March 31, 2017

Honoring César Chávez: Doing what’s necessary, not just what seems possible

This mural of Chávez was created by Octavio Ocampo. Photo credit: Mario via Flickr

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

Today we celebrate the life of the great labor organizer, César Chávez, in whose footsteps we follow.  The organizing we do at Corporate Accountability International and our determination to achieve what is necessary — not just what seems possible — owes much to the pioneering work of Chávez. Chávez would have been 90 years old today.

Before Chávez founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) union with Dolores Huerta and other leaders, hardly anyone believed it was possible for farm workers to unionize. And without a union, Chávez and other Mexican-American farm workers in California faced extreme exploitation: Many  were paid so little that they had to live in tents, cars, or trucks without electricity or running water. But Chávez had a different vision. He knew that if he talked with enough farm workers and convinced them to come together to demand a better working conditions, they could do what seemed impossible.

Indeed, the UFW went on to organize a nationwide boycott of table grapes that compelled the major growers to recognize the union, raise wages, contribute to workers’ welfare plan, and give workers a role in regulating pesticide use.

Here at Corporate Accountability International, we often return to a famous story about Chávez, retold by environmental justice pioneer Lois Gibbs:  When young organizers asked Chávez, “How do you organize?” Chávez replied, “Well, first you talk to one person, then you talk to another person, then you talk to another person.”

That tried-and-true method of organizing runs through all of our campaigns — from protecting climate policy from fossil fuel industry interference to upholding the human right to water. And together with supporters like you, we are continuing Chávez’s work for a just food system: One that nourishes us, rather than making us sick, and one that treats workers fairly, rather than exploiting them.

Today, you can remember Chávez by talking about your vision and the action you are taking to create a better world with one person in your life. And then another. And another.