For months, members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) prepared to gather from across North America for their General Assembly in Columbus, OH to meet, worship, make key decisions — as well as to confront Wendy’s in its own hometown about their consistent refusal to respect farmworker rights. After years of working in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, since first endorsing the Taco Bell Boycott a decade ago, the Disciples felt it was the perfect time to take direct action with Wendy’s. They were moved not only by their cherished value of justice, but also by one crucial piece of Disciples history: Dave Thomas, the late founder of Wendy’s, was a member of the Disciples of Christ!
When the long-awaited day of the protest arrived this past Sunday, a forecast of flash floods and lightning threatened to force a change of plans. But just moments before the action was scheduled to begin, the sun broke through and Disciples poured out, over one hundred strong, into the streets of Columbus toward a newly-opened downtown Wendy’s.
The action was sponsored by a wide-variety of groups: Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Disciples Justice Action Network, North American Pacific Asian Disciples, Disciples Peace Fellowship, the InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Columbia, Ohio Fair Food, the Central Ohio Worker Center and Ohio State University Student/Farmworker Alliance (there to remind Wendy’s that the ongoing national student boycott of Wendy’s is only building momentum at its origin campus of OSU!).
In what was for a majority of marchers their first time participating in an action of this kind, the Disciples peacefully marched, chanted, and carried signs urging Wendy’s to end their silence in the face of the Coalition’s two-and-a-half year call to join the Fair Food Program: ‘Walk humbly, Love mercy, Do justice!” “God is fair. Are you, Wendy’s?”
Dave Thomas’s memory was invoked repeatedly by his Disciples brethren. In the words of Floridian Rev. Jack Barnes, “I am convinced that if he were still alive today, we would not have to be here. Let’s keep the pressure on to remind them of their heritage, as well as to continue our own heritage of justice.”
When a delegation of marchers was prevented from delivering a letter to the restaurant manager, things grew momentarily tense…
But the frustration was soon turned masterfully into a moment for reflection on faith in action, as Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea (above in red) recalled a story from the Disciples tradition that captured the spirit of the moment. In Joshua 6, she recounted, it’s told that the Hebrew people were able to tear down a city wall by doing nothing more than following their faith and marching persistently around the massive wall for seven days. Rev. Stanley-Rea drew the parallel to the barrier Wendy’s has erected in order to ignore the rights of farmworkers: “And I pray with you that together through all of the parts of the Disciples of Christ that are represented here, we will continue working here to tear down the wall!” She led the refrain over and over, all one hundred chanting with her: “Tear down the wall down! Tear down the wall!”
All in all, it was an incredibly powerful evening, charged with electric energy and a resolve made only stronger by the unseemly turn of events. The CIW’s Julia de la Cruz closed out the action with these words: “We are not unaccustomed to Wendy’s closing the door on us and refusing to let us enter. But our struggle is never to become discouraged, but to increase our energy and commitment as we fight for justice, justice for all farmworkers. We will keep fighting. The Disciples of Christ have supported us for so many years, and the struggle continues. Before long, Wendy’s will have to join the Fair Food Program.”