January 26, 2012
In Sarasota, one student's tragic sacrifice for farm labor justice 40 years ago inspires a new generation of student activists for Fair Food today...
Dozens of students, community members hold vigil in memory of Nan Freeman, New College student killed in 1972 farmworker protest, vow to "carry her torch onward" in struggle to bring Publix "onto the right side of history"
In a moving tribute to an 18-year old New College freshman, Nan Freeman, who was fatally struck by a farm truck hauling sugar cane during a farmworker protest in Belle Glade forty years ago yesterday, New College students and Sarasota human rights activists gathered last night to honor Nan's memory and to send a message to Florida's largest grocer, Publix, pledging to "recommit ourselves with greater tenacity and dedication than ever before" to the Campaign for Fair Food.
The student organizers of last night's vigil circulated a letter to Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw, which read, in part:
"As New College students and members of the Sarasota community, we write to you to convey our tremendous disappointment with your company's refusal to partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to advance human rights for Florida tomato pickers.
On this day, on the 40th anniversary of her death, we honor the legacy of Nan Freeman, a New College freshman who lost her life in the admirable struggle to secure more dignified work conditions for Florida farmworkers. Ms. Freeman, in the words of United Farm Workers (UFW) leader Cesar Chavez, "is Kadosha in the Hebrew tradition, 'a holy person' to be honored and remembered" and someone who "poured out her one life so that farmworkers everywhere might be more free"... read more
The letter concludes:
"... Today, on the 40th anniversary of Ms. Freeman's martyrdom for the cause of farmworker justice, we recommit ourselves with greater tenacity and dedication than ever before, to carry her torch forward and do all we possibly can to create a more just, more humane agricultural industry, and that entails bringing your company, Florida's predominant grocer, onto the right side of history."
You can see the full text of the letter here.
New College students have been at the forefront of a growing Fair Food movement in the Sarasota area that is challenging the unquestioned dominance of Publix in that crucial Southwest Florida market. The students' dogged efforts to educate their fellow Sarasotans on the urgent need for farm labor reform and on Publix's role in holding back change have had a real impact on consumers in the area and are a model for student activists throughout the state of Florida.
There can be little doubt that if Nan Freeman were alive today, she would be proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with New College's new generation of farm labor activists in the battle for Fair Food. Her spirit was, beyond a doubt, present last night, and will continue to animate students for as long as it takes to win dignity, respect, and fair wages in the Florida fields where she gave her life forty years ago.