From Elena Stein & Claire Comiskey
The “Now is the Time” Tour came to a rallying close on Saturday as over 1,000 people gathered in Lakeland to complete the 24-hour vigil and set off marching up the main thoroughfare to downtown Lakeland.
The 24-hour witness outside an iconic Publix in the company’s hometown — staged from mid-day Friday to mid-day Saturday — proved to be the most poignant close to witness and community-building in ten cities over ten days.
Click on the must-see video to the right for a sense of the confrontation between Publix officials and religious leaders during Friday’s candlelight rally (or check out a written reflection from the Rev. Lindsay Comstock, Executive Director of National Farm Worker Ministry) as well as the powerful, guiding words that the faith delegation shared upon return, fueling the vigil participants for the long, chilly night ahead.
At dawn, CIW members orchestrated a sunrise ceremony, inviting the enlarging crowd to contemplate the power of the new day dawning in the fields. The stirring reflections carried us through the late morning until finally, in the early afternoon, the crowd of a couple hundred doubled, then tripled, until we swelled into 1,000 people and stepped off onto the town’s main avenue. We stretched out farther and farther until the emcees at the front lost sight of the march’s tail, winding our way into the heart of Lakeland’s downtown. All along the way, we were greeted by a constant stream of honks, waves and cheers, making it abundantly clear that Publix’s home community has grown increasingly impatient with Publix’s resistance to joining the Fair Food Program, when it has become widely recognized for its power to transform lives in the fields with little effort on the part of the corporation.
Finally, after the three-mile trek, we arrived on the edge of Lake Mirror for our colorful celebration and rally. The Rev. Michael Livingston, National Policy Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, kicked off the rally with what would be the first of many sharply critical comments towards Publix’s cold intransigence in the face of the beauty and unity exhibited that day:
“We’ve been on this journey towards justice together, and while we’ve been doing that, Publix has been standing still, telling lies, denying justice. Publix is just standing still, telling lies, while we are growing together, and embracing one another, and loving one another. So we’re on a… (audience) Journey towards justice… Now is the time!”
Among the many high notes of the rally was an address by author and theologian Brian McLaren, who spoke directly to Publix executives: “I want to say something to the leaders of Publix, based on this book (holding a Bible aloft). Love your neighbors. Love your neighbors who work on the farms, love your customers who care about those workers. Turn from your pride and arrogance, and turn towards your partners in business, the workers of Immokalee.”
And as the sun began to set once more, the Lakeland rally came to a close, as did the Now is the Time Tour as a whole. Fair Food supporters congratulated each other on a wildly successful tour, which amplified the ever-growing call to holdout corporations Publix and Wendy’s to join us in strengthening and expanding the new reality in the agricultural industry as it begins to flourish, one based on the dignity and human rights of every person.
We close with gratitude for every person who made this remarkable undertaking possible, and give the final word to the CIW women’s group, who closed out Saturday’s rally:
“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.”
Indeed, we look foward to continuing the journey with all of you.
Elena & Claire
Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida
People of faith partnering with farmworkers to cultivate justice in the fields