Photo Report of South Mini Tour

“Texas-Sized Mini-Tour”
Fall 2003

MEMPHIS / BIRMINGHAM / GAINESVILLE


Victory, sweet, sweet victory! Tour crew members and Memphis allies pose in front of the University of Memphis restaurant formerly-known-as-Taco Bell, a Boot the Bell victory that resulted in the replacement of the offending fast-food chain with a local pizzeria!

From the looks of things, the workers at the new restaurant look pretty happy about the change themselves. The CIW sends out our heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all the U of Memphis students and community members who worked on the campaign for nearly two years.


Before leving Memphis, the tour crew was hosted by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center at a pot-luck dinner. Apparently, some local artists with a band by the name of “Bury the Living” put together a track in honor of the boycott — soon we’re going to have enough songs to put out a cd!


The road home took the crew through Alabama, along a path full of history and sites that serve as a powerful reminder of the long, long road that this country has traveled — and continues to travel — to freedom. Here, tour members stop for a moment at the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham…


… where they took some time to reflect on the 1963 bombing that killed 4 little girls as they got ready for church. Their spirits, their memory, filled the crew with a renewed determination to carry the fight forward.


Once back in Florida, it was back to the streets and another Taco Bell protest, this time with students from the University of Florida in Gainesville…

 
… where despite the rain, a good crowd came out, as did local TV, who has been covering this story in Gainesvile since early 2001, before the boycott was officially launched!


Following the protest, the tour wrapped up on the UF campus, where the crew did interviews for the student radio station…


… and did some last minute flyering with the help of the UF Boot the Bell committee.

As the sun set on our tour crew and the “Texas-Sized Taco Bell Truth Tour,” the crew piled into the van once more and returned to Immokalee… to news of the RFK Human Rights Award and recognition of their fight against moder-day slavery, to preparations for the upcoming march to Miami in November to call for trade policies that respect human rights, and to the non-stop organizing that will ultimately secure victory in the national Taco Bell boycott.

Plans for the national action in February and March are in the works. Stay tuned to this site for announcements in the coming weeks!

DALLAS/MEMPHIS


Our trip out of Texas and into the “Mid-South” will be told in reverse. As such, we begin in Memphis, heart of the Mid-South, where some of the tour crew met with staff from the MK Gandhi Insitute for Nonviolence under the gaze of the great man himself. The Institute — founded and run by none other than Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, with a mission to “promote and apply the principles of nonviolence locally, nationally, and globally” — expressed its support for the boycott and promised a personal statement of endorsement from Mr. Gandhi when he returns from his travels.


Then it was on to a perfectly nonviolent action in downtown Memphis, where the crew gathered with allies from Memphis (and a couple from Oxford, Mississippi, who made the drive all the way up just for the action!) for a mid-day protest. Memphis TV caught the action and broadcast the truth of farmworker poverty behind fast-food profits to millions in the old cotton capital.

Later that night, Memphis allies held a well-received screening of the social justice classic “Hunger Days,” the CIW documentary on the hunger strike at Taco Bell headquarters earlier this year.


Before leaving Texas (remember, the story is in reverse, just because we want to tell it that way…), the crew had a little unfinished business — a couple of corporate drive bys, so to speak (of the non-violent kind, of course). First up: that glassy monolith in the distance, what might that familiar logo emblazoned on its shiny skin be?…


Why it’s Pizza Hut, of course, Taco Bell’s sister corporation, a charter member of the growing Yum Brands family, and the corporate headquarters for Yum Restaurants International (YRI), actually, the coordinating body for all of Yum’s overseas restaurants. The crew thought it might be a good idea to stop by on the way to Tennessee and visit a while with YRI President, Pete Bassi!…


Alas, as is their wont, the Yum folks seemed to have been checking out the website and were waiting for us — with a decidedly not nonviolent, armed police officer in tow — before the delegation even had a chance to make it out of the parking garage…

 
The team of mid-level Pizza Hut managers was happy to finally meet with us (they had apparently been waiting all day for our arrival), and assured us that there’s no farmworker exploitation behind Pizza Hut’s products. Our beef was with Taco Bell and the growers, they said, offering some unsolicited but really useful strategic advice! They also promised to take our packets to YRI, including the New Yorker and National Geographic articles on slavery in Florida’s fields. Thanks, guys!


And finally — as the crew had grown quite fond of interaction with our friends from the corporate world — a tour crew delegation stopped by the offices of a company that is reputed to have done great violence to the one person/one vote system of democracy in the 2000 presidential election… ChoicePoint, the Texas-based data company that helped Florida election officials “mistakenly” erase thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls in 2000, according to Greg Palast, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”!

Seems the ol’ corporate apple never falls far from the tree (or something like that…), as ChoicePoint, the alleged subverter of democracy, has two — count ’em two! — members of its Board of Directors in common with Yum Brands, the profiteer of farmworker poverty. So, the crew dropped the new Yum Board of Directors letter off to ChoicePoint’s kind receptionist, who promised to get it to Ms. Barbara Hill and Mr. Kenneth Langone, the board members in question. We fully expect a response any day now!

** SPECIAL CORPORATE BONUS!**

Just one day after posting this update, we got a call from the folks at ChoicePoint! They wanted to inform us that, in point of fact, their company wasn’t technically responsible for the outrageous subversion of democracy alleged in Greg Palast’s book, as they acquired DBT — the database company involved in the alleged removal of eligible voters from Florida’s rolls — shortly after DBT’s work with Katherine Harris was wrapped-up in 2000.

Also, ChoicePoint relayed a request from the receptionist pictured receiving the letter in the original update that her picture be removed from the site, though it wasn’t legally necessary because she was in a public area in the shot. But, in the spirit of cooperation, we took her picture out and replaced it with the following link, where you can buy a copy of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” yourself and learn about how our president won the 2000 election!

Next: Alabama and Gainesville, FL

AUSTIN – Some Serious Action! – Part II


Following the protest in San Antonio (see below, San Antonio and Austin, Part I), the tour crew hooked up for a major afternoon action with students from UT, St. Edward’s College, and people from the Austin community, including a group of workers from a local Chinese restaurant who were recently fired for complaining about wages and working conditions and had learned about the tour during a presentation at a local community center!


The restaurant workers were inspired by the Truth Tour presentation and met with CIW members afterward to discuss strategies for organizing at their restaurant. In turn, they promised to join the tour crew the next day at the protest! With solidarity like that, the protest was guaranteed to be a huge success.

And indeed it was… the action was distinguished by its art and banners, including a fine little tomato suit, some great FTAA banners (which we fully expect to see down here in Miami come November…), and our own critical mass bike entourage.


As the protest grew, it left the Taco Bell and headed toward the UT campus.


With banners held high, the marchers saw their numbers grow along the mile long route…


… and grow, as they reached campus…

 
… and grow, until they were well over 100 strong!


The march wound its way across campus…


… to the Student Union, where the UT Taco Bell restaurant is located. From here we’ll give you a first-hand account of the action, from a member of the tour crew: “Once we reached the Student Union, hundreds of students on their way to and from classes broke out of their daily routine, if only for a few minutes, to speak with marchers and read flyers to better understand what was going on. We were received incredibly well by students as well as press, both university and community.”


The report continues: “Soon marchers arrived from a nearby anti-racist rally to join us in our action, pushing our numbers well above 120. After a quick speech from Gerardo, we marched into the Student Union, bullhorns, signs and all, right up to the Taco Bell on campus, with shouts of “BOYCOTT TACO BELL” echoing through the halls of the Student Union…”

 


“We stayed in front of the Taco Bell for at least 30 minutes, with tons of chanting and a number of speakers from the CIW and local students, who spoke about everything from working conditions in Immokalee to free trade to messages of solidarity with the workers from the restaurant inside, sending the message that we want to remove the Taco Bell franchise, replace it with a local Mexican restaurant and ensure that none of the workers at the Taco Bell lose any wages or hours in the transition.
Of course, we were accompanied by a number of campus police and suits (who must have been administration), who just stood by, seeming to enjoy the chants and protest as much as we were. Hundreds of students inside the Student Union buying lunch seemed to enjoy the rally as well. When we arrived in front of the Taco Bell, the line was quite long…but the line dwindled down to nothing within a few minutes and stayed that way for the next 30 minutes or so.”


Finally, as the day wound down, there was still time for one last gathering and reflection with UT students, organized by UT’s Stop the FTAA and Campus Greens, among others.


The discussion began with a look at the sweatshop conditions in Florida’s fields…


… and made its way around to sweatshops across the globe, with the help of our road companion, Jason from Mexico Solidarity Network. Jason, Gerardo, and Francisca led the discussion on the inequities of corporate-led globalization…


… asking participants to pair up and check out their partner’s t-shirt label, to get a quick measure of which countries are clothing the UT students these days…


Of course, the list read like the itinerary for a global sweatshop tour, providing the gathering with great material for a real life look at the winners and losers in globalization as we know it.


The evening was the perfect wrap-up to an eventful Austin stay, and those present took advantage of the gathering to solidify plans for the UT Boot the Bell campaign — quite possibly the 18th school nationally to make its campus a Taco Bell free zone!

Next up: Dallas and Memphis

DAY FIVE: AUSTIN AND SAN ANTONIO
PART I


Another day, another radio interview for Francisca, the voice of the Texas Tour. This time, the listeners of KOOP, an Austin-based community radio station, learned more about the sweatshops in Florida’s fields and the side order of exploitation that comes with each and every chalupa…


But Day 5 was not the just more of the same old tour routine! Oh no, today, there was some real drama, as the San Antonio police leaped into action to keep the city streets safe for big business and free of people with free minds…


The day began in Austin, with a meeting at the offices of Austin’s American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a long-time ally of the boycott.


Breaking into small groups, the participants had an opportunity to learn in detail the situation of farmworkers in Florida.


And then it was on to San Antonio and a spirited protest outside a local Taco Bell restaurant.

 
There were banners…


… and art…


… and some impressive “animo”, including some young about-to-be Taco Bell customers that dropped their plans for chalupas and picked up our protest signs to join the action!


The protest was organized by our friends at the Southwest Workers’ Union, LCLAA, and Fuerza Unida, some great people who put their hearts into the action…


… and proved that the old saying is still very true today, “La Union Es La Fuerza” (Unity is Strength)!


There was great press coverage…


… with three local stations covering the event.


And great support in the street…


…. where, as this photo shows, people took the time to think about their food choices. Given the number of people who turned away on this day, it seems like the people of San Antonio are indeed a thoughtful lot.


Well, most people in San Antonio… hmmm….enough said…


Must be something about wearing a uniform. The only other people in San Antonio not totally taken with the protest were our friends in blue.


These two hearty souls (who look like they might favor a chalupa or two between donuts…) took a moment to ponder just which laws they could use to keep the protesters from expressing their opinions…


… when finally they hit on it — we’ll ticket the protesters’ cars for parking in the Taco Bell parking lot! Except, what they were ticketing was really our friend’s (whom you’ll remember from above as having joined the protest after first driving up to buy some exploitation-tainted tacos) change of heart — see, he parked in the lot with every intention to pay Taco Bell for their “food,” having only heard one side of the story of that so-called food from Taco Bell’s marketing department. But once he learned the reality behind the tacos from the protesters, he joined the boycott and grabbed a sign.

He was charged with Failure to Move Vehicle upon Becoming Informed Consumer…


Silly police distractions or not, our friends from the San Antonio fought on, never stopping in the work of informing their community about Taco Bell’s ties to human rights abuses in Florida’s fields.


And by the honks and thumbs up that filled the air around Taco Bell that day, it seems their message was heard loud and clear. Great action — thanks to all the great immigrant and low-wage worker organizations that helped put it together — La Union Hace la Fuerza!

Next: Part II of Day 5 in Austin/San Antonio

DAY THREE/FOUR: HOUSTON AND AUSTIN

Check out this great editorial from Tuesday’s University of Texas Daily Texan Online


We begin our update in Austin (a little chronological reverse, just to keep our readers on their toes…), where our intrepid tour crew addressed nearly 100 students and community members at St. Edward’s University for the kick-off event of the Austin leg of the tour.

Little-known Texas fact: The Dallas Cowboys, winners of an NFL record five Super Bowls, hold their summer training camp at St. Edward’s University.


Sponsored by the St. Edward’s Hispanic Student Association, MEChA, St. Edward’s CAMP program (a scholarship and leadership development program for the children of migrant farmworkers), and St. Edward’s student government, the presentation enjoyed a great turnout. According to a coordinator of student events in attendance, the meeting was one of the largest ever for a social justice event at the school!


And according to the tour crew, the presentation was the best yet on the Texas-Sized Truth Tour, with a diverse crowd, great participation and interest…


… and a small frenzy in pursuit of materials after the presentation to help spread word of the sweatshop conditions in the fields and win the Taco Bell boycott in Texas.


Once the final students made their way to the materials table…

 
… it was time for a celebration dinner with St. Edward’s MEChistas! The tour crew was treated to a meal at a REAL Mexican restaurant, none of this fake fast food stuff.

The rest of the Austin stay will be chronicled in updates to follow, but if the first day is any indication, it promises to be quite a fine time.


Meanwhile, back in Houston, before reaching Austin, the tour crew had a job to do with the Taco Bell-eating people of Houston. The crew split into two groups, with one heading out to a local Taco Bell restaurant, flyering and getting a little protest on…

The protest was a surprising success, as Lucas managed to turn this truck away (though not to convince them to abandon their fossil-fuel guzzling SUV…), and a worker from the Taco Bell itself stopped to ask about the protest. According to the protesters, the worker was more than sympathetic, saying, “Mientras maltratan a mi raza yo no voy a comer aqui” (“As long as their mistreating my people, I’m not going to eat here”).


The protest caught some media attention. Here, KPFT’s (Pacifica) News Department caught some of the action, interviewing a member of the Houston Global Awareness Collective, the organization that hosted the tour crew in Houston.


The other half of the crew hit the University of Houston Taco Bell. Why the mischevious grin?….


Because they were getting ready for a little something we like to call the “Taco Bell Express Full Court Press”..,. We’ll follow CIW member Gerardo Reyes as he executes a classic press strategy…


First, the Guardrail Lean… a simple move, just right for initiating a full press… gradual, but familiar…


Followed by the Mind If I Grab a Chair… this move is definitely a degree higher in difficulty, but the potential payoff is much greater… with walls broken between flyerer and flyeree, real communication can take place and consumption behavior can be addressed…


Finallly, the full Booth Insinuation… The Coup de Grace, this move breaks all barriers and forges the kind of intimacy necessary to truly convert the Taco Bell eater into a full-blown boycotter. Nice job, Gerardo…


Damn… busted… just as things were going good the Taco Bell Express manager pulls out the old “private property” line and gets our crew kicked out of her restaurant…


Oh well, it’s a big campus, and there are a lot of students to talk to. Undeterred by being so rudely interrupted by the manager, Gerardo continues on his dogged pursuit of spreading consciousness…


… touching Houston one mind at a time.

Next; Austin Day 2-3!

DAY TWO/THREE: NEW ORLEANS AND HOUSTON


The Tour continued on its way to Texas, stopping in the “Big Easy” Saturday night. Oh yeah… Saturday night in New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras, jazz, and the drive through daquiri… but this was a business trip, and the tour crew stopped first for a presentation at the Loyola University School of Law, hosted by Professor Bill Quigley, Dean of the Loyola Law Clinic (among the many hats he wears).


This being Saturday, Oct. 4th, it was actually election day in New Orleans. Following the presentation at Loyola, Green Party activists invited the tour to speak at their “victory party”…


Which, though it wasn’t exactly a victory party — the candidate for State Senate lost, though polling 14% of the vote — those in attendance got a chance to learn about the boycott and the sweatshop conditions in the fields where Taco Bell buys its tomatoes.


Of course, no visit to New Orleans would be complete without seeing the sites… So, the next morning, before hitting the road to Texas, Bill Quigley took the crew on a tour around town, stopping here at Lake Ponchartrain to let the whole world know how they feel about Taco Bell)…


… And stretching their legs here in the French Quarter before piling back into the van for the trip to Houston.

While we are in such an historic place, here’s a little bit of Louisiana history that I bet you didn’t know:
How Haiti Saved the United States…

1803 is the year that the U.S. and France agreed on the Louisiana Purchase. While the Haitian struggle for independence was taking place, France was also fighting against England and other European powers in the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon dreamed of a widespread French Empire. This included Haiti and other territories in North America, including Louisiana. He had even, at one time, considered attacking the United States itself.

But by 1803, with the European wars not going the way he had hoped, he needed money. So when American representatives came calling, he agreed to give up Louisiana (all of it) for a big chunk of money.

The Haitian Revolution contributed to the protection of America in three ways:

* It convinced Napoleon to abandon his dream of an American Empire.

* It made him desperate for money, making him sell the Louisiana Territory and abandon all claims to it (and any future plans of invading America).

* It gave hope to enemies of France everywhere. For a certain time, at the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, France’s Grand Army of the Republic seemed unbeatable. But England and other countries slowly turned the tide. The seemingly small victory of a half million slaves over the feared French soldiers in Haiti was an example of just how vulnerable French power really was to a determined, spirited freedom fighting force. Without either Louisiana or Haiti as a jumping-off point, France would never again have the opportunity to attack the United States. And for this, America has to thank Toussaint L’Overture and his determined fellow rebels, many of whom gave their lives in the name of freedom.


And now, back to the Tour…

 

 


On Day One in Houston, the crew hooked up with old friends from the Mexico Solidarity Network who also happened to be on tour in Houston, traveling with members of a women’s cooperative from Chiapas and speaking about the consequence of corporate-led free trade on poor communities in Southern Mexico. The presentation allowed CIW members to draw the links between free trade policies and farmworker poverty here in the US.


Following the presentation, business was hopping at the boycott table, with people grabbing up copies of the new Consumer Letter to the Yum! Brands Board of Director to sign and send to Yum’s board members.

If you’d like to send the letter yourself, click here to download the PDF file of the letter. And of course, feel free to help copy and circulate the letter among your family and friends so they can send along a copy too!


Then it was on to an interview at Houston’s Pacifica radio station, KPFT, a long-time friend of the CIW and the Taco Bell boycott.


The tour crew had the distinct pleasure of addressing KPFT’s Proyecto Latinoamericano audience, discussing everything from immigrant worker organizing, to the boycott, slavery, free trade, and the CIW’s history.

Tomorrow — Day Two in Houston!

DAY ONE: TALLAHASSEE


Indeed, Florida is well on its way to becoming the new “capital of modern-day slavery,” with six federal peonage prosecutions since 1997 in Florida fields…

Well, after much anticipation, the Texas-Sized Truth Tour finally hit the road, and after a brief meeting in Tampa with the new president of the National Lawyers Guild (you never know when you might need a good lawyer…), the Truth Tour made its first official stop at the governor’s office in Tallahassee, where this historical marker got a much-needed updating from one of the tour members.

For some reason, though, the governor’s staff closed up shop and headed home a little early on Friday, so the tour crew didn’t get a chance to meet with Governor Bush about the veritable epidemic of slavery cases making national headlines in his state. Didn’t matter much, though, because Governor Bush couldn’t fit the workers into his busy schedule, anyway, referring them and their concerns about slavery to the Sub-secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Blah, Blah, Blah….


But that’s the way it is with important people like our governor, shown here in a photo from 2002 with Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson at a candidates forum organized by the agricultural industry during last year’s campaign. According to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Governor Bush assured the growers’ lobbyists that:

“On the subject of private property rights and sovereign laws, Governor Bush said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to find a governor who is as committed to the bedrock principle of private property rights as this one here.’”

That must be why the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and the governor get along so well. Seems he always has time in his busy agenda for them — why he was the Keynote Speaker just last month when the FFVA met in their annual convention at the Ritz Carlton, Florida’s only four-star hotel, right here in Naples, and was a happy litte camper at their annual “Cracker Breakfast,” too. There’s a great photo of the governor at the Cracker Breakfast in the latest issue of “The Packer,” the agriculture trade weekly, reminding growers that our man Jeb is one of them, despite his Blue Blood heritage (can’t find the photo online, unfortunately…).


Fresh from the snub at the governor’s office, it was on to a presentation to people who DO care about slavery and sweatshop conditions in the state’s fields….

… a packed room of students and community activists at Florida State University. Following a screening of the CIW-produced video documenting the recent hunger strike outside Taco Bell headquarters, the tour members led a lively, interactive discussion of the growing national alliance for fundamental change in the way the fast-food industry does business.


Then, it was out of the classrooms and into the street…


… as about 30 of those present at the discussion marched across campus and launched into a raucous little protest at a Taco Bell restaurant adjacent to the FSU campus.


Local radio covered the action…


… which had all the usual ingredients of signs, noise…


.. and a strongly positive reaction from the majority of the were-going-to-be Taco Bell customers.


The protest continued until late, when finally the tour crew headed over to stay with friends at the Unitarian Universalist church, who kindly put them up for the night. Tomorrow — New Orleans!

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