March for Milk with Dignity!
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In the early morning light, at 7am on Saturday June 17th, nearly 150 farmworkers and supporters gathered in front of the Vermont State House gearing up for what would be an historic day. Nearly two years to the day when Ben & Jerry’s made its still-unfulfilled public commitment to Milk with Dignity, Farmworker organizer Enrique “Kike” Balcazar kicked off the action:
“Today, we are marching 13 miles to Ben & Jerry’s to make sure they make good on their promise they made two years ago to join and implement the Milk with Dignity Program, because our human rights cannot wait a single day longer.”
The march meandered through Vermont’s iconic working landscapes, through sleepy towns where more marchers joined in as it progressed (see pictures below). By the time the colorful caravan rolled its way through Waterbury and poured into Ben & Jerry’s factory under the hot afternoon sun, the crowd had doubled to over 250 people, chanting: “Get up! Get down! Milk with Dignity is Coming to Town.” After a roving picket line at the factory, Vermont dairy workers, standing shoulder to shoulder with national farmworker rights leaders Lucas Benitez (co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers) and Librada Paz (RFK Human Rights Laureaute), delivered a huge letter of support to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim signed by 15 prominent Human Rights organizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Solheim addressed the crowd:
“We have all the key pillars of this program defined and clear. We’ve incentivized it. We’ve got the right incentive structures for workers and farmers and we’re ready to go. Ben & Jerry’s is ready to go.”
Farmworker leader Wilmar then told the crowd, “After a long hard day of marching in the sweltering heat, with many of us workers skipping meals and sleep between our 12 to 14 hour days in order to be here, it is great to hear these words from Ben & Jerry’s. But as we have learned in this process, we must keep up the pressure until we have a signed agreement committing Ben & Jerry’s to source its milk in compliance with the human rights of dairy workers by joining the Milk with Dignity Program.”