Believer in the power of political organizing to instigate change
The Santa Clara
May 3, 2018
Last Monday, Mayer Theater erupted in chanting, “Si se puede,” as civil rights icon Dolores Huerta rallied the crowded room to her legendary slogan.
Huerta, a prominent labor leader and social justice activist, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez.
The union lobbied for farm workers’ rights, including the right to collectively bargain, decent living conditions and protection against pesticides.
In 2012, Huerta earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians.
Wearing a black and white patterned blazer and brightly colored earrings, Huerta emerged to the stage dancing.
She talked with W. Kamau Bell, comedian and Frank Sinatra Artist Chair, after the screening of her documentary, “Dolores.”
“Every moment is an organizing moment. I want you all to remember that when you’re talking to your family and friends, if they’re not organizing, try to organize them,” Huerta said. “Every moment is a moment to change the world.”
Bell referred to a moment in the film in which an interviewer asks Cesar Chavez questions about Huerta rather than directly asking Huerta.
Huerta’s response calls for dismantling the narrative that describes women as weak.
“When we look at the animal kingdom who’s the most ferocious? The females are the most ferocious,” Huerta said. “In society, women are taught to be victims but we have to change so that women know they can be strong and powerful in decision making positions.”
At eighty-eight years old, age is just a number for Huerta. Her social activism continues through her efforts to raise awareness about the school-to-prison pipeline and advocate for issues like immigration and racial justice.
Her foundation will sponsor a ballot measure to ensure large corporations like Disney and Chevron pay their fair share in property taxes, which would divert eleven billion dollars annually to California’s public schools.
Bell referenced Starbucks’ incidents of racial bias and asked Huerta how people can organize boycotts beyond Twitter hashtags.
“In those days we didn’t have hashtags,” Huerta said. “It was a lot harder because farm workers had to go in person to talk to audiences. We know boycotts are very effective. It’s not enough [for Starbucks] to just apologize we need to see remedial actions being taken. We can agree to call off our boycott if such actions are taken.”
Huerta spoke about the need for national healing for the racial injustice committed against people of color including slavery for African Americans, Japanese internment, Native American genocide and lynching of Chinese people.
“People have to start realizing that racism still exists,” Huerta said. “If I’m not doing something to end the racism, end the misogyny, end the homophobia, as the Blank Panthers used to say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
The screened documentary included clips of Huerta’s children talking about their limited time with their busy mother.
However, Huerta wanted to clear the record. She said that she brought her children with her as she campaigned, involving them in activism.
“When I was in jail once for trespassing, I met with a group of students and my daughter, Angela, who was 13 years old, sent a note saying she couldn’t come because she was knocking on doors and registering people to vote,” Huerta said.
Huerta also said that her son passed out pamphlets for Huerta at Safeway and responded to racist comments humorously.
“He said, ‘My mom abandoned us in the parking lot of the Safeway store with a pack of leaflets to pass out.’ And when they said, ‘you little Mexican commies, why don’t you go back to Mexico?’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t have a ride,’” Huerta said.
During the talk, Huerta provided a platform for other community leaders, which Kamau jokingly called “commercial breaks.”
She invited senior Alex HallRocha to the stage to speak about the local ballot initiative, Measure A.
The measure, said Hall-Rocha, will redistrict Santa Clara and stop the distribution of translated ballots.
“We want to raise awareness of this proposal, raise awareness of the impact on communities of color in our own city,” Hall-Rocha said. “You can register to vote before May 21 even if you’re a student who’s not local. You can register to vote in this special election using your SCU address.”
“It makes me feel great that the lucha, the struggle, continues.Nobody has the luxury of checking out right now. We’ve all got to participate,” Huerta said, following Hall-Rocha’s announcement.
“We are at a critical moment in our country right now. We need your power, we need your persons, we need your volunteers to help us through this dark period,” Huerta said.
Contact Bella Rios at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.