PHOTO REPORT: Nationwide student fast keeps rolling!

New College, Valencia College students break five-day fast, vow to continue the Campaign:  “This University will continue to fight for the rights of farmworkers, and for all human rights”…

Students at Vanderbilt, University of Tampa, Eckerd College and University of South Florida take up the torch as national rolling student fast for farmworker justice continues!

After five long days of fasting — an act that inspired more than 80 of their fellow New College students, as well as college President Donal O’Shea, to fast alongside them — five students from New College of Florida and Valencia College broke bread with farmworkers from Immokalee on Good Friday following a picket at a Wendy’s in Sarasota.  

The New College fast was just the latest echo of the tremor felt across the Fair Food Nation when 19 students and community members from Ohio State University launched their weeklong fast last month as a part of the Boot the Braids Campaign.  And now, even as students in Sarasota end their courageous protest, four students from Vanderbilt University, joined by two Nashville community members, have already begun their own seven-day fast, joined by students from Eckerd College, the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa, who will fast over the course of five days.  

Valencia College Student Xavier Goud, right, passes on the armband identifying fasters to Holly Rutherford of Eckerd College, who will take up rolling fast this week.

And this is only the beginning:  Be sure to stay tuned this week for more updates as they roll in from student fasts across the country, and for ways that you can support the students fasting for farmworker justice across the country!

But for now, here below is the latest news from the student fast front, and a photo report from Sarasota’s fast-breaking ceremony. 

Vanderbilt, University of South Florida, University of Tampa, and Eckerd College pick up the torch…

Today, four students at Vanderbilt University are launching their own weeklong fast, joined by a student from Trevecca Nazarene and one community leader, answering the call of the 19 Ohio State University students and alumni who fasted for seven days in March.  Like their peers at the University of Michigan – the first school to pick up the rolling fast from OSU – Vanderbilt students are leading their own campaign to Boot the Braids from the Nashville, TN, campus community.  Indeed, over the past year, Vanderbilt students have called repeatedly on their university to end its relationship with Wendy’s in light of the fast food chain’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program.  The university, however, has failed to act, despite several meetings with student leaders and over 700 signatures in a campus petition campaign in support of booting Wendy’s off campus.

Ania Szczesniewski, one of the student fasters taking part in this week’s action, laid out the choice before Vanderbilt in her op/ed on VU’s Boot the Braids Campaign in the campus newspaper, the Vanderbilt Hustler:

… Behind every tomato served by the Wendy’s fast food chain, with only their own Code of Conduct and no third party holding them accountable, there’s no saying how many men, women, children, and pregnant bellies get sprayed with pesticides, subjected to wage theft, denied water breaks during 12 hours or more of daily toil in the fields, or are faced with other crimes against humanity.

After months of investigating this labor rights catastrophe, a group of students confronted the head of Campus Dining with a petition in spring of 2016. The document bore over 700 signatures and asked Vanderbilt to cut ties with Wendy’s by removing them from the Taste of Nashville Program. They asked that the chain not be invited back as an off-campus dining option until they stopped violating human rights.

For them to prove there is fair treatment of workers in the tomato fields they source from, Wendy’s could join the Fair Food Program (FFP) by signing the Fair Food Agreement (FFA). The FFP acts as a third party between corporations and farmers. By signing on, the corporation pledges to only source from farms that are also part of the program, meaning that they are monitored by Fair Food, which watches out for labor rights infringements… (read more)

But Vanderbilt students aren’t the only ones taking action this week!  Inspired by the commitment of their peers — not to mention the huge march at the culmination of the Return to Human Rights Tour in Tampa last month (below) — eight students at the University of South Florida in Tampa and the University of Tampa began a three-day fast yesterday, which will end in a 24-hour, campus-wide fast on Wednesday.  

Fresh off an exciting campaign victory just last week that resulted in the affiliation of USF with the Workers’ Rights Consortium – a worker-driven initiative to protect the rights of workers in garment supply chains similar to the Fair Food Program –  the USF chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops is spearheading this week’s fast in alliance with the USF Graduate Assistants Union and farmworker support group, USF Members Empowering True Awareness (META), as well as UT’s Environmental Protection Coalition.

Following the campus-wide fast at USF on Wednesday, Tampa students will pass the torch across the bay to over a dozen fellow students at Eckerd College in nearby St. Petersburg to finish off the week with one- to three-day fasts.  (Of course, this is not the first time Eckerd College students have fasted for farmworker justice:  Thirteen years past, students from Eckerd College joined the nationwide Boot the Bell hunger strikes on campuses across the U.S., with five students fasting for six days!)

Stay tuned for more updates from both Nashville and Florida as the week goes on!

New College Students break their fast…

On Friday evening, students from New College and farmworkers from Immokalee converged on Wendy’s at rush hour on Tamiami Trail in the heart of Sarasota.  The 70+ protesters wrapped the sidewalk in front of Wendy’s with their message…

Student fasters, who had at this point only been drinking water and electrolytes for 120 hours straight, were joined by dozens of farmworkers from Immokalee and their families…

… as well as many fellow students from New College, over 80 of whom had joined the five-day fasters for a one-day fast ahead of Friday’s protest (along with hundreds more who pledged throughout the week to Boycott Wendy’s after learning about the struggle of farmworkers in Immokalee)…

… plus a powerful showing of local community allies, hailing from the First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, and even faraway Naples United Church of Christ, all of whom could think of no better way to celebrate Good Friday than honoring the students’ sacrifice in the name of justice.

The heartfelt support from every corner of the Fair Food Nation filled the fasters (wearing the white armbands) with renewed energy.  Buoyed by the spirt of their fellow protesters, the fasters led chants…

… and passed out flyers to drivers stopped at the intersection during the rush hour action, making sure that all of the curious passers-by learned about how, and why, students were leading the way in the national Wendy’s Boycott!

Following the high-energy protest, those gathered moved to the beautiful bay front campus of New College for a sunset ceremony to finally break the fast.

Before passing the fast to fellow students from the Tampa Bay area, Ximena Pedroza shared her own reflections from the week of fasting for farmworker justice:

If I could summarize it all in one word, it would be love:  I saw so much love, not just on our campus but in our community.  Students from Ohio State sent us messages and videos… This week, I saw so much unity on our campus – other students, our professors, even our President decided to fast for an entire day.  This inspired us deeply, and we saw that this University will continue to fight for the rights of farmworkers, and for all human rights.

On that note, the student fasters from New College and Valencia College turned to their friends and peers from the University of South Florida and Eckerd College who had joined the protest…

… to pass along the now-well-worn armbands, which traveled first on this rolling fast from students in Ohio to students in Michigan, and now from students in Sarasota to students in Tampa and Tennessee.  

With that solemn action, the students at New College and their colleagues in Tampa joined a long history of dedicated individuals — including their fellow students who, a generation ago in the history of the Fair Food Nation, led the Boot the Bell campaign and laid the foundation for the groundbreaking Fair Food Program — who have turned peaceful protest into real, irreversible social progress.

Finally, the long-awaited moment arrived, these inspiring young women and men — some ending their fast and others just beginning — broke bread together with farmworkers for Immokalee.

As the evening drew to a close, CIW’s Leonel Perez — who spent much of the week alongside student fasters in Sarasota, just as he did with the 19 students and alumni of Ohio State as they fasted in March — ended the ceremony on a note of determination and hope:

Today, we want to thank the fasters present who took on the fast from Ohio State students.  I’ve seen how these students have pushed themselves in this struggle, how they’ve given themselves to this campaign — to us as workers, this is priceless.  Going to class, doing their homework, all while talking to students and passing out flyers, this is something we won’t forget just as you all won’t forget the dedication you’ve given to the campaign this week.”

There is no doubt that these courageous young people — filled with an unwavering belief that a better world is possible, indeed, that it is already under construction in the form of human rights initiatives like the Fair Food Program in agriculture and the Bangladesh Accord in apparel — have lit a fire in the movement for Fair Food.  From Ohio to Michigan, Florida and Tennessee, the passion and commitment of students have spread like wildfire across the country, inspiring countless consumers of conscience and turning up the heat on Wendy’s.

And, it would seem, they’re only getting started.  So keep an eye out for even more full updates in the days ahead, as students launch new fasts in Nashville and the Tampa Bay area!