Ohio Freedom School scholars take up the Fair Food banner!

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40+ youth march through streets of Columbus to local Wendy’s, are barred from entering store…

From the Tour de Fair Food in Denver earlier this month to July’s convergence of young food justice leaders in Albuquerque, young consumers across the country have taken to the streets this summer to send a message to Wendy’s: We care about poverty and exploitation behind the food we eat, and we won’t eat at Wendy’s until the hamburger giant does its part to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program.

Not to be outdone, a group of young people in Columbus, Ohio, brought their own creativity and energy to the Campaign for Fair Food last month, and from the looks of it they had quite a disappointing experience with the local manager!  From Ohio Fair Food’s own Nick Pasquarrello, who is working with the kids as a mentor through the Columbus Freedom School program, we bring you a first-hand report:

Freedom School is a summer program for youths k-12 that builds literacy skills through a curriculum of leadership and social justice.  These youth have been learning about democracy, justice, and what it means to “take action” for the entire summer.  Having concrete examples of non-violent direct action, they put their knowledge to practice:

On Tuesday, about 40 Freedom Schools scholars marched from our location at a local church down to the nearest Wendy’s.  During the day, they were visited by [CIW’s] Oscar Otzoy (who is spending some of his summer here in Columbus) and were told the history of the CIW.  They then went to work making colorful signs and hand-written letters to the Wendy’s manager.

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At 2:00, we marched through High St (the main street in Columbus) down to the Wendy’s where we were met with community allies.  The scholars picketed con mucho animo [with a lot of energy] and a delegation got ready to go inside.

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When we tried to enter, a Wendy’s manager was waiting at the door and said “Are you here for Wendy’s business?”  We replied that we were not but that these kids would really like to pass on a message to those in charge.  The manager from that point firmly held the door shut and refused to even look these youths in the face.  We then marched back to our site and had a debrief with all of our scholars.

It is always amazing to work with youth to build power here in Ohio, specifically in solidarity with the CIW.  The scholars were very moved by the experience; some were extremely upset (and some angry) when the door was shut in our face, others vowed to never eat Wendy’s again.  When we work together to build tomorrow’s leaders, we win! 

For these students, coming up against Wendy’s stubborn refusal to even have a conversation about the human rights of the workers in their supply chain was an eye-opening experience.  One young lady, Anaya, shared her reflections on the manager’s reaction:

 

The truly moving display of the young scholars’ commitment to building a more just food system — and the truly unconscionable decision by the Wendy’s manager to physically bar elementary-age youth from entering her store — caught the attention of the local press.  Here is an excerpt from the Columbus Examiner article, published shortly after the protest:

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Over the summer, young scholars at the University District Freedom School have worked on literacy skills and studied history, civics, and politics. On July 29 they put their knowledge into action. About 40 of the scholars marched from the Summit United Methodist Church to the Wendy’s south of the OSU campus to call on the fast food chain to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program.

The Freedom School in Columbus, Ohio
The Freedom School in Columbus, Ohio

Freedom Schools began 50 years ago during the Freedom Summer of 1964, when hundreds of college students went to southern states to register African Americans to vote. Freedom Schools emerged to help youth and adults improve their reading skills, which were below average due to the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the South. […]

[…] “They read books about important people and events in history, such as the Shirtwaist Strike of 1909 and Ghandi’s March to the Sea. Much of the program is centered around the Civil Rights Movement: reading about John Lewis, the Greensboro Sit-ins, the Little Rock 9, and Ruby Bridges,” said Nicholas Pasquarello, a Servant Leader Intern at the University District school. “Most importantly, the program makes these connections with issues today and guides youth to take action.”

Many of the mentors at the University District Freedom School are affiliated with the Ohio Student Association at OSU. They are called Servant Leader Interns instead of teachers, because their role in the classroom is to facilitate learning and build leadership among the scholars.

Nick Pasquarrello (Ohio Fair Food and mentor at the Freedom School) speaks to scholars on their way to Wendy's
Nick Pasquarrello (Ohio Fair Food and mentor at the Freedom School) speaks to scholars on their way to Wendy’s

On the day of the July action, the scholars learned about Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott, and heard from Oscar Otzoy of the CIW about the struggle for farm worker rights in Florida. “They were excited to write letters and make their own signs for the march,” Pasquarello said. “When the delegation happened, eight scholars of all ages went in to talk to the Wendy’s manager, but we were met by a shut door. The manager not only refused to talk to us but literally held the door shut and refused to make eye contact.”

Some scholars were shocked and distraught at the response. “I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t even look us on the face,” one scholar recounted. “I’m never going to eat at Wendy’s again.”

“During a debrief, we said that the manager is not to be blamed. She was only doing what she was told by the corporate executives, and that is who we are really targeting,” Pasquarello said.

“The scholars experienced what it means to put their knowledge to action,” Pasquarello said. “They also have learned a bit of what it means to organize.”

And that is a wrap for the exciting report from Wendy’s hometown.  

But don’t for a moment think that this is the last word from the country’s Fair Food youth movement!  Check back soon for more on next month’s much-anticipated Student/Farmworker Alliance Encuentro in Immokalee — the annual gathering of dozens of committed students and youth from across the nation, studying the history of the Fair Food movement and making plans for the coming season — in the days ahead!