Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice — Week 4

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

Singing Out God’s Justice by Liz Theoharis

The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church, the director of the Kairos Center for Rights, Religions, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church, the director of the Kairos Center for Rights, Religions, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

This year in the final week of Advent we read a section from the book of Luke called the Magnificat, also known as the “Song of Mary.” The Magnificat is a hymn sung by Mary when she is visited by the Holy Spirit and told she will give birth to Jesus. Upon receiving this message she visits the home of her cousin Elizabeth who is only months away from giving birth to John the Baptist. Mary enters Elizabeth’s home full of hope, proclaiming that God has,

“looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.”

She goes on to sing of the God that she knows.

“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;”

“God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Mary’s burning faith knows that change is at hand. Radical change. The Spirit of God has helped her to see that the world around her, where the wealthy are exalted and the poor are violated and forgotten, will soon be transformed. The presence and the promise of new life in her body and in that of her cousin’s fills her with faith -  faith that something beautiful and liberative can come even in the darkest places of violence and oppression.  

This song of Mary's has brought strength and vision to the struggles of the poor and dispossessed throughout history. It sings of a God that is in solidarity with the poor and stands with them in the fight for justice. Indeed, Mary’s hymn resonates much with a song that we have used for many years in our work to build a movement to end poverty. That song is called, “The Rich Man’s House.” It tells of the same kind of radical reversal that Mary envisions in the Magnificat.

“Well, I went down to the Rich man’s house.

And I took back what he stole from me.

I took back my dignity. I took back my humanity.

Now he’s under my feet, under my feet, under my feet.

Ain’t no system gonna walk all over me.”

The power of a God who is with us in the struggle against the forces that violate and degrade life is well known to those whose lives are discarded by those forces. God is present in our experiences of hardship, but also in our resistance. God takes sides with the poor and dispossessed, especially when the poor and mistreated unite and organize together. This is the God that is revealed through the fight of farmworkers in the fields of Immokalee and across the world. Their struggles teach us of the deep immorality of our economic and political system, a system that produces unprecedented wealth alongside grinding poverty. It is a system that hides and justifies the exploitation and degradation of millions of lives in this country and across the world. It is the same system that poisons the water in Michigan, forces the unhoused into encampments in Aberdeen, Washington, and compels millions to flee their homes as refugees for this land. But the organizing of farmworkers and others also reveals that the poor have the power to change history. It is when we understand our various struggles as connected in the fight against this system that we can build the power necessary to win.

In these dark times we draw strength from the hope of Mary’s song and from the struggles of the poor across time. We get inspiration from what is happening in Immokalee in the tomato, pepper, and strawberry fields and in other industries being impacted by a mighty group of farmworkers and the larger fair food movement.

Through our study of history and the urgent work of the present, we come to know the cruel injustice of our world, but also the promise of God that tells us that the powerful will be laid low and the poor raised up. We remember the warning of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, that a country that prioritizes policies of violence over “...programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”. We connect to the spirit that breathes life for all and to our faith that the sadness and pain inflicted by this soul-sick world will be reversed. It will not have the last word.

Prayer -  We believe in a God that identifies with the least of these. A God of love and of abundant life. A God that stands on the side of justice. A God that is with us in the fields of Immokalee, in the tent encampments of the unhoused in Aberdeen, and with the mothers in Flint without clean water. A God that walks with us on the picket lines and in our organizing work. We remember the strength and love of those unsung saints of yesterday and today who resist and lead us all to freedom. Together we lift up our freedom song knowing that the tables will turn and the world will be made right.

An Advent Call to Action:

Be a part of turning the world toward justice on January 28th, 2019 at 7 p.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church in NYC!  Join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Brian McLaren, Obery Hendricks, and faith leaders from throughout the NYC metropolitan area for 'On Common Ground,’ a gathering to explore the vital connection of faith and the advancement of human rights. For event details and to RSVP follow this link.

About the Author:

The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church, the director of the Kairos Center for Rights, Religions, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary and the co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. She has spent the past two decades organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed in the United States. She has led hundreds of trainings and bible studies and recently published Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor.

In 2018, alongside the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, Theoharis helped to launch the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Over the coming years, the campaign will organize poor people across race, religion, geography, political party and other so-called lines of division to fuel a moral revolution of values in the country. Theoharis has been recognized for her work with the Poor People’s Campaign by many national bodies, including being named in the 2018 Politico 50.

Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice — Week 3

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

You’re My Joy by Jacqui Lewis

This poetry/song in First Isaiah is so beautiful, even more so in Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

Isaiah 12:2-6 

Dr. Lewis is Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a 1,100-member multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City. She is an activist, preacher, fierce advocate for racial equality, economic justice, LGBTQIA+ equality and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Dr. Lewis is Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a 1,100-member multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City. She is an activist, preacher, fierce advocate for racial equality, economic justice, LGBTQIA+ equality and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

“Yes, indeed—God is my salvation.
    I trust, I won’t be afraid.
God—yes God!—is my strength and song,
    best of all, my salvation!”

3-4 Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water
    from the wells of salvation.
And as you do it, you’ll say,
    “Give thanks to God.
Call out his name.
    Ask him anything!
Shout to the nations, tell them what he’s done,
    spread the news of his great reputation!

5-6 “Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all!
    Let the whole earth know what he’s done!
Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion!
    The Greatest lives among you: The Holy of Israel.”

I see the words, “…wells of God’s salvation,” and my heart remembers Jesus blessing those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the promise that they will be satisfied. I think of drought in the Sea of Galilee, and wildfires in California. I see the scorched and charred Mama Earth, desperate for water that will save her and her creation. I think of children in Flint, Michigan, whose little minds will be forever altered by water that did not save them, but rather poisoned them. I think of some who patrol the border, who find gallons of precious, life-saving water, left there for those who would sojourn to a land flowing with milk and honey, and pour the water onto the desert floor. I think of the water I sometimes waste, standing too long in a deliciously hot shower, singing my favorite Advent Song.

They say you walked around in the flesh,

and if that is true, then I guess

You must understand how it feels,

When your faith is wavering

And you want to pray but can’t find the words to say

Oh, God, what a mess I’ve made of things

And no reversing it, that’s how it seems

But a second chance from you is always guaranteed

And I know they don’t accrue

But you say my child take as many as you need

You’re my joy, you’re my peace

And all my cares I’ll cast on thee

Never take your love away from me

From You’re My Joy by Tituss Burgess for Middle Church Music

No matter what, God never takes her love away from us. Our constant, faithful God is our joy. Isaiah expresses this ever-present, salvific power of God in a song almost identical to the one Moses sang, following the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt:

The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation. Exodus 15:4

The healing, salvific quality of water is everywhere in the Hebrew scriptures. God provides water for desperate people (Genesis 21:19) and communities (Exodus 17:1-7). Water is a metaphor for salvation (Isaiah 35:6-7 and 55:1; Ezekiel 47:1-12). And water represents the very presence of God with individuals (Psalm 42:1 and 63:1) and with communities (Isaiah 44:3). We who are incubated in a pool of water know its power to heal us.

Moses, Isaiah and my friend Tituss, who penned You’re My Joy (a track on the album, Welcome!) all testify to the way God continues to provide deliverance of God’s people from all that oppresses them. Those on the margins, without power, thirsting for hope can find comfort in this text. Those who toil in the fields, picking the fruit of the earth, backs bent, knees sore. Those paid low wages, exposed to the elements, unsafe at times from predators; it is to these people across human history our God has come. Hearing the cries of the enslaved and the vulnerable; lighting a path home to those outside and cast away. Offering a cool dip of living water to those whose souls are scorched by the hot mess of their circumstances. God is our salvation. This eternal truth is cause for an eruption of joy.

This is our blessed assurance, and this is our prayer.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, Lord please answer them, do not forsake them, or us. Amen.

Based on Isaiah 41:17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

An Advent Call to Action:

Give joyfully to fuel the fair food movement! By supporting the Fair Food Program, you are standing shoulder to shoulder with farmworkers who are eradicating sexual violence, forced labor, and many other human rights abuses from U.S. agriculture. Become a Fair Food Sustainer today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

When she was eight years old, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis hid under her bed as bullets flew in her Chicago neighborhood following the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In that moment, she felt called to work for racial equality in the United States. Dr. Lewis is Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a 1,100-member multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City. She is an activist, preacher, and fierce advocate for racial equality, economic justice, and LGBTQIA+ equality. Middle Church and Lewis’s activism for these issues has been featured in media such as The Today Show, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Essence, and The Huffington Post.

Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice — Week 2

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

Preparing the Way for Justice by Traci Blackmon

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO and supporter of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO and supporter of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Luke 3:1-6 ESV

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, of and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke’s beginning litany of leaders does more than provide a chronological timeline for John the Baptist’s ministry. By the time the gospel of Luke is written all seven of the imperial, regional, and religious rulers named in today’s text are dead and, with them, many of their oppressive decrees.

This would not have been lost on the readers of Luke’s day, nor should it be lost on us, that any claims to authority these rulers may have made during their reign were not ultimate, and their perceived power was always limited by the authority of God.

This point is further emphasized by the fact that, in spite of the listing of those in perceived power at the time, the writer of Luke follows the roll call with the assertion that the word of God does not come to any of them but rather to John, one who has no position of authority.  It is not imperial leadership that commissions John into service; it is God. Luke 3:1-6 situates John the Baptist as a prophet bridging the gap between the Hebrew prophets of old and Jesus, the promised prophet to come.

Given this connection it is no surprise that the word of God comes to John “in the wilderness.” The wilderness is relevant to the ministry of John. He does not just appear in the wilderness. Scripture suggests that John’s strength and spiritual maturation are actually developed there (Luke 1:80).

In this way, Luke is not presenting this historical context for the sake of locating John and Jesus in world history.  Instead, Luke is reinterpreting for the reader of that day the history of the world in light of the story of John and Jesus.

And what does this mean for us?

It doesn’t take much effort to imagine our world as a wilderness. Scarcity, isolation, inequity, hunger, and violence seem to rule the day. The oppressive pain and injustice around us can make us wonder whether God is still at work. But Luke suggests that this wilderness is precisely where God provides what we need, so that we can now be the ones “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”

Preparing the Lord’s path means challenging systems and structures that we have institutionalized as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means clearing the path of self-aggrandizement, self-absorption, and greed to make way for a community where all of creation is valued. As we look to the example of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, it means pointing the way to human rights for farmworkers and demanding that corporations follow their lead.

And as we prepare the way, as we continue to clear the path, we will not only believe but - scripture says - we will begin to “see” the salvation of the Lord.

We will the taste the sweetness of fruit harvested by farmworkers laboring in fields free of abuse. We will see the Lord’s salvation in the healing of wounded spirits and the equity of provisions and fair wages for our labor. We will see hope for our future in the dreams of our children.  And the tyrannical power of Empire will be overcome. The way of the Lord is a pathway to peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of justice and love. Let us continue to cry out, preparing the way of the Lord.

Prayer - Holy One, In the midst of our wilderness experiences it is often difficult to see our way. The  painful disappointments and injustice of our days can cause us to feel all alone. Help us to see beyond the barrenness of this day to the bounty of your presence. Help us to see your salvation in the midst of our struggles. Our hope resides in you. Prepare us as we prepare the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen

An Advent Call to Action:

Prepare the way for justice by writing holiday cards to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor urging the fast food giant to join the Fair Food Program in order to ensure the protection of farmworker’s human rights. Click here for inspiring #BoycottWendys Christmas Card examples and details for the action.

About the Author:

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. As a featured voice on many regional, national, and international platforms, Rev. Blackmon's life’s work focuses on faith-filled communal resistance to systemic injustice.  Her response in Ferguson to the killing of Michael Brown resulted in national and international recognition, gaining her many audiences spanning the breadth of the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. Rev. Blackmon is listed as one of Ebony Magazine’s 2015 Power 100 and she is a featured writer in several Justice publications. Last year Rev. Blackmon was inducted into the Morehouse College MLK Board of Preachers, an honor of great significance to her in the year that marked the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s death.

Photo Report: CIW & United Methodist Women leaders from all over the country convene outside of Wendy’s Headquarters!

The delegation of United Methodist Women, local Columbus area faith leaders and students outside of the Wendy’s HQ.

The delegation of United Methodist Women, local Columbus area faith leaders and students outside of the Wendy’s HQ.

From the months of September and October the United Methodist Women joined the National Farm Worker Ministry and the CIW to call on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. Throughout the past months, they collected signed postcards to petition that Wendy’s join the program.

Leaders began the day by convening at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, a congregation that has been longtime supporters of the CIW. United Methodist Women leaders from Florida, Ohio, New York and other local Ohio faith leaders connected with Lupe Gonzalo from the CIW and had the opportunity to learn and ask questions about the expansion of the Fair Food Program and the latest updates in the Wendy’s campaign, including Wendy’s move to purchase from greenhouses in the US and Canada. In addition, the United Methodist Women delegation shared information about their Living Wage for All campaign, an action initiative aimed at ending economic inequality, and how that drives their work with CIW for a living wage and dignity for farmworkers. Students from OSU also joined the group for breakfast to talk more about the history of the Wendy’s campaign on campus and what they see as next steps moving forward.

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To kick-off this eventful day, the powerful group led a public prayer outside the Ohio State University while the Board of Trustees, President Drake included, were meeting to discuss OSU academic and student affairs. Students at OSU have been demanding a dialogue with President Drake for over four years to no avail. In order to make sure our presence was felt and our demands heard, students and allies went inside the trustee’s meeting, passing out flyers and postcards.

Later in the afternoon, the group drove to Wendy’s corporate headquarters in nearby Dublin for a lively picket and public witness to symbolically deliver the message of the 5,000 postcards sent by United Methodist Women across the country. The delegation was made up of strong women leaders from all over the country and included: Jeanne Long, President of United Methodist Women in the West Ohio Conference; Kathy Kuhn, President of United Methodist Women of the East Ohio Conference; Judith McRae, President of United Methodist Women of the New York Conference; Rosemary Uebel, United Methodist Women member of the Florida Conference; Carol Barton, Executive for Community Action, United Methodist Women National; a Representative of Church & Society of the East Ohio Conference, United Methodist Church representing Bishop Tracy Malone; Sister Karen Bernhardt, Congregation of the Humility of Mary and National Farm Worker Ministry board member; Katherine Dickson, Director of Vocational Discernment &; Community Engagement Methodist Theological School in Ohio; Kris LoFrumento, Director of Student Services, Methodist Theological School in Ohio; and Lupe Gonzalo from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Although the leaders of faith wanted to deliver a letter to Wendy’s, the fast food giant did not allow them inside. In their letter, the United Methodist Women wrote “Through partnership, we work to support the rights of those who pick our food. This summer, thousands of United Methodist Women members participated in a mission study on Faith and Money. In that context, we explored how our faith calls us to advocate for a living wage for all and for dignified working conditions. Our faith commitment compels us to seek decent work and abundant life for all of God’s children.” Despite the snow and freezing rain, the group picketed outside of the headquarters chanting, singing, and together in prayer, calling on Wendy’s to sign the Fair Food Program and protect farmworker human rights. While holding this rally, members of the delegation shared words of solidarity Carol Barton, United Methodist Women Executive for Community Action Economic Inequality Priority, shared the following words:

“We want dignity for workers in the fields, we want freedom from sexual violence, we want a raise in wages for workers, and so today 5,000 postcards are arriving at the CEO’s office from United Methodist Women.”


Since Wendy’s did not allow us to deliver the letter and given that at this same moment they were receiving over 5,000 postcards in the mail we ceremounisly signed a magnified version of the postcard. After everyone signed their name, Lupe Gonzalo from the CIW shared her final words of the evening. “All of us who are here, are looking for change. We will achieve this change by uniting, the change will be achieved shoulder to shoulder, not I as a farmworker not all of you as faith leaders, but together in this struggle for a better world.” She continued to share our persistance in being outside in the freezing rain and how farmworkers too face harsh working conditions. She closed the day by speaking to how we will unfreeze Wendy’s stonecold heart.

“We will unfreeze it because we can. Because we are strong women and we as women will always look for what is best for everyone. Not just for what is best for us, but for women that still face sexual assault. One day, they too will have these protections and we will feel proud have created this change.”

ACTION ALERT! 'Tis the season to boycott Wendy’s!

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This December, join the Fair Food Nation in spreading holiday cheer by sending a card to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor demanding a commitment to the Fair Food Program…

As Wendy’s leaders get ready to wind down and celebrate this holiday season, the tens of thousands of people who harvest the company’s produce will continue working without the unprecedented protections of the Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program. Until farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain are guaranteed fair wages, justice and dignity in the fields, we will be here.

And we’re putting our commitment in writing! This month, the Fair Food Nation is making the call for a mass mail-out of holiday cards to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor. Join us in reminding the company’s top executive of the burgeoning national boycott that is tarnishing the Wendy’s brand and reputation.

This holiday season, organize a festive #BoycottWendys card-making party with your Fair Food group, congregation, Student/Farmworker Alliance chapter, friends and family! The more the merrier as we come together to send Wendy’s CEO a powerful and unified message: Until you guarantee farmworkers’ human rights in your company’s supply chain, we will continue to boycott your restaurants!

Make sure to craft your holiday card to Mr. Penegor with a Wendy’s Boycott surprise and double the impact by uploading your card to social media using #BoycottWendys and posting to this Facebook event. Don’t forget to tag @Wendys!

Then, seal the deal by mailing your card over to the Wendy’s Headquarters in Ohio:

Mr. Todd A. Penegor

The Wendy’s Company, Inc.

One Dave Thomas Boulevard

Dublin, OH 43017

Looking for creative ideas? Check out some fun templates and examples below!

Happy Holidays from Florida!

PHOTO REPORT: Farmworkers, students and religious allies rally for farmworker justice in Sarasota, Philadelphia, and Miami!

November saw various lively actions across several states — including an action at the Wendy’s Headquarters in Dublin, Ohio — to pressure the corporation to expand award-winning human rights protections under the Fair Food Program to farmworkers in its supply chain. See below for the full report!

Sarasota, FL

A day after members of the Sarasota Friends Meeting (Quakers) visited Immokalee to learn more about the Fair Food Program, they teamed up with farmworkers and New College of Florida (NCF) students for a spirited action in their hometown! On Sunday, November 11, farmworkers, NCF Students Targeting Oppressive Powers, Quakers, Tampa Bay International Workers of the World and Sarasota community members protested at a Wendy’s on busy S. Tamiami Trail. Spreading the word to passersby, including workers from the hospital across the street and countless cars that zipped past, the Sarasota community reminded Wendy’s that they can’t continue avoiding their responsibility to farmworkers— it’s just a matter of time. Representatives from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), NCF, and the Sarasota Quakers grounded those present in the power of their action: creating a world where sexual harassment and assault is non-existent by expanding worker-driven social responsibility programs like the Fair Food Program!

Philadelphia, PA

Smiling through the November Philly snow, allies from Reconstructing Judaism joined the CIW in marching to a local Wendy’s, where they quickly worked through the stacks of flyers they’d brought along to inform people of the fight for farmworker rights. The march started at the “Rooted and Relevant: Reconstructing Judaism in 2018,” convention, which had nearly 800 people in attendance, including representatives of the CIW and Alliance for Fair Food (AFF) who had been invited by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Rabbi Barbara Penzer of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah.

Reconstructing Judaism trains the next generation of Reconstructionist rabbis, supports and uplifts congregations and fellowship circles, fosters emerging expressions of Jewish life, and encourages people to be their best selves. Reconstructionists approach Judaism — and life — with deep consideration of the past and a passion to relate it to the present. In this context, the CIW and AFF had the opportunity to highlight many Jewish allies’ deep commitment to the human rights work of the CIW through lectures in rabbinical schools, the annual visit of #TomatoRabbis to Immokalee, Boycott petition signatures and nationwide protests, such as the snowy Philadelphia march!

Miami, FL

On November 17, over 100 students from Barry University and St. Thomas University came out for a student-organized march with the CIW from a local park to the Wendy’s on 167th Avenue. After returning from the mile-long march and picket, the crowd heard from fellow students as well as Nely Rodriguez from the CIW.

Nely’s powerful message is shared below in full:

For us, this isn’t new. Wendy’s has always had an attitude of avoidance of its social responsibility to not only its consumers, but to us as workers, and to all students and people who eat from its stores.

It is important for us as workers to share with you students what is happening. Exploitation, rape, sexual harassment of women, forced labor, and low wages have all existed for countless generations within the agricultural industry. This is something that many outside the agricultural industry don’t know. It’s so beautiful that you all are accompanying us today as you also take up the responsibility to refuse to be manipulated by corporations.

For many of you, you have ancestors who have been affected by this type of power held by all types of corporations in various industries. This is not only happening in the agricultural industry but in many other industries: garment, construction, cleaning, food service, for example. We are living this exploitation. You all have the opportunity to support and be that voice we have been lacking. That is your responsibility. It’s great that you all have the chance to see the attitude of these corporations and how they run from responsibility.

The Fair Food Program is a tremendous opportunity for Wendy’s, who has bought large quantities of tomatoes from the agricultural industry for many years. The Fair Food Program is a relief for farmworkers. Wendy’s does not want to join this Program, not because they simply don’t want to accept. Wendy’s doesn’t want to join because it doesn’t want to let go of its ego. As a corporation, it doesn’t want to accept that we as farmworkers have a solution. That is what caused them to flee, to buy from farms where workers live under conditions that were happening in the U.S. a hundred years ago, but that are happening today in Mexico. That is where Wendy’s went to purchase.

We have put a lot of pressure on Wendy’s. As a result, and thanks to many people in different states and countries who have been supporting the Fair Food Program, we have succeeded in getting Wendy’s to agree to stop buying from Mexico and to return to purchasing from the United States and Canada. But this is not what we asked for. They announced that they would purchase from greenhouses, where we know that conditions for farmworkers can be equal to those on any farm outside the Fair Food Program.

What we are asking is: that Wendy’s stop abandoning human rights protections for farmworkers, that they don’t tolerate sexual harassment of women, and that we all move forward with this new day for farmworkers under the Fair Food Program. That’s what we’re also asking from you: today, you all came to support us, and we ask that when you return to your universities and schools, you bring this experience with you to your classmates. We know that while we’re here right now, many by tomorrow may forget what we did today. That’s why we’re here asking you that you keep supporting. They didn’t accept our letter— that doesn’t mean anything to us. What we want is for you all to see the position Wendy’s is taking, and that you see their rejection as a push for you all to keep supporting the expansion of the Fair Food Program.

¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!

Students stated in full confidence, “We know its not a question of if but when Wendy’s will join the Fair Food Program, so Wendy’s, we will be back!”

Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice: Week 1

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

The New Generation of Humanity by Brian McLaren

Rev. Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, public theologian and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Rev. Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, public theologian and longtime supporter of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Signs of the times … Jesus’ words about a coming time of tribulation have been used by any number of prognosticators to warn people to “repent, for the end is near.” The message they have typically given is to give up on this world and prepare to be “beamed up” to heaven.

But these prognosticators miss the point for at least two reasons.

First, more and more biblical scholars agree that the end Jesus was warning his fellow citizens about was not a distant end of the universe, but an immanent “end of the world as they knew it,” a world centered in religious institutions and political compromise with oppressors.

Jesus saw the tide of anger, fear, and desperation growing among his contemporaries, and he knew where that would lead: to outbreaks of violence. That’s exactly what happened just over 30 years later when his nation rebelled against the Roman occupiers and then, after three years, were brutally crushed. Those who lived by the sword of violent revolution ended up dying by the sword of violent domination.

Second, the point of Jesus’ warnings was not to increase people’s anger, fear, and desperation, but rather, to give them hope, wakefulness, and resilience. The worse things get, he was saying, the closer they are to changing, because “the Son of Man” will come “with power and great glory.”

But what does that pregnant phrase “son of man” mean? The term “son of” means “new generation of,” and “man” means “humanity.” So here, I think, is the promise: As things get worse and worse, as anguish and turbulence intensify, as terror and instability shake the status quo, at that very moment look for signs of the emergence of a new humanity.

The term, rooted in the visionary poetry of Daniel 7, describes an individual, but ultimately refers to a community (“the saints of the most high”).

To apply these words to our contemporary context, we could say this: as racists increase their virulence, a new generation of humanity is emerging, humanity that doesn’t fear difference but sees it as a sign of strength. As we witness a morally repulsive resurgence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, we also witness a new generation of humanity that is building a movement of multi-faith solidarity. As resentful and frightened people use immigrants as a scapegoat, a new generation of humanity is emerging that cares about immigrants and works to protect them from further abuse. And as the wealthy and powerful hoard more wealth and power, a new generation of humanity is being activated to care for the poor and too-often forgotten, including farm workers, whose labor is so often devalued.

In fact, one of the best ways to identify "the new generation of humanity" is to see who is showing up for the excluded and exploited. That has been my experience with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Alliance for Fair Food. This amazing partnership between farmworkers and their allies always inspires me: here are people working together to build a better world for all. Whenever I am part of a public action with CIW - maybe marching in front of a Publix or Wendy's, urging them to join the Fair Food Program, we chant, "Down, down with exploitation. Up, up with the Fair Food Nation!" And that phrase - Fair Food Nation - suggests to me one important dimension of what a new generation of humanity will look like: people working together to make exploitation of farmworkers history and fair food the new norm.

This new generation of humanity, wherever it appears, is fragile. It is nonviolent, so it doesn’t use violent words or weapons and therefore isn’t taken seriously by those who only see violent force as significant. But like the infant in a manger, this small and vulnerable beginning shouldn’t be underestimated, because, in the words of an old saying, “Little is much when God is in it.”

During Advent, we dare to believe that this new generation of humanity, embodied in a tiny vulnerable baby, will not be defeated. We dare to believe that the worst of times can be a seedbed for the best of humanity, and that the poor and marginalized and their allies, armed only with a heart for justice, compassion, and truth, will continue to rise like dawn, even during dark times.

Prayer - Living God, as we ponder your presence and promise embodied in a poor woman and her vulnerable child, help us not to be overwhelmed by times of turbulence and terror, perplexity and apprehension. Help each of us to be a vital part of that new generation of humanity, a cell contributing to a larger body, a candle joining other candles to push back darkness.

An Advent Call to Action:

 Act in hope with the new generation of humanity: add your name to the Change.org Petition to Boycott Wendy’s, so Wendy’s decision-makers can see the number grow. Invite friends, family, co-workers, congregants to do the same!

About the Author:

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for "a new kind of Christianity" - just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a leader in the Convergence Network, and works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program's Faith Working Group. His most recent writing project is an illustrated children's book (for all ages) called Cory and the Seventh Story.