Suzanne Darweesh: “Lady Bountiful” to Farm Worker Activism


“I don’t like this ‘we’ and ‘they’ mentality…We’re all together in this world.”


Suzanne Darweesh discusses the meaning of Jesus’ instructions to care for the poor in the context of the oppression of farm workers, supporting farm worker unions, and the difference between having a generous heart and doing justice.

Suzanne Darweesh Well, I don’t know how I got this feeling but if there’s injustice towards anyone, if people are treated poorly, I feel that it’s our role to do something about it, and I think the Bible, especially the New Testament, is full of Jesus’  instructions to care for the poor, to care for the oppressed and that we just can’t turn our backs on people who are struggling and living such miserable lives. It makes me very angry and upset that we’re still fighting some of the same battles this year that we fought so many years ago when I had my first job.

Like pesticides for example, I mean, and stoop labor and inadequate labor and heatstroke! I mean these are things we shouldn’t have to be dealing with.  If fifteen farm workers die in the fields of California because of lack of water or heat exhaustion, there’s something wrong with this picture! California has the best laws in the nation, but they’re not enforced because we have thousands of farms, and we don’t have enough inspectors.  And we never will have enough because of our budget crisis and our priorities and where we put money. So I think, as Christians, we need to support the union.  That doesn’t mean unequivocally.  I mean, if they do something that’s wrong, we would say something about it.  But I see that as the only means to ensure that farm workers work under decent living conditions and I just think it’s very important.

And I feel as Christians, we all eat.  And so we have a stake in the way our food arrives on our table or in our grocery store and it’s a, it should be a concern of ours.  I don’t want to eat food from people who died to pick it!  And I don’t think anybody does, if they really knew about it. If they could go out and visit the fields and see what it’s like out there under the hot sun picking grapes or tomatoes or what have you.  It’s not a job that anybody would really crave.  I don’t see a long line of people waiting to get these jobs.  So I think the conditions should be better.

Interviewer Ryan Nilsen: So how do you talk to Christians that are more of the persuasion of that Presbyterian Church that you mentioned when you‘re representing the Ministry or just yourself as a person of faith?

Suzanne Darweesh:  Well, I think that’s a hard question. Because I think most Christians have a generous heart and if a need is presented to them they want to help.  If you needed food or you needed furniture, if you needed clothes, the churches are ready to help. It’s only when it gets a little bit more complicated and we’re asking people to work on advocacy, to work for justice, that it’s hard to get people to understand what that means and that it might mean walking in a march up the 5 freeway to Sacramento or demonstrating in front of Governor Brown’s office – doing something to call attention to the plight of farm workers. They are our, they are our brothers and our sisters, our fellow human beings.  And their lives are just as valuable in God’s sight as ours.  I don’t like this “we” and “they” mentality.  I mean, “us” against “them.”  We’re all together in this world.