What's this?! An arrest
at a Taco Bell protest? Hmmm, maybe those
people at Taco Bell corporate headquarters
have been right all along about the boycotters
being just a bunch of anarchists and hooligans...
Maybe we should take a closer look at the
events in Philly to see just what lead up
to this intervention by the forces of law
and order at the Tuesday afternoon action
It all started innocently
enough on Saturday when the workers from Immokalee
toured the town to see if any Philadelphia
area Taco Bell restaurants were serving fair
food tacos. Seven Taco Bells later they found
both good and bad news -- bad news, no fair
food; good news, no customers, either. Seems
like Philly is a cheesesteak and hoagie town
that doesn't much go in for watered-down fake
Mexican food. All of which meant that Saturday
afternoon offered few opportunties for criminal
mischief for the crew from Immokalee.
Then it was on to two days
of the "Breaking the Media Blackout Conference,"
bringing together leaders of the movement
for media democracy and community organizations
from across the country that make up the Poor
People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (our
friends at the Kensington Welfare Rights Union
and Human Rights Tech deserve special recognition
for pulling together such an important conference).
And with such a great conference
going on all weekend there was certainly no
time for any arrestable activities by any
of the Mini-Tour participants. Between panels
like this one, workshops, and film showings,
there wasn't a free moment to do anything
that might upset Philly police.
Come Monday it was a day
just like so many others on the Tour, meeting
with students at Temple University at outdoor
... and speaking at their
classes, like this one on "The Politics
of Inequality," a subject in which farmworkers
get their PhD's every day...
Then it was on to the most
innocent of tourist sights -- Independence
Hall and a visit to the Liberty Bell...
A bell which, by the way,
has quite a fine message for its sister bell's
consideration in Irvine, CA -- "Proclaim
liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,"...
... as opposed to the
Taco Bell motto, "Proclaim sub-poverty
wages and misery throughout the land of all
our suppliers, for all their workers".
Maybe it's time to break out the old Liberty
Bell and ring it once again to gather all
freedom-loving people and cast off the tyranny
of the fast-food industry.
One thing's for sure, though
-- with all the security around the Liberty
Bell, there was certainly nothing we could
do there that would even remotely upset Philadelphia
So, Tuesday came, and we
continued our crime-free path through Philly
with a visit to the University of Pennsylvania,
where not only did we not do anything illegal,
we were actually invited guests at a very-well
attended seminar on labor and the fast-food
industry, speaking along with Eric Schlosser,
author of "Fast-Food Nation" and
a panel of speakers, including poultry workers
from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.
Here, Eric Schlosser speaks while Gerardo
Reyes of the CIW (checkered shirt, right)
And then it was Gerardo's
turn. Note the distinct lack of criminal activity
on Gerardo's part.
The joint presentation
with Eric Schlosser was an excellent opportunity
to bring together theory and practice, journalism
and organizing. While Eric arrived at his
conclusion that an alliance between workers
and consumers is necessary and possible to
clean up abuses in the fast-food industry's
supplier chain, the CIW arrived at the same
conclusion following several years of organizing
to improve conditions in the agricultural
industry for farm labor. Analysis from above
and struggle from below met in the middle
at the idea that the answer to farmworker
exploitation is behind the shiny glass doors
and bright logos of companies like Taco Bell,
McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy's.
Which brings us to Tuesday's
protest. Following the presentation at Penn,
we continued on to the Taco Bell at 5th and
South St., where, as we saw earlier, things
somehow got out of hand.
This is a real shame --
Taco Bell is sure to seize upon this incident
of lawlessness to discredit the entire boycott
movement. Here's a shot of the Taco Bell before
the rowdy protesters arrived to unleash their
... and here's the same
Taco Bell moments later in mid-protest. How
did things get so out of control so fast?
Well, first, you start
with a little well-placed protest art...
...add in some well-organized
allies (thanks again, KWRU!)...
Mix in some not so well-spelled
but eye-catching signs...
... and you've got a protest
that can get the word out about the exploitation
behind Taco Bell's chalupas to thousands of
people in no time.
It always helps to bring
a little chalk along and use the public spaces
for the issues that public education tends
to forget -- like worker justice.
Did you know, for example,
that 94% of Americans think that people who
work should earn a wage that would keep their
families out of poverty? You wouldn't know
that if all you had to rely on was the mainstream
media, so make your own media and remind people
of economic justice issues that we all believe
... and of the power we
have as consumers to re-define how our economy
divides up the wealth we all help create as
Of course, the Taco Bell
owner at the 5th and South St. restaurant
quickly sent one of her workers out to mop
up these messages off the pavement outside
So wait, that all seemed
innocent enough.. what about that arrest we
started this report out with? What ever happened
to the protester we saw getting her pockets
emptied before getting the assist into the
that appearances can be deceiving. Turns out,
in fact, that she wasn't a protester after all,
but a counter-protester, and a not very smart
one at that. Her sharpest barb was to yell at
the workers in the protest to "get a job"...
when the protest was about improving the conditions
at the job we already
no reasoning to support her feelings, she resorted
to violence. She was arrested after hauling
off and punching one of the protesters in the
But the story
gets even better than that -- not only was the
person arrested a counter-protester, but the
person in the blue shirt handing her her business
card and letting her know she can help with
anything she might need is none other than the
owner of the 5th and South St. Taco Bell!
That's right, the owner
of the Taco Bell. Here she is from the front.
And here are her words after they hauled her
violent new friend away:
"She b*tch slapped
him! He deserved it!"
Hmmm, now that's
an interesting twist to this whole corporation
v. protesters story... here we have a Taco
Bell owner supporting, encouraging, and celebrating
violence against people exercising their right
to free speech, and she's caught on film doing
Maybe she felt justified
because the protest was making it difficult
for her to make money from her business...
sort of like farmworkers who are upset about
how they can't make enough money from their
business -- selling their labor -- either.
So does she think violence is justified when
people keep you from making the amount of
money you think you should make? What does
Taco Bell think about their Philly franchisee's
Looks like the old "law-abiding
corporation under seige by vandalous protesters"
narrative that you hear today whenever people
gather to oppose the excesses of corporate
greed might have a few holes in it. Maybe
that's why, as we saw at the weekend's media
conference, we need our own media to tell
our own stories to get the truth out about
life in a country where 10% of the people
own 70% of the wealth -- and, what's worse
yet, 1% own 40% of all the wealth.
with this image from the Philly protest, and
let it speak for itself.
-- Smith College and a presentation with Howard
Zinn at Harvard University.
Ahhh, if it isn't America's
favorite morning show... Every morning, millions
of people start their day off with the gang
at the Today Show -- here's Katie Couric interviewing
Tom Petty this past Friday as part of the
show's "Rocktober Fest" series of
live concerts at Rockefeller Center!
The Today Show crowds are
always so colorful, filling the plaza with
their energy, their excitement, and their
home-made signs -- "We love you Granny
- Happy 100th birthday!", or "Just
Married - Tampa, Florida!" The zany,
spontaneous banter between the public and
the show's hosts on live television is a staple
of the show...
But, hey, wait a minute...
That guy doesn't look right...Hold on one
second... What's that sign say??
Oh my goodness, it's those
farmworkers from Immokalee again and their
Taco Bell boycott! Why, apparently they'll
stop at nothing to publicize their message
about the exploitation of farm labor in their
"neck of the woods." A message like
that has no place darkening the otherwise
sunny skies of the Today Show world! Now,
millions of people are going to learn about
the Taco Bell boycott, just because it's live
TV and the sign can't be edited out of the
It's because of loathsome
tactics like these that poor people can't
be trusted with the media and why rich corporations
are left with no other choice but to monoplize
access and control over television, radio,
and the written press.
After breaking the media
monoply in the morning (even if only for a
few moments...), the Mini-Tour riders hopped
back into the van and headed north to New
Haven to meet with Yale students and community
representatives about the boycott and about
some incredible organizing that is going on
right now in New Haven.
labor unions, and students have joined forces
in New Haven to demand a "New Social
Contract" with Yale University, one in
which the people who work for Yale (25% of
the New Haven population!) are guaranteed
a living wage, respect for their hard work,
and democracy on the job. Just last week,
800 people were arrested in a massive civil
disobedience action, with another 3,000 people
protesting as witnesses to the arrests --
the strongest action yet in their growing
campaign to redefine their relationship with
the university (the second richest university
in the country...). Yet, speaking of media
monopolies, this unprecedented action didn't
even merit first page news in New Haven's
paper (a paper part-owned by two of the university's
trustees, by the way...).
The meeting was a powerful
experience of discovering the unlikely commonalities
of our two seemingly very different struggles.
America's worst-paid, least-protected workers
and America's future doctors, professors,
and political leaders are both facing down
the corporations that diminish their lives
and are both demanding a "new social
contract" for the future. Like farmworkers
in Immokalee, the people of New Haven are
demanding not just a fairer share of the profits
they help generate, but of the power in their
relationship to their employer. With their
courageous actions, they are forging a better
future for all
of New Haven -- the people and
Yale -- whether the university realizes it
yet or not.
Media monopolies, the growing
movement for media democracy, and the work
of communities across the country to "Break
the Media Blackout" would be the focus
of the Mini-Tour's next two days, as we headed
back down 95 and on to Philadelphia for a
conference hosted by our friends at the Kensington
Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), joining dozens
of other organizations and independent media
groups from around the country for a weekend
of great workshops. Stay tuned for an update
from the conference and from Philly actions
Day 3 -- Give us Liberty or Give us... a Penned-off
No visit to New York would
be complete without a stop at one of this
country's most beautiful monuments. Though
a little distant and dimmed by the clouds
of a coming storm (dramatic foreshadowing
of the second half of this report...), the
Statue of Liberty still stands proud guard
over our best, most noble sentiments.
And despite the haze around
Liberty's statue, her message was clear and
present in the minds of CIW members who gathered
in her shadow to discuss what it means to
be an immigrant in the United States at the
beginning of the 21st Century...
... a discussion recorded
by this pesky Canadian film crew that keeps
following us around (just kidding, of course
-- we have developed a genuine fondness for
our neighbors to the north).
From Battery Park and the
Statue of Liberty, it was on to Union Square
and our first-ever Manhattan Taco Bell action!
Which was also our first-ever penned-off protest...
New York's finest were
more like New York's most constitutionally-challenged,
insisting that if we wanted to exercise our
right to free speech we had to do it in a
"designated protest area" away from
the public sidewalk in front of Taco Bell
(the very public area we have occupied in
every other state where we have protested
across this country). The designated protest
area (or "pen" as the police called
it among themselves) limited the protesters'
... but did nothing to
diminish our spirits or determination. If
we couldn't express ourselves in the usual
way, we would find another way to get our
message across, turning the action into the
most successful flyering effort in the history
of the boycott.
Protesters, denied the
right to gather in front of the restaurant,
took to the streets one-by-one to talk one-on-one
to the thousands of Manhattanites passing
Nearly 2,000 flyers went
out that night (!), providing opportunities
for hundreds of conversations about the CIW's
call for a fairer fast-food industry, including
this one with a curious and sympathetic Taco
Bell worker. Worker to worker, restaurant
staff to farmworker -- a conversation that
Taco Bell must dread, and a conversation that
might not have taken place if the New York
police hadn't limited our rights in the first
Now in case you think the
Mini-Tour was all fun and games, we thought
we'd end this update with a little idea of
how we spend the few free minutes we get between
meetings and actions. You can work up quite
a sweat fighting corporate greed...
Next, it's on to a quick
visit to Yale and some exciting organizing
there, Philly and some old friends there,
and a surprise visit to Katie, Matt, Al and
Day 2 -- The Mini-Tour Meets Taco Bell's "Target
On Day 2 in New York, the
crew split for a full schedule of meetings
and presentations with a focus on Taco Bell's
very own target demographic -- young people.
Adelphi University, Fordham University, Hunter
College, and Rutgers University all hosted
CIW delegations on this very busy day.
... At Adelphi University
in Long Island, CIW members and Noell Damico
of the Presbyterian Church USA discussed the
boycott and the power that students have to
help forge a new fast-food industry with a
full room of young minds. Unortunately for
Taco Bell, these young minds were more than
happy to reconsider their fast-food habits
once they learned of the reality of farmworker
poverty behind Taco Bell's cheap food. You
can get a sense of the spirit of the meeting
in this great
story in Newsday.
While across the water
at Hunter College in Manhattan, a second team
of CIW members met with students who are actively
organizing to "Boot the Bell" off
their own campus.
Hunter is one of a system
of publicly-funded universities in the city
of New York that came about through organized
public demand for access to higher education
-- a powerful reminder that the organized
voice of the public can
make demands on the powerful for those things
we consider to be fair and necessary.
The Hunter presentation
was a great success, with students grabbing
up boycott materials, including information
packets, buttons, and flyers like they were
going out of style.
Following the presentation,
outreach continued in the plaza outside Hunter's
main building, where, speaking of style...
... a new "moda"
seemed to be materializing right before our
eyes. Taco Bell boycott "body stickers"
will surely show up on the very best runways
come Fashion Week this Spring.
Finally, in the evening,
it was back to serious, penetrating discussion
of the history, strategy and objectives of
the first-ever farmworker-led boycott of a
major fast-food company, this time at the
Labor Education Center at Rutgers University
in New Jersey...
... or, at least, as serious
and penetrating a conversation as the Tour
participants could manage after nearly a solid
week of actions, presentations, meetings,
and very little sleep.
Yet despite our fatigue,
many of the students were moved to take the
campaign to their campus and help lead the
boycott in the Garden State.
Tomorrow, we head back
to Manhattan for a protest at Union Square.
New York, just like we
pictured it! Our first day in the big city
did not disappoint, as we got together with
some old friends in Brooklyn for a tremendous
... an action so good,
in fact, that it left Taco Bell's employees
with a little spare time on their hands --
a chance to catch up on some overdue cleaning
without all those customers around to bother
But before we give a full
breakdown on the action -- and our most heartfelt
thanks to our friends at Brooklyn's "Make
the Road by Walking" -- first we should
share a little about the day-long series of
meetings and presentations that brought us
into contact with some of New York's best
and brightest students, and religious and
In the morning, we all
traveled to the "School of the Future,"
where we split up and met with six classes
and nearly 200 students. In the photo on the
left, a pair of fearless students perform
a skit on the boycott for their class, while,
in the photo above, Domingo explains the roots
of the boycott to a class down the hall.
Then it was on to a meeting
with the People of Faith Network at the historic
-- VERY historic, overwhelmingly historic
-- Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.
The meeting was a huge success, and will surely
lead to a powerful alliance between the CIW
and the nearly 10,000 congregations that make
up the People of Faith Network. But truth
be told, it was a little difficult to give
the meeting our full attention -- given that
the Lafayette Street Presbyterian Church was
not just a famous stop on the Underground
Railroad, but also the place where the Emancipation
Proclamation was drafted.
From the church we continued
on to yet more meetings, albeit this time
in far more modern settings -- with students
from New York University (above) and with
members of SCALE (Student Committee Against
Labor Exploitation), part of the National
And finally... the fun
of a well-organized action! Our hats went
off (revealing an impressive set of ears...)
to our brothers and sisters at Make the Road
by Walking, an organization doing awesome
work in Brooklyn. They put together a loud,
lively, bouncing, festival of a protest...
... that filled the space
in front of Taco Bell with art...
... an inspiring spirit
of resistance (including this new, tough-to-name,
caped, anti-exploitation superhero...)
... and some incredible
rhythms to keep the protest moving.
The action grew so big,
in fact, that we experienced the first recorded
total eclipse of a Taco Bell by protest art..
... all of which was recorded
by an intrepid Canadian documentary crew.
Once the action wound down,
we returned to Make the Road by Walking's
center and enjoyed a great dinner and convivio,
including speeches about the importance of
defending our rights..
... and a stirring rendition
of the "Ballad of the Boycott" (also
soon to be heard north of the border by people
And so another intense
day of reflection and action came to an end,
leaving the riders tired, but happy, and just
a few hours to get ready for Day 2 in New
We couldn't leave Washington,
of course, without checking out the sights
and taking a picture or two. This is the CIW
version of making you look through our vacation
But then it was back to
work -- and back on the road, as the Mini-Tour
continued on to Baltimore, Maryland, passing
by its beautiful baseball stadium at Camden
Yards on the way, home of the Baltimore Orioles
(although 4 wins in the last 40 games of the
season isn't quite so beautiful)...
After a meeting with the
United Workers Association, a Baltimore day
laborers' organization, it was on to an action
at a downtown Taco Bell with long-time local
activists and allies from the Citywide Coalition...
... and some accidental
activists, too, like this wonderful woman
who was on her way to work when she passed
by the protest, got informed, and picked up
a sign, staying for the rest of the hour-long
Which is what Baltimore
is all about, really. One of the most genuine,
working class towns on the East Coast, Baltimore
has a feel, a down-to-earth charm, like almost
no other city we've ever visited in our travels.
Case in point -- this encounter
between a Baltimore boycotter and a Taco Bell
(almost) customer, which ended in another
victory in the battle for "fair food."
Maybe that's why they call it "Charm
Following the Baltimore
action, the riders split into two groups,
one meeting with students from the University
... and the other off on
a visit to a nearby mystery city. If you try
really hard, you might even be able to guess
where the second group spent Monday afternoon.
More details soon...
The Mini-Tour riders left
Immokalee on Friday evening and drove through
the night to meet their DC allies Saturday
for another raucous DC action. The ride was
long and tiring, but the riders passed the
time with marathon ballad sessions...
... and car games we all
love to play, like strip "I spy"...
Actually, Max just wanted us to put this picture
in the report.
But once we got to Washington,
our fatigue was soon forgotten. The Mini-Tour
delegation joined the march organized by the
Mobilization for Global Justice in the afternoon,
and at night we hit a local restaurant for
an action that Taco Bell will not soon forget.
Art, music, and noise --
a mix that never fails to get our message
across and wake up consumers who would otherwise
sleepwalk through their food choices...
"End Sweatshops in
the Fields" -- This banner and its message
have traveled from coast to coast, and will
add at least 6 more states to their travels
in the course of this tour.
The crowd continued to
grow as the night went on...
.. and, of course, the
dog made it out to help lead the cheers.
But in the end, it all
comes down to this:
Boycott Taco Bell!
And the tour continues
Next stop, Baltimore.