Monthly Archives: March 2010

Winding Down the Book Tour

Last night was likely one of my final books events for awhile, held in Washington, D.C. at Busboys and Poets. Within a few weeks I’ll be a father, which means…well, I still don’t have too much of an idea of what that means. Based on conversations I’ve had with other new parents, it seems likely that this little boy might be making some demands on us. So I’ve stopped scheduling book events, in the unlikely event that a new baby could in some way infringe on my typical schedule of doing whatever I want.

So it was great to have so much fun yesterday at Busboys and Poets. Family and friends were in attendance, and there was also a recent college graduate, Art, who is actually from Russellville! That totally blew me away, and I was suddenly glad that I had gone the informal route and discarded my collared shirt for the Russellville “Golden Tigers” t-shirt. It turns out that his father had read an article in the local paper in 2008, which wrote about my firing from the plant after management realized what I was doing, and passed the piece along. Someday, when funds and time permit, I’d love to go back to Russellville, but at least in this case a small part of Russellville came to me.

I also learned yesterday about future plans for immigration reform actions, and that an expected 10,000-person march through Los Angeles on Saturday grew to 65,000. On April 10 there will be a series of actions across the country–from New York to Las Vegas to Seattle–which I’ll definitely keep writing about as things progress.

Also, I wanted to acknowledge that while there has been much excitement about the energy around immigration reform, many people on the left have been critical of key components of the legislation being drafted by Schumer and Graham. I, too, have my problems about it, as I wrote in The Nation:

Remaining vigilant is also a task for advocates who are dissatisfied with the proposed reform framework and oppose the inclusion of an expanded guest-worker program prone to labor abuses and the introduction of nefarious-sounding measures like the “biometric Social Security cards” recently praised by Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer in the Washington Post. And beyond specific policy improvements, progressives need to push back against language in the debate that tends to paint undocumented immigrants as guilty of anything but attempting to improve their lot. As Graham and Schumer wrote in the Post about their proposed legislation, undocumented immigrants “would be required to admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to society.” There’s another case to be made: we owe a debt to them.

I’ve been mostly quiet about my reservations about the bill, especially because it’s early and right now the energy on the ground is high. But I do think it’s worth mentioning that if we’re lucky enough to keep the momentum up, one role for progressives/radicals will be to do what we can to make the bill as humane as possible.

Finally, two groups that cosponsored the book talk yesterday were CISPES and Jobs with Justice, DC. They are both doing fabulous work, from organizing workers here in the US to addressing unjust trade policies that push so many folks from their home countries. Check them out below–and give money if you can!

CISPES: http://www.cispes.org/

Jobs with Justice, DC: http://www.dcjwj.org/

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Reflections on March / DC Book Event

Last Sunday was the March for America, and I wrote up a piece that is in this week’s Nation magazine. You can read it here: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100412/thompson

The NY Times also ran a great editorial, contrasting the March for America with the tea-party folks. It’s at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/opinion/23tue4.html?ref=opinion

I’ll be back in Washington, D.C. this weekend, speaking at Busboys & Poets (at their 5th Street Address, info below). The event is being co-sponsored by Jobs with Justice-DC and CISPES-DC (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), and should be a good time. If you’re in town stop by!

Sunday, March 28, 4:00 PM
Busboys and Poets
1025 5th Street, NW
Washington, D.C.

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Immigrants to Obama: It’s Time

Tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies (and maybe more) are heading to Washington, D.C. to march for comprehensive immigration reform this Sunday. When I was in San Jose for my book tour, I happened to join a prayer vigil for reform–expecting perhaps 50-100 people. Instead, the group that organized the action, People Acting in Community Together, turned out nearly 700 folks. It was amazing, and got me thinking about how there might be tons of really effective organizing–and really motivated leaders–that are just below the media’s radar.

I wrote a piece about the San Jose event, and the lead up to the march this Sunday, for The Nation. The article, “Immigrants to Obama: It’s Time,” is at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100405/thompson.

Also, I’m happy to report that a Spanish press has expressed interest in publishing Working in the Shadows. This is absolutely wonderful; one of my disappointments with There’s No Jose Here is that it never got translated, so many of the people I wrote about couldn’t actually read it. It’s still early and nothing has been finalized, but I’m excited about the prospect of sending dozens of Spanish copies to all the people I met during the year.

Okay, that’s it for now. Hope everyone is well, and maybe I’ll bump into a few of you in D.C. on Sunday…

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Stand with Farmworkers–Protest Trader Joe’s!

One of the organizations that is doing great farmworker organizing and advocacy is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, based out of Florida. They’ve uncovered countless cases of modern day slavery, and fought (and won!) against massive corporations to improve conditions for folks laboring in the fields in Florida. But right now, one of the stores that refuses to sign an agreement with CIW is….Trader Joe’s!

That’s why folks are holding a protest tomorrow (Thursday) at Trader Joe’s in Union Square. Here are the details:

Thursday, March 18
6-7 PM
Trader Joe’s on 14th Street

And here are some more details about the campaign and Trader’s Joes intransigence to this point:

Grinding poverty leaves farmworkers vulnerable to further exploitation from employers. In the most extreme cases, forced labor. Since 1997, over 1,000 fruit and vegetable harvesters have escaped slavery rings, including both documented and undocumented workers as well as U.S. citizens in the agricultural fields of Florida (and the southeastern United States).

The Campaign for Fair Food aims to take a preventative approach by asking large corporations, like Trader Joe’s, to leverage their high volume purchasing power to pay a premium price for tomatoes as well as sign a human rights agreement (like large corporations – Whole Foods and Subway have done) to agree to more humane standards in the fields, including a zero tolerance policy on forced labor, that is created and implemented by the workers themselves.

Just Harvest USA has informed Trader Joe’s of these issues as well as identified stores carrying tomatoes from farms whose crew leaders were found guilty of slave labor in 2008. A year later, Trader Joe’s has responded with silence and continue to boast about the sustainability of its food.

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On Lettuce Cutters and Serial Killers

Yesterday the Arizona Republic ran a column I wrote for their “Perspectives” section. The piece, which they entitled “The Job You Won’t Do,” riffs off some of my observations and experiences while cutting lettuce in Yuma. If you’re interested, you can read it at http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/articles/2010/03/14/20100314thompson14.html.

Since the Arizona Republic is published out of Phoenix, and Phoenix has some of the most noxious anti-immigrant activists in the country, I wasn’t surprised to get a few less than pleasant emails sent my way. This is completely normal: anyone writing sympathetically about immigrants is accustomed to receiving plenty of internet vitriol, which I’ve grown to appreciate as both a badge of honor and frequently entertaining reading.

So far, my favorite comment is from “John,” who wrote:

I just read your artical (sic) in the Az republic about lettuce pickers in Yuma. You seem to have made friends with them and understand their problems. Your (sic) an idiot! You could spend a summer on death row and would make friends there too. That wouldnt (sic) mean they are right in what they have done or are doing! Wake up!

Normally, I care as little about spelling and grammar as the next person, but if someone is going to call me an idiot then I’m going to let them know that “artical” is not a word. In fact, I’ve noticed that virtually all of the haters who take the time to email me have a serious spelling problem.

But his poor spelling and grammar really isn’t that interesting compared to the content. First, I really liked the juxtaposition of these two sentences: “You seem to have made friends with them and understand their problems. Your an idiot!”

Uh, what?

It all makes sense by the next line, though, when he equates lettuce cutters with death row inmates. I imagine he spent about 45 seconds thinking through his argument, and when his mind turned to Mexicans in the lettuce fields he flashed to convicted killers on death row. Of course.

Anyway, I just sent John the form letter I’ve created for people who hate me:

Dear John,

Glad you enjoyed the book–onward in the fight for justice for immigrants!

In Solidarity,
Gabriel Thompson

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Guest Post–Daniella Takes Over

Editor’s note: I’ve always wanted to write an editor’s note, but don’t particularly enjoy editing, and certainly am not particularly skilled in the department. However, now that I have cross-posted a blog written by my wife Daniella Ponet, I jumped at the chance to insert an editor’s note. Daniella wrote the post below after we got back from the book tour, which I actually haven’t edited in the slightest. Daniella, for followers of the blog but not personal friends, is my first editor, and is the person who pulled together the book trailer (which we were excited to learn will be featured on BBC World News…will post once I have an air date).

***
GUEST POST by Daniella

We returned last week from a whirlwind west coast book tour. Here are some lessons and reflections on the journey:

1. Twelve cities in fourteen days qualifies as overbooking!

2. Driving nine hours in any one day with book event in between qualifies as poor planning! And learned that book events and long drives are not always the best combo.

3. Motel continental breakfasts now almost routinely include make your own waffles. I can safely say that any waffle craving I had at earlier moments of this pregnancy are well taken care of and I can easily go to term and probably for a full year without eating a waffle. (Editors note: Daniella is pregnant and gradually taking on the shape of a barrel cactus.)

4. The people who ask the most questions are universally the least likely to purchase a book.

5. There is no rhyme or reason to turn out, book sales or responsiveness of a crowd. Making predictions is fun to show how off we are almost every time.

6. How many people in the world, let alone authors, can say that Yuma was a highlight?

7. The saddest moment of the book tour was stopping in Dateland, Arizona. Dateland was once my favorite town in Arizona, the place that grows the most dates of any place in the US and is world-famous for dateshakes–a brilliant invention that combines ice cream and dates, any better combo ever?–has been torn down and replaced by a Quiznos and a Quickiemart gift shop. Quiznos now sells date shakes that take about fifteen seconds to make. The diner is gone, the 1950’s date gift shop is gone, and one more piece of quintessential Americana is gone forever. It was a devastating stop that allowed us to get to our destination quicker than planned because I was far too distraught to hang out.

8. Got to catch up with wonderful friends in LA, Bay Area, Portland and Seattle.

9. Realized that Tucson is the only place we have ever spent two months in without making a single friend – as exemplified by our crowd of five people at the U of A book event, far and away the worst turnout on the tour! And we managed to be in Tucson for the first rainy day in six weeks, and by rain in Tucson I mean torrential downpours for eight hours straight.

10. It was so fun to meet members of the lettuce crew and hear their memories from the 2008 season. Almost every one of their memories is in the book which I really hope comes out in Spanish soon so they can read it!

11. Who knew we knew so many people in Portland?

12. Gabriel walked to the studio to do the Tavis Smiley interview; they told him no guest had EVER walked to the studio for an appearance – got to love LA!

13. Visiting LA on a beautiful clear day right after a rain storm offers the best views ever!

14. Fun to visit so many independent bookstores on the west coast, though somehow we never had enough time to ever browse or buy any books – in fact I probably read less in those two weeks than on any trip I have ever been on, except for a CISPES delegation. . .
(Editor’s note: CISPES stands for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador–more info about the great organization here)

15. My favorite question that Gabriel had to answer: Day five after two stressful media events, five bookstores, and driving from Arizona to LA and south, and a good 90 minutes into the event (ie 90 min. straight of Gabriel talking), the following question comes from a senior in the crowd who has been dozing on and off for the whole talk: “What was in your heart when you decided to write this book?” And the brilliant answer: “I have a terrible memory, I don’t really remember what was in my heart.”

16. Knowing when to cut off a Q and A is an art form that many moderators do not possess!

17. Learned that hardcore Maoists still exist and they like to share their views.

18. I really like our bed!

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Roll Call Reviews the Book

Roll Call reviewed my book a while back. According to Wikipedia, which I’ve been relying upon more as I get increasingly lazy, the Washington, D.C.-based newspaper delivers 11,500 free copies of every issue to Congress and another 400 copies to the White House.

Thankfully, since I now had the attention of our country’s most powerful politicians (I imagine Barack Obama reading over each issue with a furrowed brow), the review was favorable. The reviewer calls the book a “fine work of immersion journalism” and concludes with the following three paragraphs:

Thompson unabashedly views his task through a liberal lens. He routinely complains about the lack of organized union support among immigrant-heavy industries, and animal cruelty concerns are ever-present during his poultry workdays. He decries workplace immigration raids and says immigrants should be offered a path to citizenship. To conclude, he calls for grass-roots support to help pass upcoming Obama administration immigration reform.

So those in favor of Democratic-led reform on the issue will find this book appealing. But even those on the other side of the debate will find this a worthy read for its insight into not simply immigrant labor, but also the psyche of the liberal case for immigration reform.

As the debate over how to solve our immigration problem ramps up perhaps this year or the next, look for “Working in the Shadows” to be cited by political types on both sides as proof positive that the United States needs comprehensive immigration reform.

I actually have never been called a “liberal” before–a term I’m not crazy about–but I like the “unabashedly” part, imaging that in this day and age an “unabashed liberal” is akin to an anarcho-syndicalist. The review in it’s entirety is available here.

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