North Carolina: “We will keep fighting until Publix comes on board!”

Students and community members join the CIW in the Triangle Area of North Carolina to protest Publix

Students and community members join the CIW in the Triangle Area of North Carolina to protest Publix

Scores of North Carolinians join CIW in tour of protests, delegations, to Publix across the Tarheel State… 

Hot on the heels of the recent Fair Food Program worker-to-worker education tour of the state, a group of CIW members and staff from the Alliance for Fair Food piled into a van last week and headed to North Carolina — this time for the Publix campaign.  

Fueled by the recent announcement that key Publix supplier Red Diamond had been fined $1.4 million  for farm labor violations after a two-year investigation by the US Department of Labor, the Immokalee crew traveled north to press Publix for a response to the DOL’s findings that, “Red Diamond Farms and its owner willfully disobeyed federal labor laws and exploited vulnerable, low-wage workers.”  And they were not alone.  More than one hundred North Carolinians joined up with the tour over the course of its trip across the state, proving that even in the face of soaring summer temperatures and afternoon downpours, the Fair Food Nation’s spirit runs high.

Today we bring you reports, straight from the tour crew itself, on the two major protests that bookended the weeklong tour.  First up, the tour hit Asheville, North Carolina, which has been the capital of the Fair Food Nation in the state since the earliest days of the state’s Publix campaign:

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We were joined by over 50 University of North Carolina students, members of community organizations including the Vecinos Farmworker Health Program, Black Lives Matter and the NewSouth Network, and local families to protest at Asheville’s only Publix, demanding that the supermarket answer for the recent Department of Labor investigation of Publix’s supplier, Red Diamond.  The protesters — many of whom were brand new to the campaign — proved their resolve to fight for Fair Food when the sky opened up just as a delegation left to speak with a Publix manager.  Even in the torrential downpour, everyone kept marching and chanting, driven by the same dogged persistence that has been essential to the Fair Food movement since Day One — and that has brought 14 corporations to the table thus far. 

Publix_NC_Tour_Asheville_June2016_4250In response to action at their doorstep, Publix representatives, as usual, deflected the delegation’s questions and refused to take responsibility for the recent abuses in the company’s supply chain.  Instead, they carried on Publix’s longstanding tradition of throwing up smokescreens and excuses, rather than listening to the delegates, remaining just as deaf to the demands of their new North Carolinian customers as they have been to the farmworkers for now almost seven years.

Undaunted, Asheville Fair Food supporters carried on their own tradition of seeing right through the smoke, and taking Publix’s rejection as further fuel for their commitment to return in even greater numbers for the next protest.  In the words of CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo, who brought the protest to a powerful close: “We will keep fighting until Publix comes on board, and when that day finally comes, we will shout victory.  We are not afraid, we are going to keep fighting, and we have the support of all of you — and so with that energy and support, we know that we’ll see Publix sign!” 

A few days — and many miles — later, the tour arrived in the Triangle Area.  Once again, the tour crew was joined by scores of jubilant students, people of faith, community members and families under the hot Carolina sun.  The action was co-organized by Student Action with Farmworkers — headquartered just down the road at Duke University — and further bolstered by community organizations ranging from the National Farmworker Ministry to North Carolina Jews for Justice: 

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Publix personnel, flanked by the local police, stood stonily to the side, surveilling the protest with cameras.  Undaunted, the 60+ protesters only sang and chanted louder.  This time, when our delegation of CIW members and local customers attempted to deliver a letter to the manager, they were met at the edges of the property not by a manager or even a Publix representative — but by the police.  The officers served as messengers, shuffling the letter across the parking lot to the corporate representatives.

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To Fair Food veterans, the move was unsurprising, though nevertheless disappointing.  Susan Alan, Associate Director of the National Farmworker Ministry, addressed the crowd after the letter was carried away:  “We have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since the days of Taco Bell, through McDonalds, Burger King, and up to today.  And we’ll continue to work until Wendy’s and Publix recognize workers’ rights and sit down with farmworkers to join the Fair Food Program.  And just as we have in years before, we will not go away, and we ask all of you to not go away until Publix and Wendy’s do the right thing!”

With that, the protest group enjoyed a final meal with the community, making plans for the Campaign for Fair Food to grow and flourish in North Carolina, before heading back down the road to Immokalee.

To wrap up our report from the North Carolina tour, we leave with Lupe’s final word from the Cary protest, which capture the spirit of the tour — and the movement for Fair Food:

“Be persistent, be stubborn.  We always have to move forward… Remember that small groups have made amazing changes in this country.  We are not going to be the exception!”

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