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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Reflections from the Milk with Dignity action in Portland, ME (11/8/21): “Milk with Dignity is coming to town”

Attendees marched for three miles through downtown Portland, Maine.
Attendees marched for three miles through downtown Portland, Maine.

Hundreds of us marched for three miles through downtown Portland, Maine, stopping at Hannaford’s flagship store toward the Hood plant (where Hannford’s milk is distributed throughout parts of New England), traveling over bridges and highways to demand Hannaford sign onto the Milk with Dignity program. This collective action, like all Migrant Justice actions, was led by 50 dairy workers who risked their jobs, and ultimately their livelihood, to declare their dignity and the dignity of all farmworkers. 

Leading up to the protest, Jake Gaughan wrote an excellent investigation on the College’s partnership with Goodrich Family Farm, reminding the students and staff of Middlebury College of the intense human rights violations reported by migrant farmworkers so closely connected to our community. As students who participated in the recent Migrant Justice action, we found ourselves standing side-by-side with people like those who endured the human rights abuses outlined in Gaughan’s article. We are now sharing our reflections from the powerful space we held with migrant workers in Portland, Maine. 

While marching, we heard all sorts of stories about how everyone had arrived — both physically but also in concern to their own history with protests. We were struck by the story of an older protester reminiscing on his participation in the Delano grape strike and Gallo wine boycott in California. This story places Migrant Justice in a long-standing tradition of farmworker resistance to inhumane conditions, reminding us that this is more than just a small-town dispute. Moving in unison through the streets with farmworkers, students, and other allies provided us hope that these people, the backbone of our agricultural industry, would finally receive the fair wages and living conditions they deserve, a promise that Hannaford can confer as a major retailer of milk from hundreds of farms in our region. Migrant Justice and the Milk with Dignity program are only growing, and movement leaders will not stop for anything until Hannaford signs on to the program. This is a fight that farmworkers are going to win, and we could tell Hannaford was starting to feel the pressure when they handed out lifetime bans to head organizers of the protest. 

We are continually inspired by the farmworkers and allies who are giving their all to make sure a necessary change is made in New England’s dairy industry. After experiencing the action, we are more certain than ever that “Milk with Dignity is coming to town,” a phrase we chanted alongside farmworkers during the march, especially with workers at farms with a history of inadequate housing, wage thefts, physical violence, and verbal abuse against farmworkers.  

At the end of the action, as we all gathered in the parking lot across the street from Hannaford's Supermarket, an organizer, Thelma Gómez, reminded us that we couldn’t leave the action merely patting ourselves on the back for mobilizing behind this righteous cause. 

 “I want to ask you to take this as a personal responsibility, to understand that this fight for human rights is now yours too, it is all of ours, and that we need to fight together to make sure that nobody’s rights are violated!” Gómez said.

 We often become easily distanced from the human rights violations that happen around us, right outside our community, as larger-than-life institutions and corporations hide the harms they are perpetuating. But, after hearing stories of human rights abuses… after standing side-by-side with these people and their families… who can ever turn the other way? It hurts our hearts to think that these folks have become invisibilized to the extent that their rallying call for dignity is not taken seriously. Their humanity is so lost for too many people — even here on this campus, which takes tremendous pride in its “sustainability” (which has already been critiqued for being an inhumane, narrowly defined, plainly inadequate understanding of sustainability).

¡Sí se puede!, if we can listen to the stories of these farmworkers, never forget them, and commit to meaningful solidarity. It’s time for all of us to start valuing human life with our actions, especially if the money we contribute to supermarkets and our very own College institution is reproducing unspeakable harm, especially if we benefit from these systems of labor oppression, especially if we want to live in a sustainable world built around social and economic justice. We were called to join farmworker-activists in Portland. We are now calling on you, fellow Middlebury College students, to join our collective as we stand in solidarity action with dairy workers. Join us on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Hillcrest 103. Check out go/MOOvement/. We’ll see you there.

¡Sí, se puede!

In solidarity,

Andrés Oyaga (‘23), Meg Farley (‘24), Sophie Liebel (‘23), Sophie Schmidt (exchange student),

and the rest of the growing Middlebury College Student Collective for Migrant Justice