FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Real Uniters Were Among Us

by

Fifty years ago this month, a small group of activists left Delano, California and began a march to Sacramento to raise national awareness about the plight of farmworkers.  By the time the march made it to the state capitol, its ranks had swelled to over 10,000 people.  California politicians and their agri-business supporters realized that they were facing a major civil rights movement in the Central Valley, and that its leader, Cesar Chavez, was someone to contend with.

The importance of the Sacramento March today is more than just historical.  The march is a lesson about how to use nonviolence to respond to economic hardship in a way that builds a powerful force for justice.  In an era like ours–in which the income of the top one percent continues to pull from the rest of us, inequality is at its highest level in almost a hundred years, and politicians use our fear of losing our jobs, homes, and family security to scapegoat whole groups of people—the Sacramento March takes on a new significance.

The mood among the farmworkers at the time was not unlike a general feeling among many voters today who feel that the promise of the American dream is slipping away as a result of an unjust collusion of government and economic elites.  Chavez viewed the march as a symbolic pilgrimage that would literally occupy the highest seat of political power in the state.  The farmworkers were journeying to put politicians on notice that they were not going to allow the exploitation and oppression they suffered to continue.  “We are tired of words, of betrayals, of indifference”, Chavez wrote in The Plan of Delano, the manifesto laying out the reasons behind the protest march.

But, unlike today, the farmworkers were not banking on some politician to arise to champion their cause and alleviate their desperation with the promise of new government programs.  Chavez explained that the farmworkers were radicals; they were their own leaders.  And they wanted to dissolve the existing social order and to build a new system in which they had power to have a say in the decisions that directly affected their lives:  “We do not want charity at the price of our dignity.  We want to be equal with all the working men in the nation; we want a just wage, better working conditions, a decent future for our children.”

However, the difference of the farmworker revolution as compared to the great social upheavals in the past, Chavez pointed out, was that it was going to be nonviolent.  Instead of seeking solutions through violence, the farmworkers would march and show that they could take their suffering and channel it into righteous anger at the institutions that cheated them and robbed their families of a decent life.  Instead of holding onto their pain and turning it into hatred and fear of others, the farmworkers sought to engage in action that created unity among all the different ethnic groups that worked in the fields:  “We know that the poverty of the Mexican or Filipino worker in California is the same as that of all workers across the country, the Negroes and poor whites, the Puerto Ricans, Japanese and Arabians; in short, all of the races that comprise the oppressed minorities of the United States.”  They refused to let politicians and bosses use racism to divide them and turn on each other, as had happened in past decades, and as is now happening in this election season, when we are told that the American Dream requires walls and barriers to keep Muslims or Mexicans out.

The lesson of Cesar Chavez’s Sacramento March is that it is possible to build a social movement to respond to economic hard times that does not depend on violent protests, or on savior politicians, or on racist stereotypes that demonize groups of people as the causes of our misfortune.  It is an example that it possible for ordinary groups of people to come together, decide that they can be their own leaders, and forge their own alternatives to the power structures that ignore their interests.  As Chavez wrote:  “To the politicians we say that the years are gone when the farm worker said nothing and did nothing to help himself.  From this movement shall spring leaders who shall understand us, lead us, be faithful to us, and we shall elect them to represent us.  We shall be heard.”

José-Antonio Orosco, Ph.D, writes for PeaceVoice and is Associate Professor of Philosophy:  School of History, Philosophy, and Religion Director, Oregon State University Peace Studies Program.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail