Susan L. Marquis

 

On her book I Am Not a Tractor! How Florida Farmworkers Took On the Fast Food Giants and Won

Cover Interview of December 04, 2017

In a nutshell

I Am Not A Tractor! is about the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), who have transformed what had been the worst agricultural situation in the United States to one of the best. Florida’s tomato fields have long been known for abuses that included toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and even, astonishingly, modern-day slavery. In the past seven years, violence has largely disappeared, working conditions are now safe, worker pay has increased by as much as 60%, and there has been but one (quickly identified and prosecuted) reported case of slavery. And all of this has happened without new legislation, regulation, or government participation. Tractor! answers the question, Why has this effort succeeded when so many other “social responsibility” and labor reform efforts have failed?

Who are the people who imagined and led this effort? A teenage immigrant from Mexico whose standoff with a violent crew box was a first step to co-founding the CIW; a man who was a neuroscience major at Brown who takes great pride in the watermelon crew he’s on; a leading farmer/grower who was once homeless, pushing a shopping cart on the streets of LA; a woman who began working just with the farmworker community in Immokalee and now, as part of that same work, trains law enforcement, diplomatic, and criminal justice officials in identifying and eliminating modern-day slavery; and a retired New York State judge who volunteered to stuff envelopes and ended up building a ground-breaking institution. These are the people who have built the Coalition and the Fair Food Program that changed the lives of more than 30,000 field workers and are offering a solution to a problem with long roots in our nation’s slave history and continuing conflict over immigration.

The reason I wrote I Am Not A Tractor! is because I wanted to get at the big questions of not only what the Coalition has accomplished but how they did it, what they’ve achieved, why the Fair Food Program has worked, and what this tells us about effective social change.