I had the incredible opportunity to represent YAYA at the National Farm Worker Ministry’s national board meeting from January 27-30, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
The experience of spending time with board members, listening to guest speakers, presenting YAYA’s work and lobbying in Congress has solidified both my admiration for those who have spent their lives working in solidarity with farm workers and my sense of belonging in this movement.
Fate was on our side when our flight, originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, was switched to Wednesday afternoon, then cancelled due to bad weather, then rescheduled for Thursday morning, then delayed until Thursday afternoon. I say this because, while the delays were certainly inconvenient, if we had never been delayed we would have never met the singing airport man. This man works at the Hudson newsstand in the U.S. Airways terminal of the Orlando International Airport and sings to every customer when they buy something. “Have a, have a, have a, have a…HAVE A GREAT DAY!” In fact, by the time it was actually time to board, we almost missed our flight because we were singing back to the singing man!
It’s tempting to say that this man was the highlight of my trip to Washington, D.C., but in fact there are simply too many highlights! If I had to choose just one, it would be getting to spend time with NFWM board members, staff, and allies.
Above all, I am grateful to all of you for welcoming me with open arms and sharing your stories with me. I felt inspired by Lucy showing me pictures on her Blackberry of the immigration reform rally that shut down rush hour traffic in Los Angeles for hours; talking to John about his trip to Rwanda and the meaning of true reconciliation; hearing Bert talk about marching from Toledo to Philadelphia during a campaign against Campbell’s soup; Carolyn telling me about her border work in Nogales, Mexico; Felix explaining the militarization of Mexico; feeling like my voice was important while campaign strategizing with Ron; nearly every question and comment Olgha raised to our guest speakers; and talking to Lariza late into the night about what it means to be an organizer. These are just a few examples of the many conversations I have continued to mull over in the weeks since returning.
Our guest speakers—including Phil Tom from the U.S. Department of Labor and Oscar Gonzales and Christine Chavez (yep, she’s a relative…Cesar’s granddaughter!) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—made me think a lot about the Obama administration. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase “current political climate”, and yes, that’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to hear about how this current political climate restricts farm workers and undocumented immigrants from improving their living conditions. Still, while constraints exist, I felt uplifted and reassured that there are caring and capable people in important governmental positions working to creatively and actively within their constraints for social change. (Whether or not this good work can be publicized is another story.)
On Friday, the groups split up and headed to Capitol Hill to lobby our senators and representatives. Along with Sam and Bert, I visited Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio’s offices to talk to congressional aides about issues such as working conditions of farm workers, their vital impact on Florida’s economy, and enforcement of worker protection programs.
On Saturday I presented the work of YAYA to the board, including a slide show of our events and campaigns. Board members responded overwhelmingly enthusiastically to the presentation and YAYA’s work (with specific praise about the bike program and soccer game– see video for more detailed responses!).
We ended the weekend with a beautiful candle service by Olgha and Bob, where the board sang a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” with shout outs to Congress, Publix, Chase Bank, undocumented people in the U.S., and YAYA. It was the perfect metaphorical end to a wonderful weekend.
I am torn between saying that I want to be just like these people in 20-30 years, and hoping that we will have achieved justice so that such work will be unnecessary by that time. Either way, I keep thinking about the importance of sharing the flame, and I am grateful to the National Farm Worker Ministry for getting me all fired up to get back to my YAYAs and share the flame!
I leave you with some quotes from the service:
“Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. The object is to do the right and good thing.” –Baldemar Velasquez
“I have learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” -Maya Angelou
Hasta la victoria,
– Katie Gillett
(Photos courtesy of Alex Jones and Katie Gillett)
View the statements of solidarity with farm workers from NFWM (photos taken by Alex Jones):