Beyond the Fields: Yes We Can!

dolores-cesarIn spite of the victory we had on November 4th, the fight for social and economic justice in the United States is far from over. Barack Obama has emphasized the need for all of us to pitch in and make this country better. His administration has opened the lines of communication to everyday Americans by providing a website where average citizens can share their ideas with the White House.

But in spite of these advances, there’s still a need to organize. The work of grassroots organizers and ordinary citizens can’t be replaced with top-down decision-making. President John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. After the last eight years, this country is in desperate need of a new roof, so to speak. We’ve got to seize the moment and take advantage of the sunlight—transparency, open communication—offered by the Obama administration and get busy repairing the damage. No, this is not the time to sit back and rest on our laurels. The struggle for justice doesn’t end when the leadership changes. It ends when injustice ends.

With that in mind, Dick and I recently attended a talk given by Randy Shaw, the director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the editor of the online daily newspaper Because Randy’s writings in BeyondChron are well researched and well sourced, we have asked his permission to republish his pieces in the LA Progressive. If you haven’t read his articles, there is a list with links at the bottom of this article.

Dick and I attended Randy’s talk at UCLA because, like most of you, we are concerned about the economy. But I am particularly interested in the labor movement and the impact this economy will have on it. A couple of years ago, while surfing the web, I ran across a report issued by the Institute for Policy Studies. The IPS was looking at CEO compensation packages in 2004, comparing them to the wages of average workers. According to the IPS, CEOs at Wal-Mart have compensation packages worth 871 times the rate of pay of the average U.S. Wal-Mart worker—and 50,000 times as much as Chinese workers. This trend has worsened since that report was published and partially explains why the AIG executives felt so entitled to receive their outrageous bonuses.

Like the social injustices that sparked the movements of the 1960s, the current economic injustices create a climate ripe for a major shift. We were particularly interested in hearing Randy discuss his latest book because it focuses on the highly successful labor movement begun by Cesar Chavez.

Randy Shaw’s latest book, Beyond the Fields – Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century documents the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers (and discusses the impact the UFW has had on a host of other movements. The book gives a clear picture of the beginnings of a movement and how perseverance pays off. I was delighted to find, in one of the last chapters, a list of post-UFW social justice efforts along with hundreds of names of key activists involved in those efforts today who once worked for the UFW. Beyond the Fields is a fascinating historical account of the UFW movement, the many movements it spawned, and the people who made it happen.

Eliseo Medina, former UFW Executive Board member and current Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said of the book, “Beyond the Fields is a stirring account of how the UFW transformed people’s lives, instilling a lifetime commitment to social justice. Randy Shaw shows how the spirit, strategies, and tactics of the UFW in its heyday still strengthen the U.S. labor movement, help build Latino political power, and infuse a growing national campaign for immigrant rights. If you want to understand the roots of “si se puede” (yes we can) or if you’d like to become more active in the various movements that are helping to make this country a more equitable place, read this book.”

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LA Progressive.

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