“Northeast Tour for Fair Food”

December 2 – 10, 2008

Day 9 – New York City

On their last full day in NYC, the Tour crew visited some long-time allies — the kids at St. Lukes school in the West Village, a school that, among other things, endeavors to help its students “become active, responsible, and contributing members of the school community.”

Well… they’re active, responsible, contributing members of the broader community, too! The kids at St. Luke have supported the Campaign for Fair Food for years now, and were rightfully excited at the news of the Subway agreement.

And after sharing in the excitement of the latest victory, it was time to talk about the future of the campaign, and about the role students and young people generally would continue to play in winning basic human rights for farmworkers in Florida.

Subway may be behind us, but the message remains the same.

Then it was off to a swirl of visits scattered across the big city, including an interview with Democracy Now (“This Agreement Has Incredible Importance for Our Movement” – Immokalee Workers Win Agreement with Subway over Tomato Prices in Florida,” 12/10/08), and another shown here at Grit TV with Laura Flanders…

… and a visit with friends at the Taxi Workers Alliance…

… and a presentation at The Church of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The rector, The Rev. Michael A. Phillips, passed a 32-lb bucket among the parishoners to demonstrate just how hard the job of a tomato harvester is.
The program was followed by a great reception with the groups that co-sponsored the event, including: Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Faith Leaders for Food Justice, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Hazon, The New York City Coalition Against Hunger, New York Faith and Justice, The Peace and Restorative Justice Community of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), Rural & Migrant Ministry on behalf of the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and World Hunger Year (WHY).

Then it was time for the crew to come back together for a benefit thrown on behalf of the CIW by our friends at the Small Planet Fund, founded by none other than Frances Moore Lappe (above, right), author of the seminal treatise on sustainable food, “Diet for a Small Planet.”

Following a brief speech…

… those in attendance lifted their glasses in a toast to the CIW and the success of the Campaign for Fair Food.
It was the perfect ending to the perfect tour, as the campaign celebrates its latest victory, gaining critical mass in the fast-food industry, and pivots toward the supermarket and foodservice giants in the same move.

   

Days 7 and 8 – New Haven, NYC

Here’s something you can’t do every day in Immokalee… or any day, really. As the Tour crew made its way from Boston to New Haven, they were met with the remnants of a recent snowfall and took advantage of a free moment in an otherwise full schedule to blow off a little steam.

Of course, it was soon back to work, which began with a presentation at the Yale Divinity School…

… followed by another presentation at Yale Law School. Yale student support for the Campaign for Fair Food was primed to play a key strategic role in the Subway campaign (the fast-food giant is heaquartered not far from New Haven, in Milford, CT), until Subway did the right thing and signed an agreement with the CIW on the first day of the Northeast Tour. Support for Fair Food on the Yale campus remains strong, however, and will undoubtedly come into play in the coming months as the campaign turns to foodservice and grocery industry leaders to demand the same changes that have now been firmly established in the fast-food industry.

And as the campaign pivots, it will turn to companies like the Northeastern grocery chain Shaws, which from the looks of things in this store seems to take great pride in the tomatoes that it sells to the fine people of New Haven.
Those tomatoes certainly look fresh and delicious. But does “better quality and variety” include “fairly harvested”? Not so much…

And so the Tour crew dropped in on the manager to deliver the new Alliance for Fair Food letter…

… as they did again at this Stop and Shop, another Northeast-based grocery chain, on the way out of New Haven.

On the way to New York City, the Tour crew stopped in Madison, CT, for a visit with a youth group (12 & 13 year-olds) at Shoreline Unitarian Universalist. As with thousands and thousands of other young people we’ve met over the years of the campaign, these kids seemd to instinctually understand that it’s simply not fair for some people to pay other people so little money for such hard work.

And speaking of young people with an instinctual sense of justice, the CIW’s own Candace Perez, the youngest member of the Northeast Tour crew at 14, joined the crew in New York City for the final days of the tour.
But before getting down to work, Candace took in some of the best known sites of the Big Apple, starting in Times Square…

 

… and swinging by the Rockefeller Center to see the famous Christmas tree and skating rink…

… on her way to joining the real work of the Tour crew, describing conditions in her hometown of Immokalee at a presentation at …

… the community center of longtime CIW allies the Lower East Side Girls Club!

And we’re not just saying “longtime allies” for nothing, as this prominently displayed collage of the girls club’s participation in the Taco Bell boycott eloquently attests. Several Girls Club members in fact pointed to their participation in those early Taco Bell protests as the time when they began to question the justice of how food is produced and consumed in this country.

The presentation filled the hall…

… and was recorded to be shared through the Girls’ Club radio station with the community members who couldn’t be there that day to hear the Tour crew speak about the future of the Campaign for Fair Food.
Check back soon for the rest of a jam-packed couple of days in New York City, including a gala benefit thrown by the Small Planet Fund and one of the heroes of sustainable food — Frances Moore Lappe — for the CIW and the fight for a fairer food industry.

   

Days 4 and 5 – Philly, Boston

Before leaving Philadelphia, the crew stopped for a presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. To frame the presentation, they used what we call our “cuentahistoria, ” a tool for popular education that consists of a series of drawings, produced by CIW members, used to recount the narrative behind farmworker poverty, never failing to provoke lively discussions and analysis in Immokalee.
It is remarkable to see a tool that was made by workers in Immokalee to build awareness and mobilize the community there now traveling around the rest of the country educating consumers about the roots of farm labor exploitation.

Two more stops in the City of Brotherly Love, first up: foodservice giant Aramark, headquartered in Philly, to deliver the AFF letter.
Must be something about the foodservice indusry… Aramark, like Sodexo, opted against meeting with workers who drove nearly 20 hours to discuss conditions in Florida’s fields, but they outdid Sodexo in their inhospitable reception of our intrepid crew — Aramark representatives insisted on talking to them only by lobby telephone.
Eventually they did send a secretary down to pick up the letter, but she didn’t even stick around for small talk — just grabbed the letter and turned to head back upstairs.
Oh well, they’ll get to know us someday…

The reception was good bit warmer later that evening at the Media Mobilizing Project annual Community Building Dinner, where the CIW gave the keynote address and members of a number of Philly-based organizations — including the Philly Student Union, United Taxi Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice, and many other — gathered to celebrate their accomplishments over the past year and plan for the year ahead.

Finally, the crew had to — reluctantly — leave Philadelphia and head north to the next stop: Boston. The visit began with a community event at the Lucy Parsons Center, a nearly 40-year old independent bookstore cooperative in Boston, attended by students from various area schools, representatives from Oxfam, the Unitarian Universalist church, the Corporate Accountability Project and Boston Slow Food.

Following the presentation at the Lucy Parsons Center, a delegation from the event decided to venture out together to this nearby Shaw’s supermarket to deliver the AFF letter….

… a decision no doubt appreciated by the store manager, who was less than enthusiastic about the letter’s suggestion that his company “take a leadership role in ending forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.”
Check back tomorrow for an update from Providence, New Haven, and a taste of New York City!

   

Days 1, 2 & 3 – NC, DC, Balt, and Philly!

From big people (gathered here at a brownbag lunch presentation held at the SEIU headquarters in Washington, DC)…

 

… to small (4th, 7th, and 8th graders at an assembly at Philadelphia’s Meredith School), the Northeast Fair Food Tour crew met with standing room only crowds across the Middle Atlantic states as the Tour hit the ground running in the wake of Tuesday’s Subway agreement.

 

As we mentioned in our first post about the Tour, the crew touched ground in North Carolina, where they joined friends from Student Action with Farmworkers, National Farm Worker Ministry, and United Students Against Sweatshops, for a delegation to a local grocery chain. Which was the lucky supermarket to receive the first formal visit from the Campaign for Fair Food?…

… Why it was none other than North Carolina-based Food Lion, one of the largest supermarket chains in the country and an oldtime favorite of ACC basketball fans everywhere…
And, in what can only be interpreted as an auspicious omen for the future of the supermarket campaign, the delegation reported that the manager seemed genuinely supportive and felt there would be no problem for Food Lion to meet the Campaign for Fair Food’s higher standards.

From North Carolina it was on to DC, and to the brownbag lunch organized at the SEIU offices by our old friends at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Forum, and the Institute for Policy Studies. The dialogue was intense, as many veteran organizers weighed in on the road ahead in the dynamic Campaign for Fair Food.

Following the event, a delegation of participants (including members of SEIU, the RFK Memorial, Engage, Witness for Peace, and the Institute for Policy Studies) took a step down that road together, taking a pleasant walk from the SEIU building to this local Safeway supermarket…

… where they made their way inside…

… and delivered the AFF letter to this less-than-thrilled manager (perhaps in part because it was a relatively small store and the delegation essentially took up the entire checkout area…), who nevertheless accepted it and promised to pass it on Safeways’ corporate headquarters (for those of you keeping score out there, Safeway is the nation’s third largest supermarket chain).

Before leaving town the Tour crew stopped at the RFK Memorial Center’s offices for a quick lunch and visit…

… leaving just enough time for one more visit while still in the Nation’s Capital, this time to Sodexo headquarters, the foodservice giant supplying restaurants on campuses and other institutions across the country. No one felt like meeting with us, but the receptionist accepted our letter and promised to pass it on to the appropriate parties. Maybe next time we visit they’ll see fit to carve out a little time for us.

From there the Tour continued up the road to cold and rainy Baltimore for a joint presentation with the United Workers, who recently celebrated their own groundbreaking victory at Camden Yards and are organizing low-wage workers throughout Baltimore. Here, Veronica Dorsey of UW speaks about their new Human Rights Zone Campaign.

Later the it was the CIW’s turn, followed by a joint discussion of our campaigns, the changes we have managed to achieve, and the challenges that remain as we seek to expand on those changes.

Finally, it was on to Philadelphia, a town saddened by the struggles of its beloved Eagles but still with enough brotherly love in its heart to give farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida, a strong and sincere welcome. The Tour crew met with students across the city, from the Meredith School to…

 

… the Science Leadership Institute…

 

…. to the Urban Nutrition Initiative at University City High School. The members of the Initiative have run a garden there at the school since 2000 and also work with local children to teach them good nutritional habits.

 

Though it was a small meeting, the exchange was deep, as these dedicated urban gardeners learned of the misery of workers trapped in the industrial system of tomato production while workers from Immokalee, in turn, learned of an alternative model for sustainable and fair food production.
Check back soon for reports from Boston and Providence as the Fair Food Tour heads to New England!

 

   

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