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CIW returns to Louisville, the birthplace of Fair Food, to visit with dear old friends and rekindle powerful alliances for the Wendy’s campaign!
In March, 2005, Taco Bell’s parent company Yum Brands, based in Louisville, KY, signed the first-ever Fair Food agreement with the CIW after four long years of boycott. During those four years, we built deep and lasting friendships with many, many residents of Louisville, people with an abiding belief in justice, in human rights, and in the faith that we can, through our concerted efforts, build a better, more humane world.
But the Campaign for Fair Food did not end with the Taco Bell agreement. That was just the beginning, and since 2005 much has transpired. In Immokalee and in Louisville, new children have come into the world and grown into little people, while other children have grown and left home for college and to build their own families. Among our Louisville allies, many have taken new jobs and launched new directions in their lives, while others have retired and started new chapters in theirs. And across the country, eleven new corporations have signed Fair Food agreements, while the Campaign for Fair Food has not only grown, but given birth to the groundbreaking Fair Food Program, changing forever how workers are treated in Florida’s fields and the relationship of farmworkers to the industry in which they toil.
Yesterday, the Campaign for Fair Food came home again, to the place where Fair Food was born, to continue the campaign to bring Wendy’s — the final fast-food holdout — into the fold. And Louisville, as if it were just yesterday that we had last stood together in the streets demanding a penny more per pound from Taco Bell, answered the call.
The day began with a tour of city led by none other than Stephen Bartlett (below, right), a longtime Louisville resident, small farmer, and Fair Food activist who — beyond repeatedly lending his home to CIW organizers, marching for untold miles side by side with CIW members, and tirelessly organizing his own friends and fellow Louisville residents to join the movement — sat in the cold and rain for ten long days back in 2003 to join workers from Immokalee in a hunger strike outside Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, CA.
And though Louisville is indeed an historic city in its own right — and a remarkably beautiful one at that (don’t tell anyone, by the way, as Louisvillians like to keep the secret of their treasure to themselves) — the tour visited the landmarks of a different sort of history, of the trail blazed in the early days of the Campaign for Fair Food, the pivotal events and significant places where the foundation was laid for the New Day flourishing today in Florida’s fields.
For many of the tour crew who weren’t around in those early days, the history, and the many personal stories Stephen sprinkled throughout the course of the tour, were a fascinating look at the roots of the campaign that is changing their lives every day on the job.
Before long, of course, reflection on the past would give way to action for the future, and quite an action it was. With over 100 people gathered for a truly festive protest outside a local Wendy’s restaurant, Louisville showed the Fair Food Nation how to fight for farmworker justice, old school style!
The protest brought out some of our longest-time friends…
… and with its jubilant spirit and infections sound…
… inspired passersby — many passersby, actually — to stop in their tracks and pick up a flag for Fair Food for the very first time:
Rush hour drivers showed their support with honks and shouts…
… and the boisterous scene brought out the Louisville media…
… giving CIW members the chance to remind Louisville of its unique role in the history of the Fair Food movement and of the continuing need to protect and expand the gains won thanks to their support.
Following the action, the tour crew headed back to Highland Presbyterian Church, our host for the night, for a delicious dinner and a Fair Food family reunion. They were greeted there by the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Linda Valentine (below, left), who had recently traveled to Immokalee with a delegation to get a closer look at the Fair Food Program in action (her reflection on that visit, published just days ago, is an excellent read). She expressed her gratitude for the welcome she and her team received in Immokalee and her pleasure at being able to return that hospitality tonight. She also underscored how proud the PCUSA is of its longstanding partnership with the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food.
Emotions were running high throughout the evening, as speaker after speaker touched on the significance of the Fair Food campaign in defining the path of his or her own life since fate first brought us together over a decade ago. The insight seemed to dawn on us over the evening gradually, a thought formed in community with each person that spoke, that Louisville is unlike any other stop this tour, or anywhere else we go in our daily work of organizing throughout the national Fair Food network. Louisville’s long history of partnership with workers from Immokalee — and the many years that have passed in our own lives since we have been together in significant numbers — provided a unique opportunity to reflect on the impact this fight for fundamental human rights has had on all of us, on the way it has changed not just the food industry, but us, too. In short, how it has changed the very way we see — and live in — the world.
Perhaps no one summed it up better than one of the seminal figures in the Fair Food movement, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick (below, right), who from his position at the time as Stated Clerk of the PCUSA — the Louisville-based institution that took up our fight and lent the full weight of its church to call on its neighbor Yum Brands to protect human rights in Florida’s fields — had a hand in forging the first-ever Fair Food agreement.
Clifton spoke of how, when the CIW first showed up on his doorstep, he wasn’t sure that this loosely organized band of workers had even a whisper of a chance against one of the most powerful industries in the country. But he believed in their cause, and so he stood with the CIW, and as he made that decision his life changed forever, propelled down its new path by two forces. First was the workers themselves, whose belief in, and commitment to, human rights was total and never wavered. And second was the Presbyterian pastors of Louisville, who despite many powerful local voices demanding that they withdraw their support for the “penny-per-pound” campaign, also stood firm and never once abandoned the cause nor wavered in their own faith in God’s justice. Those two forces combined to inspire Clifton and give him the strength he needed to stand by the campaign and see it through to that day nine years ago, in March, 2005, when he sat at the table with workers from Immokalee and executives from Yum Brands and signed that historic agreement.
We, too, in the CIW have been forever changed by our relationship with Louisville. Not only have we seen unprecedented changes in the lives of tens of thousands of workers in Florida thanks to that relationship, changes that were but a distant dream when we first showed up on Clifton’s doorstep, but we have also seen our own lives change in ways we never could have imagined since those early days. Our lives are richer for the friendships forged in Louisville, and for the faith in fundamental human rights that was fortified by those friendships. And with that faith we will continue our fight, and continue to expand the reach of the Fair Food Program, conceived in Louisville nearly a decade ago to bring human rights to tomato workers in Florida, and poised now to expand those rights to workers beyond Florida, beyond tomatoes, and even beyond the fields.
We close this update with a short video from yesterday’s action in Louisville (below), and with a reminder to check back soon as the Now Is the Time Tour hits the road again this morning for its Day Seven stop in Nashville, Tennessee!