Saturday, June 02, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #59 - Part 1

Good news: Dolores Huerta receives Medal of Freedom

On Tuesday, May 29, Dolores Huerta received one of the nation's highest civilian honors - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Any liberal of my age range knows the name Dolores Huerta. Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers Union. She was its first veep. The grape boycotts and lettuce boycotts which the UFW organized and pushed were a steady presence in the activist years of the '60s. The dedication and nonviolent activism of the farmworkers, backed by the economic power of those boycotts, won not only recognition of the union and establishment of union contracts with actual guarantees regarding pay, pensions, and safe working conditions, but perhaps more importantly won recognition of the rights of migrant farmworkers, the rights to decent treatment and respect.

Consider what Huerta considers her proudest accomplishments: Spanish-language ballots for voters, public assistance for immigrants, toilets in the fields, drinking water protection from pesticides, and an immigration act which gave legal status to more than one million farmworkers.

Just think of that for a second: Think that things like having toilets at your place of work - because the fields are the workplace for these workers - and having drinking water at your workplace that you don't have to worry is contaminated with pesticides being sprayed on the fields, after which you have to go work in them, that simply having legal status, were things that in my adult life still had to be achieved in this country for literally millions of workers.

In 1960, Edward R. Murrow produced a documentary titled "Harvest of Shame." You can still find it on YouTube. It described migrant workers as "the forgotten ones." There is still much more to do: Migrant workers are still not covered by mandates for health insurance or protections for overtime and or sick pay, for example, and too many still wind up living in what are no more than shanty towns. But things have improved and thanks to people like Dolores Huerta and the nonviolent activism of the United Farm Workers, whose members withstood arrests, threats, and brutality from both ranchers and police, migrant workers can no longer be thought of simply as "the forgotten ones."

Congratulations to Dolores Huerta.


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