Field Notes: Community Organizing in Morganton, NC

Guest post by Lina Palancares | 2017 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) Intern

It’s really hard to measure the impact my work had over my 10 week internship. Community organizing takes a lot of patience and most of the rewards that are reaped are long term ones. However, one thing I can tell you about is the impact these 10 weeks had on me personally. Community organizing, especially the type carried out by the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center (WNCWC), is built on creating relationships, instilling trust in the participants, and promoting their leadership. Throughout my summer, I can definitely say that I was able to do all three of those things.

My favorite thing was creating those relationships and bit by bit building that trust. It was an honor learning about the Guatemalan community of Morganton– their unique languages, their strong faith, and their wonderful cuisine (don’t ask me how many chuchitos I ate this summer, it’s embarrassing). People who I’d never met welcomed me into their home and shared their stories with me. Bit by bit, strangers became friends and soon, they felt like family. People who at first felt shy and closed off, felt comfortable enough with me to joke around towards the end. Being brought into their banter is something I’m really proud of because it means they trusted me and felt comfortable enough to let their guard down.

While getting to know people, I also learned a lot about their lives that I found disheartening and unacceptable. The worst being that many of the abuses people face in Morganton’s main place of employment, Case Farms, come from their own people. Those that speak some English rise quickly through the ranks at the poultry plant– eventually working their way up to helper and supervisor. These people often use their position of power not to help and promote fair working conditions, but to oppress and harass. There is a “better you than me” mentality being fostered at the plant that is preventing the promotion of a just work environment for everyone. One of the biggest forms of harassment comes from their refusal to give workers adequate bathroom breaks.

This lack of access has had grave consequences on the health of the workers. One of my tasks while at WNCWC, was to start preparing the leadership cohort (all composed of women), to launch a campaign asking the manager to implement a fair policy that gives people a bathroom break within 10 minutes of asking for it. At a practice presentation, the women shared valuable information as well as powerful testimonies describing the reality of working under those conditions. When they finished the presentation, the room was moved to tears, but more importantly, they were inspired to take action. It was an honor having even a small part in that, and I can’t wait to continue spreading the word about their movement- which is just beginning.

– Lina Palancares, 2017 SAF intern, Western NC Workers’ Center

About the SAF Summer Internship:

SAF develops the leadership of college students from diverse backgrounds, giving them the opportunity to work directly with farmworkers in the Southeast.  Each year, SAF trains approximately 20 students on farmworker issues and places them to work full-time with migrant education programs, legal aid offices, rural health clinics, community-based organizations and farmworker unions. SAF interns increase the capacity of the organizations they work with by outreaching to over 5,000 farmworkers & their families each summer.

This blog post originally appeared on the SAF student blog.