Ft. Benning, GA
Nov. 18-20, 2005
"There are currently two
major competing visions for the global food system. Under the
model toward which the world has been rushing headlong for the
past few decades, food is produced, processed and marketed by
an ever-smaller number of firms with disproportionate access
to the formulation of public policy, using industrial techniques
and inputs which raise serious concerns about food safety, nutrition,
and social and environmental sustainability.
An alternative model seeks to
protect the welfare of consumers and the livelihoods of producers
around the world by reducing the market distortions of oligopolist
firms, enhancing the value-adding potential and market access
of producers, promoting the use of ecologically sustainable farming
technologies, and educating consumers about the origins of their
food and its nutritional content."
Family Farm Coalition
Workers Movement (MST)
on Corporations, Law & Democracy
Scroll through the daily updates
as SFA, Guatemalan banana worker and SITRABI
union organizer Selfa Sandoval, Ag Missions, and the Beehive Collective
tour New England en route to Ft. Benning, GA and the mobilization to
the School of the Americas!
The Abundant Life tour entered the final stretch of its
New England leg snaking its way across the Vermont countryside.
Pictured above is the state's famous Camel's Back Mountain, the
highest point in the Green Mountain range that runs from lower
Canada to Connecticut. A glance at the clouds overhead hinted
at snow as the tour crew traveled the windy roads from Burlington
to Johnson State College on Day 6.
And speaking of the Green Mountains, McDonald's
recently announced an initiative to partner with Vermont's own
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to sell
only fair trade coffee at its 650+ New England restaurants.
While commendable, this leaves the discerning consumer to wonder
why the fast-food giant (and its competitors such as Burger King
and Subway) can't also pay a premium price for its Florida tomatoes
to ensure the men and women picking those tomatoes receive a fair
wage and improved working conditions.
Before leaving the Burlington area, the crew made a quick detour
at Colchester High School. Here, students taking Spanish II were
treated to a special guest appearance by a certain native Spanish
speaker -- Selfa Sandoval -- who encouraged them to think critically
about the human beings behind the fruits and vegetables they eat
on a daily basis, from Guatemala's bananas to Florida's tomatoes
After Selfa spoke, Lara of the Beehive Collective took the morning's
discussion of globalization one step further. Using a hand-drawn
banner, Lara engaged the high schoolers in a nuanced yet
accessible discussion about Plan Colombia. It was the first
time the students had heard of the program through which the
US government funnels over half a billion dollars of military
aid to Colombia every year under the pretext of eradicating
cocoa supplies. Many critics
charge the drug war is simply a smokescreen for government
and corporate interests in extracting the region's rich biodiversity
and valuable natural resources such as petroleum.
After the Colchester stop, the tour crew was on the road again,
this time barreling towards Johnson State College. Along the
way, we saw this New England variant of the "Panther Crossing"
signs sprinkled throughout the wetlands and cypress swamps of
(Moose crossing... is this for real??)
After being treated to a great homemade lunch by Johnson State
students, it was on to campus for an afternoon of presentations
in Latin American and environmental studies courses. Stephen
of Ag Missions began with a discussion of Latin American social
movements struggling for food
sovereignty and the serious threats posed by structural
adjustment policies and "free trade" agreements which
pry open "developing" markets to corporate agribusiness.
This process often displaces millions of campesinos
and subsistence farmers who can no longer sell surplus crops
to local markets because of the glut of dirt-cheap foreign imports.
Unable to scratch out a living and displaced from their land,
many former farmers make the dangerous trek north to the US
in search of work. Many end up in places such as Immokalee,
a town comprised of thousands of young immigrant workers from
Mexico and Central America. seeing this link, the Johnson State
students were thrilled to learn about the history and successes
of the CIW. As was the case at each tour stop, people were fired
up about the Taco Bell boycott victory and eager to get involved
in the next phase of the struggle for fair food, an encouraging
sign as the CIW and its allies move forward.
Later that evening in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, (Dave
Dellinger's old stomping grounds), the North Country Coalition
for Justice & Peace hosted the tour as part of its fall
series on Latin American social movements. The event was held
in front of a capacity audience inside a gorgeous, recently-renovated
library (it's actually a registered National Historic Landmark).
Per usual, Selfa rocked the house and her story was complemented
by a discussion of the CIW's campaign for fair food and rounded
out with the Beehive Collective's intense imagery depicting
struggles over globalization.
As we prepared to crash for the evening on Day 6, flurries were
slowly beginning to fall from the night sky, and we awoke the
next morning to a blanket of snow... a rather rare sight for the
tour members from Florida and Guatemala.
In fact, it was Selfa's first time to ever see snow (and she preferred
to look at it from the heated confines of our rental car)!
The exotic experience was short-lived, however, as the snow
melted before we arrived in South Royalton, a quintessentially
quaint Vermont town founded in 1789.
The afternoon event at Vermont Law School was to be our final
presentation together. Selfa, by now a seasoned tour pro, addressed
the law school students about her union's efforts to create
a regional union label so that consumers in the US and Europe
can intentionally purchase bananas picked by unionized workers
with improved wages, working conditions, and job security. While
slightly different, this idea obviously overlaps with the growing
Fair Trade movement as well as the CIW's fast-food campaign,
efforts that bring workers and consumers directly together to
address gross economic inequalities.
The students, many of whom were members of the National Lawyers
Guild, had the opportunity to participate in some hands-on learning
as the tour stop organizers passed around organic and "regular"
bananas for a taste test while Selfa spoke.
Day 8, dozens of Vermonters gathered in front of the state's capitol
building in Montpelier to rally against the School of the Americas.
The event was a modest precursor to next week's massive vigil
to be held at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia.
For those who don't know, the School
of the Americas is a US-run military training facility linked
to decades of torture, repression, and chilling human rights
abuses throughout Latin America. From Argentina to Chile to
Mexico and beyond, SOA graduates have been responsible for crushing
social movements (peasants, unions, indigenous people, teachers,
students, etc.) and inflicting terror on civilian populations
to defend military dictatorships, protect foreign investment,
and maintain "business as usual" as defined by US
policymakers thousands of miles away.
While commemorating the many massacres and atrocities tied to
the SOA -- as this Colombian man did on Saturday -- there is
also a growing movement in the US and abroad to move beyond
grief and towards change by shutting down the School of the
Americas once and for all. Many people view the SOA as a linchpin
in a larger effort to stand in meaningful solidarity with social
movements throughout the hemisphere, the very movements who
suffer the worst violence and repression by SOA graduates.
After the short yet powerful rally, we jaunted over to the Langdon
Street Cafe, a worker-owned collective in Montpelier with surprisingly
good tamales and not-so-surprisngly good apple cider. Here it
was time to say our goodbyes as the crew split up: some folks
continuing with the tour to Long Island, others heading to Baltimore,
and others (well, one other) heading back to sunny Florida to
prepare for the caravan from Immokalee to Ft. Benning. See you
3 - 5: NEW HAMPSHIRE & VERMONT
On Day 3, the Abundant Life tour left the post-industrial city
of Worcester and began working its way through New Hampshire's
White Mountains, which you can see in the background if you look
hard enough. And although the tour crew was just a few weeks too
late to catch the fall leaves turning, it was a beautiful drive
That evening, the tour arrived at Plymouth State University,
where students from the Nicaragua Club had organized a stop.
Above, students –
very few of whom were already familiar with the CIW – listened
carefully as the story of the boycott victory unfolded. After
the presentation, the SFA table was a hub of activity as dozens
of students filled out postcards to send to the CEOs of McDonald's,
Burger King, and Subway calling on them to "meet
or beat" the CIW's agreement with Taco Bell.
Day 4 pushed the tour crew to its physical limits as it was
packed with plenty of traveling and three separate presentations
across the states of New Hampshire and Vermont!
And speaking of traveling, pictured above is the Beehive Collective's
very own tour bus, La Tortuga. The interior, which
is by far its most impressive feature, was refurbished by a
friend of the Bees known simply as "Uncle John." (NB:
Uncle John's portfolio also includes tour buses for the quintessential
80s rock bands Rush & Yes. Thankfully, neither of these
bands were coming through La Tortuga's sound system...
no offense to all those Rush & Yes fans out there.)
And in what would become an ongoing theme and inside joke of
the Abundant Life tour, we made sure to gas up our caravan at
a Citgo station before hitting the road. After all, if you have
to buy gas, you might as well support
Venezuela's democratic revolution.
And after another scenic drive, Day 4's whirlwind officially
began at Colby Sawyer College for a lunchtime gathering. No,
we weren't actually presenting in this old barn (which is now
the College's main library) but this picture was too good not
After Colby Sawyer, it was on to Dartmouth College for a well-received
...before wrapping up the day in Montpelier at Bethany Church.
Vermont has a rich history of town hall meetings, and Wednesday
night's intimate event captured this feeling as the assembled
community members listened to Selfa's stories from Guatemala
and connected it to the other presentations by SOA Watch, the
Beehive Collective and SFA.
Interestingly, Montpelier is the only state capitol in the
US without a McDonald's, and Vermont was the last state
in the country to receive WalMart. Perhaps there's something
the rest of the country can learn from a state that values family
farms, local economies, and direct democracy over industrial
and endless seas of identical fast-food restaurants (a monoculture
all its own).
On Day 5, the tour crew hit the college town of Burlington,
Vermont for several classroom visits and other presentations.
In this picture, Selfa addresses a highly engaged Spanish literature
class. This was the first stop on the tour where translation
was not required, and Selfa wasted no time in describing the
impressive organizing efforts by rank-and-file banana workers
even in the face of tremendous violence and paramilitary repression.
(On another note, there are apparently no fast-food restaurants
on the University of Vermont campus. Hmmm... so fast-food chains
haven't always been a universal fixture of campus
That afternoon, against a backdrop of cloudy weather, the rest
of the tour crew took a breather while the Beehive Collective
geared up for a solo show inside this elegant stone building on
the UVM campus.
As we moved inside to set up for the event, we couldn't help but
notice the overflow crowd gathered to hear a guest speaker next
door. Suspense built as we struggled to get a positive ID on the
orator speaking adjacent to the Bees.
Why, it was none other than Linda Trocki, Vice President &
Director of Research for the Bechtel Corporation! After frantically
and unsuccessfully looking for a pie (just kidding, of course),
we settled in to listen to Ms. Trocki discuss the coming threat
and lucrative opportunities –
posed by global climate change.
While she conceded there will certainly be some "losers"
in this process (say, the entire country of Bangladesh), Trocki
cheerily reminded us that it won't all be Exodus-style plagues
and locusts. In fact, she predicted that there will be certain
economic benefits to melting polar ice caps. And from increased
reliance on nuclear power to new trade routes and opportunities
for oil and gas development in the Arctic (apparently that irony
was lost on her), she assured the assembled math and engineering
students that Becthel stands to profit generously from these
During the Q&A, Trocki skillfully evaded questions about
Becthel's role in the occupation of Iraq. She also downplayed
questions about a Bechtel subsidiary's privatization of the
entire water system of Cochabamba, Bolivia in January 2000,
causing massive price increases and forcing many families to
literally choose between food and water. A popular uprising,
which was met with intense government repression, forced Bechtel
out of Bolivia in April 2000. To
learn more about Bechtel and the Bolivian Water War, click here.
The juxtaposition between the message of the Bechtel executive
and the Abundant Life tour could not have been sharper and is
symbolic of a larger struggle that is playing out across the
world, from Immokalee to the streets of Argentina and Hong Kong.
This is a struggle over the process of globalization itself
that is guided by very divergent priorities, values, and voices.
On the one hand, there are the Bechtels, McDonalds, and Monsantos
of the world. Under a veil of selfless benevolence, these corporations
and their allies in government are aggressively preaching a gospel
of privatization and enclosure, displacement and repression...
in short, a continuation of the past 510 years of colonization
seductively masked by the shimmering glow of corporate logos
and the illusion of "progress."
On the other hand, an explosion of grassroots movements from
every corner of the planet is clamoring "Another world
another globalization –
is possible!" These movements embrace many different worldviews
and experiences but are united by their quest for, as the Zapatistas
say, "one world in which many worlds fit." This globalization-from-below
is challenging the profit-driven values of the dominant system
and choosing a future of diversity and abundance over scarcity
and homogeneity. It is this struggle which lies at the very
heart of the many movements represented on the Abundant Life
See the updates for Days 6-8
DAYS 1 & 2: MASSACHUSETTS
one-person SFA tour "crew" left southwest Florida
with high hopes of catching a glimpse of New England's famed
fall foliage, a rare and mysterious concept to residents
of Immokalee's sub-tropical climate. However, as you can
see in this photo taken on Sunday on a small farm outside
Rutland, MA, heavy fog obscured much of the brilliantly colored
But the trip didn't
begin on a farm or in the fog. Before heading to central Massachusetts
to hook up with the Abundant Life tour –
which kicked off last Wednesday in Boston –
there was some business to attend to in Amherst, MA, a college
town known for its progressive politics if there ever was one.
The first of two excellent Amherst events was an afternoon panel
discussion at the University of Massachusetts titled "The
Roots of Victory: Innovative Approaches to Labor Rights &
Civil Rights." For a sunny and unseasonably warm Saturday
afternoon, the event drew a great turnout of over 50 students
crowded into a windowless room deep in the bowels of the Campus
Center building. The discussion was organized by faculty and
students of the University's renowned Labor Studies program
and featured and an impressive array of Southern-based organizations
struggling for human rights...
farmworker organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers (above, CIW member Lucas Benitez addresses the well-informed
audience about the CIW's early history, the Taco Bell boycott
victory and next steps in the campaign to transform the fast-food
members of Student/Farmworker Alliance who discussed an invaluable
lesson of the boycott: the vital role of youth in supporting
worker-led campaigns to hold transnational corporations accountable
for abuses in their supply chains. This lesson rings especially
true with fast-food corporations who spend billions
of dollars every year to hawk their products to young consumers
between the ages 18 and 24, a demographic that a McDonald's
marketing executive recently referred to (in a slightly creepy
manner) as their company's "sweet spot."
"I'm lovin' it," indeed.
panel also featured two women who have made immense strides
towards racial and economic justice in the South. First, Ashaki
Binta (right) of Black Workers for Justice and United Electrical
Workers-I50 described her work in North Carolina's public and
private sector to build a strong base of self-organized workers
with leadership indigenous to local communities (sound familiar?).
From dynamic worker education campaigns to non-majority unionism,
Black Workers for Justice and UE are doing some truly impressive
work in this "right to work" state which ranks 50th
in the US in unionization rates, an ugly legacy that dates back
to anti-worker policies enacted during the height of Jim Crow.
Next, legendary activist and octogenarian Anne Braden of Louisville,
KY addressed the room. Anne, who many of you may remember from
last year's "Our World, Our Rights" conference as
part of the 2005 Taco Bell Truth Tour, has been very supportive
of the CIW's work over the past few years and Saturday was no
exception. Anne began her remarks by praising the worker-led
boycott as a "great victory for the people of this country"
and a potential "turning point" for social movements
within the US. Anne also complimented the work and analysis
of SFA, nothing that historically "when things move in
this country, it's because the young people are moving,"
drawing parallels between some of today's youth movements and
the Black freedom struggles and antiwar movement of the 1960s.
Saturday evening, the UMass panelists were honored before several
hundred attendees of the Greensboro Justice Fund's 25th Anniversary
Celebration at the Northampton Center for the Arts. Greensboro
Justice Fund is a small educational organization and foundation
that has generously supported SFA (which operates on a shoestring
budget) along with dozens of other isolated grassroots groups
doing cutting-edge work in the South against nearly insurmountable
Executive Director Marty Nathan began the evening, appropriately
titled "Courage from the Past, Strength for the Future,"
with some background that's worth repeating for those who may
not know the history of the Greensboro Massacre.
GJF was born in 1980 as the fight-back vehicle for the families
of the dead, injured and the falsely arrested of the November
3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. On that day, forty Ku Klux Klansmen
and American Nazis attacked and shot into an anti-Klan gathering
of men, women and children, killing five young union and community
organizers and wounding ten others.
In 1985, the Greensboro Justice Fund, heading a larger legal
coalition, won the Greensboro Civil Rights Suit against the
KKK, Nazis and involved police. The small judgment was paid
by the City of Greensboro, and some of the proceeds were used
as seed money to return more than $500,000 in 350 grants over
the next 20 years to grassroots groups doing frequently dangerous
work throughout the South.
Both CIW & SFA were recognized at the celebration. Pictured
above, Lucas Benitez accepts the award on behalf of the CIW. His
remarks were interrupted several times by applause when referencing
the recent boycott victory.
UMass student and former SFA summer volunteer Marc Rodrigues
accepted a plaque on behalf of the SFA network for its "contribution
to a more just world." This award is quite an honor and
a humbling reminder of the work that remains to be done when
one considers the brutal repression and subsequent struggle
for justice that gave birth to the fund.
all the awards were dispensed, it was time for the evening's
keynote address. With a keen sense of humor and a razor-sharp
wit, Anne Braden addressed the capacity audience about the legacy
of the Greensboro Massacre, the nation's current political climate,
and the crucial importance of the struggle against racism and
white supremacy in the US, a struggle that Anne believes has
not yet fully begun.
In this picture, Anne –
who, along with her late husband Carl, is one of two people
in US history to be indicted twice for sedition in the same
state (Kentucky, for those keeping score at home) for her anti-racist
receives a standing ovation from the packed house.
The next day, the SFA tour crew-of-one left the Pioneer Valley
of western Massachusetts and hooked up with the Abundant Life
tour in Worcester, MA. Above, Stephen Bartlett of Ag Missions
translates for Selfa Sandoval at a post-Mass presentation at
an area Catholic Church. Selfa shared some of her experience
as a worker and union organizer on a large Del Monte banana
plantation. Recognized in 1947, her union (SITRABI) is the oldest
in what she referred to as her "pained country of Guatemala."
For the hundreds of thousands of mostly unorganized workers
who toil in Guatemala's export-driven banana industry, the vast
majority are forced to survive on subsistence wage of less that
$5 a day. And although the Constitution guarantees Guatemalans
the right to organize and form unions, this right is routinely
violated on the ground by US-based corporations who call the
shots in the campo. From blacklists to firings to
worse, repression is a constant threat for workers who dare
to speak out on the job, a thread that connects the terror of
the Greensboro Massacre with the terror of grinding poverty
that is a daily reality for hundreds of millions of people throughout
Members of the wildly creative Beehive Design Collective provided
some additional context for Selfa's remarks by explaining their
graphic representation of corporate globalization and the proposed
Free Trade Area of the Americas. This particular poster was
an important popular education and organizing tool for activists
inside the US leading up to the November 2003 Root
Cause march and anti-FTAA mobilization in Miami. It was
also a rather timely discussion given the massive street protests
and spectacular failure of hemispheric "free trade"
talks in Argentina last week. (Wahoo!)
After an intimate small group discussion at the church, it was
off to the Massachusetts countryside where the tour crew (which
was finally a "crew" in the legitimate sense of the
word) visited a 270 acre farm practicing sustainable agriculture
through a holistic, integrated land and livestock system. Farms
like this –
which used to be the agricultural norm prior to the wildfire
spread of chemical fertilizers and pesticides following World
War II, a process that went global during the so-called "Green
Revolution" of the 1970s –
are springing up all over the world as practical alternatives
to the destructive agribusiness model which requires ever-larger
farms and ever-increasing chemical "inputs" (all while
poisoning the land, jeopardizing human health, displacing small-scale
farmers throughout the world, and creating a constant downward
pressure on farmworker wages that breeds unfathomable working
conditions, including forced labor and modern-day slavery in
the most extreme cases).
And on a final note, what farm would be complete without piglets
suckling on the proverbial teat (or rather, in this case, a
literal teat). With an admirably determined focus on their feasting,
which can be a surprisingly competitive activity at times, these
little critters were getting some much-needed nourishment, completely
oblivious to their high-profile and climactic role in the first
installment of the SFA tour update.
Up next... New Hampshire: Live free or die!
See the updates for Days 3-5!