Northeast Mini-Tour Updates, October 2002

To Boston and Back… See the video: Howard Zinn and Dead Prez at Harvard (sort of)


Four full days in Philly… See “Streets of Philadelphia” video

What’s this?! An arrest at a Taco Bell protest? Hmmm, maybe those people at Taco Bell corporate headquarters have been right all along about the boycotters being just a bunch of anarchists and hooligans… Maybe we should take a closer look at the events in Philly to see just what lead up to this intervention by the forces of law and order at the Tuesday afternoon action in Philly.

It all started innocently enough on Saturday when the workers from Immokalee toured the town to see if any Philadelphia area Taco Bell restaurants were serving fair food tacos. Seven Taco Bells later they found both good and bad news — bad news, no fair food; good news, no customers, either. Seems like Philly is a cheesesteak and hoagie town that doesn’t much go in for watered-down fake Mexican food. All of which meant that Saturday afternoon offered few opportunties for criminal mischief for the crew from Immokalee.

Then it was on to two days of the “Breaking the Media Blackout Conference,” bringing together leaders of the movement for media democracy and community organizations from across the country that make up the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (our friends at the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and Human Rights Tech deserve special recognition for pulling together such an important conference).

And with such a great conference going on all weekend there was certainly no time for any arrestable activities by any of the Mini-Tour participants. Between panels like this one, workshops, and film showings, there wasn’t a free moment to do anything that might upset Philly police.

Come Monday it was a day just like so many others on the Tour, meeting with students at Temple University at outdoor gatherings…

… and speaking at their classes, like this one on “The Politics of Inequality,” a subject in which farmworkers get their PhD’s every day…

Then it was on to the most innocent of tourist sights — Independence Hall and a visit to the Liberty Bell…

A bell which, by the way, has quite a fine message for its sister bell’s consideration in Irvine, CA — “Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,”…

… as opposed to the Taco Bell motto, “Proclaim sub-poverty wages and misery throughout the land of all our suppliers, for all their workers”. Maybe it’s time to break out the old Liberty Bell and ring it once again to gather all freedom-loving people and cast off the tyranny of the fast-food industry.

One thing’s for sure, though — with all the security around the Liberty Bell, there was certainly nothing we could do there that would even remotely upset Philadelphia authorities.

So, Tuesday came, and we continued our crime-free path through Philly with a visit to the University of Pennsylvania, where not only did we not do anything illegal, we were actually invited guests at a very-well attended seminar on labor and the fast-food industry, speaking along with Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast-Food Nation” and a panel of speakers, including poultry workers from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. Here, Eric Schlosser speaks while Gerardo Reyes of the CIW (checkered shirt, right) looks on.

And then it was Gerardo’s turn. Note the distinct lack of criminal activity on Gerardo’s part.

The joint presentation with Eric Schlosser was an excellent opportunity to bring together theory and practice, journalism and organizing. While Eric arrived at his conclusion that an alliance between workers and consumers is necessary and possible to clean up abuses in the fast-food industry’s supplier chain, the CIW arrived at the same conclusion following several years of organizing to improve conditions in the agricultural industry for farm labor. Analysis from above and struggle from below met in the middle at the idea that the answer to farmworker exploitation is behind the shiny glass doors and bright logos of companies like Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s protest. Following the presentation at Penn, we continued on to the Taco Bell at 5th and South St., where, as we saw earlier, things somehow got out of hand.

This is a real shame — Taco Bell is sure to seize upon this incident of lawlessness to discredit the entire boycott movement. Here’s a shot of the Taco Bell before the rowdy protesters arrived to unleash their fury…

… and here’s the same Taco Bell moments later in mid-protest. How did things get so out of control so fast?

Well, first, you start with a little well-placed protest art…

…add in some well-organized allies (thanks again, KWRU!)…

Mix in some not so well-spelled but eye-catching signs…

… and you’ve got a protest that can get the word out about the exploitation behind Taco Bell’s chalupas to thousands of people in no time.

It always helps to bring a little chalk along and use the public spaces for the issues that public education tends to forget — like worker justice.

Did you know, for example, that 94% of Americans think that people who work should earn a wage that would keep their families out of poverty? You wouldn’t know that if all you had to rely on was the mainstream media, so make your own media and remind people of economic justice issues that we all believe in…

… and of the power we have as consumers to re-define how our economy divides up the wealth we all help create as workers.

Of course, the Taco Bell owner at the 5th and South St. restaurant quickly sent one of her workers out to mop up these messages off the pavement outside her shop.

So wait, that all seemed innocent enough.. what about that arrest we started this report out with? What ever happened to the protester we saw getting her pockets emptied before getting the assist into the police car?


Turns out that appearances can be deceiving. Turns out, in fact, that she wasn’t a protester after all, but a counter-protester, and a not very smart one at that. Her sharpest barb was to yell at the workers in the protest to “get a job”… when the protest was about improving the conditions at the job we already have.

Left with no reasoning to support her feelings, she resorted to violence. She was arrested after hauling off and punching one of the protesters in the head.

But the story gets even better than that — not only was the person arrested a counter-protester, but the person in the blue shirt handing her her business card and letting her know she can help with anything she might need is none other than the owner of the 5th and South St. Taco Bell!

That’s right, the owner of the Taco Bell. Here she is from the front. And here are her words after they hauled her violent new friend away:

“She b*tch slapped him! He deserved it!”

Hmmm, now that’s an interesting twist to this whole corporation v. protesters story… here we have a Taco Bell owner supporting, encouraging, and celebrating violence against people exercising their right to free speech, and she’s caught on film doing it!

Maybe she felt justified because the protest was making it difficult for her to make money from her business… sort of like farmworkers who are upset about how they can’t make enough money from their business — selling their labor — either. So does she think violence is justified when people keep you from making the amount of money you think you should make? What does Taco Bell think about their Philly franchisee’s opinions?

Looks like the old “law-abiding corporation under seige by vandalous protesters” narrative that you hear today whenever people gather to oppose the excesses of corporate greed might have a few holes in it. Maybe that’s why, as we saw at the weekend’s media conference, we need our own media to tell our own stories to get the truth out about life in a country where 10% of the people own 70% of the wealth — and, what’s worse yet, 1% own 40% of all the wealth.

We’ll end with this image from the Philly protest, and let it speak for itself.

Next stop — Smith College and a presentation with Howard Zinn at Harvard University.


New York and New Haven – What a difference Today makes…! See latest video


Ahhh, if it isn’t America’s favorite morning show… Every morning, millions of people start their day off with the gang at the Today Show — here’s Katie Couric interviewing Tom Petty this past Friday as part of the show’s “Rocktober Fest” series of live concerts at Rockefeller Center!

The Today Show crowds are always so colorful, filling the plaza with their energy, their excitement, and their home-made signs — “We love you Granny – Happy 100th birthday!”, or “Just Married – Tampa, Florida!” The zany, spontaneous banter between the public and the show’s hosts on live television is a staple of the show…

But, hey, wait a minute… That guy doesn’t look right…Hold on one second… What’s that sign say??

Oh my goodness, it’s those farmworkers from Immokalee again and their Taco Bell boycott! Why, apparently they’ll stop at nothing to publicize their message about the exploitation of farm labor in their “neck of the woods.” A message like that has no place darkening the otherwise sunny skies of the Today Show world! Now, millions of people are going to learn about the Taco Bell boycott, just because it’s live TV and the sign can’t be edited out of the crowd scenes.

It’s because of loathsome tactics like these that poor people can’t be trusted with the media and why rich corporations are left with no other choice but to monoplize access and control over television, radio, and the written press.

After breaking the media monoply in the morning (even if only for a few moments…), the Mini-Tour riders hopped back into the van and headed north to New Haven to meet with Yale students and community representatives about the boycott and about some incredible organizing that is going on right now in New Haven.

Community organizations, labor unions, and students have joined forces in New Haven to demand a “New Social Contract” with Yale University, one in which the people who work for Yale (25% of the New Haven population!) are guaranteed a living wage, respect for their hard work, and democracy on the job. Just last week, 800 people were arrested in a massive civil disobedience action, with another 3,000 people protesting as witnesses to the arrests — the strongest action yet in their growing campaign to redefine their relationship with the university (the second richest university in the country…). Yet, speaking of media monopolies, this unprecedented action didn’t even merit first page news in New Haven’s paper (a paper part-owned by two of the university’s trustees, by the way…).

The meeting was a powerful experience of discovering the unlikely commonalities of our two seemingly very different struggles. America’s worst-paid, least-protected workers and America’s future doctors, professors, and political leaders are both facing down the corporations that diminish their lives and are both demanding a “new social contract” for the future. Like farmworkers in Immokalee, the people of New Haven are demanding not just a fairer share of the profits they help generate, but of the power in their relationship to their employer. With their courageous actions, they are forging a better future for all of New Haven — the people and Yale — whether the university realizes it yet or not.

Media monopolies, the growing movement for media democracy, and the work of communities across the country to “Break the Media Blackout” would be the focus of the Mini-Tour’s next two days, as we headed back down 95 and on to Philadelphia for a conference hosted by our friends at the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), joining dozens of other organizations and independent media groups from around the country for a weekend of great workshops. Stay tuned for an update from the conference and from Philly actions to come!

click here for latest video from New York actions

New York, Day 3 — Give us Liberty or Give us… a Penned-off Protest Pit?


No visit to New York would be complete without a stop at one of this country’s most beautiful monuments. Though a little distant and dimmed by the clouds of a coming storm (dramatic foreshadowing of the second half of this report…), the Statue of Liberty still stands proud guard over our best, most noble sentiments.

And despite the haze around Liberty’s statue, her message was clear and present in the minds of CIW members who gathered in her shadow to discuss what it means to be an immigrant in the United States at the beginning of the 21st Century…

… a discussion recorded by this pesky Canadian film crew that keeps following us around (just kidding, of course — we have developed a genuine fondness for our neighbors to the north).

From Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty, it was on to Union Square and our first-ever Manhattan Taco Bell action! Which was also our first-ever penned-off protest…

New York’s finest were more like New York’s most constitutionally-challenged, insisting that if we wanted to exercise our right to free speech we had to do it in a “designated protest area” away from the public sidewalk in front of Taco Bell (the very public area we have occupied in every other state where we have protested across this country). The designated protest area (or “pen” as the police called it among themselves) limited the protesters’ physical rights…


… but did nothing to diminish our spirits or determination. If we couldn’t express ourselves in the usual way, we would find another way to get our message across, turning the action into the most successful flyering effort in the history of the boycott.


Protesters, denied the right to gather in front of the restaurant, took to the streets one-by-one to talk one-on-one to the thousands of Manhattanites passing by…

Nearly 2,000 flyers went out that night (!), providing opportunities for hundreds of conversations about the CIW’s call for a fairer fast-food industry, including this one with a curious and sympathetic Taco Bell worker. Worker to worker, restaurant staff to farmworker — a conversation that Taco Bell must dread, and a conversation that might not have taken place if the New York police hadn’t limited our rights in the first place!

Now in case you think the Mini-Tour was all fun and games, we thought we’d end this update with a little idea of how we spend the few free minutes we get between meetings and actions. You can work up quite a sweat fighting corporate greed…

Next, it’s on to a quick visit to Yale and some exciting organizing there, Philly and some old friends there, and a surprise visit to Katie, Matt, Al and Ann!

New York, Day 2 — The Mini-Tour Meets Taco Bell’s “Target Market”

On Day 2 in New York, the crew split for a full schedule of meetings and presentations with a focus on Taco Bell’s very own target demographic — young people. Adelphi University, Fordham University, Hunter College, and Rutgers University all hosted CIW delegations on this very busy day.


… At Adelphi University in Long Island, CIW members and Noell Damico of the Presbyterian Church USA discussed the boycott and the power that students have to help forge a new fast-food industry with a full room of young minds. Unortunately for Taco Bell, these young minds were more than happy to reconsider their fast-food habits once they learned of the reality of farmworker poverty behind Taco Bell’s cheap food. You can get a sense of the spirit of the meeting in this great story in Newsday.


While across the water at Hunter College in Manhattan, a second team of CIW members met with students who are actively organizing to “Boot the Bell” off their own campus.


Hunter is one of a system of publicly-funded universities in the city of New York that came about through organized public demand for access to higher education — a powerful reminder that the organized voice of the public can make demands on the powerful for those things we consider to be fair and necessary.


The Hunter presentation was a great success, with students grabbing up boycott materials, including information packets, buttons, and flyers like they were going out of style.

Following the presentation, outreach continued in the plaza outside Hunter’s main building, where, speaking of style…


… a new “moda” seemed to be materializing right before our eyes. Taco Bell boycott “body stickers” will surely show up on the very best runways come Fashion Week this Spring.


Finally, in the evening, it was back to serious, penetrating discussion of the history, strategy and objectives of the first-ever farmworker-led boycott of a major fast-food company, this time at the Labor Education Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey…


… or, at least, as serious and penetrating a conversation as the Tour participants could manage after nearly a solid week of actions, presentations, meetings, and very little sleep.



Yet despite our fatigue, many of the students were moved to take the campaign to their campus and help lead the boycott in the Garden State.

Tomorrow, we head back to Manhattan for a protest at Union Square.

check out the Newsday story on the Adelphi University visit


New York, Day 1 — A Day of Reflection and Action — Click here for video


New York, just like we pictured it! Our first day in the big city did not disappoint, as we got together with some old friends in Brooklyn for a tremendous action..

… an action so good, in fact, that it left Taco Bell’s employees with a little spare time on their hands — a chance to catch up on some overdue cleaning without all those customers around to bother them!

But before we give a full breakdown on the action — and our most heartfelt thanks to our friends at Brooklyn’s “Make the Road by Walking” — first we should share a little about the day-long series of meetings and presentations that brought us into contact with some of New York’s best and brightest students, and religious and community leaders.


In the morning, we all traveled to the “School of the Future,” where we split up and met with six classes and nearly 200 students. In the photo on the left, a pair of fearless students perform a skit on the boycott for their class, while, in the photo above, Domingo explains the roots of the boycott to a class down the hall.

Then it was on to a meeting with the People of Faith Network at the historic — VERY historic, overwhelmingly historic — Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. The meeting was a huge success, and will surely lead to a powerful alliance between the CIW and the nearly 10,000 congregations that make up the People of Faith Network. But truth be told, it was a little difficult to give the meeting our full attention — given that the Lafayette Street Presbyterian Church was not just a famous stop on the Underground Railroad, but also the place where the Emancipation Proclamation was drafted.


From the church we continued on to yet more meetings, albeit this time in far more modern settings — with students from New York University (above) and with members of SCALE (Student Committee Against Labor Exploitation), part of the National Labor Committee.

And finally… the fun of a well-organized action! Our hats went off (revealing an impressive set of ears…) to our brothers and sisters at Make the Road by Walking, an organization doing awesome work in Brooklyn. They put together a loud, lively, bouncing, festival of a protest…

… that filled the space in front of Taco Bell with art…

… an inspiring spirit of resistance (including this new, tough-to-name, caped, anti-exploitation superhero…)

… and some incredible rhythms to keep the protest moving.

The action grew so big, in fact, that we experienced the first recorded total eclipse of a Taco Bell by protest art..

… all of which was recorded by an intrepid Canadian documentary crew.

Once the action wound down, we returned to Make the Road by Walking’s center and enjoyed a great dinner and convivio, including speeches about the importance of defending our rights..

… and a stirring rendition of the “Ballad of the Boycott” (also soon to be heard north of the border by people throughout Canada!).

And so another intense day of reflection and action came to an end, leaving the riders tired, but happy, and just a few hours to get ready for Day 2 in New York.

see video report from day 1 in New York

Baltimore and …?

We couldn’t leave Washington, of course, without checking out the sights and taking a picture or two. This is the CIW version of making you look through our vacation pictures…

But then it was back to work — and back on the road, as the Mini-Tour continued on to Baltimore, Maryland, passing by its beautiful baseball stadium at Camden Yards on the way, home of the Baltimore Orioles (although 4 wins in the last 40 games of the season isn’t quite so beautiful)…

After a meeting with the United Workers Association, a Baltimore day laborers’ organization, it was on to an action at a downtown Taco Bell with long-time local activists and allies from the Citywide Coalition…

… and some accidental activists, too, like this wonderful woman who was on her way to work when she passed by the protest, got informed, and picked up a sign, staying for the rest of the hour-long action.

Which is what Baltimore is all about, really. One of the most genuine, working class towns on the East Coast, Baltimore has a feel, a down-to-earth charm, like almost no other city we’ve ever visited in our travels.

Case in point — this encounter between a Baltimore boycotter and a Taco Bell (almost) customer, which ended in another victory in the battle for “fair food.” Maybe that’s why they call it “Charm City.”

Following the Baltimore action, the riders split into two groups, one meeting with students from the University of Maryland…

… and the other off on a visit to a nearby mystery city. If you try really hard, you might even be able to guess where the second group spent Monday afternoon. More details soon…

Next stop — New York, New York!


The Mini-Tour riders left Immokalee on Friday evening and drove through the night to meet their DC allies Saturday for another raucous DC action. The ride was long and tiring, but the riders passed the time with marathon ballad sessions…

… and car games we all love to play, like strip “I spy”… Actually, Max just wanted us to put this picture in the report.

But once we got to Washington, our fatigue was soon forgotten. The Mini-Tour delegation joined the march organized by the Mobilization for Global Justice in the afternoon, and at night we hit a local restaurant for an action that Taco Bell will not soon forget.

Art, music, and noise — a mix that never fails to get our message across and wake up consumers who would otherwise sleepwalk through their food choices…

“End Sweatshops in the Fields” — This banner and its message have traveled from coast to coast, and will add at least 6 more states to their travels in the course of this tour.

The crowd continued to grow as the night went on…

.. and, of course, the dog made it out to help lead the cheers.

But in the end, it all comes down to this:

Boycott Taco Bell!

And the tour continues north.
Next stop, Baltimore.

see video report