“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate 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. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”—Cesar E. Chavez
In March 1962 in Fresno, the Community Service Organization (CSO), a prominent Latina/o civil rights organization, held a convention. At this convention, one of the CSO’s most active members, Cesar Estrada Chavez, proposed that there be a program organizing specifically with farmworkers.
Rejected by the CSO, Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta and others, resigned from the CSO and went on to form the National Farm Workers Association, which is known today as the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). This was the beginning of the fight that was “never about lettuce or grapes” but always “about the people.” A mission Chavez held so dear to his heart that he literally gave his life for el movimiento, the movement.
Thirty-one years after forming the UFW, the same year of Chavez’s passing on April 23, a group of community members here in Fresno organized to rename Kings Canyon Street to Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Unfortunately, the “giant” he organized so hard against, and at one point brought to its knees, did not let this happen and voted it down.
Realizing that systemic change is bigger than a street name, the community members continued to organize, forming the Committee for Cesar E. Chavez, which is also known as Co-Ce-Cha, meaning harvest. Since then, Co-Ce-Cha has organized annual vigils and celebrations in honor of Chavez and the movement. Staying true to Chavez’s teachings and philosophy, Co-Ce-Cha organizes from the grassroots, with the people directly affected by injustices at the forefront. This is why Co-Ce-Cha is made up of community activists, parents, youth and others that love their community and want to make a difference.
This year on March 31, Chavez would have been 84 years old. Like all of our leaders of color, since his passing, Chavez’s image and impact to the movement and world has been nullified. He is portrayed as “passive,” “turning the other cheek,” “a simple man” and the Brown Martin Luther King, Jr. This makes the power structure feel safe. So safe that it can sleep well at night in its nest of privilege knowing that the oppressed will not get inspired to rise up. However, Chavez and King were anything but that. Although not portrayed as such, Chavez and King were militant and radical: warriors. Passionate individuals driven by pure love who fought on the frontlines and gave their lives. The ultimate sacrifice; there is nothing “passive” about that.
How did we, the so-called progressives or activists, let this co-opting of Chavez, King and other important figures in the movement happen?
April 1 and 2 is our chance to reframe Chavez as a person and the meaning of the movement toward real justice for all. We need to stop depending on the system and start looking to ourselves to bring about the change we want to see in our communities. We need to unite and take a stand against the oppressive and exploitive laws and practices running rampant in our most disenfranchised communities. Chavez did it here in the desolate California fields. Internationally, it is happening in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria and others to come.
Join us for the following activities:
- April 1: Cesar Chavez Vigil, 6 p.m.–8 p.m. (location TBA)
- April 2: 18th Annual Cesar Chavez Celebration at Holmes Playground (on First Street between Tulare Street and Huntington Boulevard); 9 a.m.: March for REAL Justice; 12:30 p.m.–3 p.m.: Food, Resource Tabling, Entertainment and FUN
The events are free and everyone is invited to participate and attend. For more details on the events or on how you can help, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Cesar E. Chavez, visit www.cesarechavezfoundation.org.
Change is constant, but it is up to us to determine when.