| By Ariana Simpson
Historically and presently, the voices of students and young people have been the catalyzed power at the forefront of many movements, transfixing audiences to confront injustices. Their voices are a diverse representation of intersectional solidarity, strengthening their reach. An apt example is the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA), a decentralized national network of youth and student organizations who exemplify the power of radicalized unity. SFA organizes alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers with the intent to, “uproot exploitation in the fields and build a food system based on justice, respect and dignity for farmworkers.”
“The spark that ignited SFA was the 230-mile March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage from Ft. Myers to Orlando, Florida, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers [(CIW)]in February 2000. This march provided the opportunity for students from several Florida colleges to learn about and directly participate in the movement to end “sweatshops in the fields.”
Although composed of many chapters nationwide, SFA’s organizations and participating individuals remain unified by a set of principles, always the same goals in mind. The most grounding of these is that they work with farmworkers and not for farmworkers, specifically meaning that they cannot speak or act for them. It is only those oppressed groups that are living those experiences as a marginalized collective that can speak for themselves as to what happens in the fields and the actions needed to evoke change. SFA takes their lead from the farmworkers learning from them, allowing the farmworkers to still be at the forefront of their own liberations while the students and youth act as a resource to head the responsibility of organizing our communities. This role of community organizing works as a duality at the intersection of education and action within the movement for justice.
One of the institutions youth hold a great deal of power within are academic ones; “Students have a powerful voice on our campuses and can hold our educational institutions accountable for who they chose to do business with. In the words of students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who waged a 9-month campus-wide strike in 1999: “The University belongs to those who study in it!” Here in central Florida, students from institutions both public and private, such as the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Rollins College, have worked together to educate and march on behalf of CIW, traveling down to south Florida so that their voices may be heard adjacent their peers from all around. Similar to the CIW’s on-the-clock on-the-field educational classes for farmworkers, SFA also facilitates educational activities for farmworkers, students, and the community that allow for joint exchanges of experiences and knowledge that may not have been accessible in a traditional insular setting, benefiting everyone. Education has come in the form of open discussions, documentary screenings, and flyers to list a few. SFA youth educate off campus as well, disrupting the system speaking as consumers to other consumers on the negative ramifications of socially irresponsible infrastructures, and how their unethical operations are affecting a disenfranchised group of people.
In regards to farmworkers and SFA, SFA believes that,
“Our struggles are not the same but they converge. Both farmworkers and young consumers are objectified by the corporate food industry: farmworkers are seen as tractors that harvest raw materials cheaply while youth are seen as mouths that obediently consume branded, unsustainable products. In an increasingly polarized global economy—where the growing concentration of wealth and corporate power threatens nearly everyone—it is imperative that we unite in common struggles and create meaningful solidarity with one another.”
SFA strives to, ‘not reproduce patterns of oppression’, by centering their focus on collective liberation and abiding by their aforementioned principles. All of these are imperative to their vision of true democracy and social change that is effective in dismantling iron handed systems–all systemically oppressive systems. SFA knows that there are a multitude of injustices that occur as a result of overbearing powers wrongfully playing their hand. While the focus of the networks are farmworkers, SFA also focuses on, “developing the skills and confidence of students and youth around the country so they can have the tools to organize for social justice around a broad array of issues on campus and in their communities.” Any student who engages with SFA then has the ability to move confidently forward now having had the tools implemented, creating for sustainable progress for all those involved.