Digital History ID 613
Proclamation of the Delano Grape Workers
Although women have stood at the forefront of many reform movements in American history, their contributions have often been slighted or forgotten. Few know the name of Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, who was born in Texas of African and Mexican heritage and was an important figure in the early twentieth century labor movement and an activist for working women's rights. Many who have heard of César Chavez do not know the name of Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, who led the grape boycott while raising eleven children.
Born in a small New Mexico mining town, Huerta grew up in Stockton in California's San Joaquín Valley. She quit her teaching job in 1962 in order to join Chavez in forming the United Farm Workers. "I couldn't stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes," she later said. "I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children."
In Spanish, Dolores means "sorrow" and Huerta "orchard"--appropriate names for an organizer of farm workers. Twenty times she was jailed for her part in union protests. While Chavez spent time with workers in the fields, she did much of the negotiation and legislative lobbying. She also organized voter registration drives and taught citizenship classes. Among her successes was the repeal of a California law that required citizenship for public assistance and passage of a law that extended disability and unemployment insurance to farm workers. She also organized the successful 1970 and 1975 grape boycotts. The proclamation announcing the grape boycott in 1969 follows.
We, the striking grape workers of California, join on this International Boycott Day with the consumers across the continent in planning the steps that lie ahead on the road to our liberation. As we plan, we recall the footsteps that brought us to this day and the events of this day. The historic road of our pilgrimage to Sacramento later branched out, spreading like the unpruned vines in struck fields, until it led us to willing exile in cities across this land. There, far from the earth we tilled for generations, we have cultivated the strange soil of public understanding, sowing the seed of our truth and our cause in the minds and hearts of men.
We have been farm workers for hundreds of years and pioneers for seven. Mexicans, Filipinos, Africans and others, our ancestors were among those who founded this land and tamed its natural wilderness. But we are still pilgrims on this land, and we are pioneers who blaze a trail out of the wilderness of hunger and deprivation that we have suffered even as our ancestors did. We are conscious today of the significance of our present quest. If this road we chart leads to the rights and reforms we demand, if it leads to just wages, humane working conditions, protection from the misuse of pesticides, and to the fundamental right of collective bargaining, if it changes the social order that relegates us to the bottom reaches of society, then in our wake will follow thousands of American farm workers. Our example will make them free. But if our road does not bring us to victory and social change, it will not be because our direction is mistaken or our resolve too weak, but only because our bodies are mortal and our journey hard. For we are in the midst of a great social movement, and we will not stop struggling 'til we die, or win!
We have been farm workers for hundreds of years and strikers for four. It was four years ago that we threw down our plowshares and pruning hooks. These Biblical symbols of peace and tranquility to us represent too many lifetimes of unprotesting submission to a degrading social system that allows us no dignity, no comfort, no peace. We mean to have our peace, and to win it without violence, for it is violence we would overcome-the subtle spiritual and mental violence of oppression, the violence subhuman toil does to the human body. So we went and stood tall outside the vineyards where we had stooped for years. But the tailors of national labor legislation had left us naked. Thus exposed, our picket lines were crippled by injunctions and harassed by growers; our strike was broken by imported scabs; our overtures to our employers were ignored. Yet we knew the day must come when they would talk to us, as equals.
We have been farm workers for hundreds of years and boycotters for two. We did not choose the grape boycott, but we had chosen to leave our peonage, poverty and despair behind. Though our first bid for freedom, the strike, was weakened, we would not turn back. The boycott was the only way forward the growers left to us. We called upon our fellow men and were answered by consumers who said--as all men of conscience must--that they would no longer allow their tables to be subsidized by our sweat and our sorrow: They shunned the grapes, fruit of our affliction.
We marched alone at the beginning, but today we count men of all creeds, nationalities, and occupations in our number. Between us and the justice we seek now stand the large and powerful grocers who, in continuing to buy table grapes, betray the boycott their own customers have built. These stores treat their patrons' demands to remove the grapes the same way the growers treat our demands for union recognition-by ignoring them. The consumers who rally behind our cause are responding as we do to such treatment-with a boycott! They pledge to withhold their patronage from stores that handle grapes during the boycott, just as we withhold our labor from the growers until our dispute is resolved.
Grapes must remain an unenjoyed luxury for all as long as the barest human needs and basic human rights are still luxuries for farm workers. The grapes grow sweet and heavy on the vines, but they will have to wait while we reach out first for our freedom. The time is ripe for our liberation.
Source: Proclamation of the Delano Grape Workers for International Boycott Day, May 10, 1969.
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