ML King-C Chavez 2nd Annual Luncheon (ASHE CAC) NOLA Jan 15, 2015
They made the Systems of oppression SHAKE!
In 1890 who landed at the Port of New Orleans, the Bronze titan, Antonio Maceo, the general who led the Cuban independence movement thwarted by the US invasion of the Caribbean in 1898. He spoke at the Mason’s lodge led by Blacks, and he was hosted by the Plessy family, of Percy vs Ferguson (1896). The Plessy family came from Cuba, a part of the family had moved to New Orleans, and another part stayed back in Cuba, and went back and forth. Maceo came to visit people from the Black led militias that were sent to fight in Cuba after reconstruction but these Black soldiers went over to the Cuban side and even married and stayed in Cuba.
It was from Key West Florida and New Orleans and New York that the Cuban and Puerto Rican Independence party first got organized.
Also the Republican Liberation Army of the North seeking to end Spanish colonial rule was organized here in New Orleans and marched to San Antonio.
I am going to speak here from a personal and historical context.
My family comes from the Texas-Mexico border on the southmost tip of Texas, near the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico. This land occupied by our indigenous people and was occupied and colonized by the Spanish empire from 1521-1821, 300 years, and free from 1821 to 1836-15 years of self determined freedom, and so my family as many others were divided by the militarily imposed border first in 1836 by the Slave Republic of Texas, and in 1848 by the militarily imposed US-Mexico borders.
In fact the port of Bagdad across Brownsville Texas served as the south end of the underground railroad. The vigilante groups who went after run away enslaved people, became the Texas Rangers who rather than lynch Mexicans, evaporated them by piling up bodies and burning them to ashes.
This period was marked by the loss of lands by Indigenous people and Mexican people, to the White Anglo Saxon Protestant colonial settlers who came to implement industrial agriculture. The Mexican and Indigenous people who owned the land ended up working as wage laborers to clear the lands for the new owners and work the cash crops like tobacco and cotton, and working mega ranches like the King ranch.
We have to recall that cotton then was worth more than oil is today. That is how rich slavery and migrant farmworkers made the plantation owners.
My father, a contemporary of Cesar Chavez, came up as a share cropper, and later as many land less Mexicans he joined the migrant farmworker stream by 1950. The workers were recruited by Crew Leaders (troqueros), and contracted by the growers or agro-company. Companies like Green Giant; Delmonte Foods, Pillsbury; and General Foods became international agri-industry on the backs of this stoop labor. This was globalization of the fields and farmworkers. My father was against Cesar Chavez and I was for The farmworker unionization and UFW and this made for interesting quarrels at dinner time.
Mexican-American Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was an important union leader and labor and community organizer. Formed and informed by his early experience as a migrant worker, Chavez’s imagination took him to found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 to organize the most vulnerable sector of the working class then.
What made him a leader was that he stood with and knew the life experience and culture and suffering of the poorest of the poor. What ever mistakes committed along the way, as like MLK, were part of the thorny road to liberation. They were lets say ‘errors of the moment’.
Cesar Chavez joined Fred Ross from the Chicago Industrial Areas Foundation, the Sul Alinsky school of community organizing. He joined the IAF to learn the organizing skills and techniques and left after he saw that he wanted to do more than just organize community or follow a reformist approach to change.
His big qualitative step forward came in 1965 when his union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike or huelga against grape growers in California led by the Filipinos and the two organizations later merged to become the United Farm Workers. Huelga was the farmworker battle cry.
Stressing nonviolent methods, in part picked up from MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, Chavez drew attention for the la causa or cause via social movements with strategies such as protests, pickets, boycotts, marches and hunger strikes. Despite conflicts with the Teamsters union and legal barriers, he was able to impact a systemic social change and secure economic gains and improved the living conditions for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida and the rest of the nation.
If place and space are important then Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona, in a Mexican-American family of six children. Yuma is on the US-Mexico borders and is part of the imperialist border wall of death today. The state of Arizona historically was ‘ground zero’ for the extermination of Indigenous peoples, and today ground zero of the attacks on ‘migrants’ from Mexico, racial profiling, book banning, and banning of ethnic studies. Fertile grounds of English only, Minute Men, and Barry Goldwater and the Republican Revolution.
He was named after his grandfather, Cesario. Chavez grew up in a small adobe home, the same home in which he was born. His family owned a grocery store and a ranch, but their land was lost during the Great Depression. The family’s home was taken away after his father had agreed to clear eighty acres of land in exchange for the deed to the house, an agreement which was subsequently broken. Later, when Chavez’s father attempted to purchase the house, he could not pay the interest on the loan and the house was sold back to its original owner.
His family moved to California and became migrant farm workers in order to make a living. The Chavez family as many Mexican families who ere forced into wage slavery faced many hardships in California and the Southwest. This was part of the displacement of Mexicans and Blacks from their lands and forcing them into wage labor for the new 20th century modernization. It was the Jim Crow system in the South and Southwest. His family like hundreds of thousands of families would pick crops such as peas and lettuce in the winter, cherries, asparagus and beans in the spring, corn and grapes in the summer, and cotton and potatoes in the fall.
In 1942, Chavez was forced to quit school in the seventh grade. It would be his final year of formal schooling, because he did not want his mother to have to work in the fields. Mind you most Mexican youth of the time were only allowed to study up to the 7th 0r 8th grade because of racial segregation in the public schools and places, racial apartheid, so Chavez dropped out and became a full-time migrant farm worker or a mano or field hand as were were called. We as farmworkers were only important as ‘hands’ not the whole body. We were dismembered by race and class.
In 1944, along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, new global institutions of the new globalized capitalism, came the Bracero or guest worker program to bring field hands from Mexico for harvest time and deport them back when no longer needed. The farm workers were impacted by the Bracero program, because of stoop labor and low wages. Operation Wet Back sought to target farmworkers for mass repatriation in the 1950’s. It was these conditions of the cold war that Cesar was coming of age into organizing and movement building.
A major turning point came in his organizing work came in September 1965 when the fledgling Farm Workers Association voted to join a strike that had been initiated by Filipino farm workers in Delano’s grape fields. And of course this part was left out of down played in the film on Cesar Chavez.
Within months Chavez and his union became nationally known. Chavez’s drawing on his use of organized labor, and his strategic alliance with social movements, and mass mobilizing strategies such as the famous march on Sacramento in 1966, brought the grape strike and moreover the role of the consumer in making the boycott effective and engraved this into the national consciousness of the 1960’s counter culture movements.
The boycott in particular was responsible for pressuring and forcing the growers to recognize the United Farm Workers (UFW; renamed after the union joined the afl-cio). The first contracts signed was in 1966, but were followed by more years of strife. This relationship was a compromise knowing that the AFLCIO’s racist history and practices. It was a vertical co-optation since the AFLCIO changed nothing to bring in the farmworker members. Good or bad this aligned UFW to the Democratic Party.
In 1968 Chavez went on a fast for twenty-five days to protest the increasing advocacy of violence within the union. Victory came finally on July 29, 1970, when twenty-six Delano growers formally signed contracts recognizing the ufw and bringing peace to the vineyards.
Believing that the only permanent or pragmatic solution to the problems of farm workers lay in legislation, and the path of the Civil Rights Movement, Chavez supported the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act (the first of its kind), which promised to bring labor law to cover farm workers, and thereby end the cycle of misery and exploitation and ensure rights and justice for the workers. These promises, however, proved to be short-lived as grower opposition and a series of hostile governors undercut the effectiveness of the law.
In 1984 in response to the grape industry’s refusal to control the use of pesticides on its crops, Chavez inaugurated a successful international boycott of table grapes. For thirty years Chavez tenaciously devoted his life to the problems of some of the poorest workers in the US. The movement he inspired succeeded in raising salaries and improving working and living conditions, empowering workers, creating a new culture of working class unionization, and a grassroots empowerment from the bottom up for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida and the rest of the country.
Real historical context of the time period (Cold War & Jim Crow)
The historical period in which these events took place are framed within the cold war period, meaning a ferocious anti communist environment and Jim Crow walking arm in arm. This reality brought together the anti-segregation struggle of the Civil Rights Movement with MLK, and Cesar Chavez on the farmworker front. Let’s be very clear, organizing workers whether garbage collectors or farmworkers was considered as seen as communist activities and therefore to be stamped out by all means necessary in state led violence.
It was a period of Hoover in the FBI, and heading cointelpro, to destroy the Civil Rights and the Liberation movements coming out of the 1950’s and 60’s. It was a time when local sheriffs did not allow protest demonstrations of any kind. People were afraid to protest. The KKK was bombing churches with impunity and the National Guard was shooting students on campus for protesting the Vietnam War.
This was a time before freeways, before shopping malls, before the development of concepts of inner city, and suburbs, and when Blacks were called Negros, and Mexicans called Spanish. It was also the awakening of the Black Liberation and Chicano Liberation movements. There was a cultural rebirth taking place going in search of our Indigenous roots, culture and knowledge.
But it was a time of dire poverty, and living and social conditions more in line with the so called Third World underdevelopment. This period was post two World Wars and the atomic bombs detonated over Japan. It was a period also of many uprisings and anti colonial and national liberation struggles in Indochina, in Africa, and Latin America and Caribbean. The Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, Allende, Lumbumba and later the Central American Wars.
Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela.
It has been said that 1968 was the year of revolution world wide and it brought back the anti colonial struggles, in practice and theory, of CLR Lewis, Cesar Amire, Franz Fanon, Walter Rodney, to name a few, important because they challenges the euro-centric interpretation of the world culturally and historically, citing the development of China, Africa, India and the Maya, Aztec (Mexia), and Inca civilizations way before Europe discovered the Atlantic.
These ‘liberation’ thinkers sought to restore the center the epistemology, the root knowledge, back to the ‘global south’ of thousands of years before 1492, and the European colonialism, slavery, capitalism and racism. Modernization starts with that colonialism and capitalism in 1492. Post modernism is the 21 st century moment of this continuous process and the globalization of capital.
Rising UP against Poverty…ie., Farmworkers
The 1968 uprising had as its core value the struggle to uplift the poor and end poverty. They fought poverty. The poorest of the poor were Indigenous, Blacks and Browns. Both men rose up against poverty, by organizing the people directly affected by the systems of oppression. The motivation may have had theology of liberation roots, and systemic change was imagined as a world with exploitation and poverty.
Both men active in the Civil Rights period came to be recognized as National Leaders of political importance. 50 YEARS LATER we are celebrating the 50 years of Freedom Summer, and the Voting Rights Act, and the landmark Civil Rights Act and racial desegregation can we see in practice what these two men and the social movement then had as an imagined: another world is possible.
They took on the system resulting in State Violence with impunity in 20th century (assassinations and violence to suppress the movements and people)
However we see or, think of the efforts of Cesar Chavez and or Martin L King, they did take on the system; they shook the power structure of oppression, and for this they paid with their lives. State violence took its toll on both men, their families in the attempt to crush the social movements and the organizing of farmworkers.
How are we ReGenerating their struggle and their legacy?
3 examples are as follow:
Farmworkers today: Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The struggle against poverty, the struggle of farmworkers for justice continues today on the shoulders of Cesar Chavez and the many farmworkers who made the unionization possible. Cesar impacted in the mass movement with such organizations as follows;
CATA (East Coast)
In the global south Via Campesina, Movimiento Sin Tierra in Brazil.
Today, in the US the shinning example of the Cesar strategy, is the Immokalee Workers in Florida who have in their Just Food Campaign forced to the table to sign agreements dozens of major and global companies like Mc Donalds, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, etc. These are Mexican, Central American and Haitian farmworkers, international workers, moved to work in the US because they have been dislocated and displaced from their ancestral lands by ‘free trade’.
Southern Movement Assembly (SMA) and Southern Movement Alliance
The Southern Movement Assembly, a convergence of grassroots social movements in the SOUTH fighting and working for systemic social change. The Southern Movement Assembly has had four assemblies bringing together about 100 social movement organizations. The first SMA was in Lowndnes County, at the site of the Freedom Tent City. The second in Jacksonville, Florida the only city that did not allow MLK to speak or gather. The third SMA was in Dothan, Alabama, and the fourth and most recent in Atlanta.
The Southern Movement Assembly has brought together new formations and organizations into the Southern Freedom Movement of the 21st Century. The SMA is a ‘decolonizing’ movement of convergence based on the principle that we are stronger together than we are separate.
We are more clear what we are against then what we are for …and this challenges is being met by un-educating and un-learning the trappings of a Euro centric system; new colonial systems of racial oppression, class and gender.
MLK, Cesar Chavez and I share the same struggle to decolonize peoples rights. To take fear away from peoples minds is step one. To re-member the body of the oppressed dismembered by colonial racism and violence and reGenerate the person whole. That is self determination and that is our goal.
Cesar’s dream to decolonize the labor of the farmworker is now a living example of the mission of the Immokalee workers and the University Sin Fronteras, both members of the Southern Movement Assembly. Immokalle workers in organizing the farmworker and fighting modern slavery, and the University Sin Fronteras that works to create the ReGeneration of our original cultural & scientific knowledge (African & Indigenous epistemology) and the new knowledge creation in the social environment of the 21st century.
The University Sin Fronteras, A University without Walls and without and beyond borders, works in Atlanta, San Antonio, D}San Juan, Detroit, Jacksonville, and Bemidji. It has a Liberation Spring Semester coming up soon, a Freedom Summer Semester and an Emancipation Autumn semester as its annual calendar. University Sin Fronteras has about 400 student participants per year since 2012. It was founded in 2011.
21 st century 50th yr of freedom summer, State Violence today: re-colonization and new Jim Crow/Confederacy
Katrina….to Ferguson to Ayotzinapa (State Violence)…
Katrina brought about US Social Forum in Atlanta, and that led to the second USSF in Detroit. Atlanta is at the cross roads of the Southern Movement Assembly with the leadership in part of Project South. It also marked the mass displacement in the global south resulting in 10 millions migrant workers both with and without papers, forced to move to the US South to the new plantation.
The new confederacy, the marriage between the plantation and corporate powers that moved into the South starting in the 1980’s. Sanford, Florida Angela Corey and the conflicts and contradictions around the killing of Trayvon and jailing of Marissa. When you have a war against Black young peoples Lives….then Black lives matter…and when Migrant die at the US-Mexico border then Migrant lives matter…because an injury to one is an injury to all of us…all of poor peoples lives matter and oppressed peoples.
The Southern Movement Assembly will launch the Southern Peoples’ Movement Initiative, a two year drive 2015-17, in a move to become pro-active and turn to being on the offensive and not just defensive. The SPMI is based on the principle of sovereignty and self determination. It is about developing legislation whether it be in the form of an official referendum or ballot initiative, but also extra legal that is creating ‘safe communities’ or harm free communities. We have the will, power and numbers to develop and organize the communities we want.
What do we want as community governance?
A society without wars and violence
A society of equity and mutuality
A multi cultural; multi ethnic and multi lingual society
A multi ideological and plural-political society
A society without economic exploitation
A gender equity society
A plural-sexual orientation and family society
Universal education free for all
Universal living wage
Universal housing for all
Universal right to water
Another World is Possible and another US is necessary!
WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER THAN SEPERATE