On Friday, August 26th and Saturday, August 27th 2016, YAYAs Rosie Stump, and I, along with Nico, attended the National Farm Worker Ministry’s Board Meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. The board meeting was hosted on North Carolina State University’s campus. Aside from the formal meeting, the trip included labor camp visits as well as a benefit dinner to raise money for NFWM. Nico and I also gave a report on YAYA’s activity in 2016 so far.
One of the most eye-opening experiences I had during the board meeting was the trip the YAYAs (along with the NFWM board members) took to visit the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the accompanying labor camps. Rosie and I took a trip to a labor camp about two hours from North Carolina State along with NFWM staff, Alex, and board member, Rox. There were about fifteen farm workers living the home in very poor conditions— mattresses on the floor, no air conditioning, etc. All of the men were from Mexico and spoke very little English, so we had an interpreter (thanks, Cynthia!) help us out. These men told us about their experiences working in tobacco, as well as discussed their grievances and how they have attempted to improve their conditions. Some of the main problems they addressed were the racism they face from their boss, favoritism shown to relatives of the farmer, and lack of work being distributed evenly amongst them. One of their stories that struck me the most was that they had made an attempt to organize a meeting to discuss grievances, and their superior told them that since not enough workers showed up, there was no reason to take their complaints seriously. In reality, their superior had refused to take the farm workers to the meeting, and they had no other means of transportation. Seeing that despite the best efforts of these men to improve their conditions there are still so many roadblocks that seem insurmountable is incredibly frustrating. However, talking to these farm workers living on the camp really solidified in my mind why it is important to continue to stand in solidarity with farm workers in the fight towards justice.
On Saturday night, NFWM hosted a benefit dinner with about 60 folks in attendance. This Far By Faith: 45 Years Harvesting Justice with Farm Workers” told the story of the National Farm Worker Ministry. Since the earliest days of the farm worker movement for self-determination, NFWM has been the bridge between people of faith, conscience and the men, women and children who labor in our fields to put food on our tables. Rafael Sanchez, a FLOC union member and farm woker, shared his experience coming to the United States to work in the fields. I found it particularly interesting when he opened up his speech saying that America has great advertising and yet all that is advertised here is not always the case. We also heard from Sam Trickey, NFWM board member, about his allyship with farm workers over the past 40 years. As a result of these powerful speeches, we were able to collect upwards of $14,000 in donations and silent auction bids. Fundraising is such a major part of how our organizations sustain itself, and these funds will allow the NFWM and YAYA to keep functioning throughout the course of the year and aid in our fight towards justice for farm workers.
At this meeting, I learned immensely by participating in several dialogues with the NFWM about the vision of our organization, our purpose, and the importance of maintaining faith in the farm worker justice movement. I would like to thank all the board members of the NFWM and all the folks at YAYA for this amazing opportunity.
For pictures of this event, please visit NFWM’s flickr page!