Women farmworkers of Immokalee have spoken: “We are tired of excuses! We want justice!”

Lupe Gonzalo

Last Friday, March 8, women and allies commemorated International Women’s Day, a day that honors the March 8, 1917 march of over 100,000 women workers through the streets of St. Petersburg, calling for the overthrow of the czar. Four days later, the czar was gone. From the outset, International Women’s Day was International Women Workers’ Day. The women farmworkers of Immokalee, Florida, like women farmworkers around the world, know this lesson in their bodies as well as their days and nights, and they teach it every single day. This year, as in years past, they are taking that lesson to school, to universities in North CarolinaOhioMichigan and Florida, to be exact. Their message is clear and direct. As Lupe Gonzalo, a farmworker organizer leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told the assembled at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: “You cannot claim light and liberty while doing business with companies like Wendy’s… This message is for all of the university administrations: We are tired of excuses! We want justice!” We are tired of excuses! We want justice!

For over twenty years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been organizing to create justice in the fields. They have fought against slavery in the fields, and in so doing established anti-slavery and anti-trafficking networks. They have fought against sexual violence and exploitation in the fields and developed some of the most stringent and effectively monitored codes of conduct in the agricultural industry anywhere. The Coalition began its Campaign for Fair Food in 2001, and in 2011, signed its first formal Fair Food Program agreement, this with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. That first agreement included “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” From the outset to today, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has insisted that workers have to be in charge of the pursuit of dignity and justice. At the core of that insistence has been the women members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who, from the outset, argued that every so-called watershed moment had to be understood as “a movement, not a moment”. From their campaigns to bring growers, grocery chains and restaurant chains to the table, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has insisted that labor rights are women’s rights are women workers’ rights. The companies that have heard, or were forced to hear, that argument include Yum! Brands aka Taco Bell, McDonald’s , Burger King, Whole Foods, Subway, Bon Appétit, Compass, Aramark, Sodexo, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, Walmart, Fresh Market, and Ahold USA. 

For the last few years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been pushing Wendy’s to come to the table. Their campaign, Boot the Braids, has called on universities and colleges to join the boycott of Wendy’s. This month’s iteration of that campaign is the 4 for Fair Food Bus Tour, targeting universities in four states. Thus far, the University of Michigan announced that Wendy’s will not return to campus until it signs and abides by the Fair Food Program standards.From the beginning of the Wendy’s campaign, and before and beyond, women farmworker organizer leaders have insisted that every part of the labor system must engage with the dignity of women workers as part of the struggle for dignity for all workers and as part of the struggle for dignity for women workers in particular. This is what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers means when they discuss worker-driven social responsibility linked to worker-to-worker popular education, research and leadership formation. Again, you cannot claim light and liberty while doing business with companies like Wendy’s. That message is for everyone: We are tired of excuses! We want justice! NOW is the time!


(Photo Credit 1: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) (Photo Credit 2: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

Lupe Gonzalo: “We are women, and nobody is going to keep stepping on our dignity.”

For women farmworkers seeking an end to workplace sexual violence, now is the time! On January 6, 1941, in his State of the Union Address, Franklin Roosevelt elucidated the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The Monday before Thanksgiving, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Women’s Group declared it’s time to demand a Fifth Freedom: freedom from sexual violence. With other members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and with supporters, including the T’ruah Tomato Rabbis, women tomato pickers from Florida stormed the Park Avenue office building where Wendy’s Board Chairman, Nelson Peltz, holds court. They chanted, “Nelson Peltz, escucha, mujeres en la lucha!” and “Nelson Peltz, shame on you, farmworkers are people, too!” Denied entry to the building, they shouted their message to the streets and to the world. Workplace sexual violence must end. Now is the time!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been working with the Fair Food Program to secure real dignity and justice in the tomato fields of Florida and beyond. At this point, Wendy’s is the only large restaurant chain to refuse to sign onto the Fair Food Program code of conduct. Why? They say they have their own code … which is precisely the problem. McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway, and Burger King have signed onto the code, and have found that it works. Whole Foods, Aramark, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s have also signed. All these major players find that a worker-run code of conduct works. Report after report after report after report after report demonstrate that the Fair Food Program works. And yet Wendy’s continues to hold out.

In the decades’ long process of organizing and of developing strategies and structures, women tomato pickers and farmworkers – such as Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and scores of others – began organizing a quiet revolution. As the Coalition of Immokalee Workers organized, the Immokalee Women’s Group pushed the recognition of women as central to the struggle for farm workers’ rights, dignity and power. Recognizing women’s centrality meant recognizing that the struggle for rights, dignity, and power is a community wide struggle rather than strictly a `shop’ issue. From exorbitantly expensive, predatory housing to food deserts in the midst of farmlands to rampant, and often illegal, use of pesticides to sexual abuse at work, women were particular targets.

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, the women of Immokalee wrote and delivered a letter to Wendy’s, “Hear the voice of the woman, who today dares to defend her dignity in the fields. A new day is coming to Florida’s fields, with the Fair Food Program. It guarantees that dignity of women is respected. We have to keep fighting, and we have to keep shouting, at Wendy’s and other corporations, that the hour has arrived. NOW IS THE TIME!”

They have kept fighting. Lupe Gonzalo was one of the leaders then, as she is today. On Monday she had a message for Nelson Peltz, for Wendy’s and for all of us: “It doesn’t matter which country we’re from, which language we speak, which color is our skin. We are human beings, we are women, and nobody is going to keep stepping on our dignity. It’s time to take the hand of the person that’s next to you, to walk together.  Let us not abandon each other, let us not leave each other.  Wendy’s will sign.  Sooner or later, they will come to the table of dialogue, and we will feel so proud to walk together with them in this struggle.”

Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. That sounds big, and it is. But it’s also realizable. Ask Lupe Gonzalo and the other members of the CIW Women’s Group. It takes commitment, clarity, concrete structures and collective action. It’s time to walk together. Now is the time!

Lupe Gonzalo

(Photo Credit 1: Forest Woodward / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Help ensure dignity and respect for farmworker women!

Today, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers launched a new campaign: “Earlier this year, the Fair Food Program won the support of Catapult, a pioneering crowdfunding platform that works with groups around the globe to advance the rights of women and girls.  And today, we have the great pleasure of announcing the launch of the Catapult online campaign, “Ensure dignity and respect for farmworkers” — an effort to raise $25,000 in 150 days to help pay for a new auditor for the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), the Fair Food Program’s indispensable third-party monitoring body.  Now you can help support the FFSC’s crucial, day-to-day human rights work in the fields by checking out the online fundraising campaign here.”

This is a great campaign, a real opportunity to take the struggle for farmworker women’s dignity and respect, and all women workers’ dignity and respect, to a new level.

Across the United States farmworker women struggle and organize to end sexual violence in the fields. Currently over a half million women work in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom are undocumented Latinas. Last year, Rape in the Fields highlighted women’s struggles in the fields of California, the orchards of Washington State, and the egg and meat processing plants of Iowa. If you’re in the United States, pretty much whatever is on your table is composed of super-exploitation and extreme violence against women.

Farmworker women are saying, No! They’re saying the abuse is not acceptable and, importantly, it’s not inevitable. When Dolores Huerta says, “Sexual harassment is an epidemic in the fields,” she’s not sighing and giving up. She’s saying an epidemic needs a campaign to eradicate and transform it. When Maricruz Ladino, Olivia Tamayo, Angela Mendoza, Cesilia Lua, Danelia Barajas, Magdalena Alvarez look straight into a reporter’s camera or a jury’s eyes, and describe the weariness as well as intensity, they are spreading the word: Now! Now is the time!

Maricruz Ladino says, “The time came when I said, `No more.’ I made a complaint…. It wasn’t about the money because that does not give you back the integrity you lost as a woman, your self-worth as a woman. I was heard. That’s why I think there was justice. But a part of me died, and no one can give that back to me. This type of thing did not only happen to me. It was happening to many, many more women. And if I stay quiet, then it is going to keep happening. That’s why I want to talk about it now, so that everybody can see themselves in me, so that they won’t stay quiet anymore. They must react, not with violence but with the laws that protect them. Documented or undocumented, you have to speak.”

You have to speak, as women like Esther Abarca, Sandra Garcia, Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and hundreds of others have done and are doing. Across the country, women have organized local farmworker women’s groups, have met with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have filed law suits and more. But now is the time. Now is the time to move from local to national, to create permanent structures that will do more than respond to this abuse and that atrocity and this occasion of mass rape.

Representative Luis Gutierrez, of Illinois, says, “I learned a long time ago that when it comes to these situations, believe the women. Believe the women.” Believe the women. Believe the women who say, NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?

Mother’s Day seemed to end early and abruptly this year.

In Australia, under the proposed new national budget, women who have a child, otherwise known as mothers, face paying 30% more on student loans than their male counterparts. No matter that another government policy encourages women to have three children, one for ma, one for pa, and for the nation down the road: “These aren’t choices we force on men. These are penalties we extract from women, based on their gender.”

Speaking of penalties, this week, the Pennsylvania ACLU revealed that in Pennsylvania, pregnant women prisoners are routinely shackled, including during childbirth. Pennsylvania is one of the states that actually has a law, the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, which prohibits this kind of treatment. That law was passed in 2010. The ACLU has written to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania asking her to `clarify the law.’

Speaking of clarifying the law, Marissa Alexander still can’t catch a break. For having shot once in the air and not endangered anyone, in order to ward off an abusive partner, Marissa Alexander still faces a possible 60 years behind bars. While her lawyers may have all sorts of new evidence, the prosecuting attorney says the evidence isn’t new enough and the judge is worried about the precedent set by having a second Stand Your Ground hearing. Happy Mother’s Day.

But for the women farmworkers of Immokalee, it may just be a Mother’s Day to celebrate. For the fourth year in a row, farmworker mothers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, stormed the ramparts of Publix, armed to the teeth with hope, a vision of a decent and dignified future for all, a dream of industrial democracy, and a letter, which read:

“May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day

To Publix:

We are farmworker women.  This is the fourth celebration of Mother’s Day in which we are writing to Publix to ask that you join the Fair Food Program.

As mothers, we work in the fields to support our families, especially to help our children through school.

As mothers, we do not make enough to fully support our family.  And the little that we do make is not easy to earn: We work under the sun and rain of Florida.  We do everything so that you can have tomatoes:  we plant, we tie up the plants, we harvest, and then we do it all again the next season.  In spite of all that, it seems that you do not understand and do not want to hear the voice of farmworkers.

Publix profits from the sweat of those of us who work in the fields.  We deserve respect and we deserve a fair wage.

Now is the time to join the Fair Food Program to protect the rights of workers and ensure a fair wage, with the penny per pound that 12 other corporations are already paying.  What are you waiting for, Publix?


The Women’s Group of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

After delivering the letter, Lupe Gonzalo reported, “Publix presumes to say that they support families — but in reality, we don’t see this support. And we are not afraid to tell them that what they are saying is not true.  We are not afraid to come and protest in front of their stores.  Because we are speaking the truth, with our heads held high. For all of us, when we speak to our children, we tell them the truth.  And we tell them that Publix has not signed onto the Program because they are afraid.  Even children can see that.  But what does Publix say to its children?  Only lies?  Is that how they are educating their children?  That is not how we prepare our children for the future.”

Others, like Nely Rodriguez, mother of four, agreed. Now is the time!

Thanks to the work of women like Marissa Alexander, Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, maybe Mother’s Day didn’t end early this year, because, for them, the struggle of women continues, and that’s what Mother’s Day is all about.

(Photo Credit: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

For rural women around the world, NOW IS THE TIME!

Around the world, rural women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, farm workers and peasant movements, and more. From the farmlands and highlands of Peru and Colombia to the farmlands of Zimbabwe and the United States, to the polling stations of India, and beyond, rural women are taking charge.

In the highlands of Peru, in Cajamarca, women are fighting to stop a multinational mining consortium from devastating their waters, lands, and lives. At the helm of this struggle are Máxima Acuña Chaupe, who began her campaign as an attempt to secure her family’s land; and Mirtha Vasquez Chuquilin, a lawyer who works for Comprehensive Training for Sustainable Development (Grupo de Formación Integral para el Desarrollo Sostenible, GRUFIDES). Together, these two women are bringing together popular forces, women’s groups and knowledge, and legal and technical skills. They combat the mining security forces as well as the mining companies’ lawyers while they also combat State security forces and other, more anonymous agents.

The risk to their lives is great, but the risk of not struggling is greater.

Likewise, in Colombia, peasant farmers are engaged in an agrarian strike that has paralyzed much of the country. At the helm of this campaign is Olga Quintero, a leader of the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, which was on strike last year for 52 days. Last December, two armed masked men broke into Quintero’s home. She wasn’t there, and so they bound and gagged her three-year-old daughter. Quintero’s response: “Ni el dinero ni la tierra. El miedo fue lo único que quedó bien repartido entre todos en Colombia.” “Neither money nor land. Fear was the only thing well distributed among all in Colombia.”

Her response is to meet fear with courage, hope, love, and mass organization.

In Zimbabwe, Lena Murembwe, saw a problem. Rural women didn’t know their rights to land. More to the point, rural women didn’t know they had any rights. And so Murembwe’s organization, the Women’s Resource Foundation, began giving workshops and trainings to women in their own rural districts. Widows like Lucia Makawa, 43 years old and the mother of five children, grabbed the opportunity, studied hard, organized, met with traditional chiefs, and took claim to their land. Now Makawa owns six hectares of land, and can see something like a future: “As women we were not even allowed to own a piece of land. But with support from WRF, we have managed to mobilise the support of the chiefs and we have helped solve cases where women were deprived of their right to own land. Now I have my own land and I am in the process of sourcing materials to start building structures. I also have enough space to do my farming.”

Other women, such as Beulah Muchabveyo, studied, learned their rights, and organized to create a dignified, safe space for themselves: “In the past my husband was not treating me as a person at all. He was abusive and never helped with farming work but expected me to give him money after selling our produce. Things are now different in my family after I underwent training in gender and human rights. The training has also given us a platform to meet and discuss issues affecting our lives as women.”

These women know and teach: there is power in knowledge, in union, and in organizing.

In India, as the elections proceed, there’s unprecedented movement among rural women, and unprecedented discussion of `what rural women want.’ What do rural women want? Everything! Rural women say they want public dialogue. They want to be heard. They want a say. They want respect and dignity. They want decent jobs, education, health care. They want an end to violence against women and girls. They want an end to violence. They want an end to predatory lending that targets rural populations and often sends them headlong into bondage or death. They want their own representatives – like Dayamani Barla or Soni Sori – and their proven allies, like Medha Patkar, in Parliament. They want the State. They want democracy. They want it all.

And in the United States, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers want it all as well. When women in the tomato fields of Florida, women like Lupe Gonzalo and Isabel, organize for farm worker’s rights and dignity, they put the struggle to end sexual violence and harassment front and center. They say they cannot wait til after the vote, after the contract, after the revolution for their bodily and spiritual well being to become `an issue.’ They say now is the time.

From Peru and Colombia to Zimbabwe to India to the United States, and beyond and between, rural women, peasant women, women farm workers are organizing intensely because their lives matter urgently: NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

For women farmworkers of Immokalee NOW IS THE TIME!

In Florida’s tomato fields, and across the United States, women tomato pickers and farmworkers – such as Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and scores of others – are organizing a quiet revolution, by waging a raucous, joyous, ferocious struggle. Welcome to the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida. Welcome to the future.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been organizing, representing, testifying, winning and consolidating farmworkers’ power for twenty-one years. In that time, the organization itself has matured. A key part of its growth has been the formation of the Immokalee Women’s Group and the recognition of women as a central sector in the struggle for farm worker’s rights, dignity, and power.

Recognizing women’s centrality has meant recognizing that the struggle for rights, dignity, and power is a community wide struggle rather than strictly a `shop’ issue. While exorbitantly expensive, predatory housing affects everyone, women carry the greater load of both dealing with rent payment and of maintaining the household. Women attend more to health care, child care and children’s well being, food provision in food deserts amidst the farmlands, and the list goes on. Women keep the daily train of the everyday moving along.

At the same time, women in the fields face their own special circumstances. Rampant, and often illegal, use of pesticides and lack of both information and safeguards imperils women’s health in particular ways. Sexual abuse at work attacks women daily.

The women of Immokalee have declared NOW IS THE TIME! They reject the planned catastrophe of lethal housing, fatal indebtedness, wage slavery, sexual abuse and exploitation. They reject the harvest of shame and the fields of abjection. They organize hope.

On Saturday, March 8, International Women’s Day, the women of Immokalee wrote and delivered a letter to Wendy’s, which has thus far refused to sign the Fair Food agreement, “Hear the voice of the woman, who today dares to defend her dignity in the fields. A new day is coming to Florida’s fields, with the Fair Food Program. It guarantees that the dignity of women is respected. We have to keep fighting, and we have to keep shouting, at Wendy’s and other corporations, that the hour has arrived. NOW IS THE TIME!”

On the following Saturday, Lupe Gonzalo, CIW farmworker and organizer, spoke directly to Publix, which has also not signed the Fair Food agreement; to supporters and to the world: “We want to say to Publix that as women, we will not even consider allowing sexual violence to continue in Florida’s fields or the agricultural industry.  We will not take one step backward.  We will only continue forward.”

We will not take one step backward. Lupe Gonzalo has been recognized as “a powerful voice” for justice. She is. Her power is the power of women, rejecting sexual abuse and all forms of exploitation. Her power is her capacity for affirmation, her ability to reach and teach others around her, and especially women, to affirm themselves, individually and collectively, and to “feel proud to walk, to march, to demand justice, to demand respect for ourselves, for our families, for our children, for future.”

As one CIW woman farm worker noted, two years ago, “Our history is not written in any books. I don’t think there’s enough paper to capture the daily life of a woman in the struggle, fighting to provide for her family. We as women want to move forward, so that tomorrow our children will not have to suffer as they do today.”

The future is now. NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)