The Rev. Noelle Damico of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative wrapped up the faith leaders’ addresses, asking, “Thirty years from now, when we look back at a totally transformed agricultural system, what will the history books say about Publix?”  

With the sun beginning to set, Rev. Damico’s message was underscored by the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo (below):

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… who helped to close out the day, and the tour, alongside fellow CIW members with words from the CIW’s Women’s Group: “We want to say to Publix that as women, we will not even consider allowing sexual violence to continue in Florida’s fields or the agricultural industry.  We will not take one step backward.  We will only continue forward.” 

The rally was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect tour (the only way it could have been better is if Publix had actually reached out to talk).  The words of the speakers reflected the Fair Food Nation’s growing frustration with Publix’s leadership, the growing sense that history is passing Publix by, that its leaders — or perhaps their advisors — are failing their own company, letting ideology get in the way of practical business concerns.  From the beginning to the end of the final day of the tour, the specter of history — of agriculture’s shameful past, and of the future of a food industry ever more finely tuned to its customers’ demands for fair labor conditions behind the food they eat — was present, a silent judge of Publix’s increasing isolation thanks to its indefensible shunning of the Fair Food Program. 

Earlier in the morning, reflecting at the vigil site, one longtime farmworker (Nathaniel Perry, pictured below) spoke of his own experience, of how, when he first started picking tomatoes, the piece rate was less than half of what it is today, and crewleaders ran company stores that would steal your pay before you ever even saw it.  He told the gathering that the changes he is watching unfold today are not just long-overdue, but gratifying in a way that he could have never imagined before.

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But what Publix fails to see – blinded perhaps by the pride decried by so many of yesterday’s speakers — is that those changes are not only good for workers, but for business, too.  Less than five years ago, the Florida tomato industry, like Publix, was also mired in a fight against progress, boycotting the Fair Food Program and running day and night to put out public relations fires caused by the unceasing flare-up of human rights violations in their fields.  At the same time, the Florida growers struggled daily to compete in the marketplace against tomatoes coming out of Mexico.  With human rights problems and antiquated labor relations on both sides of the border, Florida tomatoes were indistinguishable from Mexican tomatoes, and price was the sole determinant for the vast majority of corporate buyers.

Today, just a few years later, the Florida tomato industry is infinitely stronger, poised to compete on the basis of social responsibility with Mexico –and any other tomato producer, for that matter — thanks to the Fair Food Program.  With stories of modern-day slavery continuing to flow out of Mexico’s fields, and headlines exposing the control exercised by violent drug cartels over the Mexican agricultural industry (“The violent gang wars behind your Super Bowl avocados,” Wall St. Journal, 1/31/14) dominating the run up to this year’s Super Bowl, it is clear that Mexican tomato workers enjoy none of the rights or protections that cover over 90% of the Florida tomato industry today.  There is no Mexican Fair Food Program, and it is safe to say that there will not be for the foreseeable future, as long as farmworkers in Mexico remain powerless against the corruption and violence that is endemic there today.

Meanwhile, the Florida tomato industry is home to the most effective, most successful social responsibility program in all of US agriculture today, bar none.  Recognized by the White House for its unique effectiveness in preventing slavery, by the UN for its worker-based human rights protections and enforcement mechanisms backed by real market consequences, and by PBS Frontline for its unique success in fighting sexual violence in the fields, the Fair Food Program is seen as a model for the protection of human rights not just in US agriculture, but in corporate supply chains on a global level.  It is an asset that has increased the value of the Florida tomato industry and its products immeasurably.

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And so today, less than five years later, the Florida tomato industry is better off thanks to its decision to set aside its pride, sit at the table with workers, and help build the Fair Food Program.  They were able to leave behind whatever feelings of ill will they may have harbored toward the CIW — and surely there were some after nearly two decades of an often contentious struggle —  for the good of their business.  Whatever ideology may have driven their decision to pursue that battle for so long was trumped by practical business interests, resulting in the birth of a unique new partnership.  And today the industry — growers and workers together, alongside the twelve food industry leaders supporting the Fair Food Program — is stronger for it.

The Fair Food Nation awaits that same awakening within Publix, albeit with increasing impatience if the comments at Saturday’s rally were any indication. 

Nathaniel closed his comments at Saturday morning’s reflection by adding that he considers every single person, worker or consumer ally, who fights for Fair Food to be part of a single family, and that when he is able to reunite with that family in action every year, he feels like he is coming home.

And so, as the Now Is the Time Tour ends and we all make our way home to the four directions of the Fair Food Nation from which we came, we travel with his words in our hearts.  When we are together fighting for justice in the fields, we are home, and we will never tire of inviting Publix into our home to join us at the ever-growing Fair Food table.  

The vigil begins: 24 hours for Fair Food…

After nine days on the road, the Now Is The Time Tour reaches Lakeland, settles in for 24-hour vigil! Note from the media team: What follows is a quick dispatch from the front recapping yesterday’s action at the all-night vigil outside the Southgate Publix in Lakeland, Fl.  After a long night for the documentation crew, our offering today will be a little thinner than usual, a sort of series of postcards from the first day of the vigil, with more to come tomorrow after today’s action has wrapped up (there is, at least, a very fine video included toward the […]

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“Whether it’s two or two hundred, I’ll participate in every march until we win!”

Joined by students from the River City Science Academy and Jacksonvillians for Fair Food, CIW tour crew leads a march of 200+ from Wendy’s to Publix down busy Jacksonville streets… Yesterday in Jacksonville was about hope. Hope for the future, delivered on the shouts and cheers of 150 of the smartest, sweetest, most enthusiastic high school students (not to mention their teachers!) you could ever hope to meet. Hope for justice in Florida’s fields, because when the next generation of consumers feels so strongly about justice and human rights for all — and is so willing to explore and engage […]

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Now is the Time Tour Media Round-Up!

We have been so occupied with the stuff of the Now is the Time Tour — not to mention sharing that stuff, in the form of colorful photo and video reports — that we haven’t had a chance to share all of the great press emerging about our journey across the country.  So without further ado, here are the highlights. We start off with an excellent, hard-hitting op/ed from the Orlando Sentinel (3/11/2014), courtesy of Scott Maxwell.  Publix: Great store, but sorry policies for farmworkers  by Scott Maxwell  Protesters carry signs during a protest outside the Publix supermarket on Saturday, February […]

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Atlanta takes up the Fair Food banner!

Tour crew arrives in Atlanta, visits Carter Center and King Center, joins with 100+ Atlantans to tell Publix “tomato workers deserve justice!” Extreme wind and cold pose a challenge to nighttime candlelight vigil, but protesters persevere, sending powerful message of solidarity in heart of Publix’s expanding southeastern market… Day 8 was a day full of travel, education, and action.   Following a morning spent driving from Nashville to Atlanta, Wednesday afternoon’s tight schedule packed in visits to two national museums honoring Atlanta’s dual Nobel Laureates and ended with a vibrant — and soulful, thanks to another stellar performance by Atlanta’s incomparable […]

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“This ain’t a protest, this is a celebration…”

“Human rights have arrived in Florida’s fields, and Publix, you are late to the party!”   NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather Those are the words of Pedro Lopez (below, right) — jaranero extraordinaire and the CIW’s most trusted emcee for tours, fasts, and marches since anyone can remember — at the rally yesterday outside a Nashville, TN, Publix, as nearly 200 people gathered following a 3-mile march through the city that once again put smiles on the faces of countless Nashville residents and reminded Publix of the remarkable transformation taking place in Florida’s fields on which it has turned its back. […]

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“Mr. Brolick, we are here to invite you to finish what you helped start…”

750+ march on Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, as Now Is the Time Tour lets Wendy’s know Ohio is Fair Food Territory!  On a bracingly cold but brilliant day in Dublin, Ohio, over 750 marchers — including farmworkers from Immokalee, allies from around the northeast and midwest, and, most importantly, hundreds of Ohioans — declared Ohio a Fair Food state with an epic march on Wendy’s corporate headquarters that won the hearts of the people of Dublin with its irrepressible exuberance, remarkable diversity, and urgent message of justice.    Rippling with colorful art, the march wound its way through Dublin’s streets, […]

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Three generations of CIW women, three hundred workers and consumers, celebrate International Women’s Day by calling on Wendy’s to join the movement for farmworker rights!

Moving march, vigil in Columbus, Ohio, perfect prelude to today’s big March on Wendy’s Headquarters in Dublin… After gathering from all four corners of the Fair Food Nation — with buses and vans pouring into Columbus over the course of the day from New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia, Denver, Chicago, and Madison, just to name a few — and greeting the tour crew from Immokalee as they arrived at the Summit United Methodist Church (aka, Campaign for Fair Food headquarters, North Division)… … the growing Fair Food army, now reinforced several hundred strong, only had time to grab a quick […]

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Let the sun shine! The Fair Food spirit brings the sun out with joyful action in Asheville, NC…

Now is the Time Tour met with warm welcome in Western North Carolina! After a heartwarming (if bitterly cold) stay in North Carolina’s Triangle Area, the CIW headed west yesterday to gather for a protest at the site of a future Publix in Asheville, North Carolina — a first for the Campaign for Fair Food, a Publix protest without an actual Publix (note the add-on at the bottom of the real estate sign below)!… But we’ve faced tougher challenges before (like launching a national Campaign for Fair Food in 2001 when no one in the world had even heard of Fair Food […]

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“You are the light that is bringing the message of God, the message of reconciliation and liberation…”

“That is why you are on this tour — to transform the hearts of people around the country…” Candlelight vigil inside Duke’s historic University Chapel highlights tour’s trek through the Tarheel State… Following yesterday morning’s protest at a Charlotte Publix and lunch with Fair Food Program partner Compass Group, the tour crew continued making its way through its Day Two itinerary, arriving in the late afternoon to Durham, the heart of the state’s famed Triangle Area.   Our evening started off with a presentation by CIW members on the Fair Food Program hosted by Duke Universtity’s Divinity School and attended by […]

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“Let them know that reconciliation is possible!”…

Over 60 farmworkers and their allies head out from Immokalee at dawn, launching their 10-day, 10-city journey as “Now is the Time” Tour hits the road!… In the cool, early hours of a beautiful March morning in Immokalee, farmworkers gathered at the CIW community center ahead of the launch of the Now Is the Time Tour with a To-Do list almost as long as the 2,800-mile tour itself. After many weeks of preparation, a veritable mountain of signs and banners for the protests, hand-painted props for the tour theater piece to be performed at community meetings along the way, and […]

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Get on the bus!

From Nashville to New England, allies mobilizing buses, vans to actions in Columbus, Lakeland… With the Now Is the Time Tour just days away, Fair Food activists in dozens of states are raising funds and signing up friends and family to join the growing caravan of buses and vans heading to the Tour’s two major actions in Columbus, Ohio, and Lakeland, Florida. In Tennessee, the fine folks at Nashville Fair Food shared this uplifting bit of news with the Student/Farmworker Alliance listserv. It’s such a wonderful example of the energy and ingenuity going into the local organizing around the Tour, […]

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Kids say the darndest things! Words from Ohio 3rd and 4th graders provide food for thought for Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick…

Photos, messages pour in from the Fair Food Nation… With the launch of the “Now is the Time” Tour only a week away, supporters from every corner of the Fair Food Nation are getting into gear for the big spring action! And as people begin to prepare for the two anchor protests of the tour in Columbus and Lakeland, more and more Fair Food activists are sending messages to Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick and Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw ahead of the action to demand justice for the farmworkers who pick their Florida tomatoes. Our favorite messages this week come from […]

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Fair Food Nation in full-blown mobilization mode as “Now is the Time” Tour draws closer!

February a busy month in Florida and Ohio as preparations for the big action ramp up… While many across the nation celebrate mid-February with red roses and chocolate, the Fair Food nation has been focusing all of its energy on organizing for the fast-approaching “Now is the Time” Tour!  In states all along the route of the ten-day, ten-city tour, Fair Food activists are making every minute count as we head into the homestretch ahead of this spring’s big action.  We wanted to share some of the excitement from the Fair Food front with you today, and in the process […]

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Planning for the “Now is the Time” Tour takes off!

From snowy Columbus down to sunny Immokalee, the Fair Food Nation is preparing for 2014’s spring action… Everyone is getting excited for the 10-day, 10-city “Now is the Time” Tour (March 5-15). Before we go into the flurry of activity across the country, we want to introduce you to the Tour’s brand new website, which launches today as the hub for the Tour’s schedule, latest news, photos, videos, and more! If you’re already ready to join the tour, head over to registration and sign up! The Tour has two major actions along its extensive route: a march on Wendy’s in and around Columbus, […]

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Spring action announced!: The “Now is the Time” Tour hits the road March 5-15, 2014…

Ten-day, ten-city tour to take farmworkers, allies to Wendy’s home state of Ohio, then back to Florida with a last stop in Publix’s hometown of Lakeland… Stops along the way to include actions in major cities, including Atlanta, GA, Raleigh, NC, Louisville, KY and Nashville, TN! During his speech at the March on Washington 50 years ago last August, Dr. Martin Luther King shared the following words with the nation — a nation on the brink of turmoil due to the stubborn, centuries-long denial of African Americans’ civil and economic rights by a shrinking circle of hardcore segregationists — to […]

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