There’s nothing like planning an action with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to snap a person out of mourning. I have been miserable over the loss of my mentor and friend, Sr. Helene, but I think it was her foot next to God’s that I felt on my back-side this last week! Thanks for the push, guys! I love you, too!
The Treasure Coast Fair Food (TCFF) has been holding monthly meetings at different venues since its formation in April, and this month we met at Ellyn & Ray’s home (where we first met & created the TCFF). There’s just something about this couple & their home; so much positive energy & so much love! After a couple of weeks of e-mails between the TCFF, the CIW and Interfaith Action we had quite a “to-do list” to coordinate in the week leading up to a big CIW Labor Day weekend of Action. We needed to choose a Publix to stage an action at, we needed a place to sleep for up to 20 CIW members, and showers, & meals for our guests. Everyone wanted to help & I felt privileged to be a part of such a dynamic group of go-getters.
I had “dessert-duty” for Sunday night’s dinner, Gwen rocked the dinner feast, Ellyn & Ray took care of breakfast & housing for the crew (18 adults & 11 children!), and the Temple served-up a delicious lunch for the weary crew of activists. The members of the CIW and their children were obviously overwhelmed by our welcome to the Treasure Coast, and our support and enthusiasm for their work. We, too, were overwhelmed by their mere presence. These hard working people had given up an entire weekend to travel around Florida participating in actions to get Publix to the Fair Food table. Inspirational!
Their dedication to their own just cause, their gratitude for the many supporters they encounter along the way, and their huge capacity for love and joy is truly humbling. The night before the action I had asked Elena to be a part of the delegation to address the managers of Publix, and she said “yes.” My thought was that I would just tag-along so I could observe and learn. The next day, the CIW may have anticipated the presence of Publix Corporate “thugs”, but I don’t think any of the TCFF members expected such a display. My own son ended up in the parking lot talking to the police that were present even before we arrived. Leave it to my son, the Marine, to make friends with the police on the scene! He informed me later that they had actually been hired by Publix to be there. Unbelievable!
The Corporate heads of Publix are not as cordial as their managers. We were told in no uncertain terms that our delegation was to be limited to 4 people, so after rallying for about 40 minutes on the sidewalk, 4 of us were escorted toward the entrance to the supermarket. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to the managers. I settled my nerves by making pleasant small-talk along the way with the police officer who had befriended my son. It felt like a surrealistic perp-walk!
Lupe spoke first with Elena translating. When they looked at me to speak, all I could think of was Lupe and the other workers and the many abuses & injustices they have had to endure for so long. Yes, they have had many victories with the Fair Food Program and the many corporations who are signed on, but Publix and the other supermarkets that continue to turn a cold heart & a blind eye to these injustices make these victories bittersweet. So I reminded these managers of the many good things that they do for the communities they serve. They do so much good for people in need, “Well, here,” as I pointed to Lupe, “are people in need, and they have been reaching out to you for 4 years to join the Fair Food Program, and you keep refusing. Why? Here are people in need asking for a livable wage and to be treated with dignity and respect. Why won’t you sign on? It is within your power to be a leader in this industry, and what the CIW is asking for is not unreasonable or unrealistic. They are asking for basic human rights, respect, and a livable wage.”
I just don’t get it, Publix.
If a customer comes in to one of their stores & puts in a request for Fair Trade Foods, or a specific product, they oblige them by stocking the shelves. Publix has even gone so far as to put their own name on a Greenwise Fair Trade & Organic Coffee. If that matters to their corporate sensibilities, then how can they call the Fair Food Program a “labor dispute” between the farmers & their workers, the CIW?
I just don’t get it , Publix.
Below are some pictures from Monday’s Labor Day Action in Stuart. These were the “David’s” that took on Publix & scared them so much they had to hire some cops! We do look like an “angry” bunch of rebels (especially those Adrian Dominican Sisters & those children!). I’d be scared, too!