Up with the Fair Food Nation: Patricia Cipollitti Reports Back on #Encuentro2014
Patricia Cipollitti (SFS ’15) reflects on her experience attending the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s annual Encuentro in fall 2014. Join the Kalmanovitz Initiative and DC Fair Food for a screening of Food Chains, a documentary film about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, on March 17, where you can sign up to join the caravan to St. Petersburg, Florida, for the CIW’s spring action from March 19-22!
“Down, down with the exploitation! Up, up with the Fair Food Nation!” we chanted, full-force and full animo, as we picketed outside of Publix with members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Women’s Group and their children. “We” were students and youth from all around the country. “We” were 70 members of the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s national network that had converged in Immokalee, Florida, for four days in September 2014 to build relationships with each other and strategize for the year ahead.
Our current mission? Leverage our power as young people to pressure fast-food holdout Wendy’s and supermarket giant Publix to sign on to the Fair Food Program. To date, 13 corporations have signed on to the FFP, a farmworker-farmer-retail food company partnership that ensures that farmworkers receive “a penny more per pound” of tomatoes picked—and, as the program expands to other agricultural sectors, of other fruits and vegetables harvested—along with dignified working conditions on the fields. This list includes fast food companies, food service companies, and supermarkets like Walmart.
We kicked off the long weekend with a “teatro mistica,” a form of popular education used by the CIW to educate workers about the Campaign for Fair Food. It narrates the exploitation and terrible working conditions that used to exist on Florida tomato farms before the development of the Fair Food Program—in fact, the same conditions that continue to persist outside of the “oasis” made up by participating farms—as well as the alliance of students, youth, people of faith, food justice advocates, and other folks that, by working in solidarity with the CIW, have helped hold big tomato buyers accountable to the workers that pick their produce. In other words: zero tolerance for forced labor, sexual harassment, and other practices that had, up to now, run rampant and with impunity on Florida’s tomato fields.
The days were non-stop after that: skill-building workshops, a picket outside of a Wendy’s and a Publix in the nearby town of Naples, Florida, and delicious (vegan!) meals shared with some of the most incredible, passionate, and strong youth organizers I have ever met. We also got the chance to watch Food Chains, a documentary that premiered in theaters later in November and chat with the producer, Sanjay Rawal, about the making of the film and about how to make the launch a successful one.
On the second evening, we had the incredible privilege of sitting down with a panel of CIW members and engage with them in a serious conversation about what it means to work in solidarity with Florida farmworkers. What role do students have in a movement for farmworker justice? Where do we, as young people and consumers, stand in the fight against sweatshop conditions in the fields? We have a large role, and our voices are powerful. But farmworkers know the realities of the injustice and exploitation that they are fighting. As non-farmworkers, we energetically take our lead from them in our education and organizing efforts.
On the last evening, we had a dinner outdoors under the expansive South Florida sky (home of the most gorgeous sunsets ever). CIW members came with their families, as well as long-time allies from around the area. We sat around, telling stories and singing songs, making each other laugh and taking in each other’s knowledge and creativity. This sharing has become tradition: the “Café Cultura” that closes each Encuentro. So has the dancing to reggaeton and cumbia and hip hop right after—this time, it went on for hours!
In the spirit of the beautiful and vibrant community of Immokalee, we call this annual convergence the Encuentro: the encounter of old friends, new friends; farmworkers and staff working in Immokalee, allies working everywhere else on the CIW’s campaign.
This was my second-ever Encuentro, though I had been in Immokalee another time before. I first went down with Georgetown’s Alternative Spring Break program. In 2013, with the Fair Food, Labor, and Migration trip, I participated in a stretch of the CIW’s annual spring action: a 200-mile march to Lakeland, FL, the location of the headquarters of Publix.
I left the Encuentro feeling re-energized, with a heart full of love, a belly full of fire, and a head full of thoughts and visions for the future. The friendships that I had made the year previously had persisted and deepened—as had my commitment to the worker-led movement the CIW has built around them.
So I decided to apply to join the SFA steering committee for 2015. I had always wanted to become more involved, especially as I had been slowly but surely integrated into the local CIW support network through DC Fair Food. This is the local chapter of the Alliance for Fair Food (and fun fact: it was started by members of Georgetown Solidarity Committee back in the day!).
As a newly minted steering committee member, I just recently returned from Immokalee once more. This time, I participated in the Face2Face, four days of training in January specifically for steering committee members. Four days of: strategy, skill-building, caffeine, jelly roll hugs, solidarity discussions, campfires—and more caffeine. Because we are currently in the thick of a campaign to “Boot the Braids,” i.e. to force Wendy’s off of campuses nationwide, that took up a lot of our time. So did planning for the 2015 Parade and Concert for Fair Food, this year’s CIW Spring Action. Local SFA chapters and Fair Food groups, like DC Fair Food, are now mobilizing supporters to join in a caravan to participate in this year’s action, which will take place on March 21 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Georgetown students are encouraged to hop on the bus!
I am so grateful for the community I have found in Immokalee, and in the other authentic and passionate youth organizers that are a part of this network. My involvement would not have been made possible without the support of Georgetown students (now alumni) that initially encouraged me to join in this fight—or without the support of the Kalmanovitz Initiative, which has been a long-time supporter of the CIW and SFA. I am so excited to see what this year on the Student/Farmworker Alliance steering committee brings. Here’s to hoping it is a commitment by both Wendy’s and Publix to respect the dignity of farmworkers by joining the Fair Food Program!