FLORIDA TOUR Daily reports Nov. 18-25, 2009

Daily reports 
Nov. 18-25, 2009

Day 3-4: Birmingham, AL; Columbus, GA

On Day 3 & 4, the tour crew traveled north beyond the borders of our fine state for a weekend trip to the far reaches of Publix’s realm in Alabama and Georgia. And they planned to hold a couple of low-key Publix protests along the way…

But, on Saturday in Columbus, Georgia, as the picture above and others to follow clearly show, what started out as a small, informational picket quickly crew into the largest, most spirited Publix protest to date, thanks to the participation of allies from cities as far flung as Madison, WI and Lawrence, KS.

But before we get to Saturday’s exciting action, our update begins in Birmingham. After driving through the night, the tour team made it to the historic epicenter of the civil rights movement for another long day of education and action, starting with presentations at Samford University.

Samford is no stranger to the Campaign for Fair Food, being one of the 25 campuses across the country that cut its contract with Taco Bell during SFA’s Boot the Bell campaign. Although none of the students from that campaign remain on campus today, some were so moved by today’s presentations that they came out later that day at a local Publix — the fist protest ever for many of them.

The protest was short, sweet, and ended without incident, and after a night in a Birmingham motel, the tour crew headed north to Columbus, Georgia, where they planned to hook up with dozens of other CIW members driving up from Immokalee and thousands of more human rights activists from across the country, gathering for the annual protest calling for the closing of the “School of the Americas (SOA)”.

The SOA is a center that for years has trained military leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean, many of whom have been directly involved in the region’s tragic history of coups and brutal dictatorships.

Coalition members once again spoke from the stage at the gates of Ft. Benning, adding their voice to the growing chorus speaking out against torture and human rights abuses in Latin America.

Following the afternoon rally, the CIW crew headed over to a nearby Publix. The protest started out small, but with a clear message for Thanksgiving shoppers on the busy Columbus street.

It quickly grew, with farmworkers and consumers marching shoulder-to-shoulder…

… and grew…

… and grew, until as night began to fall…

… there were nearly 300 people spread across two pickets (one of which is pictured above, the other stretches beyond the frame, to the right of the sign).

The sheer size of the protest attracted the local press (see “About 200 protest farm worker rights at Columbus protest,” 11/22/09), and didn’t escape the attention of the local constabulary, either.

Like a referee stopping a one-sided fight before the weaker fighter gets hurt too badly, the Columbus police stepped in as the crowd topped 300 and there seemed to be no end in sight to the steady stream of people joining the action. But not before the holiday season food shoppers in Columbus, Georgia, got a message they won’t soon forget: This Thanksgiving, think before you eat!


Day 2: Tallahassee

On Day 2, the tour crew once again split up to hit as many classrooms as possible across Tallahassee. While one group spoke to students at Florida State University, the other half of the team, pictured above, visited the SAIL Academy, a high school centered around the arts (hence the dramatic setting for the presentation on a school stage…).

Throughout the SAIL campus were beautifully painted murals of inspirational leaders and their most enduring quotations, including Dr. King (above, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”), Gandhi (“be the change you want to see in the world”) and more. Together they created the ideal setting for a reflection among students and workers on the human rights crisis in the fields where our food is grown and picked.

After every good reflection is a good action… And Day 2 was no exception, as a picket that started off small soon enough grew into a bouncing, rollicking protest when a purple-striped bus, students, families and others joined the tour crew, spreading the message of Fair Food loud and clear to thousands of passing motorists crawling by in the evening rush traffic.
Why even the Publix pilgrim herself was moved to join the fun…

… more pictures from the action in Tallahassee…

… which finally wrapped up at twilight…

… when the crew capped off the evening – and a hugely successful stop in the state capital — with a standing room-only film screening and presentation back on the Florida State campus, planting ever more seeds of consciousness through lively discussion and a call to action in the Publix and Aramark campaigns.

Next stop… Birmingham.


DAY 1: Tampa, St. Petersburg

The morning started early as the Tour team split in two. Here above, CIW members talk to students at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. They explained the structure of the agricultural industry from bottom to top and the role of consumers at the top of the pyramid…

… meanwhile, across the bay, another team spoke to classes at Eckerd College, where students came out in force this past weekend for the 200 person-strong Publix action and march in St.Pete.

Then, doing their part for the National Week of Supermarket Action…

… the crew dropped off a manager letter at a Publix in downtown St. Petersburg, where the manager actually listened to workers who explained the brutal reality in the fields where the supermarket chain buys its produce.

Then it was on to the Florida Institute for Community Studies for a talk about the story behind the food they eat.
Needless to say, the unfairness of the situation was not lost on the young minds in the audience, and several student signed up (with their parent’s permission) to get on the bus for Dec 6.

As night fell on Day 1, the tour crew took to the streets, joined by community and faith allies, crashing Publix’s party the night before their newest store was slated to open in Tampa. 
Candles helped to illuminate the signs and serious point being made by those at the vigil. The protest was in fact part of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, marking the two-year anniversary of the workers escape from the Navarrete family of farm bosses in Immokalee. Their escape, through a hole in the roof of a moving van where they had been held behind locked doors, ultimately led to the seventh federal prosecution for slavery since 1997 in Florida.
The signs made clear the workers’ complaint for evening commuters on the busy Tampa street…

… so that, while Publix might be ignoring the farmworkers behind their food, it was hard to miss these CIW members standing in front of a giant overflowing inflatable shopping bag.

And so, as consumers minds turn increasingly to next week’s Thanksgiving feast, the tour crew will remain hard at work making sure that Publix consumers, at least, do so with a clear understand the high cost in human dignity behind the low price food on their Thanksgiving tables.

Stay tuned for more in the days ahead from the road as our crew makes its way across the state!