Farm workers don't have a right to a day of rest. They don't have a right to minimum wage, overtime pay or workers' compensation. Sometimes they can't even afford to buy the food they pick.
"I thought the USA was all about freedom and justice for everyone. I guess I was wrong," said Rondout Valley High School student Samantha LaRusse.
LaRusse was among the Rondout Valley Spanish students, motivated by studying César Chávez and then learning about the plight of Immokalee farm workers in Florida, who traveled to the Capitol in May to speak out for the rights of farm workers who bring us the food we eat every day.
The students sang songs in Spanish as they stood on the Capitol's so-called Million Dollar Staircase beside farm workers and their families, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and human rights activist Kerry Kennedy.
The students sent lawmakers the message that they stood for "liberty and justice for all," not just for some.
"Justice and equality is not a want. It is, in fact, a need. Without equality the world wouldn't be where it is today," said student Dakota Rose.
They told legislators that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. Their signs carried the motto of the United Farm Workers: "Sí, se puede." Yes, we can!
"It was incredible to see the support for this noble cause. I wouldn't even call this fighting for workers' rights. I believe we are fighting for human rights," said student Wil Eagleston.
"The matter of equal human rights for all is not something we can be expected to meet half way," said Renee Balestra, a member of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Professionals and a high school English teacher. "Teaching our children to be activists is imperative to sustain our existence and it is not something that can be taught solely in a classroom."
Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant Ministry, a statewide, non-profit organization that serves rural and migrant communities throughout New York, praised the teachers and parents for creating the opportunity for students to be a part of democracy in action.
"The preparation and enthusiasm of both the students and the teachers inspired many others who were present at the Capitol, especially farm workers, who often have a great difficulty participating in our government," Witt said. "I believe this day provided an experiential education that cannot be matched in the classroom."
Diana Zuckerman, a member of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers & School-Related Professionals, teaches Spanish. She accompanied the students on their advocacy day.
FOR MORE INFO
To watch a video of the students' visit, go to assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20140505a/. Urge your senator to pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, S.1743. Learn more about the Rural and Migrant Ministry at ruralmigrantministry.org.