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Report on Rise Up 2002!

by Mireidy Fernandez Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2002 at 1:00 AM

On the eve of our historic protest at Taco Bell Headquarters in Irvine, California, a reporter from Florida who has been with us for several days filed the following story. - Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

errorTaco Bell executives to meet with workers, coalition leaders today
Naples Daily News
http://www.naplesnews.com/02/03/naples/d734690a.htm
Monday, March 11, 2002
By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ

LOS ANGELES - The clash between the wealth of a fast-food giant and
the poverty of Immokalee farmworkers has led to a strained
relationship that may cost the company millions in profits,
supporters of the Taco Bell boycott tour say.



Students and farmworkers performed skits Sunday at the University of
California Los Angeles depicting a behind-the-scenes look at what
goes into a hard day of tomato-picking labor and why Americans from
coast to coast should stop eating at Taco Bell.



Marking their third day in California with demonstrations, skit
rehearsals and workshops about farmworker rights, participants of the
Taco Bell Truth Tour prepared to make their voices heard by
executives of the fast-food chain.



"I was already wary of Taco Bell anyway even before this boycott
because I think their food is gross but now seeing how they won't
give workers the raise they're asking for is horrible," said Kristen
Guzman, 32, a Mexican-American and student at UCLA, who painted round-
shaped poster boards red to depict tomatoes.



Guzman was one of an estimated 500 students and activists who joined
Collier County farmworkers in the boycott tour, which aims at putting
pressure on Taco Bell to negotiate a wage increase for laborers. The
tour, organized by Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is an aggressive
campaign against the corporation, which buys tomatoes from Six Ls
Packing Co., a Collier-based tomato distributor.



Gathered around a grassy section of the UCLA campus, students and
workers used satire Sunday in a theatrical interpretation of how they
view the relationship between Taco Bell and farmworkers. It was all
part of a skit rehearsal for today's live performance at Taco Bell
headquarters in Irvine, south of the city of angels, where 2,000
people are expected to protest.



Coalition leaders and farmworkers will meet with Taco Bell officials
today. Taco Bell headquarters will be guarded by security during the
four-hour demonstration, Laurie Gannon, a company spokeswoman, said
late Sunday. She said the closed-door meeting with the coalition is
expected to last about an hour.



"We've had the building marked off for public versus private property
and we're having our staff out there, too," Gannon said.



One skit, a mock wedding ceremony between "Queen Cheap Tomato" and
Taco Bell at UCLA, showed the contrast of social class that exists
between a powerful international corporation and farmworkers who
depend on the season's harvest to make a living.



On one side, farmworkers dumped makeshift buckets of tomatoes into a
truck. On the other, students arrived at Taco Bell restaurants to
hand in their money and get their tacos.



Just before the couple was about to tie the knot in "unholy
matrimony," the workers shouted to stop the wedding. And after
workers gave testimonies of what they said were tough working
conditions, little pay, no benefits or medical coverage, the same
students who had eagerly stood in line at Taco Bell waiting for their
food were now waving signs that read "Boycott Taco Bell" and "Let
Freedom Ring."



"I see the workers are living in a state of poverty and I want to do
whatever I can to stop the slavery and exploitation of workers," said
Levana Saxon, 24, of Oakland, and a student performer. "I'll stop
boycotting Taco Bell when the company uses its power to negotiate
with tomato growers so they give workers basic rights so they can
organize and raise their salary a little bit."



Saxon said she believed Taco Bell officials will see pressure mount
because of the numerous protests and rallies workers have been
involved in since the tour kicked off in Tampa and the many that are
still to come. However, she's still not optimistic about what the
fast-food giant will decide when the coalition meets with company
executives today.



"I'm afraid (Taco Bell) will meet some of the demands so the boycott
will stop but I don't know that they'll meet all of the demands,"
Saxon said.



Carlos Lucas, an Immokalee tomato picker for the past 10 years, has
hope.



"I think this tour shows we don't want to be taken advantage of
anymore," said Lucas, 27, originally from Guatemala, who watched the
skit. "I just hope Taco Bell understands and gives us the one penny
(a pound) increase we're asking for ... that's all we want."



Fifi Huang, a substitute teacher who lives near Los Angeles, joined
Sunday's action after hearing about the Truth Tour from a friend last
year. She hasn't set foot at a Taco Bell restaurant since the summer
when the coalition was preparing for the tour kick-off in September.
The tour, which was originally to start in September, was postponed
after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.



"I believe that as a multibillion dollar corporation, Taco Bell has
the capacity and moral responsibility to pay farmworkers a living
wage," said Huang, 24. "The link between Taco Bell and farmworkers is
obvious. It's clear the root of the problem is Taco Bell corporation
and it's best to hit them."



Franchezska Zamora, 32, a student at California State University Los
Angeles and a local high school teacher, said that without farmworker
labor Taco Bell would cease to exist. She stopped eating at Taco Bell
about a year ago when she learned about the coalition's efforts.


"If the needs of the farmworkers are met, I can have more respect for
them and I won't tell people to boycott them," Zamora said of Taco
Bell. "Otherwise, I'll encourage and promote and get the word out
about the boycott."


The coalition closed the day with a protest at a Los Angeles-based
garment work center and later at a benefit concert featuring Latin
performers.





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