Nashville Turns Up the Volume!

As Publix expands, the Fair Food Nation is right there, step for step…

Amid news of Publix’s increasing profit margin and percolating price battle with Walmart (what’s that Kenyan saying again about when elephants fight?… oh, yeah, “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” hmmm…) is another story that slowly, but surely, is coming into focus: Publix is expanding beyond its historic market focus on Florida and aiming to become the “neighborhood grocer” to the entire southeastern United States. From North Carolina to Tennessee, Publix is breaking ground and setting down some new roots.

publix_nashville_2Now, perhaps Publix thought that with a few ribbon-cutting ceremonies and billboards promising shopping pleasure, consumers would welcome them with open arms. Unfortunately for Publix, however, there’s a large and growing population of southerners who recognize oppression when they see it, and they know what to do when injustice comes to town.

In fact, one of the Campaign for Fair Food’s newest fronts is one of its strongest, too, right there in Music City USA, Nashville, Tennessee. And on April 6th, Nashville Fair Food greeted Publix’s new stores with nearly fifty protesters from local student and faith communities, several of whom participated in last month’s march (as you can see for yourself from the excellent video at the top of this post — made by someone who perhaps watched one or two of the videos from the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food…).

Clearly, folks in Nashville are not ready to roll out the welcome wagon for Publix quite yet. Although the video captures the action, we want to highlight a few choice words from consumers in Nashville, just in case Publix wasn’t listening closely to the protest at their doorstep. First up, we have Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings (pictured below, in the yellow top and black slacks), president-elect of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship and of the New Covenant Christian Church (just one of six local congregations and temples represented at the action:


“We are sure that the people who are in charge — those who are on the corporate level — are good people, a God-fearing people. We pray that you would prick their hearts, that they would — with a sense of deep morality — see that this is the right thing to do; is the only thing to do”

Shoulder to shoulder with the faith community, the students and youth of Nashville brought their own energy out as well! Here, below, long-time CIW ally and Student/Farmworker Alliance Steering Committee member, Kate Savage (also in the photo above, with the bullhorn), reminds Publix that it will, one day, be welcome in Nashville, as long as it meets certain conditions:

“It is possible to treat the workers who bring us our food with dignity and respect. That is good news for all of us, including Publix. And the other part of that good news is that Publix will one day sign this Fair Food Agreement, and we’re going to be here to celebrate when they do.”

Meanwhile, echoing the calls for Fair Food up north (yes, it’s north to us!), Florida students and religious leaders also took to the streets, helping spread the word this past weekend for Farmworker Awareness Week in Gainesville. Led by the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, this other stronghold in the movement for farmworker justice celebrated the week with a panel on the human rights of farmworkers, as well as lively protest of over fifty people at a local Publix.

Gainesville_protest“One week in early Spring, we remind ourselves that we depend on the farm workers who plant and harvest the fruits and vegetables we eat every day of the year…

Farm workers have made remarkable gains in the last few years. The Fair Food Agreement negotiated by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers with 95 percent of Florida tomato growers and a long list of big tomato buyers is one outstanding example. Buyers and growers agreed to an extra penny a pound for the workers and better working conditions, including an end to sexual harassment. But these real gains are fragile, as long as some growers and some buyers refuse to sign. Within the past year, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle signed the agreement, but Publix and Wendy’s still refuse to even talk with farm worker delegations.”  read more >>

The message is loud and clear: You can run, but you can’t hide from social responsibility. No matter where you go, it’s still the 21st century, and 21st century consumers demand respect for human rights for the workers who harvest their food, especially when the solution is as easy and as well-respected as the Fair Food Program. In the words of one Nashville protester, in truly southern style: “Publix, this is easy: one penny more. Get it done!”