NCC Poverty Initiative director Rev. Michael Livingston is in Lakeland, Florida all week accompanying tomato harvesters from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in their struggle for worker justice. Rev. Livingston has joined farmworkers, students, and fellow faith leaders (organized by the Presbyterian Hunger Program) in consuming nothing but water with lemon and molasses for six whole days. The group is camped outside of the headquarters of Publix, a grocery store chain prominent in the Southeast United States. Publix has refused for years to sign on to a Fair Food Agreement with the tomato harvesters. On Day 3 of the Fast, Rev. Livingston and some fellow fasters stopped what they were doing for a live interview on Twitter – aka “Twinterview” – with Patrick David Heery of the PC(USA)’s Justice Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.
@UnboundJustice: To start off our interview with
@NCCEndPoverty Rev. Michael Livingston, let’s introduce him to you. Rev. Livingston, the director of the @NCCCUSA Poverty Initiative since October 2010, has devoted his life 2 ecumenical mission. Rev. Livingston is a past president of the @NCCCUSA & executive director of the International Council of Community Churches. Livingston is a graduate of @UCLA, MDiv & Master of Theology @Princeton Theological Seminary. He served 10yrs in pastoral work. Ordained w/ @Presbyterian Church USA, Rev. Livingston chaired General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical & Interfaith Relation. From 1987 to 2001 Rev. Livingston served as the editor of Liberation and Unity: A Guide for Meditation and Action. Through career as pastor, ecumenist, denominational leader & author, Livingston has maintained passion for “least of these.” Okay, let’s see if our conversation partner is here. Are you ready to start the interview, Rev. Livingston?
@UnboundJustice: Great! Tell us about the fast, where it is, what it’s doing, who you’re with.
@NccEndPoverty: It’s a fast to call on
#Publix – the largest corporation in FL and one of largest supermarkets in country … ..to support CIW’s Fair Food Program. We are in front of Publix HQ in Lakeland, FL. 50-60 farmworkers and supporters fasting along with CIW support team and many solidarity fasters here and across the country.
@UnboundJustice: Why did you personally join the fast?
@NccEndPoverty: I joined because I want to support farmworkers who are underpaid, overworked, and subject to abuses – And because I eat the fruit/veggies harvested by workers, and I can’t do that in good conscience if they are mistreated. I would like to see Publix come to the table and take responsibility for helping to end these abuses.
@UnboundJustice: Can you tell us a little bit about those abuses?
@NccEndPoverty: Actually that’s a great question — I wanted to introduce Gerardo Reyes, a farmworker and
@CIW leader who is here at my side
@UnboundJustice: Great to have you join the conversation, Gerardo! Can you and Michael help us understand these abuses?
@NccEndPoverty: Gerardo: abuses include decades of stagnant, sub-poverty wages… widespread sexual harassment, situations of violence in the fields, and in the extreme, federally-prosecuted instances……of actual modern-day slavery. In sum I think we can say that the norm for someone working in the fields is daily sweatshop-like conditions.
@UnboundJustice: No wonder you are fasting. These are egregious injustices and violations of essential human dignity.
@NccEndPoverty: Gerardo: Yes, no one agrees more than those of us with the CIW who work in the fields. But the good news is that change is starting to happen; a new day is dawning in Florida’s fields. We would also like to introduce The Rev. Noelle Damico PC (USA) GA. The three of us are here together
@UnboundJustice: Great to have you join the conversation, Noelle! Friends, we have a powerhouse trifecta here! Given these widespread abuses, why does
#Publix refuse even to talk with the farmworkers?
@NccEndPoverty: That’s an excellent question and we’re baffled ourselves. That’s a good question for
@Publix. 10 other leading food corporations and basically the entire FL tomato industry have joined the Fair Food Program. It’s a groundbreaking, collaborative effort for social responsibility. Why Florida’s own #Publix would not be excited to join, we don’t know.
@UnboundJustice: Here’s another way to ask it: What does
#Publix have to gain by signing the Fair Food Agreement? 10 leading food corporations! That’s a huge accomplishment on your part and should say something to #Publix!
@NccEndPoverty: Hi this is Noelle.
#Publix will be able to assure its customers that the tomatoes they buy have been harvested by workers whose rights, humanity and dignity have been respected. Through the Fair Food Program, corporate buyers commit to purchase ONLY from growers who uphold Fair Food standards
@UnboundJustice: That sounds like a pretty good reason to me! I would like to see that commitment on the tomatoes I buy!
@NccEndPoverty: In this way,
@Publix rewards good actors in the tomato industry by ensuring them business and in cases of proven abuses, buyers in the Fair Food Program suspend purchasing. If growers want to keep the immense business of Publix, they would be incented to change. That’s how the Fair Food Program has delivered the first real rights to farmworkers in generations. Michael: Yes that is a good reason, and many consumers agree. And we should continue to ensure that more understand the conditions under which the food they buy and serve their families is harvested.
@UnboundJustice: Thank you! Let’s switch tact: what have you experienced while fasting this week? Spiritually? Communally?
@NccEndPoverty: In terms of what we have experienced this week. A real sense of peace, calm, and clarity of mind for myself and a deepening connection to this wonderful community (Michael) Gerardo: Support has been amazing from those fasting here with us and from those doing so from other locations. Students and clergy from Lakeland and beyond have visited us through the week.And all of this support makes us feel, as farmworkers, deeply hopeful that
#Publix will recognize our humanity……and come sit with us face to face and together build upon the groundbreaking rights the Fair Food Program has sparked (Those resent tweets were from Gerardo)*recent — apologies, lack of food
@UnboundJustice: Haha, no problem about the typo! I find this process exhausting even with food! Just don’t pass out! Amen to that, Gerardo! Noelle, would you like to share as well?
@NccEndPoverty: Noelle: I’d like to introduce Susan Sampson, a member of Seffner Presbyterian (half hour from lakeland) who has been fasting..
@UnboundJustice: Good to meet you, Susan! Glad to have you join the conversation! Thank you for your witness!
@NccEndPoverty: Susan: Hi! I’m feeling more resolved despite the efforts of
#Publix to dishearten us And all your encouragement and that of folks who have visited and sent messages from across the country is wonderful Also with us we have Silvia Perez, farmworker, mother, and member of the @CIW
@UnboundJustice: Great to meet you Silvia! Thanks for joining us!
@NccEndPoverty: Silvia: I feel happy to be here with all the allies, clergy and religious leaders. I’ve never fasted before and I had to leave my children behind in Immokalee and was worried about them.My youngest was on the verge of getting sick, but thank God he got better and I was able to stay here. They will join us here in Lakeland to break the fast — as will many other children and workers this Saturday the 10th.
@UnboundJustice: You must have been very worried, Silvia. This fast is challenging in many ways beyond just abstaining from food.
@UnboundJustice: With so many fasters on the line, are there any other tweeters who want to ask questions? Join in!
@maryanndimand I am curious what
@Publix is doing to discourage activists. Also, whether wage theft is another problem for field workers.
@NccEndPoverty: Michael: Thanks for questions. At last night’s candlelight vigil outside a Publix store, a small delegation of interfaith clergy and farmworkers, including Silvia, was rebuffed by
@Publix corporate reps as we simply tried to convey our desire that #Publix met with the @CIW face-to-face. #Publix has repeatedly refused to dialogue with the CIW and takes no responsibility for how its purchasing contributes to the exploitation and abuse of farmworkers literally within miles of its stores here in FL. Silvia: Yes, wage theft has always been a widespread problem. But thanks to the Fair Food Program we have mechanisms in place such as time clocks and an independent third-party monitor to make sure this practice is eliminated.
@NCCCUSA: Can you walk us through what a day in the life of the fast looks like? What do you do outside
@NccEndPoverty: A typical day at the
#fairfoodfast starts early! We begin in a circle of interfaith prayer and reflection and blessing and music…3 times a day we line the entrance to #Publix with fasters and supporters to greet the in/out-going Publix employees. There are health checks, group reflection, informal workshops on many themes, and talking with members of the press
@maryanndimand: Fantastic! Can you tell more about the Fair Food Program?
@Presbyearthcare: I heard tomato harvesters do not have good access to healthcare. What environmental hazards exist in the job? Pesticides?
@maryanndimand: Is tomato harvest still stoop labor? (OW!)
@NccEndPoverty: Yes it is still stoop labor – one of the more demanding types of work one could imagine. You have to fill and haul a 32-lb bucket of tomatoes all day long, outside in sun and heat, exposed to pesticides etc. Extremely strenuous.
@UnboundJustice: For closing: What is the 1 most significant action people can take to stand in solidarity w/
@NccEndPoverty: Call on
#Publix to recognize the humanity of farmworkers, sit down with @CIW and commit to the Fair Food Program via emails, calls, social media, letters, etc. You can find ideas/resources at the CIW site, http://www.ciw-online.org. And if you’re in Florida, come out and join us this Saturday for a moving procession and ceremony to end the fast! See http://ciw-online.org/fast for info on the Fast and Saturday. Thank you all for participating in this conversation! #fairfoodfast Yours, Michael, Noelle, Gerardo, Silvia, Susan
@UnboundJustice: Thank you so much! This has been a GREAT conversation. Our prayers, thoughts, and action are with you. May we all fast of systems that oppress and from food that costs human life and dignity. Amen. Continue to follow the fast at
#fairfoodfast! Tweet @NCCEndPoverty with more questions for Rev. Livingston in the future. …He just may not respond as quickly, lol. #fairfoodfast