“Because of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers over the last decade, a new day of human rights has indeed dawned right now in the tomato fields.” So proclaimed the Rev. Noelle Damico, the PCUSA staffer coordinating the denomination’s partnership with the Florida farmworkers’ union, at an April 5 conference on “Food Justice.” She told how the PCUSA has helped the Immokalee coalition win agreements with tomato growers to raise wages and improve working conditions.
According to Damico, the denomination committed itself a decade ago to “work for the transformation of the entire tomato industry rather than just tinker around with small changes or fall back into charitable efforts.” In endorsing boycotts of Taco Bell and other restaurant and grocery chains that buy large volumes of tomatoes, the PCUSA “demanded that those who are profiting from exploitation have a moral and ethical responsibility to end that exploitation.” It confronted “an industry-wide problem deeply embedded in cycles of production and purchasing whose wheels have been greased with the sweat and blood of the men and women in the fields.”
The PCUSA staffer offered the Immokalee campaign as a model for the larger struggle against greedy and dishonest corporations. She said the church brought “at least three important things” to that struggle: “our moral power,” “our loyalty to those who have been made poor by the systems of this world,” and “an unswerving confidence in the sovereignty of God.”
For Damico, “moral power” meant that the church is called “to create truthful spaces, not neutral places … which always favor the powerful and the status quo.” She warned, “The church likes to think of ourselves as a peacemaker, but far too often we play the role of ‘appease-maker.’” Church members try to avoid conflict, “and in doing so we forget that the Divine works powerfully amidst disruption.”