Tomatoes of Wrath

In Immokalee, Florida, immigrant workers turned towards Florida’s legislature to help in the fight against slavery by making use of props and miming to show scenes of a day in the life of a modern-day slave. That is, a scene from their lives.

“There are cases of modern day slavery happening in the fields and these cases of slavery have their roots in the conditions of exploitation that are the norm here in Florida,” said Meghan Cohorst, event coordinator with the Student Farm Worker Alliance. “You have conditions where workers haven’t gotten a wage increase in over 30 years, you have cases of violence in the fields, workers who are essentially treated not like human beings but like tools for the agriculture industry to use up and then throw away.”

Writing for the Tallahassee Democrat, Daphne Holden wrote:

We watched as the workers dramatized the latest modern-day slavery operation that was successfully prosecuted in Florida a few months ago. Two farmworkers cowered in a makeshift truck while another man pretended to roughly chain their hands together. When a cardboard sun arose, the man returned to unlock the workers’ chains and forced them into the “fields,” where they pretended to pick tomatoes. The farm boss gestured as if beating them when they slowed or stopped.

When their work day was over and the cardboard sun had set, the farm boss pushed the farmworkers back into the truck, and the drama repeated itself while speakers took turns at the nearby podium. The theater was moving and disturbing.

One of my 5-year-old twins commented, wide-eyed, “Mommy, they are getting chained up again and they can’t leave.” He knew it was a performance, yet like the rest of us he also knew that it was dramatizing a horrible reality — a reality that Gov. Crist, like his predecessors, has not even publicly acknowledged….

Gov. Crist should publicly acknowledge and condemn the existence of modern-day slavery, meet with the CIW and federal officials about solving the problem, pressure the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to support the CIW’s agreements with more socially responsible corporations, and take action to abolish slavery in Florida.

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