César Chaves Peaceful Protest Essay

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Over time, discrimination has tended to pose a common threat amongst many individuals fighting for equality and justice. The fight for human rights has been a common theme in the evolution of the United States and has played a substantial role in the history of this country. To this day, people across the globe are fighting a constant battle in which they are not asking for anything obscene or unlawful- they are demanding basic human rights. Human rights should be guaranteed by that of the U.S. Constitution nonetheless. Discrimination has proven to take a toll on particular groups of people- whether that be based on race, physical abilities, gender- you name it. However, the fight for equality and human rights has time and time again shown to be a constant struggle many individuals face- especially for migrant farmers in the United States during the 20th century. Cesar Chavez is particularly appreciated for the significant role he played in the Farm Workers Movement, not to mention his overall impact on Mexican-American history. According to Matt S. Meier, “Cesar Chavez’s struggle for the human dignity of workers in harvest agriculture made him a world-recognized Mexican-American leader and a national metaphor for equality, humanity, and social justice” (Meier 73). Honored as a humanitarian today, Chavez is admired for his non-violent approaches in efforts to protest injustice and fight for equality. A notable mention is how he undertook a 25-day fast to promote non-violent protest and equal opportunity in not just the San Joaquin Valley, but beyond as well (Gotheimer 1). He used militant nonviolence to advocate for basic human rights among farmers nationwide. To stand up for farmer’s rights, how did Cesar Chavez play such a significant role in the Farm Workers Movement- and ultimately change Mexican-American history?

This essay will analyze not only how Cesar Chavez stood up for farmers' rights, but how he played such a significant role in the Farm Workers Movement and Mexican-American history. Specifically speaking, Cesar Chavez impacted the rights of farmers as well as making a positive difference in Mexican-American history through the use of peaceful protests, strikes, fasting, and the establishment of the National Farm Workers Association. In the year of 1965, Cesar Chavez organized a strike against the San Joaquin Valley, California grape growers, protesting the unreasonably low wages grape harvesters were receiving for their pay (Gotheimer 1). Farmers were growing sick and tired of the injustice taking place, so Cesar Chavez took a stand. However, in response to his peaceful protests, Chavez was unfortunately wrongly accused of using “violence and terror tactics'' by the president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, E.L. Barr, Jr in 1969. In a letter responding to E.L. Barr, Jr., Cesar Chavez addressed this accusation and stated that he is fighting non-violently for the poor and dispossessed farmers who are mere human beings and should have rights that enable them to be treated as such. In his letter, he stated, “They have been under the gun, they have been kicked and beaten and herded by dogs, they have been cursed and ridiculed, they have been stripped and chained and jailed, they have been sprayed with the poisons used in the vineyards, but they have been taught not to lie down and die nor to flee in shame, but to resist with every ounce of human endurance and spirit.” In this statement, Chavez is showing that while farmers may be mistreated and taken advantage of, they will continue to stay strong and persevere against the injustice. In his letter to President Barr, Jr. he also stated that together, he and the farm workers advocate nonviolent assertion as a means for social revolution and to achieve justice for their people, however, they are not ignorant of the discrimination and indignation that they may face in response (Chavez 1). As one could see, Chavez was very adamant about engaging in peaceful protests to get his message across rather than using violence and ill will.

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Cesar Chavez strongly emphasized that, unlike the Mexican Revolution, the struggle of agricultural laborers would be nonviolent. He deeply stressed the agricultural laborers' desire for dignified change and used several non-violent approaches to initiate change (Finkelman 381). He wanted change, but not change shed through blood. Chavez argued that farmers did not want the charity or sympathy of farm owners but rather, they simply wanted the basic rights that should be expected and given to all free men. Farm workers wanted the same rights that were granted to other laborers in the United States, which included fair wages for their labor and safe working conditions. Furthermore, he asseverated that despite any opposition, the agricultural laborers’ struggle would continue to live on until the movement achieved its goals- if not, they would die trying to achieve them (Finkelman 381). His strong character and perseverance helped set the tone for the Chicano Movement, allowing so many Mexican-Americans to feel pride in their culture, and to stand up for their rights.

In addition to being an advocate for social justice amongst farmers, Cesar Chavez also played a substantial role in labor history. It is without a doubt he was a significant civil rights leader among many Mexican Americans and Latino groups who had suffered from ‘internal colonialism’ and had been treated as inferior second-class citizens in the United States (Koo-Byoung 1). Cesar Chavez used means of protests and strikes to shed light on the political, economic, and racial injustice experienced among many Mexican descendants throughout the United States. Although Chavez saw himself as more of a labor organizer than an ethnic movement leader, the farm workers’ struggle that he led initiated the Chicano movement which began in the late 1960s. This movement was strongly embraced by many Chicanos to not only show pride in their cultural heritage but validate their cultural citizenship as well (Koo-Byoung 1). Because of this, many Mexican-Americans were beginning to feel inspired to embrace their ethnic heritage and stand up for their rights.

Chavez strongly supported legislative reforms that improved the lives of all farm workers, despite whether or not they belonged to the union and directly benefited from collective bargaining. In 1966, Cesar Chavez led a farmworkers union in the successful Delano, California grape strike and first national boycott. This infamous Delano March spread on for several miles, gaining the attention of countless American bystanders. The union became part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in 1966 and later changed to the United Farmworkers of America (Bruns 1). The legacy of Cesar Chavez has proven to live on throughout time. For instance, the UFW (United Farm Workers) continues to proudly carry on its fight for equality amongst farmers with several recent cutting-edge legislative and regulatory victories (Rodriguez 1). In addition, laws were passed requiring strict safety standards relating to unsafe farm labor vans. Furthermore, emergency relief, as well as unemployment benefits, were offered to farm workers who were struck by unprecedented agricultural freezes. This kind of help made all the difference for farmers who desperately needed aid and assistance (Rodriguez 1). Furthermore, the UFW convinced former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue the first state heat regulation in the nation, aiming to forestall more farm workers from dying or becoming ill due to exposure or extreme heat (Rodriguez 1). These are just a few ways in which Chavez has influenced later generations to become more mindful and take better care of farm workers.

In the 1960s, a group of migrant farm workers was organized, many of whom were Mexican Americans. As previously mentioned, most of these laborers worked extremely long, strenuous 12-hour days in return for unbelievably low wages and thus lived in poverty. The securities of federal labor laws still excluded them, majorly because of resistance from wealthy and powerful growers. In 1962, Cesar Chavez formed the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), initially to create a union for California’s grape pickers, which then turned into the long-term planning of the organization of farm laborers nationwide. Chavez led his union activities with the hopes of igniting a more grand effort to attain dignity and equal opportunities on behalf of so many oppressed Mexican Americans, a struggle he referred to as “La Causa” (Reef 259).

In 1965, some 2,000 members of the NFWA voted to align with the newly established AFL-CIO group to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. This new union coordinated together and combined forces, striking the California vineyards and subsequently against the grape growers (Reef 259). It was evident that together, they became stronger and made more of an impact. Interest in the strike rapidly gained momentum and spread far beyond the state, leading to a nationwide boycott of California grapes. According to statistics, the sales of grapes were reduced so much that sales were estimated to be cut in half as millions of people showed their support for the strikers protesting where produce was sold (Reef 260). In 1970, twenty-six growers reached an agreement with the United Farm Workers. In the book “Working in America”, author Catherine Reef asserts that while the organizations have helped solve some of the problems faced by migrant laborers, many of these fellow workers still face many struggles and continue to live in poverty.

While many individuals may argue that Cesar Chavez heavily impacted not only the Farm Workers Movement but the future of farm workers as well, some may concur that his contributions to later generations were not as influential. Perhaps his impact on farm workers was not as long-lasting nor as long-term as he had hoped for. Initially, when the AFL-CIO was formed in 1955, its leaders expected to double their numbers within the following decade. They saw the joining together of two giant labor federations as a chance to extend the benefits of union membership to millions of people nationwide. This being said, however, their hopes failed to actualize. AFL-CIO membership in 1964 was relatively equivalent to what it was in 1955 (Reef 260). In addition, while the workforce was growing, the number of workers in unions remained the same, and the percentage of nonagricultural workers in unions was decreasing (Reef 260). On the other hand, union membership prevailed in the steel, automotive, transportation, and construction industries, and organized labor continued to be a powerful economic and political force (Reef, 260).

Furthermore, many companies desiring to cut costs found ways to avoid implementing the salaries and benefits requested in union contracts. In the mid-1960s, several manufacturers began to move some of their operations to more rural areas in the West and South, where a nonunion labor force was willing to work for lower wages (Reef 261). Some greedy companies managed to dodge the farmers’ fight for better wages and find loopholes that would enable them to make more money. Time and time again, employees in unions would find themselves getting left behind in crumbling firms that barely acquired any recognition or assets.

More recently, the desire for cheaper labor has provoked many U.S. firms to relocate their manufacturing operations overseas. While Cesar Chavez fought so hard for change and justice, many greedy companies found loopholes and ways to find cheap labor elsewhere. In the 1970s, the energy crises caused extreme recessions and high inflation. Furthermore, the federal government responded to the public’s demand for lower prices by denationalizing the airline and trucking industries between 1977 and 1980, fully depending on the free-market system to drive rates down (Reef 261). Consequently, several airlines and trucking firms ended up either merging or going out of business. The economy bounced back after the recessions, and employment increased rapidly as technology advanced. Despite this, however, union membership receded in most industries. Large unions in the steel, automotive, trucking, and building firms each lost between 500,000 and 827,000 members from 1978 to 1991 (Reef 261).

While it is clear that there were some bumps in the road so to speak in Chavez’s ambitions to achieve more rights and better wages as well as improved working conditions for farm workers, it is also quite evident that his works did make a difference in not only the Farm Workers movement but in Mexican-American history as well. Cesar Chavez was ultimately successful in spreading the message of the farm workers’ struggle in addition to promoting non-violence, human rights, better wages for farm workers, as well as education and better life for their kids. Additionally, he shed light on the harsh realities of the life of a migrant farm worker and exposed so many injustices and shocking truths that so many of these individuals were facing each day. He spoke up against the exploitation so many farm workers had to face- extremely tiresome labor for such low pay, exposure to poisonous pesticides, and lack of education. Because of his leadership and commitment to obtaining justice for farm workers, powerful agribusiness interests were forced to face issues of social responsibility, decent wages, humane work and housing conditions, and pesticide abuse (Meier 73). Not only did Cesar Chavez become a voice for so many oppressed farm workers, but he touched the lives of millions and made a significant difference in their lives.

So in conclusion, while it did take quite some time for Chavez to achieve his goals in attaining more rights and better working conditions for farm workers, he still made a huge impact in Mexican-American history and the Farm Workers movement. In addition, his actions helped ignite what became known as the Chicano Movement, and his works as a humanitarian continue to inspire many individuals today in the fight for equality and human rights. His establishment of the National Farm Workers Association sparked somewhat of a cultural revolution and helped unite so many oppressed migrant farm workers against the discrimination and injustice they were facing. Cesar Chavez played an extremely significant role in the Farm Workers' movement and impacted Mexican-American history as we knew it. His legacy lives on to this day and he continues to be a role model to many in the fight for human rights.

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