In my early twenties, I lived in NY City’s Lower East Side, back when it was still a risky place to live. My work was mostly odd jobs—painting apartments, making posters, selling books on the street. For several years, I volunteered for the UFW as a “store checker,” going around to nearly a dozen grocery stores in the vicinity to see if their produce was union labeled—thanking the seller if it was and talking with them if it wasn’t. It was very gratifying.
One summer I volunteered with the UFW in California, living with other activists, tabling, picketing, helping in other ways, and writing articles on topics that weren’t getting enough attention – like the power of nonviolence, or a government report on farm labor conditions.
Earlier I had met long-time UFW activist Jim Drake with whom I worked in California. I had gone on demonstrations with him and wrote several articles tapping his experience and my growing awareness of UFW issues that moved me. Some were published in places like Commonweal, Christianity & Crisis, and American Report, and a few seemed to have had an impact. I published a small book of writings on social change, donating the profits to the UFW’s Nonviolence Center to help raise the visibility of the needs of farmworkers and the importance of nonviolence in the struggle.
I think that the UFW spirit has stayed with me ever since as I’ve worked as an organizer and activist – with low income elderly people in NY City and Oakland, and in recent years in faith-based organizing in the Seattle area. While I’ve earned half or a third of what my friends have made, many of them have come to envy my choices. I’ve also continued to read and share articles on Cesar Chavez, the UFW, as well as other social change figures who help bolster my spirits and my commitment to do all I can for nonviolence and justice.
One of the results of that interest is an exhibit for conferences, schools, and events called the “Wall of Hope,” a display of more than 140 brief stories of social change movements and heroes like the Farmworkers, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta. Over 600 schools and events have used it to help share stories of nonviolent social change. It is posted on the Peace & Justice Resource Center website (www.pjrcbooks.org near the bottom of the right-hand column); Lutheran Peace Fellowship under the name “Path of Hope” (www.lutheranpeace.org*); and the San Antonio PeaceCenter website under the name “The Great Peace March” (www.salsa.net/peace, click on Peacetools first, near the top on the right).
Thank you UFW for all you have given people like myself, and to our country and the world!
Glen Gersmehl, Seattle
(I’d be happy to clarify, edit, or expand on any of this if you wish.
You asked if I met or knew Cesar Chavez: I met him several times, but didn’t really get to know him.
*Here is the direct link to the LPF version of the Path of Hope, http://members.tripod.com/~lutheran_peace/path-of-hope.htm )