Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cesar Chavez the movie

Last night I had the privilege of viewing the movie “Cesar Chavez--History is made one step at a time" at Pepito’s Parkway Theatre in Minneapolis.  The theatre showed the movie to celebrate Cesar’s birthday which is March 31.  Becky Booker--who has connected to Chain of Lakes--asked me to join her to watch the move.  Am I glad that I did!

I worked for the United Farm Workers as a full-time volunteer from August 1986 to August 1987 and then from June 1989 to August 1990.  I had the privilege to talk and work with Cesar many times.  When I first started with the farm workers I helped spread the word about the grape boycott among churches and synagogues in Los Angeles.  That experience led me to apply to seminary.  In the spring of 1990 I helped organize a speaking tour for Cesar at eleven the Los Angeles colleges that was very successful.  Ever since then, the farm workers and their movement have been part of my blood.

The movie chronicled Cesar’s successes in organizing farm workers into a Union, winning a strike that started in 1965, and winning the subsequent grape boycott in the late 1960’s.  It was a daunting task.  Until Cesar no one in the history of California agriculture had successfully organized farm workers.  At one point he and his followers were fighting the growers, Ronald Reagan (the governor of California), the Teamsters (who were supplying workers to the growers during the strike), and the political establishment of the area. 

One of the more powerful moments of the movie was when Robert Kennedy came to Delano, California to conduct hearings on the conduct of the police as the farm workers were striking.  His questions revealed that the sheriff of the County was clearly supporting the growers.  It became clear that the sheriff was arresting farm workers and their supporters not because they were breaking the law, but because they were getting in the way of work of the growers.  When brought into the open as truth this practice was unacceptable.  It's unfortunate that it took a white politician from New York to convince the sheriff that he couldn't do this and that he couldn't hear it from the farm workers, mostly Latino and Filipino.

The accomplishments of the farm workers were amazing.  It was only the financial pressure of the grape boycott that brought the growers to the bargaining table.  The support of middle class America through the boycott revealed the power of farm workers and consumers working together for social change.  Cesar and the farm workers were remarkably able to build this coalition.

I learned the story of the movie when I worked for the farm workers, but seeing the story in the movie last night brought back many memories.  I was too young to participate in that first strike and boycott, but I enjoyed hearing these stories when I worked for the farm workers in the late 1980’s.  The film did gloss over some of Cesar’s short comings, but they pale in comparison to his and the farm workers' remarkable accomplishments.

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