If you walk into my home office you will see two posters one of Emiliano Zapata and the other of Cesar Chavez. Both of these men struggled for the rights of the poor and oppressed and organized movements that changed society; however, the tactics they used to achieve this social change differed greatly. As we approach his birthday on March 31, I would like to reflect on the example of change set forth by Cesar Chavez.
Chavez once said:
Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
No one lived these words better than the man himself. Cesar Chavez modeled a deeper meaning of nonviolence, not just as a way of acting but as a basic principle of life. He realized that in order to change the world, he had to be willing to start with himself; therefore, in 1962, he resigned from his post of national director of the Community Service Organization and founded the United Farm Workers of America. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the Southern Civil Rights movement, Chavez humbly led the union for more than three decades with nonviolence as the guiding tenet for all of his actions. Even in the face of violent attacks from landowners and growers, Chavez maintained his commitment to nonviolence, organizing and participating in successful strikes and boycotts, as well as fasting for nearly a month on several occasions to send a message to farm workers, who began to speak of responding in kind to the violent assaults against them. Chavez sacrificed personally, going days without eating, earning less than $6,000 a year, never owning a house, and leaving his family with no savings upon his death in April of 1993, but his sacrifice and dedication won fair wages, medical coverage, humane living conditions, and above all dignity and respect for farm workers. Cesar Chavez was an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary feats, always believing que sí se puede.
Join me in signing the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the United Farm Workers petition asking President Obama to create a National Day of Service on Cesar Chavez’s Birthday. I praise both organizations for their work and encourage others to join their efforts, bringing to life the words of Cesar Chavez:
When you have people together who believe in something very strongly whether its religion or politics or unions, things happen . We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.
In this time, when so much emphasis is placed on self-preservation and retaliation, may the words and legacy of Cesar Chavez inspire and challenge us all to become the peace we seek in our community and in the world.