Written by Michelle May
More than 350 General Synod delegates and visitors marched from the Tampa Bay Convention Center across the Platt Street Bridge in Tampa Bay, Fla., in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) on Sunday afternoon.
The marchers stood on the sidewalk outside the Publix Supermarket to advocate for better wages and working conditions for Florida farm workers. In particular, they called for Publix to raise the rate paid to farm workers for tomatoes. The rate, one additional penny per pound, has already been agreed to by many restaurants and restaurant chains, but few supermarkets have agreed to the premium.
Florida Conference Minister Kent Siladi led a small group of marchers to deliver a letter signed by 350 people to the Publix manager. "We asked how they can sell ‘fair trade’ coffee but not put pressure on the tomato growers to make a slight increase to farm worker wages," said Siladi.
As the marchers prepared to depart the Tampa Convention Center, CIW co-founder and co-director Lucas Benitez emphasized that this was to be a non-violent march. "The strongest weapon we have is the reality we face everyday in the field," he said through an interpreter.
Lilton Marks from the Southern Conference was raised in the 1960s and hoped that his march helps bring "fairness for people who are working for a better life."
Carrying signs such as "Jesus Was A Low-Wage Worker" and often chanting "Minimum wage. No More Slaves," the marchers were greeted by car and truck horns sounding in support of their efforts.
For Kristin Zakarison, a delegate from the Pacific Northwest Conference, this was not her first march for farm workers. At the age of 4, she was marching with her mother for fairness for California grape workers. "And we’re still marching."
This was the first time Tricia Earl from the South Central Conference had participated in such a march. She was motivated to march when she heard that it took 30 years for the farm workers to get their last raise. "This [visible march] is the best social justice," she said.
Rev. Leah Bilinski from the Missouri Mid-South Conference used this opportunity to be a "vocal witness" for justice and to encourage others to speak out when any injustice is found. "Being apathetic in your faith is the worst thing."