Created on Monday, 02 November 2009 09:54
Written by Mickey Z
Not Local? Not Organic? Not Humane:
Harvesting activist lessons From Cesar Chavez and the Grape Boycott
by Mickey Z.
s many of us prepare for a season of gastronomical over-indulgence, here's some food for thought: In the late 1960s, thanks to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW), deciding whether or not to buy grapes was a political act.
Three years after its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around Delano, California...a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of a national boycott.
Trusting in the average person's ability to connect with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight-and a lesson in social justice--into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans responded. The boycott was an unqualified success as grape growers won signed union contracts and a more livable wage.
Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the cause...even if meant, uh...stretching the non-violent methods he espoused. Once in 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez's picketeers, a bit of labor solidarity solved the problem. William Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president of the International Seafarers Union.
"Within hours," writes David Goodwin in Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People, "Hall sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march with the strikers on the picket lines...There followed afterward no further physical harassment."
This simple man never owned a house or earned more than $6,000 a year. He left no money for his family when he died yet more than 40,000 people marched behind his casket at his funeral to honor four decades spent improving the lives of farm workers.
The roots of Chavez' effectiveness lay in his ability to connect on a human level. When asked: "What accounts for all the affection and respect so many farm workers show you in public?" Cesar replied: "The feeling is mutual."
The Struggle Continues
Today's migrant workers still face inhumane treatment. According to the UFW, thousands of farm workers "labor 10-12 hours per day not knowing where they and their families will spend the night. They sleep in parks, in pickup trucks and cars, under bridges and beside the fields where they work. They lie down on filthy mattresses, on pieces of cardboard, and sometimes on the bare ground. They bathe in freezing rivers and pesticide-polluted irrigation ditches. They hang their clothes and food from trees to keep them dry and safe from animals." They also labor under unfair immigration laws.
This is the oft-hidden human face of the green movement's efforts to promote locally grown, organic, plant-based foods.
7 Ways to Help Migrant Workers and Keep the Spirit of Cesar Chavez Alive