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9-Mile March on Burger King Headquarters
Miami, Florida

photos in this report by Jacques-Jean Tiziou/www.jjtiziou.net

More than 1,500 farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies took to the streets of Miami yesterday on a 9-mile march to Burger King headquarters to deliver a message from the fields...

... "Before you lie about farmworker poverty again, walk a mile in our shoes!" But before workers delivered their message at the end of the rally outside BK's corporate offices -- in the form of hundreds of worn work shoes from Immokalee's tomato fields, and a dramatic presentation of three pairs of shoes to a representative from Burger King -- the day-long march had already proven to be one of the most colorful and powerful actions in the six-year history of the Campaign for Fair Food.

The day started as workers from Immokalee and Fair Food activists from across the country gathered in downtown Miami, the heart of the city's financial district and home to the Miami offices of Goldman Sachs, the enormous private equity firm and bank that is a significant shareholder in Burger King. Goldman Sachs was taken to task by Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser in his recent op/ed in the New York Times for its apparent indifference to the farmworker exploitation at the base of its highly successful fast-food investment (Goldman Sachs doubled the value of its Burger King investment in three years, according to Business Week).

And with Goldman's offices as a backdrop, Lucas Benitez of the CIW and Melody Gonzalez of the Student/Farmworker Alliance officially launched the 2007 March on Burger King. With speeches by Bishop Felipe Estevez of the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami and Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the rally set a fiery tone for the start of the march.

After the rally, it was on to Burger King...
... with a march that began several hundred strong but swelled with a pageantry of puppets, music, and spirit...

... that magnified its presence in Miami's streets far more than a simple count could measure.

That spirit of unity and purpose brought together the two largest branches of the American labor movement, as represented at the march by Eliseo Medina, left, of SEIU (and the Change to Win coalition) and Stewart Acuff, Organizing Director of the AFL-CIO.

And the spirit was fed throughout the day, from atop the sound truck that led the march, by a non-stop rotation of MCs...

... and DJs, including Austin-based hip hop trio Las Krudas, old friends from Southern California such as Olmeca and Son Del Centro, and Rebel Diaz of Chicago/New York.

The King, of course, drew crowds wherever he went, spreading truth about farmworker poverty and the role of fast-food corporations behind that poverty...

... unlike his evil brother, the Exploitation King, who trailed the march in a feeble attempt to salvage his company's image and control the damage caused by farmworkers simply talking to consumers about the food they eat.

Though the day was unseasonably warm, water tables greeting marchers along the route -- like this one organized by the Power U Center for Social Change -- not only refreshed marchers' tired bodies but boosted their spirits as well.

And while some marchers just weren't going to make it on foot for the entire march under the hot Miami sun, that didn't prevent them from being a part of the action as marchers in search of a break rotated on top of the sound truck and kept the growing crowd's energy high.

The march continued to grow, snaking its way up and across a bridge at the midway point (even from its vantage point atop the bridge, this picture couldn't capture the whole length of the march, as it continues off the frame to the right...)

And as we continued on our path toward the fast-food giant's headquarters, we came across more and more groups like this one, dozens of Fair Food activists waiting for us in some shade along the route, that swelled the march's ranks...

... among those joining the march as we approached Burger King were several well known allies, including Arlene Holt-Baker, the newly-elected Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO (center, holding banner), and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and founder of the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights (third row, second from right).

As we turned the corner onto Blue Lagoon Drive and the final stretch to Burger King's offices, the mystery of the trailer-load of worn work boots was soon to be revealed.

And then, after 9 long miles... we arrived at Burger King corporate headquarters, where a stage was quickly erected and our MCs kicked off the rally.

A multitude of media makers covered the rally, from the mainline wire services such as Reuters and the Associated Press to free-lance photographers, independent radio journalists, and videographers.

The massive crowd...
... settled in for what would turn out to be an unforgettable rally ...

... with speakers drawing the connections between the farmworkers' movement and struggles for dignity and human rights across the country. Tony Romano of the Miami Workers Center -- a longtime ally who generously hosted the CIW's pre-march organizing team in their Liberty City office -- spoke of the fight against gentrification in Miami, the poorest major city in the country that is at the same time home to incredible wealth.

Members of the Freedom Network -- a national coalition of organizations dedicated to fighting modern-day slavery -- addressed the rally, blasting Burger King for not only turning its back on the human rights crisis in Florida's fields, but for refusing to work with the CIW, a national leader in uncovering and eliminating forced labor operations.

[Just a week before the march, CIW members traveled to London to receive the 2007 Anti-Slavery International Award in recognition of the CIW's success in fighting forced labor in the Florida agricultural industry. You can see a report from the ceremony by clicking here.]

Rev. Noelle Damico, Fair Food Coordinator for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also addressed the rally. The Reverend conveyed the sentiments of the Stated Clerk of the PC (U.S.A.), Clifton Kirkpacktrick, bringing the fire of his recent open letter to Burger King directly to the company's doorstep. To read his powerful statement, click here.

Following Rev. Damico's speech, a delegation of religious leaders crossed police lines to carry a poster-size version of another open letter to Burger King, this one signed by over 100 religious leaders from around Florida and across the country. The Burger King representative pictured on the right received the letter. Here's an excerpt (you can find the letter in its entirety and its signatories by clicking here):

"At this moment the Florida tomato industry is poised for a human rights transformation unlike any that has been seen in recent history. It is unconscionable that your company is attempting to obstruct this urgent and deserved advancement in human rights for farmworkers."

As dusk began to fall on a long and successful day of action, all that was left...

... were the shoes.

CIW member Francisca Cortez was joined by Gerardo Reyes and Mathieu Beaucicot on stage to explain the significance of the shoes, which workers in Immokalee had collected in the days leading up to the march.

The CIW delegation then stepped down from the stage and up to police lines, where after careful negotiations, they were allowed to pass...

... and cross the street to Burger King's headquarters, cheered on by the crowd that gathered at the barricades to witness the eloquent display of dignity and defense of the truth that was to come.

The delegation explained to Burger King's representative that the shoes were the workers' response to the company's aggressive public relations efforts to deny the reality of farmworker poverty and exploitation. This position was best captured in statements by CEO John Chidsey, during an October 3rd speech to his alma mater, Davidson College, in which he characterized farmworker poverty as a "myth."

The CIW members told the company representative that the campaign to "debunk" farmworker poverty is all the more insulting because the company's wealth is built in no small part on their undervalued labor. The shoes -- worn beyond repair by months of that labor in the fields -- were a symbolic challenge to Burger King executives, who earn millions in salaries and bonuses every year, to "walk in farmworkers' shoes" before talking about a reality they have never known.

To read a response to Chidsey's comments on farmworker poverty, entitled "Chidsey should retract statements," click here.

The Burger King representative, after several minutes of listening to the delegation, took the shoes...

... to the immense pleasure of the crowd, which encouraged the company representative throughout the exchange with ever-louder chants to "take the shoes!"

As dusk gave way to night, the rally -- and the day -- concluded with a candlelight vigil that illuminated the hundreds of faces still gathered outside Burger King's headquarters...

... and farmworkers, their patience growing shorter by the day, turned to Burger King for a response to their demands.

For more photos from this incredible day of action, click here.