By Nick Musni, Community Organizer
“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.” — Cesar Chavez
Every year on March 31st we celebrate a special Day of Service in honor of Cesar Chavez Day. As we honor this day, we reflect on these words from Cesar Chavez himself. They remind us that—in our mission to eradicate hunger and poverty in our community—we must never underestimate the power of the people.
Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to la causa (the cause): the struggle of farm workers to realize their collective power through organizing, and to demand their right to safe, dignified working conditions. Chavez and the movement’s accomplishments were a big step, but today farm workers are still among the poorest, least protected workers in the U.S. This highlights the great paradox of our food system (which Chavez himself pointed out and continues to this day): The very people who work to put food on our table are the same folks who struggle to feed their own families.
In 1965, Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Filipino-American labor organizer, Larry Itliong, and thousands of farmworkers and their collaborators launched the historic nationwide strike and boycott against California’s grape growers. A year later, they marched 250 miles from Delano to Sacramento to bring light to their struggle and demand action from lawmakers. They formed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) in 1971 and successfully passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, giving farm workers the right to unionize and negotiate better wages and working conditions.
Unfortunately, as history often shows us, legislation does not guarantee material systemic change. To this day, farm workers are still routinely exposed to harmful pesticides, and heat stress due to demanding work conditions and a lack of adequate shade and clean drinking water.
Although Chavez has been criticized for his early stances on immigration, which evolved throughout his life, ACCFB seeks to uplift the rights of all workers, regardless of immigration status, to be protected and included fully in our workplaces, communities, and economy. We see this day as an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our role in addressing the root causes of hunger and the racist, exploitative systems we’ve inherited. How do we uphold these systems and what are we doing to dismantle them? What does solidarity look like beyond simply “being there” for workers at our food distributions and help lines?
We hope you will join us today in taking a moment to recommit ourselves to la causa. Like beginning a march of 250 miles, we have a long way ahead of us as we address the systemic causes of poverty.
Ready to join us in the fight against hunger and inequity? Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts! Our team of policy experts will share opportunities to use your voice to make an impact! We have several actions coming soon to ensure that all Californians have access to crucial nutrition programs regardless of their immigration status. Be sure not to miss out on these opportunities to make your voice heard by our elected officials.
Today and tomorrow, it is the resounding call of the farm workers movement that gives us hope: ¡Sí Se Puede! Yes, it is possible. Yes, we can!
Sources: National Farm Worker Ministry; United for Human Rights; History; Green America; UFW