Fifty Years Later, Introducing the Food and Freedom Rides (VIDEO)

Food and Farm Labor, Food Deserts

I wonder what was on the minds of the first 13 young Freedom Riders–six white and seven black–the day before they got on a Greyhound bus in D.C., headed to the South 50 years ago in spring 1961.  Were they nervous, for themselves and their future, that the law to desegregate interstate commerce wouldn’t uphold in a still-segregated South?  Did they feel any pride for their anticipated acts of non-violence, soon capturing the attention of the world and cementing themselves in the history of racial equality?

I’ll soon find out.  It’s the day before I get on a bus in Birmingham, Alabama with 12 other young folk from across the country of all different backgrounds to seek another form of Civil Rights.  The Freedom Riders sought racial justice.  We are seeking real food justice. We’re changing the food system in our own communities and meeting others who are doing the same, whether it’s increasing access to affordable healthy food for low-income communities, getting better conditions for food chain workers, or reclaiming traditional food cultures.

The first 12-day Food and Freedom Ride starts in the South in Alabama and Mississippi, heads into the Midwest in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, and ends in Michigan.  The second ride, one week later, will go through America’s salad bowl–California.

I’m nervous and I’m proud.  I’m nervous because freedom for real food away from the industrial food system is at an all-time high, whether it’s a massive recall on turkey, raid on raw foods and needs for retail permits, or getting supermarket chains to sign onto fair farmworker rights.  I’m proud because I’m excited to meet and share the stories of youth, food producers, and community leaders who understand the problems and are manifesting real food solutions.  The past efforts of the Freedom Riders and other social movement leaders give me hope that my nervousness will override with strength and my pride with even more so.

Our hope is that the rides will bring to light the need to change the structural systems currently in place that prohibit people hurt by the industrial food system from growing, eating, affording, and accessing this basic civil right.  On our rides, we’ll engage youth and communities on a recently drafted Youth Food Bill of Rights, sending the message to our representatives as we approach the 2012 Farm Bill that real food is a real solution and that it’s the norm, not the exception.

We’ll share stories, actions, and reflections daily on the road from different riders.  Ride for Food and Freedom with us online, on Facebook or Twitter @liverealnoworg (use the hashtag #foodandfreedom), or e-mail info@liverealnow.org to join us if you’re on route.  We’re also nearing our campaign to fund a video documentary of the rides and complementary curriculum.  Chip in $5(+) for #foodandfreedom!

Watch this video to find out why I’m riding:

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  1. Andrew
    Saturday, August 6th, 2011
    You do realize that the original Freedom Riders were almost beaten to death by angry mobs, right? This seems not quite the same...
  2. Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
    You might be interested in the connection of African American farmers to the civil rights movement in the South, and also their concerns related to the farm and food movement of today. I recommend that interested persons check out the work of the Federation of Southern Land Cooperatives, Land Assistance Project (FSLC-LAP), and perhaps make contact with them along the way. There are related coops in Mississippi, for example. FSLC-LAP is a member of the National Family Farm Coalition, which is the key national coalition, and key international leader on the biggest and least understood US food policy issue (that also has the biggest international implications). You can get introduced/linked to both FSLC-LAP and NFFC by clicking my name. I have "historical" (pre- & non-internet) materials related to these points at the (forthcoming) Fireweed Folk Center here in eastern Iowa, (and you can search that for background & concepts). The National Catholic Rural Life Conference wrote about black farmers and civil rights in a couple of issues back during the 1980s farm crisis (get back issues from NCRLC in Des Moines). (Cf. Pamela Browing, et al, “The Decline of Black Farming in America,” United States Commission on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., 1982, available online.)

    There are huge injustices related to food! I've been making the case online (with some help from FSLC-LAP,) that the biggest unknown farm/food justice issue in the US is that of Congressional lowering (1953-1995) and elimination (1996-) of price floors and acreage reductions (as needed, plus price ceilings and reserve supplies to protect the poor). These policies directly confront the exploiters, while the "scapegoat" ("FSLC-LAP") issue of subsidies which gets center stage in food films, books, and blogs) secretly protects and hides the biggest exploiters, and leads well meaning food advocates to support policies on the opposite side from their intentions.
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