This past Sunday, scores of Sarasota community allies united side-by-side with farmworker families from Immokalee for a lively picket calling on Publix to end its six-year silence and come to the table with farmworkers. They gathered, chanting and cheering and inviting the many passers-by to “honk for justice,” outside of one of Sarasota’s largest Publix stores, prominently located on the well-trafficked intersection of U.S. 41 and Bay St.
Sarasota’s 5th annual Eat Local Week, in honor and celebration of local food, farming, and farmwork, partnered with the CIW to put together this energetic protest. As part of this weeklong event, the action was preceded by a screening of the award-winning documentary Food Chains where dozens of food-conscious Sarasotans learned, many for the first time ever, of the CIW’s pathbreaking work for justice in the fields!
Led by the CIW, the colorful protest was bolstered by the participation of allies from across Sarasota and across central Florida – including Transition Sarasota, students at New College of Florida, University of South Florida, and Hillsborough Community College all the way in Tampa, congregants at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Sarasota Quaker Meeting, and Temple Beth Israel.
After nearly an hour of heartfelt and peaceful protest, amid rousing chants of “What do we want? Justice!” and “Down, down, with the exploitation! Up, up with the Fair Food Nation,” the crowd gathered to hear reports from the Publix delegation. The committed group of farmworkers and faith and student allies that had entered the store to speak to the manager and other representatives from Publix corporate described how the company continued to deny farmworkers a seat at the table. Publix representatives stood in silence, even as they heard loud and clear what Florida farmworkers want and deserve: justice and an authentic commitment to addressing the structural poverty and exploitation embedded in U.S. agriculture for too long – not piecemeal charity.
The #FairFoodNation was a force to be reckoned with back when it gathered at this very Publix as it opened its doors in 2011. And this Sunday’s high-spirited affair showed Publix once again that, despite (or because of) its failure to respect farmworker rights by joining the Fair Food Program, the CIW and its supporters are here to stay!
More and more of its supermarket peers including Ahold USA and Walmart, have come on board even as Publix continues to ignore the call for justice – so, continuing to stand in solidarity with farmworkers across the state of Florida, the Fair Food Nation knows it’s only a matter of time before the Florida company comes to the table.
Sarasota’s energy served as an inspiring and grounding send-off for the members of the CIW embarking this week upon the 13-day North Carolina Publix Truth Tour, generating consciousness and commitment to the movement for dignity and respect in the fields within communities across the Tarheel State. The CIW is in North Carolina as Publix expands its market into this state to make sure that North Carolinian consumers know about the company’s complicity in the poverty and exploitation of workers which, outside of the scope of the Fair Food Program, continues to characterize the U.S. agricultural industry.
So as Publix continues to expand to the Southeast, may the strengthening call of the Fair Food Nation in Publix’s hometown state of Florida serve as a reminder that the supermarket cannot continue to expand its market without seriously committing to human rights for farmworkers.
Publix – end the silence, and join the New Day!