Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen, BVN

Last Updated on April 2, 2022 by BVN

Breanna Reeves |

In an act that continues to honor the legacy of labor activist Cesar Chavez, farm workers and supporters across California hosed demonstrations to question why Governor Newsom didn’t support an agricultural bill, on what would have been Chavez’s 95th birthday on March 31, 2022. 

According to the United Farm Workers (UFW), the largest farm workers’ union in the U.S., Newsom declined to meet with elected farm worker leaders to discuss the bill which would provide more choices in how farm workers can vote in their union elections. As the law stands now, laborers vote in union elections on a grower’s property.

Cesar Chavez (Lower), Dolores Huerta, a Chicana activist (Center)  and Larry Itliong, a Filipino labor organizer (Top). (equal justice society.org).

AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), is intended to give farm workers options with regard to voting in union elections. The bill will also help reduce intimidation from supervisors, according to UFW. AB 2183 was reintroduced after a former version of the bill, AB 616, was vetoed by the governor last September. In his rejection of the bill, the governor stated in a letter that the bill contained “various inconsistencies and procedural issues.” 

“Why won’t Gov. Gavin Newsom meet on Cesar Chavez Day with elected farm worker leaders over a vital issue that directly impacts their lives?” UFW President Teresa Romero asked in a UFW press release about the event. 

The gatherings were scheduled to occur throughout the day on Cesar Chavez Day across 13 cities, one of which will take place in Coachella, where union farm workers once marched through to protest non-citizen farm labor in 1973.

Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Founded by Chavez in 1962, the National Farm Workers Association — later named the United Farm Workers — was spearheaded by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, a Chicana activist and Larry Itliong, a Filipino labor organizer. The UFW is guided by a “si se puede” attitude that promotes confidence, courage and hard work. The organization fought to protect farm workers across the agricultural industry by establishing laws and regulations that support farm workers’ rights and protections.

A community organizer and civil rights activist, Chavez worked throughout his life to advocate on behalf of the Latino community and farm workers. While working with the Community Service Organization, Chavez led voter registration drives and campaigns against racial economic discrimination throughout Calfornia. 

A man of the people, Chavez led the farm worker movement and created systems such as the first credit union for farm workers and childcare programs to help improve the circumstances of people in the community.

Chavez’s dedication to the movement was commended by activists and leaders across the nation, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who sent a telegram to Chavez during Chavez’s 25-day fast for nonviolence in 1968. 

King wrote, “I am deeply moved by your courage in fasting as your personal sacrifice for justice through nonviolence…My colleagues and I commend you for your bravery, salute you for your indefatigable work against poverty and injustice, and pray for your health and your continuing service as one of the outstanding men of America.”

King sent a telegram to Chavez in 1968, commending Chavez for his dedication to the farm worker movement and improving the lives of those in his community (Image: libraries.ucsd.edu).

Chavez and King never met, but they admired one another and shared correspondence. In a speech honoring King called “Lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Chavez recalled what King’s legacy taught him.

“Dr. King’s dedication to the rights of the workers who are so often exploited by the forces of greed has profoundly touched my life and guided my struggle. During my first fast in 1968, Dr. King reminded me that our struggle was his struggle too. He sent me a telegram which said ‘Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity,’” Chavez said in his speech.

Prior to his speech, Chavez led farm workers in a nonviolent march from Delano, CA to the capitol in Sacramento in 1966, just as King led a nonviolent march from Selma, AL to the capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Both marches were executed in order to demand justice for the community; for King justice meant demanding voting rights for Black people in the South and for Chavez justice was demanding improved labor legislation for farm workers.

Continued fight for rights

Today, the UFW carries on the work started by Chavez by organizing farm workers, growing the union and advocating for improved working conditions and fair pay for farm workers.

Martin Luther King led a nonviolent march from Selma, AL to the capitol in Montgomery in 1965. (Left), Cesar Chavez led farm workers in a nonviolent march from Delano, CA to the capitol in Sacramento in 1966. (Right)

As farm workers carry out demonstrations across the state on Cesar Chavez Day, they are also organizing a march for the upcoming summer, also known as a peregrinacion (pilgrimage), across the Central Valley to make their demands known to Newsom. Just as Cesar Chavez and labor leaders led a farm workers march from Delano, CA to Sacramento, a 300-mile pilgrimage, in 1966, farm workers today plan to do the same to make their grievances known and demand the passage of legislation.
“Fifty-six years ago, farm workers marched from Delano to Sacramento because their legitimate grievances were being ignored by those in power,” said Romero in a statement. “They will do so once again this year in the heat of summer.”

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.