This past weekend, in the full heat of CIW's Florida Summer of Action, 150+ farmworkers and allies gathered at Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, to call on Publix and Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program. True to form, Tampa Bay – which has long been home to some of the Fair Food movement’s liveliest Florida actions – did not disappoint!
CIW’s Leo Perez: “We are marching today because we are against violence in all forms….”
Pastor Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church, where the 1-mile march began, gave a blessing to ground us, “Let us pray. Oh God of many names . . . We call on Publix and Wendy’s to do the right thing and come to the table. God, give us strength and courage to be in solidarity with each other that we might together find our liberation. Amen.”
Farmworkers and their families were joined by students from March For Our Lives Tampa Bay, connecting the workers' movement to end violence in the fields with the students' organizing to end gun violence in society. Students with March for Our Lives are continuing to demand that Publix honors its commitment to withhold political contributions to candidates back by the National Rifle Association. In the words of March for Our Lives Tampa Bay’s co-presidents Alyssa Ackbar and Macy McClintock: “After actions taken by the national March for Our Lives organization, Publix promised to stop endorsing NRA-backed politician Adam Putnam. Today, we march in solidarity with you . . . We are so proud to be here today marching with all of you and to be fighting against the injustice of violence that companies like Publix and Wendy’s continue to ignore every day. Human rights can’t be ignored.”
Together, both groups called on Publix to take responsibility for the impact of its decisions as a company on the Florida community, such as Publix’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program and its decision to waver on its public promise to stop funding NRA-backed political candidates.
And the vibrant Tampa Bay community showed up to support both important movements: Tampa Bay Fair Food supported the Alliance for Fair Food and March for Our Lives to organize the protest. Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition came to support, signs held high. People of faith from around the area came out en masse , including Unitarian Universalists from Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Lakeland (Publix’s hometown!); United Methodists; Quakers,from even as far as Sarasota; Presbyterians; and members of the United Church of Christ. Nearing the end of their summer vacation, students from local high schools as well as the University of Tampa and New College brought their final blast of summer energy to the sunny march, joining local community groups and members of unions, such as from the West Central Florida Labor Council.
Following the lively pickets in front of not one, but two Publix stores, the Fair Food crowd carried its infectious energy down to the Wendy’s on 4th St. for a closing picket and rally.
One New College student, Charlie, accompanied the CIW in delivering the letter to Wendy’s Manager. “All we were saying is, ‘People are being sexually harassed.’ And [the Wendy’s manager’s] response was, ‘I’m not interested.’ And he has more power than we do to get messages to corporate.”
Graham Shelor from Blake High School in downtown Tampa: “I too got the chance to go inside this Wendy’s over here, asking the Manager to accept the letter that was offered. He turned it down many times, as we continued to talk about the struggle that farmworkers face.” Graham emphasized the importance of solidarity of workers and consumers along the supply chain.
Driving home the importance of building connections between women and men in the fields with consumers, CIW’s Silvia Perez delivered a powerful message on the truth of farmworkers’ reality, standing in front of the crowd under the hot Florida sun: “We have done so much with the Wendy’s campaign. Over the past 5 years, we’ve picketed, we’ve marched, we fasted for 5 days. Wendy’s is still refusing to join the Fair Food Program. That’s why we’re here today for something very important to all of us. We know that right now it’s very, very hot, but it is this heat faced by women and men working in the agricultural industry. This is is the heat that a farmworker feels when working in the fields.” Silvia continued, “each day that passes, the boycott of Wendy’s grows. Each day that passes, allies, students, and people of faith unite to support farmworkers.”
Ever-supportive members of United Methodist Women and a local synagogue, Temple Beth-El, joined forces to whip up a delicious lunch for the hungry workers and allies back at the church.
We closed with a song written by the CIW Women’s Group, composed and sung by long-time Alliance for Fair Food member, Priscilla Velez, during lunch:
My dignity is not a product to sell with every harvest.
There is a moment when one says, “Enough!”
Together we can tear out the sexual violence and harassment in the fields
Today I can live with dignity, I can love my family and myself with a full heart
But we didn’t do this alone; first we woke up, we brought consciousness to our community
Among our neighbors and our sisters in different parts of the country
There we made a commitment—our time, our sweat, our energy
Together we are creating the world we want to see—we’re not waiting for someone else to create it for us
This is not a story written in any book.
There is not enough paper in the world to capture the whole story of a woman in struggle
For the love of her family—this is our love story
And we want you to take part
Join us; together we will make a better world, a better world.