Daniel Alvarez- 2016 Miami Convening Reflection: Small Groups, Big Changes

//Daniel Alvarez- 2016 Miami Convening Reflection: Small Groups, Big Changes

As a student facilitator at the Miami Convening, I had the privilege of guiding a group of students through the development of a university-wide campaign to address social injustice related to human trafficking. The idea of planning a campaign to address social injustice is certainly daunting. However, the students in my group proved that a daunting task such as this one can be accomplished with enthusiasm, drive, and a willingness to collaborate.

The students in my group focused on a campaign to help the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) further its fight to protect the human rights of farm-workers. Lupe Gonzalo, a representative from the CIW, and Yaissy Solis from the Student/Farmworker Alliance, led a presentation at the Convening in which they shed light on the plights of farm-workers in Florida and on the strides made by the tireless work of the CIW. They explained how the CIW’s persistence and perseverance have brought retail food companies such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell to sign on to the Fair Food Program, which ensures that farm-workers are protected from human rights violations and are paid humane wages.

The presenters also made students aware of the disgraceful fact that Wendy’s and Publix refuse to sign on to the Fair Food Program. The CIW is currently spearheading a boycott of Wendy’s, which decided to stop purchasing tomatoes from Florida’s tomato growers altogether. Shocked, perplexed, and angered by this newfound knowledge, the students in my group had an in-depth discussion about this injustice could be addressed

Shortly after separating into small groups, the students in my group had the opportunity to speak directly with Lupe and Yaissy. Lupe led an ice-breaker activity in which the students formed a human pyramid symbolizing the supply-chain between corporations, farmers, and farmworkers. The activity was simple, but had a profound message. As the students who were at the bottom of the pyramid expressed, it became more painful to be the foundation for those at the higher levels of the pyramid as more people were added. Lupe explained that this pain signifies the frustration felt by farm-workers, who face challenges such as rights violations, inhumane working conditions, and poor wages, all of which are often perpetuated by those higher up in the supply-chain.

This activity set the tone for the work the students in my group would dedicate themselves to for the final hours of the Convening. To address the first of five Shifts in Social Change, a Shift in Awareness, the group began with a question that does not have an easy answer: How do we get people to care?

The students spoke about how they have come to care about the rights of farmworkers because they heard directly from Lupe Gonzalo, who experienced the challenges lived by Florida’s farmworkers. However, the students quickly realized that it would not be possible to have everyone in their college campuses gain awareness in the same way.

Through brainstorming several creative ideas, the group members ultimately came up with the idea that they would host a “Week of Awareness” consisting of a campus screening of the documentary “Food Chains,” tabling activities, and the creation of a captivating exhibit. An interactive and attention-grabbing aspect of the exhibit is the “Trail of Pennies” which would be taped on the ground in a commonly-treaded path on campus, as the pennies symbolize the additional penny that farm-workers are paid per pound of tomatoes by companies signed on to the Fair Food Program.

Additionally, there will be posters along the path highlighting the struggles faced by Florida’s Farmworkers, and the Trail will end at an information table of student campaign members ready to explain the Wendy’s Boycott to students. The “Week of Awareness” will simultaneously include a social media campaign in which the story behind the Wendy’s Boycott and the CIW’s efforts are spread across multiple social media platforms.

The group members concluded that with the right amount of passion and dedication, the “Week of Awareness” will naturally lead to the second Shift in Social Change: A Shift in Behavior. They understood that while students currently eat at Wendy’s because they simply are not aware of the corporation’s lack of commitment to social responsibility and fair food practices, students with awareness will be motivated to stop buying food from Wendy’s until it has signed on to the Fair Food Program.

Another desired Shift in Behavior that was discussed was for students to not only boycott Wendy’s, but to also speak directly to managers of Wendy’s restaurants and explain their rationale for boycotting their food. Furthermore, the group members reasoned that students would be motivated to buy food from alternative food chains upon learning which ones have signed on to the Fair Food Program.

Although most of the group members had never met before the Miami Convening, I witnessed a team forming as they put forth their ideas and gave each other feedback while developing the Wendy’s Campaign. From my perspective as a student facilitator, it was humbling to see a group of strangers become a team. I am genuinely excited to see the impact these students will make on their college campuses and communities.

The Miami Convening was less than a day long, but it showed clear evidence that the words of Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” continue to ring true. 

By | 2018-05-05T11:08:05+00:00 September 23rd, 2016|Uncategorized|1 Comment

About the Author:

Daniel Alvarez is a graduate student pursuing his Master of Social Work at Florida International University. He is passionate about issues such as poverty alleviation, youth empowerment, and access to mental health services for individuals affected by trauma and violence. Daniel felt compelled to become active in social causes after returning from a service trip to Cartagena, Colombia in 2011, where his time as a volunteer with the nonprofit Children Beyond Our Borders exposed him to the raw realities of poverty and violence faced by so many in the world. After graduating with a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Florida in 2013, Daniel worked for two years at a nonprofit agency in south Florida serving Latin American immigrant and refugee children, as well as youth in Florida’s dependency system. Furthermore, Daniel became interested in efforts to end human trafficking after participating in the International Human Trafficking Institute’s 2016 Summer Teach-In, which opened his eyes to this multifaceted and global issue. Daniel hopes to utilize the skills he learned at the Teach- In to engage students and community members in efforts to effectively address the many social injustices in our world.
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