Friday, May 18, 2012

Si Se Puede! United Farm Workers

This weekend the United Farm Workers Union is celebrating its 50th convention in Bakersfield, California. The convention can be watched at:

I had the opportunity towork for the farm workers for a total of two and a half years on two different stints. I worked for them in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago. It was a privilege to help them out during that time in my life.

Working for the farmworkers was unlike anything I’ve ever done. We lived in community, were paid basically nothing (I think I was paid $35 for two weeks of work), and worked very hard.

We did it because we believed in La Causa. When I arrived in California from Minnesota in August 1986 I discovered an agricultural system that was completely different from what I experienced in rural Minnesota. Farm workers often hand-picked picked fruits and vegetables, they were mostly Hispanic, many didn’t speak English, some were not citizens of our country, and almost all were very poor. They lived in conditions that most of us wouldn’t tolerate and often had to work in fields that had been sprayed by pesticides. Some of them were poisoned by the pesticides and their children were born with birth defects.

By contrast the people who owned the land were wealthy, powerful, and mostly white. The disparity in power in that system took my breath away—and not surprisingly led to many abuses of the farm workers.

For me working for the farm workers was never a political act—it was a moral act of helping the poorest of the poor.

Cesar Chavez—the leader of the farm workers—became one of my heroes. He gave his life to helping his people. He was the first person in the history of California who was successful in organizing farm workers. Because of his work, farm workers live a better life today.

Plus—anyone who can fast for 36 days on behalf of his people, as he did in 1988, deserves our admiration.

I had the opportunity to work with Cesar. I was fortunate to organize two college speaking tours and many rallies for him.

Like most Caucasians who worked for the farm workers, we came to help the poor and ended up being helped ourselves. During my time I learned the challenges of stepping out of my power to empower the powerless.

Congratulations to the United Farm Workers for being around for 50 years. May you last for another 50.

Si Se Puede!!

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