The 24-hour vigil in Lakeland, Florida began with lots of chanting, singing & dancing. There was a real atmosphere of celebration on that sidewalk in front of the Southgate Publix. Those who participated in all 10 days of the “Now Is The Time” tour certainly had that accomplishment to celebrate. The members of the CIW, Interfaith Action, and the SFA certainly had the recent signing of Wal-Mart to celebrate. It was a beautiful, sunny day; that’s worth celebrating! So why be so upbeat in the face of corporations like Publix & Wendy’s who continue to refuse to even speak with the CIW, or even meet with the many religious leaders who have urged Publix to join the Fair Food Program? Having spent nearly 30 hours with this group of amazing people I tell you it’s just their nature. The CIW and all their supporters are just naturally joyful, upbeat, hopeful, generous & loving people. And it’s contagious!
As the sun began to set, and the air took on a bit of a chill, we began our candlelight vigil around 7 pm. (The CIW tells it best in pictures & videos!) The religious leaders from around Florida & other states each spoke to us about the ongoing struggle to get Publix & Wendy’s on board. They shared stories, letters, words of encouragement, and prayer. And then we were asked to silently turn our thoughts and our eyes toward the Publix Supermarket behind us. We were asked to silently concentrate our thoughts, our prayers, our energy, and our intentions on the delegation of religious leaders & CIW members as they were escorted across the parking lot to meet with the store’s managers. From where I sat even the steady flow of traffic on Florida Ave. seemed to quiet down. I could feel the silent energy as we all held our candles and our gazes. I strained to see where they were, and then I saw them moving toward the entrance. I also saw one figure moved away from the delegation and then engaged in what looked like a heated debate. Later I found out that Claire was being challenged, along with the rest of the peaceful delegation, by the police officers who (I’m sure) were being pressured by the corporate bullies from Publix headquarters. As described here, it was indeed a tense situation (Rev. Lindsay C. Comstock does not mince words in her telling of meeting!).
When the delegation returned to report back no one was surprised. Publix managers have been parroting the same answers for more than four years, but as the March night grew colder, their pat responses carried with them a deeper chill that smacked of inhumanity and callous greed.
After our candles burned out some of the supporters boarded shuttles back to a couple of nearby churches. They would get a few winks in before returning at 2 am. The rest of us threw on an extra layer, waited for coffee & got settled in for the long night. After Publix closed and the last employees went home for the night, their general manager kept vigil with us until about 3:30 am. He looked so alone pacing back and forth in that empty parking lot. He looked cold and forgotten. Perhaps a bit prophetic of a future where only members of the Fair Food Nation enjoy the warmth & joy of a sunny new day while the rest get left behind. Alone, cold, and forgotten.