In Florida’s tomato fields, and across the United States, women tomato pickers and farmworkers – such as Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and scores of others – are organizing a quiet revolution, by waging a raucous, joyous, ferocious struggle. Welcome to the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida. Welcome to the future.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been organizing, representing, testifying, winning and consolidating farmworkers’ power for twenty-one years. In that time, the organization itself has matured. A key part of its growth has been the formation of the Immokalee Women’s Group and the recognition of women as a central sector in the struggle for farm worker’s rights, dignity, and power.
Recognizing women’s centrality has meant recognizing that the struggle for rights, dignity, and power is a community wide struggle rather than strictly a `shop’ issue. While exorbitantly expensive, predatory housing affects everyone, women carry the greater load of both dealing with rent payment and of maintaining the household. Women attend more to health care, child care and children’s well being, food provision in food deserts amidst the farmlands, and the list goes on. Women keep the daily train of the everyday moving along.
At the same time, women in the fields face their own special circumstances. Rampant, and often illegal, use of pesticides and lack of both information and safeguards imperils women’s health in particular ways. Sexual abuse at work attacks women daily.
The women of Immokalee have declared NOW IS THE TIME! They reject the planned catastrophe of lethal housing, fatal indebtedness, wage slavery, sexual abuse and exploitation. They reject the harvest of shame and the fields of abjection. They organize hope.
On Saturday, March 8, International Women’s Day, the women of Immokalee wrote and delivered a letter to Wendy’s, which has thus far refused to sign the Fair Food agreement, “Hear the voice of the woman, who today dares to defend her dignity in the fields. A new day is coming to Florida’s fields, with the Fair Food Program. It guarantees that the dignity of women is respected. We have to keep fighting, and we have to keep shouting, at Wendy’s and other corporations, that the hour has arrived. NOW IS THE TIME!”
On the following Saturday, Lupe Gonzalo, CIW farmworker and organizer, spoke directly to Publix, which has also not signed the Fair Food agreement; to supporters and to the world: “We want to say to Publix that as women, we will not even consider allowing sexual violence to continue in Florida’s fields or the agricultural industry. We will not take one step backward. We will only continue forward.”
We will not take one step backward. Lupe Gonzalo has been recognized as “a powerful voice” for justice. She is. Her power is the power of women, rejecting sexual abuse and all forms of exploitation. Her power is her capacity for affirmation, her ability to reach and teach others around her, and especially women, to affirm themselves, individually and collectively, and to “feel proud to walk, to march, to demand justice, to demand respect for ourselves, for our families, for our children, for future.”
As one CIW woman farm worker noted, two years ago, “Our history is not written in any books. I don’t think there’s enough paper to capture the daily life of a woman in the struggle, fighting to provide for her family. We as women want to move forward, so that tomorrow our children will not have to suffer as they do today.”
The future is now. NOW IS THE TIME!