Allies support the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
On Sunday, a delegation of UU Allies for Racial Equity (ARE), a Unitarian Universalist white allies group, with several of us wearing our Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts and pins, went to Immokalee, Florida to meet with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). CIW is a community-based organization across Florida of mainly immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. They have been leading a Fair Food Campaign and are working to increase pay and working conditions for farmworkers by getting major buyers of tomatoes to commit to paying just a penny more per pound, which substantially improves working and living conditions for workers. What may seem like a small increase in pay would enable them to buy a bike to commute and to get better housing.
Through collective organizing and targeting the biggest buyers, CIW succeeded in getting fast food giants, including Taco Bell and Burger King, as well as food service providers, including Aramark and Sodexo to agree to buy tomatoes only from growers that agree to the provisions in the Fair Food Campaign. Building on these successes, they are now focusing on getting supermarkets, who buy 90% of fresh tomatoes in the US, to agree to pay a penny more per pound.
On Friday night, Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida addressed the participants of the Allies for Racial Equity conference. As an interfaith coalition of people of faith and religious institutions that work closely in partnership with CIW to end sub-poverty wages and abuses in the fields, two of their staffers, Brigitte Gynther and Margaret Gleeson, talked to us about what it means to them to be a good ally. They were introduced by Rev. Allison Farnum, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Meyers, Florida, who both serves on Interfaith Action’s board and hosted the ARE conference. Their faith has called them to work for justice in the fields, and to truly support farmworkers, they follow CIW’s lead. From sharing office space and aiding with technical support to translating Spanish when a CIW member gives a presentation to a congregation to involving the faith community in CIW’s campaigns, these two organizations work side-by-side.
The UU Allies for Racial Equity conference this year focused on “Commitment in Action,” offering UUs who identify as white an opportunity to examine what it means to be an anti-racist ally in our congregations and communities. It was inspiring for me to know that my faith community is actively involving our congregations to support immigrant farmworkers. In fact, the very first resolution the UUA General Assembly ever passed was in 1961 in support of migrant farmworkers. In 2008, the UUA General Assembly passed a resolution in support of the CIW Fair Food Campaign after hearing from the CIW farmworkers in plenary. The UUA Witness Ministries staff are partners of CIW and support them by both connecting congregations with their campaign as well as financially. Partnering with CIW is a powerful way to stand on the side of love and really bring about change.
Report by Rowan Van Ness, Environmental Justice Program Associate, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth & Unitarian Universalist Association