Supporting Nonviolence and Social Justice Since 1974.
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A Message from Mark Rodrigues of Student/Farmworker Alliance

November 7, 2010

Dear Friends and Allies,

Last month we celebrated the latest in a string of victories for farmworker justice when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) reached landmark social responsibility agreements with Pacific and 6L’s—two of the largest tomato growers in the country. These pacts promise a path toward fair wages and working conditions for the migrant workers who bring in Florida’s—and America’s—tomato harvest.

The workers of Immokalee won this important step thanks in large part to the dedicated alliance and partnership of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA), where I have had the good fortune of working since 2006.

Participants at the Student/Farmworker Alliance 2009 Encuentro. Photo by L. Emiko Soltis.

As I reflect on this success, I am reminded of how much your donations to the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute have accomplished in supporting groups like ours.

I hope you’ll join me in stepping up your commitment to the Muste Institute by making a tax-deductible donation today.

You may remember our campus-based “Boot the Bell” campaign, which began shortly after the Coalition of Immokalee Workers declared a national boycott of Taco Bell in April 2001. But our movement really got its start in February of 2000, when students inspired by the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and the CIW’s crossstate, 230-mile “March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Living Wage” started looking for a way to join with farmworkers in a fight for economic justice. The January 2001 “March for Farmworker Justice” from Quincy, Florida to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee consolidated the network, and the Student/Farmworker Alliance was born.

Our movement grew quickly over the next couple of years, without much funding but with lots of support from student activists around the country.

In September 2004, the Muste Institute took a leap of faith and gave us one of our very first grants: $2,000 for the Boot the Bell campaign. To some that may not seem like much money, but to us it was a huge boost—every dollar really does make a difference! The Institute then brought us more exposure and support by publishing an article in Muste Notes about the Boot the Bell campaign.

Action at Burger King headquarters during the 2007 Encuentro. Photo by Meghan Cohorst.

In March 2005 we saw our first big victory when low-wage farmworkers brought Taco Bell to the table, winning respect for tomato pickers and real improvements in their pay and conditions. That unprecedented achievement drew wide attention. More support came in, leading to a major victory in April 2007 when McDonalds followed suit and signed an agreement with the Immokalee workers.

By 2007, we had strong backing for our day-to-day organizing, but we needed extra help to take things to the next level. The Muste Institute stepped in again, this time with a grant for our third annual “Encuentro” in September of that year. The gathering brought together Immokalee workers, student organizers from around the country and allies from the labor movement and faith-based organizations.

At the Encuentro, we deepened our analysis and built on our winning strategies, and in November we put these into practice by helping to organize and mobilize support for a 2,000-person strong, day-long march and rally on Burger King headquarters in Miami. Just a few months later in May 2008, Burger King announced that it too would back the “penny-per-pound” measure—effectively doubling tomato pickers’ pay—and would work with CIW to improve conditions in the fields.

Strategy Retreat participants join farmworker DJs on the Immokalee Workers’ community “Radio Conciencia.” Photo by Meghan Cohorst.

Two more campaigns were won that same year, before they even hit full swing: Whole Foods Market signed an agreement in September 2008, and in December Subway—the largest fast-food purchaser of Florida tomatoes—gave in to mounting pressure, committing to partner with the Immokalee workers to improve conditions and pay for pickers.

To some, this string of victories might make organizing look almost easy. But these accomplishments are a testament to the persistence of farmworkers, students and allies in educating and mobilizing the public, strengthening networks of solidarity, and building support—month after month, year after year. And to donors like you, for sustaining this important work.

What have these victories meant to farmworkers in Immokalee? Better pay, dignity on the job, and a decent future for their children. And to workers across the globe, an example of how to build a successful nonviolent struggle, and an inspiration—a reminder that despite all the challenges we face, it is possible to take on the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world, and to win real gains.

The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute’s early help played a key role in making all this possible.

Activists map food justice campaigns across the country at a 2010 Strategy Retreat in Immokalee. Photo by Meghan Cohorst.

The Muste Institute is a rarity: a true grassroots foundation courageous enough to go out on a limb and support cutting-edge organizing, before anyone else dares to follow.

What makes the Muste Institute even more unusual is that, like the Student Farmworker Alliance, it was started by a group of dedicated activists with big dreams and little money. Every dollar the Muste Institute spends to boost the social justice movement comes from donations made by people like you and me.

If you increase your giving, you’ll have an even greater impact. An extra $20 could go to print 500 educational leaflets; $50 can buy materials for a colorful banner; $100 pays an organizer’s salary for a day. A gift of $250 could cover postage for a membership drive, or puppets for a street theater action.

Thanks to your past contributions to the Muste Institute, the Student/Farmworker Alliance has now outgrown the Institute’s funding programs.

But we’re not alone in this movement. All across the world, people are struggling nonviolently for dignity, justice, living wages, resource rights and a better future. They still need your help!


Marc Rodrigues

P.S. Please donate to the Muste Institute today! Donate online here via JustGive or mail your check to A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012.