Cesar Chavez

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"Thank you, Cesar, for the Incredible Memories!"

We first heard about the boycott of grapes in 1971, from a seminarian at Moreau Seminary at the University of Notre Dame in So. Bend, Indiana.  He had his nose broken on a picket line in CA.  We then worked as volunteers for 2 years in So. Bend, Indiana as we picketed Kroger stores after A&P sided with the boycott of grapes.

During that time, we went inside a local migrant camp near So Bend, Ind. and encountered the atrocities of daily living when a father of a family of 10 lived in one room in a Quonset hut of 30 families.  There were two toilets for the men and two for the women.  The father had committed suicide. 

At a later time, after talking with Eliseo Medina in Chicago about joining the UFW full time for $5 a week per working adult, we joined Cesar Chavez full time as a family of five from Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1973.  We were assigned to La Paz, CA.  Our three daughters, Debbie, Karen, and Cindy went to school in Tehachapi, CA.  We lived at the abandoned TB sanatorium hospital in the recreation room.  We remembered Helen Chavez in her office in the former TB morgue.  Working there was very difficult for her, but she did it.

Thought we would be at La Paz for 1 year.  Silly people that we were - in 2 months we were sent after the “NO on 22” campaign in CA to the inner city ghetto in Jersey City, New Jersey, where we worked with Marcos Munoz.  Incredible experiences. We needed the necessities of life – Food, Clothing and Shelter.  Thank you, Cesar for showing us how to organize. 

In New Jersey, our three daughters went to a Catholic school where nuns took them in with free tuition, since the Catholic Church supported LA CAUSA.  We lived in a New Jersey brownstone with 25 organizers and farmworkers who were bussed in from CA.  Everyone had their house chores and went out to the picket lines daily.  I was in charge of the office, cooked donated food for the 25 people and had my own house meetings in the eve, and several picket lines every Saturday.  We worked 18 hour days, had our story printed in the Bergen County News, we were on the TV “Sesame Street” as a family on the Boycott, and the stories went on.  Wow!  Had our sit-ins in grocery stores, were arrested several times on picket lines, and knew we had the Supreme Court decision on our side which allowed us to be in front of those stores.  When I was arrested after setting up a picket line of eight people and having no ID, we sued the city of Kearny, NJ for $2 million for false arrest, went to court with our free lawyers and won $500. 

At another time, while on a picket line, I asked a nearby policeman to remove a screaming store manager from me so that I would not forget I was supposed to be non-violent.

Another story on a picket line, the store manager thought I was a regular customer, looked at the two nuns I had placed in full habit picketing in front of the store.  I asked him what Christ would have done.  He was furious.  I then went to move the nuns and took their place at the front door when the manager was about to hit me in the face.  Many thanks to a passing woman who intervened. 

We were on the George Washington Bridge with our human billboards as cars were going into Manhattan.  Reactions - Waves, Thumbs up, Thumbs down of a driver, when the woman next to him slapped his face.  Very interesting…

One time, I had to speak at an AFL-CIO convention in Atlantic City, NJ.  I said I could not do it.  I finally talked to myself and said that with my education, I had NO EXCUSE! I was accompanied by two farmworkers.  At the end, we had everyone in tears with the donations sent to CA.

In 1974 we were reassigned to Pittsburgh, PA working with Frank Ortiz.  We lived again in a ghetto, in a duplex convent with a wonderful Sister of Mercy who happened to be the principal of the small Catholic school, which our daughters attended. 

I once placed a nun in full religious outfit in front of a liquor store while picketing Gallo Wines.  A drunk asked her why she was there, after her explanation; he promised he would never buy Gallo wines. 

Another fond memory.  While I set up a picket line in the South Side of Pittsburgh, John Heinz (of Heinz foods) of Pittsburgh, came up to me and shook my hand in support of the Boycott.

After our 5 years with the UFW, I went back to teaching high school in PA.  As a business teacher, I taught Business Law. When the topic came to civil disobedience, I talked about Cesar Chavez and the UFW.  Then when “The Grapes of Wrath” was read in English classes, I was asked to talk about our experiences with the UFW movement along with the video of pesticides in the fields. 

Now life has taken me back to my home state of Maine after 50 years. We now have the yearly Cesar Chavez Birthday Memorial in Portland, Maine.  This year, I had my picture taken at the event with my boycott paraphernalia (40 year-old picket signs, the poster-sized Cesar Chavez stamp, and UFW flags) AND Christine Chavez, one of Cesar’s 32 grandchildren who presently works along with her husband at the US Dept of Agriculture in Washington, DC. What a sweetheart, and an excellent speaker about her grandfather, Cesar Chavez.  How many of us have a grandfather on a US stamp? 

After having graduated from St. Joseph’s Catholic College in Maine many many years ago, there will be an article in their magazine about our time with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers.  The College has taken pictures for the magazine cover for June of 2012.

Life moves on in interesting ways.  Thank you, Cesar, for the incredible memories. Your house meetings and organizing really worked.  You did it all so well!

You are my Martin Luther King.  Cesar Chavez also had a dream.

Pauline Cormier

“Pittsburgh PA Responds”
Submitted by Molly Rush on March 15, 2012
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I got involved with the grape boycott in the 1960s through the Catholic Interracial Council of Pittsburgh and later through the Thomas Merton Center, which was founded in 1972. At some point Al and Elena Rojas and their four children came from California to live and work as organizers. They moved into the convent at St. Joseph, Manchester, where Fr. Jack O’Malley was pastor. We became friends and remain so to this day.  My children played with the Rojas kids. Elena introduced me to enchiladas - hers were the best!
I took part in a lot of picket lines and supported and worked for both the grape and the lettuce boycotts. We worked to educate the public and we picketed and leafleted grocery stores and produce vendors in the Strip, where fresh produce was distributed. Pittsburgh was very active in supporting the UFW.
A favorite story: I ordered a hamburger at Eat ‘n’ Park in Dormont, where I live. I asked.
the waitress, “Do you use head lettuce?”  “Oh, no,” she said. “It’s shredded.”
The Thomas Merton Center, an activist ministry for justice and peace, opened an office in 1972 - we just celebrated our 40th anniversary. I was on staff for over 30 years. This is part of an article on the Teamsters contract that replaced the UFW agreement. It appeared in the July 1973 issue of our paper, The New People:
On Friday, June 22 nearly 100 pickets jammed the sidewalk in front of the A&P in Oakland from six to eight P.M. Immediately afterward there was a strategy meeting at the University and City Ministry Building where plans were laid for further action on Saturday.
Saturday saw several dozen people have a “park-in” at the lot of the A&P and then a “Shop-in” inside the store. While several people talked to the manager others loaded shopping carts with items thus tying up many of the carts. One of the stock persons began to hassle one of the shoppers and in the wake of all of this activity four persons were arrested and charged with trespassing and criminal mischief. Bond was set and the four later were given a hearing whereupon they were fined $80 each.
On Monday of this week the A&P filed a request with local courts for a ban on picketing at their Oakland store. A settlement was reached limiting the number of pickets to seven at each store and A&P continued their efforts to have the courts label the action a secondary boycott.
The August, 1973 issue carried a page one story on the grand jury investigation of payoffs by growers to Teamster officials. It went on to quote Fr. Reid C. Mayo, President of the National Federation of Priest Councils, who joined UFW picket lines in support. “It was an exhilarating experience. The faith of these God-fearing people is good for the soul to see. How these men, women and children were able to resist the taunts, ridicule, and debasement they received from the ‘security guards’ of the Teamsters is something I am not able to explain. We too were subjected to their insults and vile remarks for being present with the farmworkers.”
45 members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men called the dispute an issue of “self-determination”: “the right of farmworkers to exercise freely - without coercion - their choice as to who will represent them in their struggle for a more equitable share in the fruits of their labor.”.....
—-Molly Rush

Submitted by Marc Grossman on February 28, 2012
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I first became active with the United Farm Workers at the age of 19, as an undergraduate at UC Irvine in the late 1960s, picketing Alpha Beta and other supermarkets after class, on weekends and during school breaks. Since then I’ve earned two college degrees. But the most important lessons I learned in my life came from working with Cesar and the movement…lessons about commitment and sacrifice, about what it means to be part of a cause that’s bigger than you are.
I knew Cesar the last 24 years of his life. For much of that time I served as his spokesman, speechwriter and personal aide. It is still my privilege to serve as a spokesman for the UFW and as communications director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
Several years ago someone asked me how a nice Jewish boy like me got hooked up with the likes of Cesar Chavez. I replied that history has always been a love of mine; my undergraduate degree from UC is in American history. It was a keen interest in farm labor history that I shared with Cesar. But once I met him, got to know him and understand what he was trying to do, I figured out it would be a lot more interesting to be a part of history than to just read about it.
No one can live in the past. There’s an old saying that, “The time and tides wait for no man.” But all of us stand in the shoes of those who came before us. For those of us in the farm worker movement, there are some very big shoes to fill. I don’t just mean people like Cesar Chavez. The best thing that ever happened to me was the honor and privilege of being associated all these years with so many good men and women, most of whom are not famous, who worked with me in the movement.
When I think of the long road we have traveled together all these years what comes to mind is that passage from the Book of Ruth: “Where you go, I shall go. Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.”