Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Quiznos, the world is changing!!! When will you?" Photoreport from the Oct. 15 action outside Quiznos HQ

During the morning preparations for our action outside Quiznos headquarters last Friday, Gerardo Reyes Chavez (on the left) from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers quickly scrawled a sign reading "Quiznos!!! The World is changing. When will you?" His words cut to the significance of the current moment in the Campaign for Fair Food and the urgency of the need for Quiznos to join the potential tidal shift in farm labor relations in Florida (and beyond) which the moment represents.

Just last week, the CIW and Pacific Tomato Growers, one of the nation's largest tomato growers, announced a milestone agreement embodying the principles of fair wages, human rights and a voice for farmworkers for which the CIW has been fighting for so long. The agreement represents the first direct relationship between a grower and the grassroots, worker-led Coalition. Such a relationship would have been unimaginable just a couple years ago and is a profound break with literally hundreds of years of history during which farm owners have viewed farmworkers as little more than "machines in the fields."

Nonetheless, as Lucas Benitez of the CIW stated at the announcement of the agreement, "As we turn the page on this new chapter in Florida agricultural history, however, I do want to make one thing crystal clear. We are not today claiming that we have achieved the changes sought by the Campaign for Fair Food. Rather, we are announcing that we have forged a plan of action that gives us a realistic chance to bring about those changes."

The vision of a more just and humane agricultural system is teetering on the edge of becoming a reality. As a major buyer of tomatoes, Quzinos' purchasing power can contribute to pushing this reality into being or can serve to hold it back, delaying the hopes of thousands of farmworkers. With Pacific - in addition to the other leading Florida grower East Coast, two of the largest organic tomato producers, all Quiznos' leading fast food competitors, and the food service industry - now solidly behind the CIW's plan of action, there can be no acceptable excuses for Quiznos' failure to join the emerging Fair Food concensus. Justice delayed is justice denied, and unless Quiznos works with the CIW, it is supporting the intolerable status quo which is the human rights crisis in Florida agriculture.

"Quit Stalling, Quiznos!" Photoreport from the Action
With this dramatic background, a rowdy crowd - including not only a broad spectrum from clergy to students of the Denver community, but also our Fair Food companer@s from around Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Illinois and as far away as New York and Florida - convened on Quiznos headquarters. We had a simple message: Quzinos must quit stalling!

Never content with your average protest, the Fair Food activists kicked things off with a song and dance routine to the tune of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" to delivery our message.

"Quiznos, your stalling . . . is killing me (and I), I must confess I still believe (still believe) working conditions must be in line with human riiiiiighhhttts! This agreement you must sign!"
The music video is forthcoming, but beware, 'cause it'll get stuck in your head.

After a few inspiring words from Gerardo Reyes, we began a lively picket. Meanwhile, a delegation went upstairs to Quiznos headquarters . . .

. . . to deliver a set of jumper cables to the sandwich franchise. In May, Quiznos promised us that it was pursuing an agreement with the CIW. Quiznos' words have rung hollow as the months have passed and there has been no progress on its part. We brought the cables as a gift to help Quiznos quit stalling and start moving in the right direction again.
To our dissapointment, no one from Quiznos was willing or able to meet us and accept our gift. Eventually, a senior vice president got on the phone and spoke with Rudy Cortinas, national co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance. But not only was the VP unwilling to meet with us in person, he refused to so much as listen over the phone to Gerardo Reyes from the CIW. And instead of affirming the importance of a partnership with farmworkers in the protection of human rights in Quiznos supply chain, he regurgitated tired explanations about how the company was taking its own steps to address the issue. The cold shoulder we received at Quiznos headquarters is a big departure from the respect for workers in its supply chain that Quiznos claims to embrace.

Gerardo closed things up by rallying the crowd to continue the struggle and indeed re-double our efforts to bring Quiznos to the table. Everyone present may have been frustrated having been snubbed by Quiznos, but we left more determined than ever to bring about justice for farmworkers in Quiznos' supply chain.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time to talk about immigration: Welcome to Shelbyville

Originally posted on 10.19.2010 by
Janine Vanderburg, JVA Consulting
visit JVA here!

Over 250 people jammed into the Aurora Fox Arts Theater in Aurora for a special screening of Welcome to Shelbyville, a film directed and produced by Kim Snyder that weaves the narratives of different groups of residents—white, African American, Latino and Somali—in a small southern town as they grapple with the changing demographics of their community and their beliefs about themselves and others in their town.

Following the movie, Joe Wismann-Horther of the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning facilitated an audience conversation, asking thought-provoking questions like:

What are things from the film that are uncomfortable and that you’ve heard in our own community?

Diverse members of both immigrant and refugee communities and “receiving” communities shared honest and painful experiences that mirrored those in the movie:

A young Muslim woman shared the challenges she faces when asked why she wears a veil
A consultant shared the negative attitudes about refugees that she has heard during group facilitations
Others shared how they felt unsettled by the conversation in the movie among a group of Christian ministers when they realize the potential to convert Somali refugees: “These are the people we have been trying to reach—now we don’t even have to get a passport.”
It was also an opportunity to educate the audience about what the refugee resettlement process is like. One refugee explained the challenges of the resettlement process and the need to be self-sufficient eight months after arriving in this country; others expressed their desires to help others from their communities resettle and the feelings of frustration they have felt through the sometimes systemic barriers to offering that help. Paul Stein, director of the Colorado Refugee Services Program, explained that refugee resettlement is the “local completion of a foreign policy commitment,” adding that refugees now receive eight months of resettlement assistance compared to the 36 months of assistance they used to receive in the 1980s.

Mostly, audience members acknowledged the importance of bridges between immigrant and refugee communities, which could be organizational, or individuals like Luci, the ESL teacher in the movie who explains to her students how they should approach a newspaper reporter who writes negative stories about immigrants, and who helps bring together the different communities around food, music and conversation. As one audience member stated: “We can help bridge the cultural divide through the gift of hospitality.”

This comment had parallels to the conversation that followed of a comment Senator Michael Bennet made in a Meet the Press debate on Sunday:

“And what I’ll tell you is this, my favorite rooms are the ones where there are Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated voters and Tea party people, because when folks are together in a room, they actually have to listen to each other. I think one of the things that we are facing right now is that we’ve stopped listening to each other in our politics.”

On Monday night, in the movie and in the conversation that followed, people were both saying tough things and listening to each other. I came away feeling inspired and optimistic about the ability of people coming together to break down the barriers that distance us, and thinking that if we could all watch this movie between now and the end of the year, how 2011 might be different.

A shout-out to the people who brought this event here and who work hard every day to make the vision of integrated communities a reality:

Meg Allen, Denver Coalition for Integration
Jordan Garcia, Immigrant Ally Organizing Director, American Friends Service Committee
Rich McLean, St. Therese Catholic Church
Jenny Pool-Radway, Original Aurora Community Integration Collaborative
Kit Taintor, Colorado African Organization
Jamie Torres, Office of Support Services, Denver Office of Human Rights and Community Relations
Joe Wismann-Horther, the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning
Screenings are taking place tonight in Longmont and Glenwood Springs, and on Thursday in Grand Junction. Click here for times and locations.

For more information about the film, see

For more information about how you can get involved in Colorado, see

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Blog about Arizona...

The following article is one of a series of accounts from students who recently returned from Arizona. They were part of a delegation that spent a week touring the state amid the enactment of the controversial law SB 1070. The Center for New Community, a national civil rights organization based in Chicago, sponsored the trip, which included nine students from Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Colorado.

By: Kristen McCulloch

On our first full day in Arizona, we traveled to the Sonoran desert and walked along one of the paths that migrants traverse on their journey into the United States. Although the heat and sun sweated water from our bodies, our physical condition could never approach the state of an undocumented border crosser. Walking the path made me think of the trail of tears that forced Native Americans out of their homelands into the territories unwanted by the newly established United States government and, to be honest, the present-day passage into the United States only differs because the lines are more clearly drawn for all to see. The persecution continues to affect tribal communities along the border however, with many Iraq-war-veteran-turned-border-patrol-agents pressuring natives to surrender their sovereign IDs for US passports.

We went to the Florence Detention Center in Pinal County where, if you look for long enough at any of the 2000 employees, you can see moral flash floods of shame and discomfort floating behind their cold, yet friendly, eyes. The director, the equivalent of a prison ward, walked into the conference room where we were discussing the treatment of the detainees with a few administrators and overseers and cracked the joke, “You think we care about them? The illegal aliens? ….” None of us laughed and he definitely regretted trying to lighten the mood in that moment. It was felt on both sides that to laugh would be to pardon their sins.

Our group questioned how they understand the immigration reform movement throughout the trip. A huge influence was the media, and it seems important to give it equal consideration by questioning what is being pumped into the unquestioning eyes and ears of the average American citizen, especially the reasons cited for why the most recent wave of immigrants needs to be removed from the U.S.A.

The main argument seems to be that the removal of all undocumented workers would be a solution for the global economic downfall, of which the US is absorbing part of the impact: mass deportation to levy the growing national unemployment rate. Anyone who has taken basic economic theory knows that this claim runs counter to fact. The accusation that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes has already been proven false.

Others, such as Arizona’s Governor Brewer, fervently claim that undocumented people threaten national security and this is cause to funnel millions of tax-payer dollars into erecting more miles of environmentally-degrading border wall and border enforcement. The perceived threat, in the discriminatory eyes of many, is inclusive of millions of individuals that are hard-working, home-owning, and education-earning friends, customers, and classmates long established in this country. It would also include the countless day laborers, bending for hours in order to deliver hand picked produce to every grocery store in the nation. Last time I checked, those strawberries aren’t packing gunpowder.

In the least, these arguments are created by greedy and powerful private interests in cahoots with certain politicians, but truth be told, that agenda runs alongside a much darker stain in American history: xenophobia, racism, and discrimination covered up by money, commercialized notions of morality, sensationalized media and censorship/ lack of education.
The reason our group came together was to explore the police state that is now Arizona and to understand more fully what the implications of SB 1070 are. The passage of SB 1070 is often viewed as the most recent attack on human rights, but many do not realize the extent to which this situation is a continuation of white nationalist ideology. All participants on our brief journey into the communities of working poor and criminalized innocents could not have expected the depth to which the situation in Arizona is unjust and heartbreaking. It is with the honesty of the unexpected that truth seems to come to life, and it is exactly that which we so stridently experienced during our short stay and now communicate to you.

Colorado Activists Perform Public Storytelling to End Racial Profiling

“What’s your story?!?” shouted a group of 15 community activists in a busy public bus driving through downtown Denver, Colorado. Fellow bus riders’ attention turned to one activist narrating a true story about racial profiling gone horribly wrong; an older black man was beaten for supposedly not coming to a complete stop while driving. The rest of the actors chimed in with phrases of disbelief and demands for justice while handing out flyers.
This skit was part of a series of public activist theatre actions in Denver on September 30, 2010, planned and performed by representatives from several Colorado community nonprofit organizations as part of the National Week of Action of the Rights Working Group’s Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to achieve commitments at all levels of government to ban all forms of racial and religious profiling by law enforcement. Colorado nonprofit organizations Rights for All People and Colorado Progressive Coalition, the two Colorado core partners in the Rights Working Group campaign, recruited other groups to help plan this local action to educate the public through storytelling. Other organizations critical to this event’s success were Coloradans for Immigrants Rights (A project of the American Friends Service Committee) and the Colorado Anti-Violence Program.
Three narrations highlighted the devastating effects of racial profiling, the lack of police accountability, and the collaborations between local law enforcement and federal immigration on local communities. One skit told of a young woman’s pledge to never call the police again after her plea for help as a victim of domestic violence resulted in a notice of possible deportation. Another powerful story portrayed a gay man being illegally searched and verbally abused in a park; when the man went to file a complaint it was ripped up in front of him, leaving him with no choice but to speak out against the lack of enforcement of the systems put in place to protect individuals from profiling.
The 15 activists performed the skits in public locations including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the 16th Street Mall. Overall the group distributed flyers to and performed skits in front of over 150 people. The flyers asked members of the public to submit their own stories related to profiling and explained current Colorado profiling issues such as the possible implementation of the Secure Communities program and the recent passing of HB1201 which requires that police inform individuals of their right to not consent to a search. Postcards in support of the End Racial Profiling Act also gave Colorado individuals a way to take action at the federal level.
As the Rights Working Group continues to address profiling at the national level, Colorado organizations hope that this action is only one of many to educate the local public about the reality of profiling’s many forms and ask others to step forward, share their own story and speak out for change.
Contact Information:
Liz Hamel, Rights for All People: 303-893-3500,
Art Way, Colorado Progressive Coalition: 303-866-0908,