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Report on Rise Up 2002!

by Mireidy Fernandez Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2002 at 9:00 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)

Taco 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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