“Here we are in Columbus, Ohio, which puts all of us at ground zero for farmworker justice…”

OSU fast enters Day Six as administration’s continued stalling on decision to cut Wendy’s contract leaves student fasters unsatisfied;  

Farmworkers from Immokalee, national allies, and OSU students unite in stunning vigil, protest outside Wendy’s corporate headquarters as Return to Human Rights Tour arrives in Columbus!

From dawn to dusk, Friday was a momentous day for the Wendy’s Boycott and the national struggle for farm labor justice.

In the morning, as Day Five of their fast for farmworker justice dawned on their encampment outside OSU’s administration building, 19 student fasters, along with a team of farmworkers from the CIW based in Columbus for the past six weeks, prepared for their long-awaited meeting with OSU administration officials to discuss their concerns over human rights conditions in Wendy’s supply chain.  Their goal: to demand an answer, once and for all, as to whether the university would honor its commitment to cut its contract with Wendy’s over the fast food giant’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program.  

Then later that afternoon, following seven days of growing excitement as the Return to Human Rights Tour made its way from Atlanta and Nashville to Minneapolis and Chicago, the tour crew of workers from Immokalee and their allies rolled into Columbus to join forces with the student fasters, religious leaders, and hundreds of national allies for a weekend of action.

In spite of all the obstacles set before the growing Fair Food Nation — be it by Wendy’s, by OSU’s administration, or by other forces working to turn back on the clock on basic human rights in this country — the convergence yesterday of scores of indefatigable farmworkers from Florida, courageous student fasters from OSU, and steadfast allies arriving from all over the nation made one thing perfectly clear: Columbus, Ohio, is indeed, today, ground zero in the battle for Fair Food. 

OSU students to administration: Cutting Wendy’s contract will “ultimately lead Wendy’s to join the right side of history…”

Before we share a report from the meeting with OSU administration representatives, it is perhaps important to cast some light on an issue that lies at the very heart of the students’ fast.  When the students say they are calling on the university to “honor its commitment to cut its contract with Wendy’s,” they are not referring to a vague promise once made in passing during an earlier meeting, or to the students’ interpretation of some aspirational university code of ethics.  Not at all.  Instead, they are referring to this specific language in OSU’s lease — their university’s contract — with Wendy’s:

“Whereas, Landlord and Tenant desire to confirm that the Lease is being renewed for a one (1) or two (2) year term, that Tenant shall have three remaining one-year options to renew the Lease, and that Tenant’s ability to exercise its options shall be conditioned upon a satisfactory resolution of the concerns of Student Farm Workers Alliance with regard to the Tenant sourcing of tomatoes for the business that Tenant is operating on the premises.”

It has been over two years since the University signed that legally-binding lease with Wendy’s, and over the course of those two years the students have consistently and repeatedly let the administration know that Wendy’s has done nothing to satisfy “the concerns of Student Farm Workers Alliance with regard to the Tenant sourcing of tomatoes for the business that Tenant is operating on the premises.”

The students’ frustration with what they perceive as the administration’s excess of patience with Wendy’s — a patience they feel is not only unmerited but unstrategic, as well — was the spark that prompted their weeklong fast in the first place.  And it was with that spark, kindled still further by five long days of personal sacrifice and reflection, that they headed into their meeting yesterday with the primary administrators of Ohio State — though, it should be noted, those administrators did not include President Michael Drake, who apparently could not make himself available to meet with the students he represents.

Following a discussion by CIW on the Fair Food Program — its unique mechanisms and, most importantly, its impact — one of the student fasters, Alex, broke down the decision before the university:  If the University were truly committed to human rights, the only meaningful action it could take after two years of inaction and dissimulation from Wendy’s is to cut ties with the fast food giant.  To do so would not only be an act of moral fortitude, but it is indeed the only effective use of the university’s power, as the history of the Fair Food movement has demonstrated time and time again.  Only by exercising its leverage by cutting its contract, and thereby setting the example for other universities around the country, could OSU honor its commitment to its students, show real moral leadership, and ultimately “lead Wendy’s to join the right side of history,” in Alex’s words.

The administration’s response?  “OSU has always been on the right side of history.”  They went on to inform the students and farmworkers in the room that the University would not be making a decision that day on the Wendy’s contract, but rather would continue conversations with Wendy’s to learn more about the new corporate Code of Conduct, postponing the decision for yet another month.  The administrators were “confident” that they could use their influence as a partner with Wendy’s to resolve the concerns laid before them (despite the fact that those whose concerns are at issue — the fasting students of OSU’s Student Farmworker Alliance — were telling them, plain and simple, that they are not satisfied and are no longer willing to allow the administration to pursue a failed strategy in their name).

With that, the fasting students walked out of the meeting, and held an impromptu action in the echoing hall of the student union.  One of the fasters, Henry, took to the mic:

I am one of 19 students and community members who have gone without food for five days. We are on a fast for farmworker justice, because 14 of the largest food corporations in the world have all joined a proven solution for farmworker justice.  It’s called the Fair Food Program, and it is organized and led by farmworkers who are in this gathering with us today.  But there is one corporation who is holding out from joining the Fair Food Program, and that is Wendy’s.  And where is Wendy’s headquarters?  Right here in Columbus, Ohio which puts all of us at ground zero for farmworker justice…  Wendy’s refuses to join, and instead they come up with false Codes of Conduct, with lies, with false solutions, and tell us that they are on board.  Enough with their lies, shame on Wendy’s!   It is time that our University cut its contract!

Meanwhile, the administrators quietly slipped away through a back door of the union, leaving behind the echoing chants of young men and women of the university they represent.

The students’ message is clear: OSU is not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of its own promises.  The university’s own contract says in no uncertain terms that Wendy’s relationship with the University is dependent on the satisfactory resolution of the concerns of students.  Also, in no uncertain terms, students have made plain that the only satisfactory resolution to their concerns is for Wendy’s join the award-winning Fair Food Program — nothing less.

The ultimate result of yesterday’s meeting is equally clear: Students left their conversation with university administrators more committed than ever to kick Wendy’s off of their campus.

CIW arriving to Columbus: “In each of the places we’ve traveled through, we’ve planted a seed, a seed of hope…”

And just a few short hours later, the fasters’ spirits were buoyed by the moment many had been awaiting for months:  the arrival of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Columbus.

As CIW crested the final hill before Wendy’s Headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, just north of Columbus, scores of religious leaders, students fasters as well as other OSU students, and community members broke into cheers of welcome.

Fresh off the tour bus and standing before a crowd of nearly 100, CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo took to the microphone:

“We have been on the road for many days now.  We have traveled to Atlanta, where we learned about the history of civil rights in this country.  We have traveled to Nashville, where other worker organizations showed up in support of the Wendy’s campaign.  We have traveled to Chicago, to Minneapolis.  In each of the places, we’ve planted a seed, a seed of hope, a seed of respect.  It has now been many years that we’ve been working this land to plant good seeds.  And we’re not going to stop now, we’re going to continue with your help, and with the help of those who have been fasting.  As we have been on the road, we haven’t been fasting, but we have been with you and behind you, in our common fight for human rights.”

The original plan for the afternoon centered on a vigil outside of Wendy’s Headquarters, including a delegation of an impressive array of religious leaders — hailing from several denominations of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — to urge Wendy’s to take a basic moral stand for human rights.  But, when CIW’s Lucas Benitez stepped forward to update the gathered crowd, it became clear that that was not to be:

“We’ve just heard from the Police of Dublin that Wendy’s security has said that they don’t want any of us on their property.  What that means is that they are scared.  Because if you have nothing to hide, you can feel free to let people onto your property.  But once again, Wendy’s is trying to hide behind its security and behind the police.  But no matter what, we have the right to be on public property in front of their headquarters, and that is where we will go.”

To which Lupe added:

“Perhaps Wendy’s can say that we aren’t allowed on their property, but really, we’re inviting them onto our land — our land of human rights, our land of respect.  We’re going to say to Wendy’s, come to us, here is where the truth is… you cannot ignore reality any longer.”

Amidst the cheers from supporters, two beautiful cloth paintings were then unfurled on either side of the CIW, and were introduced by the Reverend Noelle Damico, Senior Fellow at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and one of CIW’s closest allies since the earliest days of Taco Bell:  “We really have two visions before us:  One is a vision of justice rooted in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program and in the community of Immokalee.  The other is a vision that is designed by a corporation, named Wendy’s, to befit its own brand’s image.”

Lucas followed:  “What do we see on this tree? It is a dying tree, it has been planted in infertile ground.   It represents the land and the tomato plants where Wendy’s buys their tomatoes.  In each of their hamburgers, in all of their stores, they are selling sick tomatoes from plants like this one…”

“…And on this side, this is a plant that represents hope, its product is justice, it’s a plant where the earth is fertile.  That is the kind of fertile ground that the Fair Food Program is creating.  And you, all of us, are the fertilizer for this plant.  Those of you who are fasting, you are the water for this plant…”

Religious leaders from all across the country then came forward to address the crowd, offering their insights and their blessings.  To simply share some of the many beautiful words said, Sahar Alsahlani of Stony Point Multifaith Center turned and spoke directly to the young people before her, who were on their sixth day without food:

“In Islam, fasting for 30 days from sunrise to sunset is a tenant of our faith, it is on par with charity, with daily prayer, with pilgrimage.  When you fast, it is not a passive act of non-violent resistance, it is very active… it is sacrificing something very dear, it is putting your body on the line.  Fasting has unified the movements of Cesar Chavez and Gandhi, it has mobilized the prophets, it has been used in Dr. King’s work. I am very proud of the actions that you are taking.”

With high spirits, the crowd — CIW members from the tour, religious and community leaders, and student fasters alike — gathered colorful flags and signs, and headed across the street to make their voices heard in front of Wendy’s Headquarters

 

The evening protest ended with a brand-new chant for the Wendy’s Boycott, giving just a little taste of the biggest action of all on the horizon, Sunday’s Parade for Human Rights…

 

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