GRAND FINALE: Boycott Wendy's actions from Miami to Chicago wrap up "Behind the Braids" fall mobilization!

It’s a wrap! Following the tremendous leadership of the CIW, SFAers and allies across the country have been at the forefront of the movement for farmworker justice since the birth of the Campaign for Fair Food in 2001. And this fall – even as the country has been adjusting to the new political landscape – the commitment to demand dignity and respect for farmworkers shone brighter than ever as the Wendy’s Boycott ballooned in over 25 cities from Miami to Austin to Chicago to Boston.

There’s much to share from the final stretch of this fall’s boycott mobilization, including on-the-ground reports from the last of the Behind the Braids regional tours, which hammered the Wendy’s Boycott throughout the fast food giant’s territory in the Midwest, and a recap of the Weekend of Action finale. Here we go!

The final Behind the Braids Midwest Tour kicked off on November 5 in Chicago, a community with deep roots in the Campaign for Fair Food ever since the city mobilized tirelessly during the CIW’s 2005-2007 campaign against McDonald’s.  Touching down in Chicago, it was more of a homecoming than a visit: we were warmly welcomed by excited members of the Son Jarocho community as well as many longtime community allies, including Interfaith Worker Justice and El Centro Autónomo — all ready to drum up some Fair Food spirit in the Windy City!

From there, we hit the ground running.  We stretched out across the city for Food Chains screenings; countless classroom presentations at college campuses, elementary schools, and high schools, including Oakton Community College, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Kenwood Academy; and exchanges with community groups, such as the Autonomous Tenants Union and El Centro de Trabajadores Unidos.

On November 9 — even as we confronted news of the election results that shook communities across the country — nearly 50 allies stood strong alongside farmworkers outside of a local Wendy’s with even more determination and ánimo to defend human rights — of farmworkers, and of all human beings.  CIW’s signature energy of hope and resilience remained unbroken as the first leg of the Midwest Tour laid the groundwork to continue growing the Wendy’s Boycott in Chi-Town!
With spirits running high, we continued north to Wisconsin’s largest city the next day, making whirlwind stops at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University, Escuela Vieau and Escuela Verde to educate high school and college students on the longstanding human rights abuses in the fields – and the proven solution that is now transforming conditions for tens of thousands of farmworkers in the U.S.

After inspiring exchanges with SEIU Local 1 and members of Young People’s Resistance Committee at UW-Milwaukee as well as a lively community Food Chains screening, we joined an animated group of allies for a letter delivery to a local Wendy’s manager, declaring that consumers in Milwaukee refuse to accept the fast food giant’s polished public relations ploys as an excuse to reject the Fair Food Program.
We hit the road for Madison, where we took the time to re-connect with Fair Food veterans – many of whom had pledged their unwavering support to the CIW even before the Fair Food Program was born – and to cultivate relationships with newcomers to the Fair Food movement.  On Monday, we spent a full day trekking across the landmark Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to over a dozen classroom presentations, spreading the message of the Wendy’s Boycott to hundreds of students.  Later that night, we had a powerful exchange with campus strongholds MEChA de UW-Madison and the Student Labor Action Coalition.  The gathered students learned about the importance of continuing to build on the long legacy of student solidarity with the CIW that has existed at UW-Madison since the Taco Bell boycott years — and committed to take action the following day.

It was time to hit the streets!  We were met by over 60 students, professors and local community members ready to bring the Wendy’s Boycott to town.  Colorful art lined the sidewalk and lively chants echoed between the Capital Building and the UW-Madison campus buildings, as hundreds of students paced the restaurant-lined street during their lunch hour.

As the culminating action of the six “Behind the Braids” fall tours wrapped up, plans for what’s coming next were already in the works.  Madison — echoing the determination and commitment we saw in Chicago and Milwaukee — promised to keep the pressure up on Wendy’s, for as long as the fast food chain continues holding out on protecting the human rights of farmworkers!

Simultaneously, over in Cleveland, Ohio, we met by hundreds of Ohioans, from students at John Carroll and Case Western Reserve Universities to stalwart allies with the InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Colombia, listeners of FCB Radio Network, and groups who had tirelessly been getting out the vote.  Women of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve and the national offices of the United Church of Christ welcomed CIW with the open arms — a spirit of support that has humbled us since the beginnings of the campaign all the way through the Presbyterian Church (USA) and UCC’s endorsements of the Wendy’s Boycott earlier this year. 

The week of raising consciousness turned into action on Friday as a 40-strong group of Clevelanders came out in the bitter cold to protest at a Shaker Heights Wendy’s.

In the blustery evening, representatives from all the above-mentioned organizations, as well as from Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, and many who had never taken action before joined the growing demand from Ohio:  Wendy’s must support and expand human rights for farmworkers rather than run from its responsibility as a massive corporate buyer of fresh produce. 

We headed from there down to Columbus.  Following a protest of thousands after the November 8 election, Ohio State University students took to the streets once more with CIW to demand that the University refuse to renew its lease with Wendy’s. 
Just days after the Diocese of Southern Ohio of the Episcopal Church officially endorsed the Wendy’s Boycott at their Columbus meeting, members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, the Methodist Theological Seminary, Franklinton Community Gardens, Central Ohio Worker Center, and students from OSU marched to the administration building where President Michael Drake has his offices.

After attending a powerful action in solidarity with Standing Rock activists, connecting the fight against exploitation of the environment with that against the abuse of human beings in the fields, we wrapped up our time in Ohio with a final action alongside Real Food Challenge.  Representatives of environmental justice movements, small-scale farmers, rural communities, and workers’ organizations spoke powerfully to the need to hold OSU accountable for their investment and spending as it affects our food system. 

Oscar Otzoy of the CIW closed the rally with these words:  “On behalf of all workers in Immokalee who everyday do the hard work of putting food on the tables of everyone in this nation, we are grateful for the support of everyone here.  What is clear now more than ever is that we must all be united.  It may seem that these corporations are the ones with power — but that is not true!  Power lies right here, now, with us.  And with that strength, it doesn’t matter what we are up against — I know we will win!”

As the final of the six regional Behind the Braids Tours came to a close, the rolling wave of energy for the Wendy’s Boycott hit Florida’s sunnier shores for a spectacular Weekend of Action finale!

On Saturday, students at Barry University and St. Thomas University in Miami coordinated a spirited march of more than 150 on Wendy’s in the neighborhood of Coral Gables, near the University of Miami’s campus.  Joined by dozens of CIW farmworker members from Immokalee and numerous faith and community allies from Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties – including representatives from South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and the Presbytery of Tropical Florida – marchers began in a downtown community park with a rousing reflection on the uncertainty of the times we are living in, and the importance of taking action and continuing to unite in the struggle for human rights.

From there, the march kicked off with a long, loud picket outside of a nearby Publix.  The group took advantage of the moment to remind the Florida-based supermarket chain that it, along with Wendy’s and other resistant retailers, needs to hear the call for justice coming from farmworkers and Publix’s own consumers. After a successful delivery of letters written by students at St. Thomas University for Publix management, the march looped around the block and over to the busy U.S. 1 thoroughfare to make its way to the main event: a colorful picket outside a very prominent Coral Gables Wendy’s on that same road.  Though the manager refused to take a delegation’s letter, the group left the scene buoyed by the march’s high energy and the unmistakable joy of the Fair Food Nation.

The action wasn’t just in South Florida.  Central Florida was also present this past weekend, with two consecutive protests in the Fair Food strongholds of St. Petersburg and Tampa!  In St. Pete and Tampa, students at Eckerd College and the Tampa community invited others to join them in two dozens-strong marches to Wendy’s.  In a surprising move, the local manager met the delegation in St. Pete with openness – even while informing allies that Wendy’s corporate offices had warned many Wendy’s chains that Fair Food protests might be taking the boycott to their stores that day.

The Weekend of Action finished off in Fort Myers the next day, just a stone’s throw from Immokalee itself, with over 50 farmworkers and allies from across Southwest Florida. 

Participants ranged from congregations whose support stretches back to the pre-Campaign for Fair Food days, to students at Florida Gulf Coast University who had first learned of the CIW’s work only a few weeks ago.

The multigenerational crowd proudly raised their voices in solidarity with farmworkers as a sizable delegation of CIW farmworker women and faith allies, including youth from the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, approached the store to deliver their letter.  In the second surprise of the weekend, meeting them at the door were two Wendy’s representatives who introduced themselves as the Director of Operations and the regional Wendy’s manager.  Instructing the delegation to deliver their letter to Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, OH, the pair turned away even after hearing local consumers and farmworker leaders argue persuasively in favor of Wendy’s joining its peers in the Fair Food Program.

BONUS: And to wrap up this marathon report, we have a video produced by students in Washington DC, documenting the final action of the Mid-Atlantic Behind the Braids Tour just a few short weeks ago. Enjoy, and get ready for the next big wave of action this December 10, International Human Rights Day!