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Why we fast: the ND ‘water scare’

| Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This past Friday we all received the same slightly concerning, slightly disturbing message: “A test has revealed the presence of total coliform in water on the north end of the campus.” Without hesitation, many of us jumped to the conclusion about North Quad “poisoning” campus and raced to the nearest Au Bon Pain to buy filtered bottled water. While it was apparent from the beginning that the University would in no way provide us with poisoned water, in those few moments after reading the email we panicked. This momentary fright is a daily reality for thousands around the country without access to clean water. Imagine turning on your faucet and expecting semi-clean water, which you pay for, to instead be met with a lump of brown, solid-like guck. If we had been presented with that here at Notre Dame, students, faculty and staff would be up in arms, and rightfully so. Water is, or at least should be, a basic and necessary resource which all are given full access to.

There are far too many places in the U.S. in which water has become a privilege rather than a right. In recent news, the story of Flint, Michigan immediately pops into our minds with images of Red Cross trucks dumping out hundreds of boxes of Poland Spring bottles. There is a place, however, that many do not know of: Immokalee, Florida. Immokalee, just 50 miles from the opulent town of Naples, produces 90 percent of the United States’ tomatoes in the winter months. It is an agricultural town. It is a farmworker town. It is a migrant town. Immokalee is home to hundreds of thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants who come here to the U.S. to do the agricultural work that U.S. citizens will not do (as reported by The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Salt Lake Tribune). Despite the fact that the Immokalee farmworkers produced one third of the tomatoes and other produce for our country, their daily conditions include brutal beatings, no regular pay for work, mobile homes that cost more than $200 a month with 20 people in them and certainly dirty water. For these workers, a warning of coliform bacteria in the water is not a rarity, it is an unsettling reality. One of the differences between their presence of coliform bacteria and ours is that we found out about it, whereas they never will until it is too late.

There is an organization in Immokalee, however, that is trying to fight for the rights of these farmworkers. The Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a nonprofit based in Immokalee that was created by and is run by migrant farmworkers who are fighting for safe and fair working conditions for workers in the agricultural industry. In 2001 the CIW implemented the novel Fair Food Program: a partnership between farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the agricultural workers. It created the Fair Food Standards Council which orchestrates charges of sexual misconduct, wage disputes and code violations. There are a number of retail companies that have signed on to this agreement, thus bolstering the human dignity and inherent human rights of these workers: McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Burger King. There are, however, many that have not. The current fight of the CIW is against Wendy’s. Wendy’s has refused to sign the Fair Food Act and as a result have taken to buying their tomatoes from Mexico rather than the U.S. In Mexico, the prices of tomatoes are cheaper because there is no council or advisory board that regulates the conditions of workers. The absence of a fair food standard and a council propagates the idea that farmworkers have a lower standard of dignity than other industries. Over spring break a group of us traveled to Immokalee to work with the CIW and witness first hand the atrocities faced by these migrant farmworkers. As a result, we become inflamed with a desire to convince Wendy’s to sign this Fair Food Act and have taken it upon ourselves to spread that message here at Notre Dame. Over the past week, seven Notre Dame students have participated in 24 or 48 hour fasts as a part of the rolling fast movement across the country. We have joined the ranks of Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Michigan students who have also chosen to fast for food justice. We wanted to share with you our reasons for fasting. Reasons that are rooted in human dignity, solidarity, and maybe even a campus-wide water scare. The email we received on Friday afternoon was a reminder of how blessed we all are. Our temporary, and probably irrational, panic that we exhibited is a reminder of the contamination that faces thousands of American citizens on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Boyle
May 1

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