Hurricane Irma slams the farmworker town of Immokalee, recovery begins and the work for justice continues

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After pummelling islands throughout the Caribbean last week and leaving much destruction in its wake, Hurricane Irma began its slow but powerful ascent onto the mainland of Florida on Sunday afternoon and evening. The historic storm arrived in Immokalee as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Yesterday’s report from the CIW describes Irma’s impact on vulnerable farmworker towns in Florida’s interior

...Immokalee, the already impoverished farmworker community — and several others north of Immokalee, including Florida’s citrus capital, LaBelle — saw some of the worst of the storm, as the northeast quadrant of the massive hurricane’s eye wall slammed directly into small inland towns along the length of the state.

We are happy to report that, remarkably, despite hours of fierce lashing by Irma’s winds and stinging rains, no lives were reported lost as of the writing of this report….The physical damage wrought by the storm was great, however, with the worst impact reserved for communities like Immokalee, where the housing stock consists mainly of used trailers and flimsily built wooden shacks ...

Even as the region begins recovery from Irma, it is imperative that we remember why Immokalee and communities like it are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters like these. Often fleeing war and devastation in their home countries, thousands arrive to Immokalee only to be met by poverty wages (more than half of Immokalee residents live below the poverty line), abusive conditions, and a system that is historically stacked against them. Without a strong social safety net or the resources to rebuild after a major storm, Immokalee farmworkers are among the millions on the frontline of climate change. In the years to come, warmer waters will generate more extreme weather — and further escalate the threats faced by vulnerable communities.

Today, we must respond to the immediate needs of Immokalee. But we must go further than the demands of the moment.

Our generation must continue to follow farmworkers’ leadership to transform the reality that demands they fight for their survival and human rights on a daily basis — we must expand the Fair Food Program. Beyond that, SFA must stand with frontline communities around the world to ensure they also reduce their structural vulnerability, and to curb climate change while we still can.  Just as we raise our voices as students and young people to Boot the Braids from campuses around the country, we must continue to support campaigns for university divestment from fossil fuels and all movements for collective liberation.

Given this long-term vision, the CIW has called on the SFA network to continue organizing with more vigor as ever before.  Next week, we will announce a major new initiative in the Campaign for Fair Food to intensify the call to Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. Stay tuned for the details!

In the meantime, Immokalee is calling on our support to get back on her feet. If you are in Florida and are able to support with supplies or volunteering, contact Julia Perkins at julia@ciw-online.org.  If you wish to donate to relief efforts to Immokalee farmworkers and other farmworker communities, you can do so securely here.  

Visit the CIW's website to read more about Irma's impact on Immokalee (and catch a bonus son jarocho video!)