Our five days in the Greater Chicago Area for the McDonald’s Mini-Tour were literally overflowing with events and actions – from group presentations and one-on-one discussions to spirited protests and marathon pickets. For the majority of our time, the tour crew split into several smaller groups, ensuring that we were able to cover a broad swath of terrain in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs and connect with a wide array of local Fair Food allies including students, people of faith, and community organizations. Here’s a recap of some of the highlights of the week, as well as some great events that we weren’t able to cover the first time around!

In terms of action, the highlight of the week was undoubtedly Day 6 in front of McDonald’s global headquarters in Oak Brook. Be sure to check out the complete Day 6 report as well as the 3-minute video chronicling the powerful protest – click here to watch the video of the hands that harvest McDonald’s tomatoes continuing the work of building a more just food industry!

Following the moving action at McD’s headquarters, the tour crew and its local allies hit the streets of Chicago for four separate and consecutive McDonald’s protests on Day 7, methodically working our way from Loyola University to the Latino community of Pilsen.

Click here for a complete report on the Day 7 protests, including the tour’s first brush with some Confederacy-loving counter-protestors!…

The days leading up to our actions in Oak Brook and Chicago were spent in classrooms and faith communities, building awareness about the brutal working conditions and sub-poverty wages in McDonald’s supply chain. In the span of just a few days, the tour crew visited over 15 high schools and colleges, with events ranging from intimate classroom discussions…

… to formal presentations in large speaking halls. For this particular event, the CIW shared the stage with acclaimed historian Howard Zinn in front of a packed house at Northwestern University. Throughout the tour, it was clear that McDonald’s so-called “sweet spot” (18-24-year-olds) is ready to take action to end sweatshops in the fields. In fact, on Oct. 27-28, over 40 forty protests and educational events are being planned across the country as part of SFA’s National Days of Action!

Click here for a full report from Days 4 & 5!

In addition to schools, the tour crew also made the rounds in Chicago area churches and synagogues. Above, Cruz Salucio of the CIW addresses the Chicago Presbytery meeting about the escalating McDonald’s campaign. The Presbytery is the governing body for over 106 Presbyterian Churches and 39,000 Presbyterians in the Chicago area.

CIW members also spoke at both the United Church of Christ’s Chicago Metropolitan Association biannual meeting, which represents 108 UCC congregations, and an area clergy meeting of the Fox Valley Association of the United Church of Christ, pictured here above. The Fox Valley Association was an early endorser of the Alliance for Fair Food.

Finally, on our last day in Chicago, CIW members addressed nearly a dozen faith communities throughout McDonald’s own backyard – the Western and Northern Chicago suburbs. From Catholics in La Grange and Western Springs to Jewish allies on Chicago’s Northshore, the CIW was received with excitement and promises of growing involvement in the Campaign for Fair Food. The Tour crew’s work – including signing up new allies, as seen here in the picture above, to the ever-growing CIW listserve – continued well into the afternoon, as CIW members spoke with Methodist Churches throughout the Chicago area that had come together at the Northern Illinois Conference’s annual Mission Fair.

We left Chicago and headed back to Immokalee knowing that the Campaign for Fair Food was in good hands. Our days in Chicago served to lay the groundwork for what should be the best Truth Tour yet this coming Spring.

This picture says it all. We met hundreds of young people just like this litle girl who are no longer willing to believe the Happy Meal hype and will be part of this campaign for years to come – or as long as it takes to convince the burger giant that the egregious exploitation behind their food can no longer be obscured by shiny toys and catchy marketing jingles. And behind each one of these young people are many, many more adults ready to stand side-by-side with workers from Immokalee in the coming fight for Fair Food.

Scroll down for day-by-day reports from the 2006 McDonald’s Midwest Tour.



Taking a cue from the Chicago Marathon – the world-renowned race that coincided with the 2006 McDonald’s Midwest Tour – the CIW followed its powerful action at McDonald’s headquarters with its own marathon of sorts.

On Day 7, farmworkers from Immokalee and a growing number of local allies held four separate – consecutive – McDonald’s protests, crisscrossing the Windy City from morning to evening for eight solid hours of action that raised the awareness of tens of thousands of Chicagoans and will form the foundation of the struggle for fair food in McD’s backyard for months and years to come.

On this day, the banner calling on McDonald’s to abandon its public relations maneuvering and take genuine steps to end the human rights crisis in its supply chain was carried by hundreds of people new to the McDonald’s campaign, like this adorable little girl holding it down during the day’s first protest. This call to work directly with the CIW to address farmworkers’ sub-poverty wages and sub-standard working conditions is particularly timely in light of the maddening recent news – the latest in decades of shocking industry exposes – concerning the squalid living conditions faced by workers who pick tomatoes in North Carolina for Ag-Mart, a known McDonald’s supplier.

For the complete story on Ag-Mart and the “crowded, squalid housing” for the workers who pick McD’s grape tomatoes, check out the Day 6 update.

It is this basic idea of accountability – the notion that the restaurant industry must finally own up to the sweatshop conditions in its supply chain, conditions it has helped create and has profited from for years – that links together Florida’s farmworkers with a company such as McDonald’s.

And it is this movement – a movement of organized workers and informed, mobilized consumers – that will ultimately bring industry leaders like McDonald’s to use their influence to demand more modern, more humane conditions for the workers who pick the produce they sell to the public.

And judging by the response from tens of thousands of Chicagoans on Day 7, it is a movement that consumers are quick to embrace. (Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that we have such adorable messengers…)

Well, most consumers, that is…

Of course, some people just love their McDonald’s, regardless of the exploitation hidden behind the logo. These proud sons of Dixie chanced upon the second protest of the day, and their encounter with the Tour crew prompted them to abandon their otherwise full schedule and mount a spontaneous counter-demonstration, declaring their unconditional loyalty to the Golden Arches. Such wonderful company (the hat on the left was accompanied by the novelty license plate on the front of their truck depicting a Confederate flag with the word “Redneck” emblazoned across the front)…

But in the final analysis, no amount of nostalgia or wishful thinking – from McDonald’s, Florida’s powerful tomato growers, or their erstwhile allies – can defeat an idea whose time has come. History has a way of bending inevitably toward greater justice, and those who would stand in its way are ultimately only left diminished by their opposition.

As the Campaign for Fair Food continues to grow and evolve, one thing is increasingly clear: this movement won’t stop until justice and dignity prevail in the fields of Florida.




One hundred years ago, a writer came to Chicago to expose squalid living and working conditions faced by the workers at the base of the food industry. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic “The Jungle” awoke the nation to the exploitation of meat packers and sparked a movement for reform in the industry.

One hundred years later, as the McDonald’s Midwest Tour made its way to Chicago, a story broke in North Carolina documenting the “crowded, squalid housing” conditions faced by workers in the tomato industry, specifically workers for tomato giant Ag-Mart. The reporter found, “many of Ag-Mart’s workers live crowded in fly- and roach-infested dwellings.” The picture above comes from housing where 30-40 workers lived, “with no hot water, no shower, and not enough beds.”

The article didn’t specify who buys the tomatoes picked by Ag-Mart workers, but we will: Ag-Mart is a major supplier of grape tomatoes to McDonald’s.

Click here to read about the relationship between McDonald’s and Ag-Mart in the New York TImes article (2/20/05), “You Want Any Fruit with That Big Mac?”

Yet McDonald’s continues to insist to the press that there are no problems in its supply chain. This can only mean one of two things: either McDonald’s actually knows very little about its own supply chain, or McDonald’s is willing to share very little with the public about farm labor conditions in its supply chain.

And so our campaign to make fast food fair food continues. And every time McDonald’s denies the truth of exploitation in Florida’s fields and refuses to sincerely address these issues together with the CIW, it makes our campaign even stronger by providing new opportunities to build awareness and bring new allies to the struggle, like this young man pictured here who joined us with his mother and her friends on Day 6 for the protest outside McDonald’s global headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

His presence provides us with a moment for reflection. Imagine the bath you see on the left being the bath that his mother bathes him in everyday. It’s almost unimaginable, isn’t it? However that’s the reality for thousands upon thousands of children whose parents work in fields across the country, harvesting tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. That’s what we’re fighting to change.

And so it is that we gathered again in the big parking lot outside McDonald’s headquarters, only this time…

… the gale force winds and driving, freezing rain that greeted us on our last visit (a fond visual memory of that stormy protest pictured here above, from April ’06) were nowhere to be found…


… replaced instead by a light breeze and sunny skies, which lifted our spirits and illuminated our message.

We made our way to the front of the McD’s building for the start of the protest…

… equipped with colorful new signs created by our Chicago allies…

… that left no doubt about our message for the thousands of commuters who witnessed the protest that day.

Following a two-hour long picket, we wrapped up the action, gathering for a final message to McDonald’s executives watching the protest behind smoked windows and a perimeter secured by guards. Allies spoke first, including Olgha Sandman, Vice President of National Farm Worker Ministry and a steadfast friend of the CIW for many years…

… as well as newer allies, such as Professor Krieglestein of the College of DuPage. Professor Krieglestein, who attended the protest with several DuPage students, reminded McDonald’s of the preparedness of students to carry the struggle to the next level, if necessary.

But the last word was saved for the workers who made the trip from Immokalee and who, in a remarkably moving statement, used their hands to convey their message to the men and women who work at McDonald’s headquarters and make the decisions that either continue to impoverish communities like Immokalee, or provide a path toward a more equitable food industry…

… hands that tell the story of the brutally difficult and undervalued labor that forms the base – harvest after harvest – of McDonald’s billion-dollar enterprise… hands that are indeed rewriting the rules of that industry from the bottom up.

The incredibly powerful closing to the day’s protest actually caused the McDonald’s personnel and security detail to take several steps back, obviously caught off guard by the directness and force of the workers’ simple message. In this moment, the air of easy confidence they had shown throughout the day evaporated and what was left was a glimpse into the uncertainty that in fact resides behind the walls of the fast-food giant about how this campaign will unfold.

Watch the video report from Day 6 here!

(Click here to see the video in larger dimensions.)



The tour crew hit Chicago on Day 4, and just like that, the stage got a lot bigger…

… and in this case, the person we shared that stage with was quite a star in his own right. That’s Howard Zinn on the far left of the picture, author of the incomparable, “A People’s History of the United States,” and our partner in presentation on our first night in Chicago at Northwestern University.

Professor Zinn, an early and leading endorser of the Alliance for Fair Food, spoke of the challenges facing our democracy and lamented the abuse of U.S. power in the world today.

Gerardo’s presentation echoed Professor Zinn’s concern about democracy and the abuse of power… but examining those issues within the U.S. food industry and their impact on the lives of those who work at the base of that industry.

Throughout the rest of Days 4 & 5, the mini-tour crew broke into two teams, visiting over 15 high schools, colleges, and churches in the Greater Chicago area in the span of just two days. From large group presentations…

… to intense one-on-one discussions, CIW members spread the word about the Campaign for Fair Food…

… a message heard loud and clear by an audience of special import to McDonald’s – the young people that the fast-food giant relies on to give its brand currency…

… and whose minds are still open when it comes to the decisions that will shape their lives as consumers in the years to come.

In order to convey the grueling reality of picking two and a half tons of tomatoes per day – 32 lb. bucket by 32 lb. bucket – just to earn minimum wage, workers invited students to lift one bucket…

… a task that left even the fittest students convinced of the fundamental injustice of a 40 cent piece rate that hasn’t significantly changed in nearly 30 years.

But not all our time was spent in presentations. We also hit the streets, flyering at metro stops…

… where early morning rail commuters had an unexpected opportunity to think critically about the food they eat….

… and picketing outside several McDonald’s restaurants…

… bringing that same critical message to tens of thousands of consumers stuck in the crawl of Chicago’s fabled rush hour traffic.

Next up – action at McDonald’s global headquarters!

In the meantime, don’t miss the new tour press release, “McDonald’s tomato supplier exposed: North Carolina paper finds Ag-Mart pickers living in ‘squalid’ conditions.”



The Mini-Tour continued to make headlines as it pushed even deeper into McDonald’s backyard on Day 3. After an early morning goodbye to our wonderful hosts in Carbondale, we set out for Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois, another popular Midwest college town with a Golden Arches on campus.

The drive from Southern Illinois to U-C, took the tour crew through hundreds of acres of cornfields and gorgeous fall foliage. As described in the Day 1 report, the interrelated fates of farmworkers and small farmers continued to play an important role in many presentations and discussions.

While this group paused for an outright corny photo-op (sorry… probably should have resisted that one…), the rest of the Mini-Tour pressed onward to Chicago to promote the upcoming weekend actions and share the stage at an event with Howard Zinn, acclaimed historian and author of “A People’s History of the United States.” (We’ll have more on that tomorrow!…)

Not to be outdone by their counterparts at Southern Illinois, students at the University of Illinois were equally animated by the CIW presentations and proved eager to get involved in the Campaign for Fair Food. In this sociology class about the impacts of globalization – one of ten presentations crammed into our day and a half in Urbana-Champaign – students learned about the global economic forces driving immigration from Mexico and Central America and the direct link to sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery in the agricultural fields of the United States.

In this smaller discussion section, the CIW presentation turned into a standing room-only affair. In fact, the tour crew was so well received at the University of Illinois that we literally had teaching assistants tracking us down to share the story of Immokalee’s workers with their classes, too!

In addition to classrooms, the CIW took to Urbana-Champaign’s airwaves via WRFU, a sister community radio station of Radio Conciencia in Immokalee. CIW members, well versed with the ins and outs of radio programming, interviewed each other about the tour and the struggle for fair food.

After dropping some firsthand knowledge on the airwaves, it was time to hit the streets. No, not for a McDonald’s protest (yet, anyway)… Rather, the tour crew and local allies – including students and members of Jobs with Justice – held a lively picket in front of this Chipotle location in the heart of U-C’s student community. Although Chipotle’s headquarters are in Denver, its claims of “Food with Integrity” and “Honest Ingredients” are coming under fire from conscious consumers well beyond the borders of Colorado. These consumers see the basic contradiction between Chipotle’s soothing claims and the brutal reality of sweatshop conditions in its supply chain.

To read more about the growing Chipotle campaign, including reports and analysis from the CIW’s recent Denver tour, click here!

But the action didn’t stop there! From Chipotle, the protest snaked its way across campus only to wind up at…

… why, it’s the campus McDonald’s, a busy little outpost of the fast-food empire located in the basement of the University of Illinois’ student center. The human rights delegation of CIW members and student allies delivered a manager letter to express their concern about McDonald’s attempts to roll back the gains of the Taco Bell boycott. As in the “Boot the Bell” campaign, students are raising their own questions about their university’s cozy relationship with a company whose billion-dollar profits are padded by human rights violations in the fields.

That evening, the tour crew was treated to yet another delicious meal courtesy of our new friends at U-C Jobs with Justice. At the community potluck, conversation ranged from casual questions about Immokalee and the history of the campaign to plans for assembling a local Fair Food committee in Urbana-Champaign, bringing together local students with community and labor activists.

And speaking of students… Day 3 wrapped up on an encouraging note with over fifty students showing up to a campus-wide presentation organized by our friends at Amnesty International and Students for Economic Justice. The level of interest at the event certainly signals a bright future for the Campaign for Fair Food at the University of Illinois in the months ahead.

Chicago, Chicago… here we come. Check back soon for updates from the Windy City as the Mini-Tour closes in on McDonald’s global headquarters!



Following a lively start to the 2006 McDonald’s Mini-Tour, the Immokalee crew rolled into Carbondale on Monday – home of Southern Illinois University, a large public university with a McD’s restaurant on campus (above) and a growing awareness among students about the dire human rights crisis in Florida’s fields.

After spending the previous day connecting with church congregations throughout Louisville, Monday was spent in university classrooms connecting with the young people that McDonald’s calls its new marketing “sweet spot.”

But through these exchanges, it quickly became evident that many young people are already looking beyond McDonald’s billion-dollar marketing hype…

… and seeing the reality of exploitation behind the Golden Arches, especially after hearing directly from farmworkers and learning of the irrefutable connection between their grinding poverty and the high-volume, low-cost purchasing practices of the fast-food industry.

In addition to presentations from the CIW, tour members from Student/Farmworker Alliance – the national network of students and youth in partnership with the CIW – were also on hand to share lessons from the popular “Boot the Bell” campaign, which blocked or removed Taco Bell restaurants from 22 college and high school campuses during the four-year boycott, including the University of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, and UCLA.

Throughout the day, the workers from Immokalee and their allies encountered thoughtful students who understood the unique relevance of the McDonald’s campaign to student life at Southern Illinois.

In addition to raising awareness through dozens of classroom presentations and one-on-one discussions, the tour crew was keeping tabs on the previous day’s press coverage in Louisville. (In case you missed it, be sure to check out the Courier-Journal article, “Farmworkers pressure McDonald’s”)

Later that afternoon, the McDonald’s Mini-Tour and local student allies decided to pay a quick visit to, well, McDonald’s. This particular restaurant – located in the heart of Southern Illinois University’s student center – has recently been flooded with manager letters from concerned students as part of a nationwide effort to show McD’s the breadth of support that exists for the Campaign for Fair Food.

As quickly as it began, the mission ended – with success. The impromptu human rights delegation delivered the signed letter to the on-duty manager, outlining the conditions in Florida’s fields and the actions McDonald’s needs to take to ensure real rights for farmworkers. Judging by the commitment of our new friends at SIU, this installation of the Golden Arches can surely expect increasing attention in the months ahead.

Afterwards, it was time for a delicious dinner – including plenty of locally grown vegetables and homemade enchiladas – prepared by an array of Carbondale allies and served at the Newman Catholic Student Center.

The day’s presentations wrapped up on an exciting note with a well-attended community presentation, bringing together dozens of SIU students with members of several local church congregations. During the question and answer session, a number of participants expressed interest in forming a local Fair Food Committee to support Carbondale’s long-term work in solidarity with the CIW, both on campus and off.

In fact, the discussion went so well that over 50 of us – the Immokalee crew and our newest allies from Carbondale – formed yet another impromptu human rights delegation and marched a mile through the cold October rain to a nearby Micky D’s — yes, a mile through the cold October rain…

Protest art doubled as makeshift rain shields (at least for those who left their umbrellas behind in Immokalee)…

… as the group forged ahead, fueled with the enthusiasm borne of a just cause… and some great new chants. Here’s a taste: “¡Ni Lluvia, ni viento detendra el movimiento!” (“Neither wind nor rain will keep our movement down!”)

Our clothes may have been soaked and our fingers cold, but the message of the Coalition – that farmworkers’ rights are human rights – kept our spirits warm and dry as we reached our destination.

The delegation gave this worker (who seemed none too displeased) a break today…

And then we proceeded to rock that place like we owned it… Before heading out and hitting the road again – for Urbana-Champaign!

Check back soon for the next update, as the Immokalee crew gets one stop closer to the Windy City and the big house – McDonald’s HQ!



Following two long days on the road, the 2006 McDonald’s Mini-Tour formally kicked off with a bang on Sunday in Louisville, KY. Amidst rapidly growing support for the Campaign for Fair Food in recent weeks – from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to actor Martin Sheen – farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida are currently touring McDonald’s backyard in the Midwest with a simple message for the fast-food giant and consumers alike: “Sweatshop tomatoes are beneath the Golden Arches.” And judging by the looks of the Sunday action in Louisville, the message is catching on.

View the coverage and photos in the Louisville Courier-Journal (10/16), “Farmworkers pressure McDonald’s”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a lot of pavement to cover between southwest Florida and northern Kentucky, so the tour crew spent the bulk of Friday and Saturday steadily traversing Southern interstate highways. On Saturday, the tour stopped for some rest and relaxation in the heart of Nashville, TN, where some CIW members paused to appreciate Nashville’s very own version of the Greek Parthenon.

Taking to heart the ancient Greek traditions of education and reflection, the CIW stopped in Nashville’s Centennial Park to reflect on the history of the CIW, the unfolding Campaign for Fair Food, and the significance of the Mini-Tour in light of McDonald’s ongoing refusal to work with the CIW to ensure real rights for farmworkers.

After a few more hours on the road, the tour crew rolled into one of the CIW’s favorite cities – Louisville, KY – late Saturday night. The next morning began appropriately enough with the Mini-Tour splitting into three groups to make the rounds in local churches. After all, Louisville is home to the national headquarters of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., a steadfast ally since the early days of the Taco Bell boycott and a founding member of the Alliance for Fair Food. From small Sunday school classes (like the one pictured above at Anchorage Presbyterian) to church-wide presentations at Crescent Hill and James Lee Presbyterian, the CIW received an extremely warm reception among its old and new friends.

And building on the wave of recent support for the campaign, the Kentucky Interfaith Taskforce on Latin America & the Caribbean announced its formal endorsement of the Alliance for Fair Food!

Later that afternoon, the Mini-Tour visited St. Rita’s Catholic Church, this time presenting to over fifty members of Louisville’s Latino community. The tour crew was joined by two very special guests from Mexico Solidarity Network and Borderlinks, a bi-national organization promoting human rights along the increasingly dangerous US-Mexico border.

After an extended question-and-answer session, which covered everything from the marketing strategies of corporations such as McDonald’s to the groundbreaking agreement with Taco Bell to the immigrant rights movement, it was time to translate discussion into action in the streets (or sidewalks, rather) of Louisville.

As has been the case in years past, the CIW received an extremely warm and heartfelt welcome from longtime Louisville allies…

…including some of the youngest (and cutest) members of Louisville’s Fair Food movement. Although they couldn’t recall everyone’s names, these two budding activists could recall the many times prior to the 2005 Taco Bell boycott victory that the CIW came to town to visit Taco Bell’s parent, Louisville-based Yum Brands.

Arnoldo Perez, a veteran CIW member, stayed busy documenting the lively McDonald’s protest to share with the Immokalee community via Radio Conciencia, the Coalition’s low-power FM radio station…

… while Emmanuel Cortes gathered footage for a forthcoming CIW video documenting the struggle for fair food. (Click here if you haven’t seen the CIW’s most recent video, “Ronaldo the Clown!”)

Within half an hour, the protest – which brought together a diverse array of the Louisville community – swelled to over eighty people complete with colorful art, lively percussion (tomato buckets turned upside down, of course), and… wait a second… are those corn stalks?

Yes they are. In addition to its earthly contrast to McDonald’s plastic aesthetic, the locally harvested corn served as a powerful symbol linking together the livelihoods of small farmers and farmworkers. In a highly consolidated food system, both groups are being squeezed by immense market forces. On the one hand, small independent farmers are increasingly unable to depend on local markets nor can they compete with large corporate farms for contracts with high-volume buyers such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, these mega-buyers’ insatiable, year-round appetites for cheap fresh produce – regardless of the labor conditions under which the crops are picked – further drive down farmworkers’ sub-poverty wages.

It was this broad vision of justice – not only for Immokalee’s farmworkers but also for family farmers, immigrant workers, and consumers everywhere – that lay at the heart of Sunday’s action in Louisville.

And if this first tour stop is a sign of things to come, it is likewise a broad and creative movement that will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Immokalee’s farmworkers, seeing the McDonald’s campaign through to its one possible conclusion: justice for tomato pickers, workers who continue to pad the profits of the $120 billion fast-food industry through their obscenely undervalued sweat and labor.

It is precisely this contradiction between super-sized profits and dehumanizing poverty that McDonald’s will have to acknowledge and address in the weeks, months, and years ahead – treating farmworkers in their supply chain not as children or as threats, but as full human beings with dignity, aspirations, and the basic right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Until that time, however, this message will continue to spread like a prairie fire from the worker community of Immokalee to the lips and picket signs of consumers, young and old, across the country.

Check back soon for updates from Days 2 & 3 as the Mini-Tour visits Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign!