‘Sí Se Puede:’ The Farm Workers March to the Capitol
On Aug. 3, 2022, the United Farm Workers (UFW) started their historically mapped 335 mile pilgrimage in Delano, California, which will come to completion on Aug. 26 in Sacramento, at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office steps. Starting with roughly 40-50 participants, the march has grown into an upwards of 400-600 daily marchers and ralliers in triple digit heat, with an expected 5,000 turn out rate at the state capitol destination.
In short, the purpose of the march is to urge Newsom to pass the bill AB 2183 that would essentially give farm workers the right to vote privately and freely on their own unionization. Currently standing, farm workers are forced to vote on union related topics in the presence of the growers/farm owners. This has left them vulnerable to the harassment, abuse and termination of the growers, forcing the the workers to either not vote at all, or worse — vote against their own selves on their rights to a protective union. However, the march stretches far beyond the single purpose of a push for legislation.
“For decades our farm workers have been voiceless,” said Connie Perez-Andreesen, the chief administration officer of the UFW. A daughter of farm workers, Perez-Andreesen was born as an “anchor baby” born in a labor camp in Central Valley who has seen the struggle farm workers have faced for generations first hand.
She went on to explain that when the revolutionary march lead by Cesar Chavez in 1966 took place along the exact same route the marchers are walking today, the farm workers did not have children who were educated or held any type of official titles or offices. Today in the 2022 march, we are seeing the children and grandchildren of farm workers marching who are college-educated and even holding government office positions.
“At one point, seven assembly members showed up and all but one were Latino and many of those came from farm working families. This is how far we have come since ‘66,” said Perez-Andreesen. “I see these older farm workers marching and we are out here to tell them we got you. We will keep this fight going for you. As their children and grandchildren, we have voices now. And we are here to help them find their voices, too.”
Riverside County City Council member Clarissa Cervantes, a daughter and granddaughter of farm workers, also joined in at the march. “I’m proud to now be in a government position where my voice has the ability to influence change,” said Cervantes. “I have the opportunity to share my stories, my family’s stories, and help educate others on how farm workers are people like you and me. I’m proud to stand with the UFW, with my ancestors by my side.”
Along side government officials, the march has seen an overwhelming amount of support from all different walks of life. From lowrider car clubs escorting marchers with water, medical supplies and brand new pairs of shoes to elementary schools lining up to cheer on the marchers and offer them breakfast, the march has garnered a long list of participants, including Grammy-winning artists, mariachi bands, fire departments and church bishops. One volunteer, Sergio Emilio Monleon, is using his passion for cooking to provide daily meals to the marchers during the last legs of the march.
“My parents took me to a lot of marches and protests when I was a kid so I wanted to use whatever resources we had to offer support,” explained Monleon. “I wanted the farm workers to know the restaurant industry supports them and recognizes how crucial and essential they are to our industry.” Organizing their own fundraiser, Monleon with his restaurant La Marcha Tapas Bar, raised the funds via Kickstarter for the supplies that would be needed to offer their meals.
Another voice at the march is Yuni Silva, a member of the Ayudantes de la Tierra (ADLT) which is a team of eight individuals made up of teachers, professors, engineers and RNs whose family members come from a farm working background or are currently still farm workers, who provide mutual aid and first aid to migrant field workers and their families. Silva’s grandfather, Constantino Silva, onced marched along side Chavez himself.
“My grandfather came to the U.S. [by] way of the Bracero Program. This march has given me the smallest fraction of a glimpse of what my grandfather, Larry Itlong, Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and past and present migrant fieldworkers have witnessed and experienced. The voices of the workers who are speaking out right now are only a small percentage of those who are continuing to be misused by Growers and purposefully failed by the agricultural system as a whole. To see this march now has made me love my Papi Costa that much more.” Constantino Silva passed away in April of 2020, due to pesticide exposure from the chemical, according to Roundup.
Within the march and all of its participants, there has been one name that is continually championed, referenced, and looked to: Cesar Chavez. The famous civil rights activist who founded the UFW has a voice that echoes throughout the march that is retracing his steps; not only through his mission, but through his grandsons who attended the march. Alongside the Chavez lineage was another famous third generational family line — Martin Luther King Jr.’s grandson, MLK Jr III.
“Martin Luther King Jr. III marching the same path my grandfather walked meant so much to me,” said Alejandro Chavez, grandson of Cesar Chavez and political consultant. “My grandfather and MLK Jr. never met. Sharing with Martin, discussing the work done in Georgia, bringing Black and Brown communities together fed my spirit and soul.”
He continued, “We had a farm worker tell us that out in the fields there are no restrooms, and they have to crouch in the woods instead. And in doing so mostly the women have to watch for snakes and bugs. Martin said, ‘That sounds like slavery.’ We want to show that Black and Brown people share the same space and same struggles. The fight has the most potential when the Black and Brown communities share the same fight, the same resources, and the same celebrations with each other. Our communities have always been one.”
But regardless of title, occupation, proximity to farm work, age or race, there is one unanimous fight that every marcher is holding to their chest — farm workers in America in grossly underrepresented, under appreciated and ignored.
“When farm workers fight for rights as essential workers, there is a significant difference between them and when nurses were fighting as essential workers, right?” asks Chavez. “Yet they are the ones putting food on the table. During COVID there was only one reason farmers stopped providing for this country — because they died.”
Within the age of COVID-19, American’s rallied for all essential workers ranging from fast food workers to doctors, yet there were static silence when it came to the farm workers who were holding up society, literally, on their backs. Through fire seasons, droughts and waves of deadly illness — on top of the already brutal and dehumanizing conditions and abuse — farm workers failed to make the list of who American’s felt deserved recognition.
During a time where workers in companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple are being patronized for their choices to unionize, farm workers are fighting to get approved a bill that was already widely accepted by both House and Senate before Newsom vetoed it with no explanation, that would simply allow them the freedom to have an opinion and voice in the matter of unions. Unions of which would not simply offer a higher minimum wage or better hours, as so many companies are seeing. But rather life saving improvements in work conditions, the protection from molestation and rape, education for children and safety from chemical and environmental poisoning.
“These farm workers are marching for hundreds of miles in scorching heat, losing pay, missing their families, getting horrible blisters on their feet. So many of them are older,” said Perez-Andreesen. “But what they are doing, and what this march is doing, is mobilizing the Mexican community in California, and we can thank Newsom for that. We are registering voters, we are fighting for our own selves. Not just Latin people, all people. So thanks Newsom. The march started so quiet, no one thought we would make it. And here we are.”
If you would like to get involved with the fight for AB 2183, you can join the ending days of the march in Sacramento, sign the petition here to show Newsom your support of the bill and donate to the UFW for marchers’ needs at their Venmo: @calma-org.
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