April 30, 2003

Huerta Delivers Speech

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Labor activist Dolores Huerta spoke to a crowded auditorium in Anabel Taylor Hall yesterday. Her talk, entitled “Harvesting Change,” focused on her experience as a leader within the farmworker’s labor movement, and the obstacles facing it today.

Huerta has been an active participant and organizer of labor initiatives across the United States. In 1962 she cofounded the United Farm Workers of America union, the forerunner of United Farm Workers, with fellow activist Cesar Chavez. She went on to lead a number of large strikes and boycotts, and negotiated the first successful collective bargain on behalf of farmworkers.

“A lot of people went to jail, a lot of people were beaten and we had some farmworkers who were killed,” said Huerta, reflecting on the challenges her organization faced. “A lot of blood has been shed for farmer’s rights, there were an awful lot of sacrifices.”

Huerta went on to address a number of other social issues, touching on America’s growing prison population, media inaccuracy during the war with Iraq, sexism and inadequate funding for education. She challenged the audience to become involved and put a progressive agenda into politics. “We’ve got to start right now asking ourselves: How can I take back my country?” Huerta said. “If we elect a millionaire to represent us, that millionaire is not going to take our interests to heart.”

Huerta’s lecture coincided with both Farmworker’s Advocacy Day, celebrated today, and a march on Albany in support of farmworker’s rights. The 10-day march, entitled 330 Miles to Justice, culminates today with a rallf” i the state capital. Participants hope their efforts will spur the passage of a bill to enact the Farmworker’s Fair Labor Practices act, which would guarantee farmworkers overtime pay, disability insurance, collective bargaining rights and a day of rest.

“The people who put food on our tables every day do not even have basic rights.” Huerta said. She urged students to send letters to their senators in support of such legislation, promoting a grassroots response to social ills.

“The farmworkers want basic rights that are guaranteed to all workers. Some growers are good but in some cases workers can’t even leave the premises,” said Maurilio Paz, who was a farmworker himself for 16 years, until a pesticide-related illness put him out of work. Huerta’s talk was well-received by her audience, who gave her a standing ovation at the close of the lecture.

“She’s amazingly energetic,” said Maria Garcia, director of the Latino Studies Program. “Here she is at 72 years of age and talking without notes. She truly is an amazing woman.”

“I think it is really inspiring to have [Huerta] challenging us to think about the underlying processes facilitating discrimination towards farmworkers,” said Rebecca Bixby ’03, the lead organizer of the event. “It’s inspiring to hear such a strong voice that’s been speaking for over 50 years.”

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco