Tampa, Florida April 16.
The Immokalee Farm Workers March for Justice was scheduled to leave the church at 5 o'clock and arrive at Publix supermarket on Busch and 56th Street at 6PM, but at 5:15 PM Busch Boulevard was marcher free. For a major thoroughfare at rush hour on a Friday, traffic was remarkably light. At Publix supermarket, three big tour buses rested at the outer edge of the parking lot. Across the lot, spaced a few yards apart, several police cars were parked directly in front of Publix and K Mart. Other than that, there was no indication that the well publicized protest demonstration was imminent.
At a few minutes before six, a tidal wave of bright green advanced up Busch Boulevard. A visitor walked to the street side of the Publix parking lot to get a closer look. The green marchers wore t-shirts printed with the Publix logo "P" spelling out poverty. They were accompanied by a flatbed truck. Indian dancers, some wearing headdresses, brought up the rear, waving incense, blowing conch shells, dancing and drumming. More than a protest, I'd describe it as a pep rally for fairness and justice; a call for compassion.
Chants in Spanish and English energized the lazy afternoon. Mostly Latino, they included the middle aged, the young and babies in strollers. "No More Slaves, Pay us a living Wage." The people united will never be defeated, and the old standby: No justice, no peace." Marchers split into two lines, one marching west on Busch and the other marching east on the sidewalk fronting the Publix shopping center.
They began their march at nine in the morning in downtown Tampa and they rested from 4:30 until 5 P.M. They continued on to Publix at 56th Street. You'd think they would be bone tired, and maybe they were. But no more than they would be after a ten hour day in the Florida heat, walking the rows in the fields, stooping and picking tomatoes and other vegetables, filling buckets with 32 pounds of tomatoes, over and over.
If Publix would agree to pay 1 penny per pound more for the tomatoes it buys, it would mean a raise of about 35 cents per bucket for the farm workers.
It's been asked: why appeal to Publix when Publix say it's not their problem? Because Publix has the power to make change happen. For the same reason somebody writes to the CEO of a company when one of its local stores sells defective merchandise and then refuses to refund the customer's money. When you can't get justice at one level, you move up the ladder.
When I go to the market to buy the veggies I eat, I think of them. I think of the fact that 2,000 pounds of tomatoes equals a $50 paycheck for them, and they haven't had a significant raise in thirty years. I think of the fact that babies born to farm laborers have birth defects from the pesticides used on the crops.
It doesn't matter that Publix isn't their employer. They are human beings. Their work feeds most of us, and they work hard for the money. They deserve to make enough money from their work to take care of their families.