Taco Bell Boycott Stories: A new website series…

Workers from Immokalee build a pyramid of picking buckets outside Taco Bell parent company Yum Brands’ corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2003. The pyramid represented the number of 32-lb buckets of tomatoes a worker needed to pick to earn the minimum wage at the 40-cent per bucket piece rate that had been stagnant for nearly 30 years before the Fair Food Program. In the eight years since the FFP went into effect, the piece rate has risen to 60-65 cents per bucket and workers’ incomes have increased through the implementation of several other important reforms, including the prohibition of the forced over-filling of buckets, the requirement for farms to install time clocks and keep accurate time records, and the elimination of widespread wage theft.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Tim Denson on his involvement in the Taco Bell Boycott: “Having that experience… that first taste of activism and understanding how that if people come together, large communities come together, and they support each other, we can bring about real change even if we aren’t ‘powerful’ people.”

Have you ever wanted to write your own reflection for the CIW website?  Now’s your chance!  

Tell us your “Taco Bell Boycott Story,” the story of how you became involved in the Taco Bell Boycott and what that involvement has meant to you since that seminal campaign…

Last week, an unexpected story came across our Google Alert transom, the news alert service that scours the internet and gathers links to stories related to the Campaign for Fair Food.  The story, titled “Conversations with Commissioners: Tim Denson, son of ministers, embraces empathy and activism,” was published in the Athens (GA) Banner-Herald and was a simple transcript of an interview with a local county commissioner, a sort of “get to know your county commissioner” piece that would have been thoroughly unremarkable to anyone not living in Athens, except for one thing.  

When the reporter asked the following question – In addition to your folks, were there any other people or events that influenced your thinking? – here’s how Commissioner Denson answered:

Denson: Books and music. The reason I ended up here in Athens was as a musician. I went to college in Fort Myers and got involved in music. I decided I wanted to stay in the South, but some place that had a better music scene. That brought me here.

But during that time in college in Fort Myers, the first time I came across activism or a community organizer kind of situation, there’s this organization called Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Immokalee was a city not too far from me growing up in Clewiston and they basically had this movement to try and (help) … tomato pickers to get paid one cent extra per pound by these large restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King and Taco Bell. Just one cent more per pound and that one cent would go directly to the workers. Basically, none of them had health insurance. A lot of them had really low quality housing. I remember driving by a Taco Bell one time and seeing all these people with signs and tomatoes. … I had a little bit of time so I pulled over to see what was going on. I talked to a few of the people and they told me about this. Those protests were happening all over the country, but especially Florida though. And it worked. Taco Bell actually joined the Fair Food Program and started paying 1 cent more. McDonald’s joined. Burger King joined. All these other restaurants joined.

Having that experience … that first taste of activism and understanding how that if people come together, large communities come together, and they support each other, we can bring about real change even if we aren’t “powerful” people.

And that got us thinking…

Over the years, we have heard countless stories like Commissioner Denson’s, stories of how people became involved in the Taco Bell Boycott and what their involvement in the seminal boycott of the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food came to mean in their lives.  And while every story is unique, virtually all Taco Bell Boycott stories have one thing in common:  They are transformational.

For a remarkable number of people, their participation in the Taco Bell Boycott marked the first time they had gotten involved in any kind of “activism” – protesting for justice – and their experience would become a theme that weaves through the rest of their lives to this day, for some as a minor note, for others as a central motif.  And while every particular campaign in the nearly two-decade long history of the Campaign for Fair Food — from Taco Bell to Wendy’s — has given rise to a new wave of activism and activists, the Taco Bell campaign remains unique for the breadth and depth of its impact.  The Taco Bell Boycott built a veritable army of Fair Food activists, specifically, and of activists for social and economic justice, broadly.

So today, inspired by Commissioner Denson’s reflections, we are launching the call for your Taco Bell Boycott stories.  Write us and tell us of your experience with the Taco Bell Boycott, and the impact that experience has had on your life ever since – not only to document the rich history of the birth the Fair Food movement, but also to continue to inspire today’s generation of allies.  Email us at workers@ciw-online.org and we’ll publish your reflection on this site in the weeks ahead!