Sunday, November 22, 2009

22 NOV 09: March in November

First there was the Fountain City Classic parade. Then came the Veterans Day parade. And in a way, Columbus had a parade this weekend for the third Saturday in a row - proving some people are NOT ready for a parade rest.

This time the marchers were in midtown, not downtown. And surprisingly, they had nothing to do with SOA Watch. They picketed along Macon Road, outside the Publix supermarket - as if they want Cross Country Plaza to become famous for nothing more than Chuck E. Cheese.

The Publix picket line was set up by Florida farm workers, who say their pay for picking tomatoes has remained unchanged for 30 years. You can understand why they're upset by this - since bad stand-up comics who have tomatoes thrown at them are paid much more these days.

The "Coalition of Immolakee Workers" told WTVM it is paid 45 cents to pick 30 pounds of tomatoes. Hmmmm - that comes to 1.5 cents per pound. So why is Publix's current price for "tomatoes on the vine" $1.99 per pound? Does keeping the vine add that much weight to the delivery truck?

The Coalition of Immolakee Workers compares its situation to slave labor of the 19th century. But who told these workers they had to pick tomatoes? Admittedly the unemployment rate is high, but at least they can apply for other jobs. I've seen one company beg for workers at the Columbus Career Center often - as if people simply can't get enough life insurance.

It also doesn't help their cause that tomatoes seem to be in abundant supply worldwide. People throw them around in Spain every summer - and I wish a local food bank would fly there and steal some crates, so all that fruit is put to better use.

The Columbus march was part of a Publix protest tour across the Southeast. The supermarket chain responded to a march in Tallahassee by claiming it's a matter between farm workers and tomato growers. If they need someone to officiate this dispute, call the Southeastern Conference - where the football officials get it right about two-thirds of the time.

Yet that excuse by Publix hasn't worked for other supermarket chains in recent weeks. Kroger and Wal-Mart cut their connections with a blueberry grower in October, after an undercover investigation found the grower used child labor in the fields. Do Publix executives really want Brian Ross standing outside the main office, waiting to badger them with questions?

(That case in Michigan proves one thing - while you might have "Strawberry Fields Forever," blueberry fields need to be carefully reviewed.)

If I wanted to stage a protest outside Publix, I'd complain about the fact that the supermarket chain tends to have higher prices than anybody else. Publix admittedly has a classier reputation than Piggly Wiggly. And Publix sells fancy-sounding items like "water bread" - as if bread usually is made from ginger ale or something.

Some of the seasonal specials at Publix almost sound like the chain wants protests. Take the current weekly ad, which offers a "Small Decadent Dessert Platter." Devout Southern Baptists simply will not settle for this - because it's a step down the slippery-slope to large decadence, and the movie "New Moon" already has enough of that.

In a way, Saturday's Publix produce protest (say that five times fast) was refreshing. It allowed me to postpone writing the annual run-of-the-mill SOA Watch jokes. We can combine all of those for Monday - and if those protesters want to make it a two-march weekend, that will almost cover Columbus until the Christmas parade in December.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: Friday's review of Columbus stimulus projects sparked a reader's thinking....

Hi Richard:

Funny thing about that Rails to Trails funding is that we supoosedly collected the funds to pay for the trail from the Columbus Taxpayer during the last SPLOST. What happened to our tax dollars if they are not going to construction of the trail?

Just wondering since I am still walking or driving to the mall instead of taking the promised trail trolley.

We found a city Planning Department newsletter which says local sales tax provided the "initial funding" of $11 million for the east-west trail. The federal stimulus grant of more than one million dollars may reduce that cost. Or it may be used for nice extras -- and a few overhead lights might encourage more people to ride bikes on it after dark.

We're holding one other e-mail, while we wait for more information about it. So let's move on to other weekend news....

+ The Knology headquarters in Columbus had its second paper shredding drive of the year, called "Shred It and Forget It." So did any federal prosecutors show up, with records relating to Mark Shelnutt?

+ The Port Columbus museum received six old U.S. Navy cannons. They'll be displayed on the grounds, as soon as the staff concocts new stories about ghosts supposedly dwelling inside them.

+ The Centers for Disease Control released a county-by-county breakdown on national obesity. Our check of the maps found 30.5 percent of Muscogee County adults are obese, compared with 34.7 percent of Russell County adults -- which will reinforce the complaints about Phenix City having political "fat cats."

+ The U.S. Senate voted 60-39 to begin debate on health care reform. Alabama's Richard Shelby hurried back to Washington to vote no, after speaking to a conference of attorneys in Montgomery. Shelby may have told WSFA-TV the U.S. health care system is the best in the world, but the lawyers don't want to lose their right to sue for malpractice.

+ Kentucky kicked Georgia 34-27 in college football, to drop the Bulldogs to 6-5 on the season. Suddenly next week's showdown with Georgia Tech means a lot more - as coach Mark Richt might lose not only a winning season, but appearances in Ford F-150 commercials.

+ Alabama remained undefeated by chewing up Chattanooga 45-0. No one ever will mistake Bryant-Denny Stadium for a Chat-room.

(I read at least one complaint online about WXTX showing Mississippi State-Arkansas at first, instead of Alabama. Why watch a competitive football game, when you can see the equivalent of Jimmie Johnson racing someone on a motorcycle?)

+ Instant Message to the man on South Lumpkin Road who claimed the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic is leaving Columbus, because Tuskegee University is upset: Tuskegee's Sports Information Director laughed at me when I told him that. If you really heard that on two TV stations, it's time you started using closed captioning.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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