ParadeAndConcertForFairFood-51To conclude Farmworker Awareness Week, I am happy to share my experience at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Parade and Concert for Fair Food. The annual action, held this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, was a gathering of thousands of allies, including WhyHunger, from across the country who stepped up to raise the consciousness of consumers and fight for the human rights of workers in the field.

Marching in CIW’s Parade and Concert for Fair Food was my first time participating in a protest and what I ultimately learned is that by exercising my rights, I was helping others gain theirs. My voice and presence, was helping others become visible. I heard directly from the farmworkers and learned about the terrible conditions that many have been subjected to. Being there, I became a part of the movement and as a fairly new employee, officially a part of WhyHunger’s rich legacy in fighting for social justice and strengthening grassroots organizations.  And I left with a new understanding and reinvigoration for the unique work that we do, simply because it’s important. Those standing up for their rights need continued support. To create a just and sustainable food system, at the very least, the hardworking people who provide our tomatoes, blueberries, oranges, etc. rightly deserve to work in humane conditions.  That’s all they’re asking for.

whyhunger_ciw_2015The parade kicked off on a warm, bright day at Bartlett Park with a diverse group of eager supporters armed with colorful banners and signs with statements demanding farm workers receive things like fair pay, worker breaks and freedom from sexual harassment. I immediately felt a sense of comradery amongst strangers, because we were there for one cause: farmworkers rights.  The 3-mile walk was filled with chants such as “This is what democracy looks like!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “The people united, will never be defeated!” as we made planned stops in front of a Wendy’s and Publix locations, because so far they have refused to join the 13 retail food giants that have gotten behind CIW’s Fair Food Program to improve farmworkers’ wages and working conditions. The pressure must be kept on them to join the program because these companies have profited for decades from unchecked farm labor exploitation within their suppliers and changed is needed throughout the entire industry.

The day ended with a spectacular artistic and musical celebration that featured award-winning musicians and activists Ozomatli, La Santa Cecilia and Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics and a “mystica” theatrical performance by the Immokalee workers who used puppets, murals, music and narration to tell their historical story. A fitting end, because the movement for Fair Food has been driven by art and music rooted in cultural traditions to bring the message to life in a real and engaging manner. Each and every performer or speaker spoke passionately from the heart about the need for human rights and dignity in the fields.  The power of music energized those present as we, the Fair Food Nation, work to expand the movement to impact the lives of tens of thousands more workers.

ParadeAndConcertForFairFood-591I’ll end with a quote that recently stood out for me by New York Times Op-Ed social justice columnist, Charles M. Blow, who said, “The life of a real movement is long and it has downs as well as ups. One measure of its merits is its resilience.” This is true. CIW first began organizing in 1993 and the movement has had downs and ups along the way, but it is resilient.  CIW has remained driven, committed and focused on the cause and as a result, some recent wins include the Food Chains film being nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award and just this year major food retailer The Fresh Market signed the Fair Food Agreement. You can contribute to their future successes by taking action to support this movement in a number of ways:

  1. Use your social media. Tag Wendy’s and Publix and demand that they sign the Fair Food Agreement.
  2. Download/Host a viewing party for the eye-opening film, Food Chains, to learn how the food on your table gets there.
  3. Join the Student/Farmworkers Alliance in boycotting companies that are resisting.
  4. Organize your own local action.

“Si Se Puede!” “Yes We Can!”

Check out a slideshow from the event below.

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farm worker

Oscar Otzoy

In honor of National Farm Worker Awareness Week, WhyHunger is featuring a story from Community Voices, a storytelling site that amplifies the voices of grassroots leaders and organizations across the country to demonstrate how small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Oscar Otzoy came to the United States in 2006 from Guatemala. After working in the fields of Immokalee for some time, he became active with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to fight for the rights of farm workers.

Oscar Otzoy left home so his brothers and sisters would have a better life with the money he earned. As he prepared to leave Guatemala and when he first arrived to the United States, he envisioned the American Dream Unfortunately, Oscar quickly discovered the realities of the food industry and sub-poverty wages. The wage of the farm worker has more or less remained the same for the past 30 years.

Oscar explains, “If a farm worker were to be earning the same that he or she was earning 30 years ago and kept right with inflation, it would be one dollar six cents per 32-pound bucket. Now, it is an average of 50 cents per bucket. The wage has increased slightly over the past thirty years by 5 or 10 cents, but not enough to sustain the life of a worker.” And, certainly not enough to sustain the life of the worker while sending money back home. Not only is the pay low, but also farm workers are treated as if they have no value; as if they are an easily replaced cog in a machine. Their entire lives are de-valued, and their dreams pop.

Oscar tells me about one case, in particular: “In 2007, there was a slavery situation in Palatka, Florida. The men were mostly poor African American, citizens of the United States, gathered from various cities and enslaved in a farm in Palatka. In 2008, men were held here in Immokalee in the back of a truck. They were actually chained in that truck and held against their will and charged rent for this truck, charged for food and threatened if they tried to leave or escape.”

In response, through the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Oscar helped create a modern day slavery museum, which is a travelling museum that tells the story of abuses in the agriculture industry. Not only do they expose the realities, but they also tour city to city, empowering consumers to be part of the solution by calling on companies to change their policies.

The Coalition leads a Campaign for Fair Food. The primary demands of the campaign are to pay the farm workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes they pick; a Code of Conduct with zero tolerance for slavery; the voice of farm workers included in carrying out this Code; and, the right to file a complaint without fear of repercussions. This last demand is essential to end sexual harassment, which is rampant in the fields.

The next campaign targets supermarkets. Oscar believes that is the only way to truly transform industrial agriculture. And that requires consumers to understand the grave responsibilities we have every time we make a choice at the checkout counter. Oscar, again: “When one is eating food coming from situations where there is exploitation and in the most extreme case, slavery, how is it someone can accept that produce as their food? It is a question for the consumer to reflect. Consumers have this power to go to companies and say, ‘I shop here and I buy my produce here and we, as consumers, and you, as a company, have a responsibility to support the farm workers who bring food to our tables.’” Oscar believes that is the only way change can happen. United, we can make a difference.

In the eight years Oscar has been in the fields of Immokalee, he has seen a difference, and he has hope that more change is on the horizon. Oscar will not stop. He continues working with the Coalition, educating people, organizing workers in the field, and pressuring companies to change their ways. In that way, Oscar can envision the dream he first had when he crossed the border.

We, farm workers, have a dream to be able to improve our lives here in this country and also improve the lives of those in the countries that we come from. For many years this dream of improving our lives and the lives of our families has been very hard, if not impossible to achieve, but thanks to changes taking place now, we hope that in the future, workers will be able to achieve those dreams and a lot of it is thanks to the communities that have helped support the campaign.”

Continue reading on Community Voices.

Written by Andrianna Natsoulas, a social and environmental activist for three decades. She has worked at various organizations from Greenpeace to Public Citizen to the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. She has coordinated with the global food sovereignty movements and has served on national and international boards and steering committees to protect fishing rights, fight trade agreements and build alliances. Currently, she consults for local, regional and national organizations and lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. WhyHunger partnered with Andrianna as she began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system as featured in her book Food Voices: Stories From the People Who Feed Us. Many of those stories can be found on this site and more information can be found at www.foodvoices.org.

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Wade in the Water sung by St. James Missionary Baptist Church of Canton

When I would hear Wade in the Water, a famous black spiritual, even as a child I would be over come with a deep sadness. A profound sense of loss that often moved me to tears. A few years ago I shared that with an elder I met in passing while in Jackson Mississippi, and she laughed. Struck by the sharpness of her chuckles, I was paralyzed. Within seconds, my paralysis quickly shifted to an intense urge to laugh as well. I let out a small chuckle then the flood gates opened and I laughed so hard I could not breathe. After about a minute or two that elder looked up at me and said, that is what the song is about. It is about a profound sense of hope even in the most dire of odds. So this post is about hope, is dedicated to the legacy of Charity Hicks, and was created in solidarity with Water Warriors all over the world.

Photo Credit: Valery Jean Blakely

Photo Credit: Valery Jean

Let’s start with an agreement.

Let’s say we agree that water is a human right. In the most primitive sense of that statement, that we undeniably agree we need water to live, and everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, and free of where you live or what language you speak, has the right to water as essential to human survival. Let’s deepen that agreement by saying that the denial of water as a human right is at its core an act of violence. To deny water as a human right, denies communities, women, men and children the right to live, and as such communities all over the world have been resisting the denial of that right for centuries. From Bolivia to Mauritania, from New Mexico to Detroit, communities have resisted the theft and privatization of public commons like water by building their collective power and waging love.

This World Water Day, it is even more critical that we not just stand, but act in solidarity with those water warriors who are  waging love for the right to water. The reality is no matter where the struggle ensues, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.


“I Do Mind Dying”- By Kate Levy (This is a rough cut of a documentary-in-progress. Sound, pictures and content are not final. Local Music by Will See, Sacramento Knoxx, Invincible. Sourced video art by Halima Cassells.)

Detroit Water Struggle Visual Timeline:
Working with WhyHunger to support our allies and partners in the struggle, I’ve been able to spend time in Detroit over the last year talking with activists and organizers and listening to the stories of those on the front lines. This visual timeline was created to help share those stories and amplify the voices of the water warriors in Detroit.

For a fuller timeline visit http://www.d-rem.org/timeline-the-story-of-detroits-water/#more-649

The water struggle in Detroit has been going on for quite some time. Some say it started in 2008 following the financial crisis when jobs were lost at record numbers and thousands of residents lost their homes through foreclosure. Others believe it goes as far back as 1701, when the City of Detroit was founded. Still, in a time when privatization paradoxically exists with increased resistance to racial and economic inequity, it is clear that now is the time to act. So what do we do? Well the people of Detroit are starting with demands, so hear they are.

DEMANDS!

  • Declare a state of emergency in Detroit.
  • Implement a moratorium on all water turn offs and tax foreclosures.
  • Stop the privatization! Evict Veolia Water, the private company hired to review the city’s water system, from the Detroit Water and Sanitation Department (DWSD)
  • Implement a water affordability plan that insures the water stays on for the long term.
  • Stop the unjust firing of chemist and scientist from the DWSD.
  • DECLARE WATER AND HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT!

and we;

SUPPORT THE ORGANIZING!

  • The People’s Water Board advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water. They believe water is a human right and all people should have access to clean and affordable water. Water is a commons that should be held in the public trust free of privatization. The People’s Water Board promotes awareness of the interconnectedness of all people and resources.
  • Moratorium Now! A Coalition that organizes to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility

Lastly, I would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to remember, honor, and hold space for our dear ancestor, sister Charity Hicks. For those of you who did not have the privilege of knowing her in all her mighty power, Charity, a native of Detroit was a fierce activist, leader, movement weaver and friend. She was a founding member of the People’s Water Board, and was a lead organizer in the actions and community responses that erupted in response to the city’s unjust water turn offs. Charity was killed by a hit and run driver while in New York, to speak about the Detroit Water Shut Offs. We lost her too soon but her legacy lives on in the efforts of so many Detroiters who carry her message and work. Charity taught us that movement are about love, and in order to win we have to wage love, and for that we thank you and we miss you dearly.


Interview with Charity Hicks – by Kate Levy

Wage Love.

“It was only and ever love.” — Nayyirah Waheed

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agroWhyHunger is proud to release its first agroecology publication, “Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty into Action.” Agroecology is an agricultural method based on the traditional knowledge of those who cultivate the land and a way of life. We believe its practice is critical to addressing global hunger and increasing communities’ access to basic resources such as land, water and seeds. The publication is not a technical guide to agroecology, rather it shares the knowledge and perspectives of 10 social movement leaders that are working to “scale up” agroecology around the world. It also highlights the social, political, cultural, nutritional and spiritual meanings of agroecology from within communities that have been negatively impacted by the commodification of food.

“We envision this publication will serve as a tool for popular education among grassroots organizations in the United States and abroad,” said Alison Cohen, WhyHunger’s Senior Program Director.

Throughout this publication, grassroots organizers share how the practice of agroecology can transform societies and build a sustainable food future. Though not commonly understood in food systems predominantly controlled by industrial agriculture, WhyHunger and leading social movements around the world have long viewed agroecology as a way to improve climate change and achieve food sovereignty for those facing hunger around the globe.

“Agroecology is the only way to solve the problems of hunger and the climate crisis,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) of Haiti.

By listening to the voices in this publication and gaining more insight about the collective struggle for justice around the world in the face of unsustainable farming practices, we hope there will be increased dialogue, awareness and support for the leaders and communities who are fighting to reclaim their rights and food systems.

This project was spearheaded by our Global Movements Program with the support of partners such as La Via Campesina International and the World March of Women.

Read, download and share the full publication here.

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