Special for the UFW: IN FINAL SACRAMENTO SPEECH, RICHARD CHAVEZ PREDICTED FARM WORKERS WOULD CONTINUE FIGHT FOR BETTER LIVES
IN FINAL SACRAMENTO SPEECH, RICHARD CHAVEZ PREDICTED FARM WORKERS WOULD CONTINUE FIGHT FOR BETTER LIVES
By Edgar Sanchez - Special to the UFW
SACRAMENTO -- Richard Chavez could have stayed home June 24. But that was not his way.
Despite fighting a tough cold, the brother of the late Cesar Chavez traveled some 250 miles from his home in Keene, Kern County, to Sacramento that day to join an epic vigil by farm workers at the State Capitol.
The campesinos were on a 12-day campaign, fasting, marching and chanting for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign SB 104, a bill that would have made it easier for farm workers to join unions – the first step to better pay, benefits and enhanced on-the-job safety.
On the vigil’s 8th day, Richard Chavez stood on the Capitol steps, urging on more than 100 farm workers and their supporters from across the state. It turned out to be his last Sacramento speech.
Mr. Chavez died in a Bakersfield hospital on July 27, from complications after surgery. He was 81.
The writer of this story, a former Sacramento Bee news reporter now with the United Farm Workers’ media section, recorded Mr. Chavez’ extemporaneous remarks.
Mr. Chavez, who in the early 1960s helped his brother lay the foundation for the union, spoke for nearly five minutes, four days before Gov. Brown vetoed the legislation that farm workers so desperately needed – even though they had repeatedly chanted, “Senor Gobernador, su firma por favor!” (“Mister Governor, your signature, please!”)
After he was introduced, Mr. Chavez – wearing a black Ivy cap, a light green tropical shirt with a UFW pin on the chest and tan slacks -- thanked the crowd for its applause.
Respectfully but with a hint of humor, he then alluded to family politics, noting that in the early 1960s, he had come to the Capitol “to talk” to Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, Sr., who served as governor from 1959 to 1967. Now, Mr. Chavez noted, the fate of SB 104 rested with Pat Brown’s son, Jerry.
With minor editing, this was Mr. Chavez's speech, delivered in an understated yet memorable manner:
“I was thinking, as I was walking up to the steps here this morning … that it’s been almost 50 years since I came here and marched on these steps for the very first time, for the same thing that we’re here today….
“Isn’t that amazing? Almost 50 years later we’re still doing the same thing! When I (first) came here it was on an Easter Sunday. Dolores (Huerta) and I marched. I’m sure that many of you weren’t even born then. But we marched … and we came to this Capitol to talk to Governor Brown…
“(It was) another Governor Brown, the father of this Governor Brown…..That’s a long time ago. It’s amazing to see how things change so slowly for us….
“But I’m sure that we will continue the fight because it’s a good fight, it’s a good lucha and we will continue with it…
“Now, to the people that are fasting here today:
“You know, fasting is nothing new to our movement. We have been fasting for years and years and years, way back. In fact, our leader, our great leader Cesar Chavez – we don’t have (him) with us any more -- did a fast of 28 days way back in 1968 for non-violence…
“Every time that you fast, you fast to bring attention to something that’s worthy, that is just. And that’s why people go on fasts…
“Well, in those days he fasted for 28 days, in 1968, for non-violence…..Because as you very well know, our movement has been non-violent since its very inception, since the very beginning.
“At that time we had been on strike for about three or four years (a reference to the historic grape strike of 1965-1970)….and people started getting a little edgy. They wanted to start doing some stuff that wasn’t in keeping with our movement.
“Cesar got wind of it, so he went on a fast immediately, so that those people that had those ideas of going violent would understand that our movement will always be non-violent, because that’s the only way you can win.
“Years later Cesar fasted again -- 36 days of a water-only fast. That was against the use of pesticides, those poisons that (growers) use to kill bugs. But by using them, they kill people also … He fasted against the pesticides that were being used among the people, the workers…
“So like I said, fasting is nothing new to us … Now here we have a lot of dedicated people that are fasting again. And it’s for a very just cause, because we’re asking that Governor Brown listen to us. He has to understand our needs….We want him to act in a positive way…
“We hope that he is listening right now, today, to do the right thing for us…
“I’m sorry to cut it short….As you can tell, I have a really bad cold – a cold that won’t allow me to continue. …I want to wish each and every one of you, the farm workers, the ones that are fasting, the supporters who are here with us today, to keep up the good work…….
“We know that Si Se Puede!, and that’s the way it’s going to end. I’m sure that we’ll be successful in our venture here in Sacramento…..
“And so I just want to ask: Se Puede?”
“Si Se Puede!” the people shouted.
“Thank you very much,” Mr. Chavez concluded.
More than 1,000 people paid their last respects to Mr. Richard Chavez on Sunday evening, July 31, and Monday morning, Aug. 1, at the UFW’s Forty Acres complex in Delano.
After a Sunday night candlelight procession from the Agbayani Village to the Filipino Hall meeting space, family and friends held an all-night vigil by his body. The pine coffin was draped with a sarape with the black UFW eagle – the famous icon that Mr. Chavez designed. A UFW flag had also been placed inside.
The Rev. Joel Davadilla, pastor of St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Tehachapi – the parish where Mr. Chavez worshipped -- officiated at Monday’s memorial service.
Those in attendance included U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a dozen other elected officials from across the nation, many of whom had previously worked for the UFW.
Also present were Eleanor Smeal, a past president of the National Organization for Women; Luis Valdez, of Teatro Campesino, and the actor Ed Begley. Also, numerous other UFW alumni, including strikers who served on the grape boycott in cities where Mr Chavez served as boycott coordinator, and past and present members of the UFW Board.
Note: Attached photos of Mr. Chavez speaking on June 24 by Edgar Sanchez.