Florida institutions collide: Abigail Disney calls on Publix to join Fair Food Program!

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Abigail Disney, award-winning filmmaker and granddaughter of co-founder of Walt Disney Productions, visits Immokalee, joins CIW for Publix protest in Ft. Myers…

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Abigail Disney, center, speaks to Publix representative as part of the CIW’s manager delegation during last weekend’s protest in downtown Ft. Myers (photo by Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press)

Last weekend, the CIW hosted a very special visitor to Immokalee, a person whose family can rightly claim to have had a greater impact on Florida over the past half century than even the state’s richest corporation, Publix.  Abigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of Walt Disney Productions, Roy Disney, and an award-winning filmmaker in her own right, spent the weekend visiting with the CIW, with staff members from the Fair Food Standards Council, and with a local grower who participates in the Fair Food Program.  Her goal was to get a closer look at the changes taking place in the fields thanks to the Fair Food Program, and to understand how the Program’s many elements work together to produce the unique force for social justice that is bringing an end to decades of labor abuses in the fields.  

As a documentarian whose works include the remarkably inspiring study of the Liberian peace movement entitled “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” — courageously led by the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace — Abby, as she is known to friends, is no stranger to popular movements for justice.  And she is not content to be a bystander, either.  In 2008, she launched an organization by the name of Peace is Loud, dedicated to “supporting female voices and international peace-building through nonviolent means,” and has traveled to dozens of countries for showings of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” as a tool for sparking reflection on the power of everyday people to make profound changes in the world.  She has been not just an advocate, but an organizer, for peace and an end to violence against women across the globe for two decades.

So, when Abigail Disney came to Immokalee, it only made sense that the visit would end in action.  And, indeed, last Saturday Abby joined the CIW’s Women’s Group and a contingent of CIW members and allies several dozen strong for a sunny, fall afternoon picket at a downtown Ft. Myers Publix.  

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The Ft. Myers News-Press covered the action in an article entitled “Disney descendant joins Publix protests” (10/5/13), which includes a brief video of the memorable protest and an interview with Abby.  Here below is an extended excerpt:

Abigail Disney, granddaughter of the man who co-founded Walt Disney Productions, rallied with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Saturday at the downtown Fort Myers Publix.

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 About 45 members of the nonprofit and their supporters asked the chain to sign the Fair Food agreement, which raises tomato pickers’ wages a penny per pound and guarantees better working conditions.

 The philanthropist and award-winning filmmaker, whose grandfather was Roy O. Disney, joined the group to ask Publix to meet with the coalition. “My family has a very long history in this state,” she said. “I understand the difficulties of running a corporation, but I also understand (Publix has) a problem… And they can not wish this problem away.”

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Disney spoke with two Publix officials, who had no comment. [Above, Disney, on left, returns to the picket following the manager delegation visit with Publix representatives.]

She was followed by Angelina Velasquez (below), who said after working in the fields earlier that day, she’d made just $25. “It’s not easy, what I do, and I’ve got three little girls to feed,” she said.

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Shopper Phil Guthrie, a Fort Myers retiree, said he doesn’t understand Publix’s position. “These poor people are out here working and they can’t make a living, even if they work 60 hours a week.”

Publix has said it would not sign the Fair Food agreement.

Despite Publix’s refusal to engage in any meaningful discussion with the delegation — a refusal that at this point hardly comes as a surprise — the action, and the weekend as a whole, was a huge success.  Every day that Publix continues to stand aside while history passes it by, more and more consumers — like the shopper interviewed in the News-Press article, and like those in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia who recently called on Publix to adopt the internationally-recognized human rights standards of the Fair Food Program — will join the Fair Food movement.  

And every day, more and more of those consumers will be people like Abigail Disney, people who have a platform just that much higher than the average consumer to make their voices heard in the marketplace of ideas.  We look forward to working ever more closely with Abby in the months and years ahead, and to, one day, working with Publix, too, in the fight to bring fundamental human rights to Florida’s fields.

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