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MARCH 5, 2004

photos © Jacques-Jean Tiziou / www.jjtiziou.net

44 miles from East LA to Irvine on foot... 3,000 miles from Florida to California... Untold sacrifices by nearly 100 men and women who left the tomato fields of Immokalee to take their struggle for fair wages and working conditions to the doorstep of fast-food giant Taco Bell... It was all worth it when, finally, on Friday, March 5th, the marchers reached Taco Bell headquarters and the huge rally in support of the Taco Bell boycott.

They were greeted by a great crowd more than 1,500 strong -- a good number of whom joined the marchers for the last three miles of the march earlier in the morning -- people from communities across California and across the US who made their own way to Taco Bell's headquarters on a Friday afternoon to make their voices heard in the battle for fair food.

The workers were joined by some new friends at this year's rally, including artists who brought their own star power to the scene. Lila Downs, seen here backstage before performing, seems to light up Taco Bell's black glass office tower with her smile and her incredibly warm, human spirit....

... While another new friend, hip-hop artist and activist Boots Riley of The Coup -- shown here performing with an old CIW friend, Tom Morello of Audioslave -- brought his own magic to the day's activities, captivating the crowd with his unique combination of razor-sharp lyrics and smooth funk rhythms.

In fact, the day was a beautiful mixture of old and new friends coming together and joining forces in this growing battle. Here, one of the newest to join the ranks of boycotters shows her spirit...

... While several old friends from PCUN made the trek from Oregon to represent the farmworker movement from the Northwest.

California State Senator Joe Dunn, a long-time ally but first-time participant at a campaign event, also took a decisive stand on the side of Immokalee workers and the call for fair wages and working conditions...

... While old friend Pedro Olguin, helped MC the rally with Jaribu Hill of the Mississippi Workers Center, while making sure to bring the newest addition to his family into ours.

And, of course, Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation" -- not just an old friend, but a true one who made himself available for the rally while also contributing a great, impeccably timed Op/Ed piece in the LA Times that was published on the day of rally (click here for link to the Op/Ed).

And the list of old friends wouldn't be complete without a tip of the hat to Son del Centro Jarocho, the traditional music group from Santa Ana's Centro Cultural de Mexico that produces an incredible sound and plays directly to our members' hearts.

But in the end, the rally's success was due to the spirit and commitmment of the people gathered that day in the shadow of Taco Bell's imposing offices, people who put their hearts -- and sometimes even their heads -- into the fight...

... From student allies, including a great contingent from UCLA, where the Boot the Bell campaign is on the verge of a significant victory...

... To religious allies, including the people of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who showed up very well-represented during the day's events and spoke eloquently in support of farmworkers' fundamental human rights...

... To just folks... people from Southern California drawn to the rally by the simple justice of the boycott and the Immokalee workers' demands.

The crowd was at times loud and raucous...

... driven by Boots Riley's intensely political music and Tom Morello's perfect pitch on the guitar in accompaniment.

While other moments during the day touched the crowd in a different way...

...creating a more reflective, quiet -- but equally intense -- mood, among those in attendance.

And it all came back to the marchers. Nearly 100 men and women who left Immokalee almost two weeks ago, took on Taco Bell's parent company Yum Brands (as owner of Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, and A&W Restaurants, Yum Brands is bigger than McDonald's) on its home turf in Louisville, KY, then crossed the country to march for four days on Taco Bell's headquarters. Though spirits alternatively soared and lagged along the way, this day was a powerful reminder of the breadth of support for the cause of Immokalee's workers. Here, Francisca Cortez, right, and Gerardo Reyes Chavez address the rally in the name of the marchers.

And the best part of the day for the marchers... just the chance to relax, to stand still for half a day, and to soak in the warmth of alliance in action -- a powerful salve for the sore feet, tired throats, and aching muscles picked up along the way.

And in the end, it came down to this: Which would be the face of Taco Bell in the years to come?

This one, the face of a corporate king grown rich from the impoverishment of those who toil in its fields, who can see only through the lens of short-term profits, measure only in terms of dollars, dream only in terms of this month's same store sales figures?

Or this one?... The fast-food leader that recognizes that its tomatoes are not bought on some imaginary "market" but are planted, cultivated, and picked by human beings whose lives are bound by the price Taco Bell pays for those tomatoes... a company run by executives who -- no matter how tough they may find their own jobs and the high stakes decisions they are paid so handsomely to make -- realize that there are men and women with families who wake up every day at 4:00 am to work until dark at a backbreaking job that steals your youth and still doesn't let you feed your family right, men and women without whom none of the company's business would be possible, men and women who must be paid right, too.

Ultimately, the answer to that question is up to you.

Click here to see more photos from the march and rally on March 5th.




Photos by J.J. Tiziou