A Marathon for Social Justice

Christine Chávez Addresses Commitment, Solidarity during 10th Cesar Chavez Lecture

The struggle for justice is a marathon, not a sprint.

Christine Chávez, granddaughter of the late civil rights and union leader César Chávez, reiterated this message at the 10th Annual César Chávez Lecture, sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Division of Diversity and Inclusion. Audience members included UMKC students, faculty, staff and local families/descendants of long-time César Chávez supporters.

César Chávez, an organizer of the Chicano movement in the United States and founder of the United Farm Workers, fought to raise awareness about the continual struggle for civil rights including humane working conditions, dignity, equality and access to opportunity for all. A diligent scholar of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. methodologies, César Chávez successfully used nonviolent tactics to organize farm workers against unfair labor practices and unhealthy working conditions.

Christine Chávez’s message highlighted the importance of solidarity and commitment, which she said are the two most important lessons she learned from her grandfather. Growing up in the United Farm Workers’ movement, protesting for equality alongside her family, Chávez has made a lifetime commitment to civil rights, the labor movement and community organizing. Continuing her grandfather’s legacy, Chávez continues to work with the Latino and African-American Leadership Alliance to bring two historically disenfranchised communities together to forge peace and unity.

“I think one of the greatest things that the UFW realized early on was that organizational diversity is an absolute strength and key component to build a solid and lasting organization,” said Chávez. César Chávez often worked with LGBTQIA allies, multiple religious leaders and other labor unions to show a mutual support toward a wide-array of social justice movements.

Chávez reminisced memories of her grandfather’s commitment to fair labor throughout his lifetime. She recalled specific sacrifices César Chávez made in order to not only encourage farmworkers to continue the fight, but also show that he stood in solidarity with them. He was known to take unpopular stands – anti-war and LGBT support – and stood on the belief that leadership is about getting out in front of the crowd, not following it. Chávez encouraged the audience to follow her grandfather’s example and build multicultural and multi-religion coalitions to stand against injustice.

“We must always continue to educate, engage and empower one another just as César Chávez did with the farmworkers,” said Chávez. César Chávez educated farmworkers about workers’ rights, engaged them on picket lines, taught them to encourage one another and empowered them to demand respect and dignity.

In September 2016, California signed a farmworker overtime bill, a decision that, according to the LA Times, was considered a victory in a nearly 80-year quest to establish broad rights and protections for farm laborers. Chávez used this as an example to reinforce her message paralleling civil rights to a marathon.

“We have to continue to be involved and build coalitions,” Chávez said. “We don’t need a perfect political system, we need perfect participation.”

Following her address, Chávez engaged the audience in a Q&A session, where she advised audience members on ways they can fight for targeted minority groups, organize and build coalitions.

“My grandfather always used to say he would not have worked a day in his life if he knew this movement would not have gone on without him,” Chávez said. “Although my grandfather and [his UFW co-founder] Delores Huerta were the face of the movement, it would not have been possible without the hundreds of farmworkers who joined.”

Chávez said her grandfather knew that it was his job to find the strength to fight within farmworkers and pull it out it from them.

“He gave them that sí se puéde (yes you can) ,” Chávez said.

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