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.”

More articles by:

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.

January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail