Dolores Huerta: Sow the seeds of justice

If you were around in the 1960s you likely remember boycotting grapes or other people doing so. And you probably remember the movement to create the United Farm Workers Union in California being led by Cesar Chavez. If you were in the audience at San Juan Community Theatre on Monday, January 29, you now have a much better, more accurate understanding of how the UFW Union was created and who was involved.

Dolores Huerta is one of the most important but least well known activists. She co-founded the movement with Chavez when she was in her 20s and served on its board until she resigned at age 70. Shortly after her resignation she started her own foundation and has continually been an advocate for the rights of others.

She and Chavez started organizing the farm workers in Delano, California after Huerta, a mother of seven children and in the midst of a divorce from her second husband, quit her teaching job and moved there. She had no idea where her next meal was coming from. She felt she had to live with the workers in order for them to feel that it wasn't a matter of outsiders coming in and telling them what to do.

Answering a question from the audience, she said, "When it looks like the odds are against you, you have to just keep going. Somehow I found the courage to do what I did. I was a schoolteacher when I decided to move to Delanos...I just felt I had to do it. You have to take the risk, if you don't take the risk nothing will happen."

The film, which will be shown on PBS on March 22, shows in news footage, still photography, and interviews with other activists including Gloria Steinem and many of Huerta's 11 children, a riveting account of how determined and optimistic she was during the decades of fighting for social justice.

She was standing next to Robert Kennedy as he gave his speech after winning the California Primary in 1968. He was a strong advocate for the farm workers and they had worked hard to register people to vote and support him. His tragic assassination immediately after the short speech, in addition to dealing a horrific emotional toll could have been a devastating blow to the movement.

Still Huerta persisted and the film shows how she and Cesar succeeded in creating the UFW only to have to fight the Teamster Union who tried to bully their way in to take over after the first three-year contract was up.

When asked what we can do now, faced with global warming, racism, economic inequality, etc. Huerta said, "You need to come together and take direct action. Just remember the 60s and come out stronger than ever."

She quoted a Pablo Neruda poem. “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

She said, "Sow the seeds of justice. Come back a lot with the full force of the flowers."

She enumerated ways people can become activists. "Voting is number one. I've been traveling with the film all around the country, like a crazy lady. The reason I've been doing that, I've been imploring people to please get involved. Not only to vote, but to get out there and knock on doors if you can, do the phone banking. Volunteer to get good people into office. That's like the number one thing people can do. Get people to run for office also. Make sure they get in positions of power. If we're going to make policy changes, the only way to make a policy change is sitting on that commission, legislature, city councils, school boards, etc and make those changes."

She noted one change that needs to be made in Washington state, is legislation to restore the voting rights of the 300,000 citizens who are being denied their right to vote because they owe restitution. If the court orders you to pay restitution, you cannot vote until it is completely paid up.

She stressed the importance of unions saying without them there can be no middle class and ultimately no democracy.

Arguably, her most important message of the night came in her answer to a young woman concerned about those who feel like they don't belong.

"The racism you are seeing right now, the overt racism, the people of color we have always lived with that. I'm a fifth-generation American. My grandfather fought in the Civil War. My dad was in the military. With the discrimination, we've always felt that you don't belong here.

"I think we have a way we can change that and also address the racism we have in our society. I think we have a structure in place in the U.S. to do this. It's called our educational system. We need to change the content. We need to start teaching in pre- kindergarten of the contributions people of color did for this country.

"Starting with the Native Americans whose land we sit on, we have never thanked them or paid them back or compensated them for the land we took from them, or the genocide.

"Then the African slaves, they built the White House and the Congress and all the buildings that they have in Washington, D.C. Thomas Jefferson's house in Virginia built by African slaves. They don't teach us that in our school books. And all the immigrants that came from Mexico, and from the Phillipines and from Japan and China and India that were brought here to build.

"All these immigrants, we need to teach that. So that the children of color never feel disrespected because they are not taught that what their people did to build this country. That this country was built by immigrants.

"Unless we do that, then our white children will always have that voice of white supremacy because somehow they think they did it all. We have to do it. Now is the time to do it. The cancer of racism is destroying our country and our world.

"We've got to start teaching our children so we can stop this crazy racism."

The Dolores Huerta Foundation is a grass-roots community organization dedicated to creating networks of healthy, organized communities pursuing social justice. The DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy.

For more information about the Dolores Huerta Foundation, visit

To view the movie trailer visit

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