"Say no way to the FTAA" |
The day started in Stayton with a lively piece of street theater on the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). Performers dressed up in costumes to represent the different groups pushing for and resisting the FTAA: a farmer, a trade unionist, an environmentalist; a George Bush character, a cop, and a business person. Two huge puppets--one for corporate power and one for the Earth--towered over the performance. After introducing all the issues through speech and action, a bulldozer representing the FTAA attempted to mow down all resistance. Happily, the activists won out, and performed a song.
The issue of the FTAA is vitally important currently, because of the recent effort to pass Fast Track legislation in the U.S. Congress. Fast Track--or "Trade Promotion Authority", as its proponents are euphemistically calling it--would grant the President the power to negotiate trade agreements and then submit them to Congress for a straight-up yes/no vote, with no modifications allowed. Such authority would likely make it easier to pass the FTAA, which, while having deleterious effects on citizens everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, would hit especially hard those at the bottom of the totem pole, like migrant farmworkers. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), of which the FTAA would essentially be a disasterous extension in geography and scope, is the cause of many of the problems currently facing farmworkers and other workers, both North and South of the border [ Read more about Fast Track | NAFTA and FTAA ]
[ More photos of rally and street theater: hi-bandwidth | lo-bandwidth ]
"Right to protest": the march on NORPAC
After the street theater, the walkers marched through Stayton to the NORPAC plant. They passed through residential and commercial areas, and were seen by a lot of people out for Saturday shopping.
[ More photos of march to NORPAC: hi-bandwidth | lo-bandwidth ]
They used a route that was slightly different than the one in their city parade permit, and were halted near the plant by the Stayton Police, who informed them that they had to double-back and approach the plant from the other direction. Though slightly frustrated, the walkers followed the instruction. Police were tight-lipped about their reasons for sticking so closely to the letter of the permit. A witness well-versed in police tactics speculates that the officers wanted the marchers coming down the street into the direction of traffic for safety reasons. (There is sidewalk on only one side of the street in front of NORPAC.)
When they finally arrived at NORPAC, the marchers lined up on the sidewalk across the street, and chanted slogans. A bullhorn plea was made to join PCUN at the negotiating table. No response was forthcoming from within, and no employees were visible. After a few minutes, the Stayton Police approached the marchers again, telling them that the permit did not allow a stop, or the use of bullhorns. Again, Walk organizers were frustrated but compliant, and moved along after a few more minutes. The Stayton police were firm, but friendly and reasonable, and showed respect for the Walk. "It's their right to protest," said Sergeant Eriksen.
[ More photos of rally at NORPAC: hi-bandwidth | lo-bandwidth ]
According to Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN, the Stayton Police normally have three officers on duty on a Saturday afternoon, but assigned eleven for this day. Much of the $900+ in fees paid by the Walk Coalition to the City of Stayton for the parade permit went toward paying these officers.
A positive word about one of the police officers: As the march was arriving at its endpoint at a nearby community center, two preteen boys on a bike rolled up to one of the officers and asked what was going on. Their tone was derisive and their language profane. The officer, who seemed to know the boys, gave them a brief explanation of the issues that was completely partial and even-handed. As far as I could tell, I was the only person close enough to hear the conversation, and I was some distance away, so the officer's words didn't seem to be for the benefit of anyone but his immediate audience. I was impressed at his grasp of the facts, and with this responsible use of his authority. He blunted the boys' skepticism, and in so doing did a favor for the Walk participants and the local farmworkers.
Walkers gathered on a large grassy field at the community center under a warm sun and a bright blue sky for music, speeches, and food.
The Mayor of Salem joins the Walk
The number of walkers swelled for a march on Pictsweet Mushrooms later that afternoon, and included past and present Pictsweet workers. The Walk started at the Unitarian Church and was joined by a surprise guest: the Mayor of Salem. He delivered an eloquent speech from the back of a pick-up truck, decrying the labor practices of the mushroom producer, and vowed to use his powers to do something about it. He recieved raucous applause [ Full story on speech ]. Though the presence of marchers definitely had a negative effect on car traffic along the road--most vehicles slowed way down as they passed the great throng--there was no contact with police. The presence of the mayor was undoubtedly responsible for this. So there's a tactic for avoiding harassment when protesting -- enlist a local politician to lead your march.
Testimony on working conditions in Pictsweet
After the Mayor's speech, the crowd heard from Enrique Diaz, who lost his hand while working at Pictsweet. Diaz spoke in Spanish about the dangerous working conditions at the Pictsweet factory, and how workers are often forced to return to the plant immediately after being injured for fear of losing their jobs. He also mentioned that workers are not paid overtime and they have been fired for attempting to unionize.
Supporters of Diaz and Pictsweet workers are encouraging those who are concerned about this issue to contact Pictsweet and ask them to negoitate with PCUN and the workers, and to contact the produce manager at your local grocery stores to ask them to encourage Pictsweet to negotiate.
Contact information for Pictsweet:
Pictsweet Mushroom Farm
Ten Pictsweet Dr
Bells, TN 38006
As the walkers prepared to return to the Unitarian Church, someone stuck a PCUN flag into the barbed-wire topped fence around the Pictsweet grounds. It was a small act of defiance that could presage greater efforts and, ultimately, victory.
[ More photos at Pictsweet rally: hi-bandwidth | lo-bandwidth ]
[ VIDEO of Saturday events ]