If anything has been clear in the past few weeks, it’s that Wendy’s is feeling the pressure coming from all corners of the Fair Food Nation! Just a couple weeks ago, the Northeast Behind the Braids tour witnessed Wendy’s release its most direct response to the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food since farmworkers’ call for justice began nearly four years ago. Of course, Wendy’s statement is nothing more than a weak and misleading attempt to answer to the truths that the CIW and allies have been uncovering and amplifying since the national boycott of the chain launched in March.
If Wendy’s is on the defensive, they’re a step beyond ignoring the growing chorus of thousands of farmworkers and consumers nationwide calling for justice and respect from the fast food giant. And that means, certainly, that we’re a step closer to victory in the Wendy’s Boycott!
Instead of deterring consumers from standing with farmworkers, Wendy’s half-truths and outright lies fueled hundreds of allies on the next tour criss-crossing the Mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Presentations, visits, conversations, and gatherings built up momentum for a big march in Washington, DC last Sunday and continued to deepen allies’ commitment post-action.
Philadelphia & Baltimore
The Behind the Braids Mid-Atlantic tour kicked off in Philadelphia with a visit to The Simple Way, an intentional faith community in North Philadelphia begun by longtime CIW supporter Shane Claiborne. After a meaningful reconnection with Shane, who has marched alongside the CIW since before the start of the Campaign for Fair Food, the tour team headed to Chestnut Hill College and the University of Pennsylvania to build support for the boycott in schools new and experienced in the campaign alike. Excitement among students in Philly for the upcoming action just a couple of hours south in Washington, D.C. quickly gathered momentum!
After a packed day in Philadelphia, the tour crew headed down to Baltimore. A successful evening event at staple café and bookstore Red Emma’s drew a crowd of new supporters and familiar faces. Allies who had accompanied the CIW in their struggle for justice for years were present, including members of recent Boycott endorser, the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC. Ken Brown, a minister and poet known as Analysis, welcomed the CIW’s Julia de la Cruz by performing a moving, powerful piece of spoken word dedicated to the Coalition. It began, “As I bite into a delicious Jubilee / I’m forced to wonder if the person who picked it is even free” and crescendoed:
“However the workers! Now, collectively, the workers grow stronger,
like a fine wine, and so we follow their leadership,
Ally with them, knowing that over time
Justice will prevail in the fields and
Human rights will be deemed more important than what a crop yields.
Their spirit is strong, and even in the midst of tears they sing freedom songs.
So, with them, we continue the Struggle. Though the road may be long,
Integrity is ours, and to us the victory belongs!
…Coalition, may the strength, may the strength,
May the strength of the earth be yours!”
With energy mounting, the Mid-Atlantic tour then set its sights on Fair Food stronghold Washington, D.C.! DC Fair Food, the powerhouse Fair Food group that sustains and grows local support for the CIW’s work year-round in the nation’s capital, had already organized a packed schedule of events for this stop of the tour.
Following a well-attended Food Chains screening at the Mt. Pleasant public library and a Student/Farmworker Alliance teach-in at George Washington University involving 30+ students from GW and nearby Georgetown University, nearly a hundred Fair Food supporters in the District came together to celebrate the CIW’s arrival to the sounds of local bands and Son Cosita Seria’s loyal group of jaraneros for an evening fundraiser at the popular Haydee’s restaurant. In the days leading up to Sunday’s big march on Wendy’s, the tour team also connected with longtime allies at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, and local urban farm Three Part Harmony.
On Sunday afternoon, scores of students from Georgetown, George Washington, and American universities as well as the University of Pennsylvania, clergy and lay leaders from local Catholic, Episcopal, Quaker, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations, and community members from across the Mid-Atlantic gathered in front of the White House for the culminating action of the tour.
After a joyful welcome from Julia de la Cruz of the CIW and Ceci Behgam of DC Fair Food, Victoria Goncalves from the Student/Farmworker Alliance base of support at GW University spoke to the importance of students’ formidable presence at the march and in the boycott of a restaurant so focused on its youth market like Wendy’s. The Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of Refugee & Immigration Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), then blessed the group gathered on that sunny afternoon to take a stand with farmworkers. With that, the march kicked off! Marching nearly two miles in downtown D.C. on the busy New York Ave. thoroughfare, the lively group made a loud splash with its creative chants: “Wendy’s you are all alone / With your frosty heart and your empty code! We’ll ignore your 4 for $4 / Until you pay a penny more!”
Hundreds of DC residents had already learned of the Wendy’s Boycott and its wide-reaching support by the time the marchers arrived to the Wendy’s restaurant at the busy intersection of New York and Florida Avenues. On the sidewalk, the group formed a moving picket aimed at stemming the flow of consumers, their boycott chants heard loud and clear all around the restaurant! Midway through the picket, a delegation went inside to deliver a letter from DC Fair Food to local Wendy’s management. Received by workers inside the restaurant, the delegation group made clear that this demonstration aimed to put pressure on decision-makers within Wendy’s with the power to do right by farmworkers – understanding that both farmworkers and fast food workers share much in common in the struggle for justice in the food chain. The high-energy picket concluded with a heartfelt reflection from the delegation group regarding the importance of solidarity and of growing the Wendy’s Boycott right there in the District, and a resounding, “We’ll be back!” led by the CIW’s Julia de la Cruz!
But the Mid-Atlantic tour didn’t stop there. For a remarkable final flourish, the tour team headed west toward the Appalachian mountains – beautifully aflame with autumn colors during these final weeks of October – to bring consciousness about the consumer boycott of Wendy’s to the small mountain towns of Southern Pennsylvania and Western Maryland.
Stopping first at St. John’s UCC in Salisbury, PA the CIW’s Julia de la Cruz led a teach-in for faith leaders in the region about the decades of Immokalee farmworkers’ struggle for justice and the powerful voice for change people of faith have in this movement. Later that evening, efforts discussed by the faith leaders to raise consciousness began in earnest as community members from several UCC and Mennonite churches in the area gathered for a screening of the documentary Food Chains. The next day, the tour team visited Frostburg State University in Maryland, generating rich discussion among students and faculty about how to amplify the national Wendy’s Boycott in this breathtaking corner of the country.
And with that, the Mid-Atlantic Behind the Braids tour is a wrap! Stay tuned for more as the Campaign grows and builds in this region – and watch for next week’s report from the road as the Texas tour finishes up!