by Elena Stein, Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The Publix Truth Tour launched on Sunday, Sept. 22, with a dramatic send-off from some of the CIW’s most stalwart allies in Gainesville.
The partnership between Immokalee and Gainesville is so strong, in fact, that the day’s activities marked not only the beginning of the Truth Tour, but also the culmination of the city’s annual “CIW week,” a full seven days of local education, activities and action to call for fairness in the fields.
After spending the morning with the adult Sunday School class of Trinity United Methodist Church and the combined youth groups of United Church of Gainesville — followed by an official welcome to Gainesville with a potluck hosted by the indefatigable Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice and the Emmanuel Mennonite Church — the Fair Food community of Gainesville gathered for a press conference and march to a nearby Publix.
Eighty-five supporters packed the foyer of Westminster Pres- byterian Church as the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo and Oscar Otzoy began by explaining what propelled them to undertake this two-week tour.
They explained how real improvements in working conditions, wages, and zero tolerance for sexual harassment were negotiated with more than 90 percent of Florida growers and eleven major tomato buyers, including McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Trader Joe’s. These gains are threatened by other major buyers, like Publix, whose tomatoes are supplied by the holdouts who continue to exploit workers.
In a tone steadfast and resolute, Lupe underscored the power of the Fair Food Program in addressing the sexual harassment that has for decades been the “daily bread” of women in the fields.
And then, just as the press conference closed, the skies opened and a downpour commenced. But the now 100 people gathered didn’t skip a beat, setting out toward Publix almost as though they hadn’t noticed the heavy rain.
With a sizable contingent from UF’s CHISPAS leading chants, the intrepid marchers kept on for over a mile before arriving at the high-traffic Westgate Publix and forming their roving picket. Though colors of newly hand-painted signs bled together and t-shirts soaked through, not even the relentless showers could dampen the crew’s animo.
CIW’s Modern Day Slavery Museum came to Gainesville earlier in the week. It tells the harrowing story of farm labor trafficking and slavery that persists in Florida to the present. The Museum was on the UF campus Wednesday and at Trinity United Methodist Church Thursday.
Wednesday night CHISPAS sponsored a showing of “Rape in the Fields,” a new documentary about what female farm workers must endure.
Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice and CHISPAS co-sponsor the annual CIW Week of Action.