Eighteen years ago today, America lost one of its greatest civil rights leaders and an icon of social justice, Cesar Chavez. Born in 1927 and raised in the fields of America’s Southwest, Chavez dedicated his life to fighting injustice through peaceful actions and noble protests. His legacy is the lasting change he fought for to empower working men and women.
Chavez was raised during the Great Depression when the rights of workers were a scant part of the national dialogue. He experienced first-hand the vulnerabilities and exploitation of farm workers, witnessing the hardship and hazardous conditions they faced every day.
So he acted. He began organizing workers and demanding fair treatment, first at the local level and gradually across the country. As a result, workers today have more representation in the halls of power and better protection under the law.
Only a few weeks ago, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation declaring March 31st Cesar Chavez Day, a national holiday:
Cesar Chavez saw the need for change and made a courageous choice to work to improve the lives of his fellow farm workers. Through boycotts and fasts, he led others on a path of non-violence conceived in careful study of the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi, and in the powerful example of Martin Luther King, Jr. He became a community organizer and began his lifelong advocacy to protect and empower people. With quiet leadership and a powerful voice, Cesar founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Dolores Huerta, launching one of our Nation's most inspiring social movements.
Cesar Chavez's legacy provides lessons from which all Americans can learn. One person can change the course of a nation and improve the lives of countless individuals. Cesar once said, "Non-violence is not inaction. . . . Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win." From his inspiring accomplishments, we have learned that social justice takes action, selflessness, and commitment. As we face the challenges of our day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez, echoing the words that were his rallying cry and that continue to inspire so many today, "Sí, se puede" – "Yes, we can."