I was a high school drop-out in NYC who happened into a picket line outside the Walbaums grocery store. I became impassioned and dedicated and “joined the union” moving into the brownstone on the upper west side. In 74, or was it 75? we joined the caravan from around the country to converge in Los Angeles and work to pass Proposition 14. I was 16 years old. Much of the political details went over my head, or at least didn’t stick. What I do remember crystal clear is that when we lost the campaign and straggled, miserable and defeated, into the meeting hall at La Paz, there was heated discussion that turned to yelling and I was scared it would come to blows. Suddenly, at the front of the room, Cesar climbed in the window. The room went absolutely silent. I remember he said “We don’t do this work to win. We do this work because it is the right thing to do.” This has informed my work for social justice ever since.
This is one of the stories I tell third graders every year in Georgia where it is part of the curriculum to learn about “Freedom Fighters,” Cesar Chavez being one of them. I tell them that this is what made Cesar Chavez someone to honor, that a whole room full of angry, sad, hurt people was transformed and inspired simply by his presence.