Cesar Chavez His legacy continues to inspire

SAN FRANCISCO – Over 1,000 members of the United Farm Workers (UFW), other unionists and supporters marched to Civic Center Plaza here March 28 to celebrate the life and work of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson took part.

Other cities around the country, including Tucson, Ariz., and Los Angeles, where Huerta also marched on March 27, had their own celebrations. Chavez was born on March 31, 1927; he died in 1993 at age 66.

Bay Area union leaders and elected officials turned the program into a rally to beat George W. Bush in November, and to defeat the anti-people policies of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The urgency of voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns was emphasized.

Huerta reminded the crowd that Chavez went door-to-door to urge people to vote. “Don’t listen to those who say there’s no difference on crucial issues like schools and health care,” she said. No progress will be made on immigrant rights or legalization unless good candidates are elected to office, she added.

Linda Chavez-Thompson said, “Today we have an agricultural jobs bill, a bill to legalize immigrants, to pass. The fight Cesar Chavez started isn’t over – it’s up to everyone to continue that fight.” With more than 100 million workers denied the right to unionize, she said, “it is up to us to elect an administration that cares about people and about workers in this country.”

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said Chavez “understood that the weapons of mass destruction we are looking for include poverty, poor working conditions and lack of health care. This president can be defeated, but only if we go out and fight.”

During the march, Fabian Bailey, a member of Carpenters Union Local 22, said, “We need to honor anyone who takes a lead in making life better for everyone.” Elia Fernandez, a member of the group Parent Voices, said quality, affordable child care is essential to families, and helps build a vigorous economy.

In Tucson, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told marchers that Chavez would want us to “remember him with our work and our effort to make this society better,” and that he undoubtedly would have been a part of today’s efforts to “end war; feed and take care of the poor; educate, enlighten and empower our youth.” He also urged marchers to “drive George Bush out of the White House.”

Tucson high school students Ivan Montijo and Carlos Frasquillo said that to them Chavez’ legacy was much the same as Martin Luther King’s legacy is to young African Americans. Among their concerns are the inequities in funding between their southside, predominantly Latino, working-class school district and the more affluent, predominantly white district on the other side of town. Two other students, Jesus Muñoz and Michael Romero, said that George W. Bush “needs to get out of office ’cause he thinks he’s a cowboy.”

In Los Angeles, where many thousands marched, Mayor James Hahn and City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa joined actors’ union representatives Ed Begley Jr. and Mike Farrell in honoring Chavez at the 6th Annual Cesar Chavez Walk.

In Long Beach, the Harry Bridges Institute honored rank-and-file longshore union members at its 10th annual Cesar Chavez Labor Tribute Banquet on March 27.

Chavez’ birthday was declared an official state holiday in California in 2000 after a mass struggle was waged to honor his legacy.

The author can be reached at mbec@mindspring.com. Debra Brim and Kelly McConnell contributed to this article.click here for Spanish text