Monday, August 15, 2016

Sounds before the slaughter

Every month, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) coordinates protests in front of a chicken slaughterhouse (Petaluma Poultry owned by Purdue – “Rocky the Free Range Chicken” and “Rosie the Original Organic Chicken”).

Every so often we have gone out at night to be there when the chickens are trucked in for slaughter. The other night we went out from 11:30pm – 2:15am.

Unfortunately, it seems the slaughterhouse found out and was quick to call the police.

But that is not what this blog it about.

The last time we did this, I walked away with the burning image of a baby chicken’s eyes when I looked into the crates (again, they are babies when they are killed).

The other night, it was something else.

It was the sounds. The heartbreaking sounds that some of these chicks made - the gentlest cooing.

If you know chickens you possibly know the sounds. The sounds I hear in my head right now are the cutest little sounds. Yet, I know these were not sounds of contentment, but sounds of fear. Fear they endured when they were caught and shoved into these crates with other chickens. Fear as they were driven through the cold at night (a time when they typically sleep – which of course makes this whole despicable process even sadder, if that were possible), and, of course, the fear of slowly being trucked to their deaths.

Each individual bird goes through this – not just thousands, but millions of them.

Each precious little bird, whose body is so fragile, who just wants to live.

To think too much about what each of these gentle birds endures, again, is too much for my mind and heart to process; too much pain, as the reality of it all is too daunting for most of us to ever imagine.

It was not a chorus of cooing, just maybe one or two I could hear. My mind wondered if this was the chick who decided to try to soothe the rest of them with her sweet noises. Her head above the others, looking around and generating this soothing music.

I just wanted to embrace her and hold her and protect her. What I was able to do was tell her I loved her and I was so, so sorry. And that we would continue our work to encourage people to see these birds as individuals who should be able to sing, feel the grass under their feet, and enjoy the sun on their backs.

Thanks to Erika, Eve, Lisa N., Lisa S., Pinky, and Stefanie for being there, for bearing witness.

Thanks for taking photos Erika!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

“We get tired, too”

Recently, I attended a meeting with a local State Senator to encourage him to vote in favor of a bill to allow farm workers to be paid overtime, like most workers are in the state of California. I was honored to sit with seven farm workers and 10 community leaders.

As always, it was an incredible learning experience, and of course one that makes your heart break, but it gives you determination to right the injustices these workers face every day.

One of the farm workers spoke up about the fact that she has to take her kids to the babysitter early in the morning, and when she has to work overtime, she then has to pay the babysitter overtime, so because she receives no additional compensation, she actually earns less money.

Plus, these farm workers have to drive long distances to get to work, as well as deal with the high housing costs that force both parents to work in the fields so they can pay the rent.

They also talked about how much time they spend in the fields and how little time they are able to spend at home. If they were paid overtime, it would at least help make their difficult situation more tolerable, since they would actually be earning more money – money they deserve.

One farm worker also spoke about how some farms have farm workers labor from 9pm until midnight after having worked an 8-hour shift during the day; it breaks up the day, but the farm owners get away with not paying overtime.

And of course, many farm workers also spoke about being paid by how much they pick vs. receiving an hourly wage.

One farm worker said, “We get tired, too, just like everyone else.”

One of the concerns of the State Senator was that paying overtime wages to farm workers might hurt small farmers (mind you, he was primarily referring to dairy farms). But where this argument fails is that it doesn’t make a difference to the farm worker if it is a small or large farm – they are not being compensated for working overtime as legally required in other industries.

In other words, they are at present being overworked without compensation.

Is it that our policymakers are more concerned with those who are profiting? It seems to me that they should be just as concerned for those who are toiling away in the fields helping small and big farmers make a profit.

From my professional perspective? Currently, Food Empowerment Project has two employees: a part-time person and me. We easily need two additional full-time people, as we have that much work to do, along with even more ideas about what we would like to implement as we grow. But we don’t have them. Why? Because we want to be able to pay employees a living wage and give them benefits (and since I am the founder – I understand that I might not receive a living wage, but as the founder, I make sacrifices). So instead of hiring more people and paying them less, we accept that we have to grow more slowly than I would like until our donations increase in order to do even more.

Perhaps farmers who can’t pay their workers living wages should reconsider growing too big until they can do so.

Rocket science? I don’t think so. Problematic priorities? Methinks yes!

I want to add as well that we had invited Assemblymember Bill Dodd to speak at a big event we had in Vallejo, but when we found out that he had voted against an earlier version of this bill, we rescinded our invitation. It is important for us to remind policymakers of our values and that we do want that reflected in our laws.

Thanks to the United Farm Workers for all of their work on this bill and for inviting other groups to show policymakers there are many of us ready to speak in solidarity for the farm workers.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I Vote

Why I vote* would be easy enough to answer, as I could just be honest and say, “Because my mother told me I had to.” But as I have learned more, read more, and watched more, I have a deeper understanding of all that was sacrificed so that women and people of color could have this right, which should have been inherent to us when establishing this country. I don’t see my vote as some sort of patriotic duty but more as a way to honor those who sacrificed so much for me to be able to do so.

But yes, my mom told me I had to vote, even when I told her that I didn’t like any of the candidates and that I might just write-in Kermit the Frog – she didn’t care.

Recently, I asked her why she felt so strongly about voting (it is amazing what you can learn from your mom when you ask). “Our family has a long history with voting,” she said.

Just a reminder: my mom’s family was in Texas before Texas was a state.

She shared that when she was 10 years old, my great-grandfather
told her that even though they had to pay a poll tax in order to vote, he and my great-grandmother felt it was better to pay than not vote – though it was very difficult for them to do so at the time. She added that my great-great-grandmother was active in LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens).  They also felt voting could help prevent discrimination.

My mom was also the first Latina on the Board of the League of Women Voters, and she said that it was in the League that she began to realize that the only way to better our lives was to encourage people, especially in disadvantaged areas, to vote for people who look out for our communities.

So that is partially why I vote – because of my mom.

But thanks to documentaries, movies, books, and other people, I have learned a lot about those who sacrificed their lives and freedom for the vote. Unfortunately, growing up in Texas means I had to learn through their pro-white high school textbooks, and I don’t remember much about this except for maybe a paragraph about the 19th Amendment or Civil Rights.

I don’t mean to give everyone a history lesson, but did you know it has not even been 100 years since women have had the right to vote? And what motivated many women to fight for this right was not simply the injustice of it all, but the deeper issues that men didn’t understand or care about. Only women understood their horrific working conditions as well as the conditions in which their children were living, and they could see that the men weren’t exactly voting with the working poor on their minds. Women also didn’t want their daughters to be without any rights or be seen as mere property.

When I look back at the strategies used by the women’s suffrage movement, it is exciting to see how strategic they were and how many of these tactics are still used today. They not only used protests, marches, and consistent campaigning, but many of these brave women, from England to the US, used more “radical” tactics, including throwing rocks through windows. Many women spent time in jail and when they refused to eat (they were political prisoners but were not treated as such) and were force-fed. (Quick shout out to Lucy Burns and Alice Paul.).

Carol J. Adams has a wealth of knowledge on these histories!

Now, I know that there were some concerns about “distractions” when it came to the suffragette movement and the right for Blacks to vote, but some understood the connections of these issues and supported both - like Frederick Douglass! Again, many issues of oppression are connected and we have to work together to fight them all.

In the US, many people of color are still
facing barriers to the right to vote – from states now requiring IDs to straight up intimidation.

If voting was pointless, why would white people be working to scare people of color away from doing it?

This blog is getting long, but let’s take just a quick look at the Freedom Summer organized in the 1960s (by SNCC, SCLC, CORE & NAACP) to register Black voters in Mississippi. Black activists had to fight, and I do not mean that figuratively. Some lost their lives – just to help the Black community register to vote. More than a thousand people were arrested, there were beatings, Black homes and churches were burned, and even some people were killed.

For the right to vote.

I don’t want to pretend that Blacks now have an easy time voting, but this only happened 50 years ago in 1965.

Although I think I had a paragraph in my textbook about the Civil Rights movement, there was pretty much nothing about Chicano history and voting rights. As many people of color know, our histories are not often covered in schoolbooks. In fact, it is difficult to find much about Chicano history anywhere.

Clearly not being able to speak English was a voting barrier for many. (Again, we are talking about land that was Mexico.)

I am often amazed how many white liberals speak out against voting – a right they have had for a long time, while many in our communities have only enjoyed this right a short time.

Not to mention that many positions require the person running to already have money. Many elected officials do not earn much money; therefore, individuals have to have a very flexible job and/or already have money. (When I was in college in Texas, many legislators were doctors or lawyers because the legislature is not in session all year or even every year – it takes someone with money to be able to take three months off during the session.)

Although we know there are many problems with the system, I encourage people to vote because there is likely more than one issue (especially those of us who live in states with ballot initiatives) or even one person you can vote for.

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying here – I am not saying voting is what creates change in this country but for me, I want to vote in honor of those who wanted me to be able to. (see quote at the end of the blog).

For all of those who sacrificed for this right, and to those who have tried to prevent us from doing so – I vote.

(Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!)

After reading this blog our board member Rick Kelley thought I should add this quote from Howard Zinn:

"I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice."

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*As a 501 (C)3 Food Empowerment Project cannot endorse any candidates.