Many of us know Cesar Chavez as the leader of the United Farm Workers who organized a boycott of grapes to put pressure on employers to provide better pay and working conditions in the fields, but Chavez’s journey began long before then. Learning from legendary community organizer Fred Ross Sr., Chavez was a civil rights leader before he was a farmworker leader.
Together Ross and Chavez built a network of chapters of Community Service Organizations, they registered voters, and helped members of their community become citizens. They found politicians who would clean up the corruption and mistreatment they saw in their communities and tirelessly knocked on doors and held house meetings to spread the word and get them elected. Chavez’s experience and hard work with Ross would become the foundation on which he would build a movement.
Chavez took the lessons he learned from Ross as a community organizer to fulfill his dream of organizing workers in the fields. When speaking about the grape and lettuce boycott Chavez said, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”
Chavez and Ross knew that their power was people power, and it is also our power as a Union. We can force the employers to give us the contract we deserve, but we have to be ready to stand together and fight for it. We have to talk to our co-workers, friends, family, and community. We have to let the company know what we are worth, and that we have the power of the people supporting us to get the job done.
Read more about the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross Sr. through the reflections of their sons Paul Chavez and Fred Ross Jr.