In the late 60s, I first got involved with the UFW here in Sacramento. There was a storefront office up here in the Barrio by 13th and F Streets. Our Field Coordinator here was a dear hard-working Sister named Peggy McGivern. She was paid $5.00 per week and was obviously a good honest hustler. She had been a nurse before and was college-educated. I still remember her beautiful dedicated and determined face.
Our group was called Friends of the Farmworkers sponsored by the UFWOC (United FarmWorkers Organizing Committee). We learned about the plight of the Farmworkers in the fields under inhumane conditions without proper union representation. They were not included in the ALRB (Agricultural Labor Relations Board) Act and were being treated unfairly and inhumanly by the growers and their goons. At the time we were involved in the Grape Boycott!
We use to picket the local Safeway store that was located at Broadway and Riverside. As the automatic doors would swing open and close for customers I would give a brief speech about why we were involved in the Grape Boycott and ask people for their support by not buying grapes. We were raising awareness and stirring up consciousness. Many folks thought it was simply impossible to successfully boycott a commodity such as grapes, but they were proved wrong by history. It was on the picket line that I remember holding hands with my future wife-to-be, Pauline Gonzales. A lot of new friendships were started up in those good ol’ days.
We did a lot of Community Education at various meetings where we explained what we were doing and generated a lot of local community support. It was not a Secondary Boycott and the Farmworkers were not covered by the ALRB Act. It was extremely hard to harvest the boycott in the fields so we took it to the cities.
We did a Food Caravan to Delano where we went door-to-door collecting food stuffs from people. When we went into the low-income poor communities we were given what folks could spare, but when we went into the middle-class area folks would be real stingy with what they could easily share. I was seeing economic class differences and the resultant attitudes.
When we had gathered a lot of foodstuff for our Food Caravan we drove down to the UFW Headquarters in Delano, California. There was I big community meeting at Filipino Hall. I was introduced by Peggy to the gathering as an ‘evangelist’ for my ardent support of the Farmworkers. We saw Cesar Chavez, his Filipino partner Larry Itliong and we met a bunch of fine dedicated people.
Later on in life I got involved with the local Brown Berets here in Sacrameto. I became turned off to the strictly non-violent Gandhian approach to the struggle and became lot more radical in my thinking. Life is a growth process where we should learn from our mistakes and keep evolving as humane beings.
A lot of other historical events were happening in the late 60s, including the Vietnam War and the Chicano Moratorium which advocated for an end to the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. But that’s another story.
Through it all the United Farmworkers Union has survived and sustained itself over the decades. Many other political groups fell by the wayside for various reasons. It was first through the UFW that I saw the Power of the People who seek a positive change in their lives when they come together. I remember the cries of Huelga! Si Se Puede! and ever present Thunderbird on our Boycott Grapes! buttons and flags.
Much remains left to be done. Our collective struggle for justice goes on and we still fight for the liberation of all oppressed peoples. I still support the UFW and all labor unions that fight for the rights of workers.
Now we are in a lot different world that back in those early days of the struggle. We now have a new generation of young folks coming up. It is good that we take the time to remember the successes we have had in the past. People need to see basic accomplishments before they can believe that major successes are possible.
Official Webpage of United Farm Workers: