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June 14, 2024 8 mins
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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio, Hey brain Stuff,
Louren Bogelbaum. Here, the fight for human rights is never
done alone. It's borne by a multitude of visionary leaders,
carried on by armies of believers in a better future,
and waged in a variety of ways. One such leader

(00:22):
was Caesar Estrata Chavez, whose humility and resolute certaintude in
La Casa made him a hero to millions. For the
article this episode is based on How Stuff Work. Spoke
with Mark Grossman. Chavez is speechwriter and a spokeperson for
the Caesar Chavez Foundation. He said, why were they drawn
to him? Because he had great faith in them. He

(00:44):
had faith they could do great things. Chavez is known
as an American union builder and a relentless advocate for
the rights of abused farm workers during the furious nineteen sixties.
He was also a devout Catholic who believed in the
goodness of his fellow humans and the power of nonviolent resistance,
and to this day, Caesar Chaves remains a darling of

(01:05):
America's counterculture, a soft spoken, sly smiling, immovable object standing
in the path of the country's rich and powerful the
child of Mexican American parents, Chavez was born in nineteen
twenty seven in Yuma, Arizona, into a migrant farm family
in the southwestern United States. He and many others commonly
worked ten to twelve hour days, often bent over a

(01:28):
short handled hoe, for wages that would barely keep them alive.
He estimated that he attended sixty five different schools as
a kid. He never got past the eighth grade. Chavez
enlisted in the US Navy shortly before the end of
World War Two, but soon returned to California, where he
started a family of his own with his high school
sweetheart Helen. By the early nineteen fifties, he was introduced

(01:50):
to organizers in the Community Services Organization, a Mexican American
civil rights organization. By the early nineteen fifties, he was
introduced to organizers in the Community Services Organisms, which dealt
with Mexican American civil rights, and by the late fifties
he had become its national president. By the early sixties,
Chavas was already in full dispute with the moneyed farm owners,

(02:11):
who saw him and his swelling group of followers as
a threat to their financial well being. He traveled the
fields of California, signing up workers to join his fledgling
National farm Workers Association, later to become the United farm Workers.
Though Chavez lacked a full formal education, he was a
voracious reader. He followed Mahama Gandhi and Martin Uther King

(02:32):
Junior and took from them lessons of non violence. He
also read the works of union organizers like Eugene V. Debs.
His belief in the workers and their worth pushed him,
and their belief in him sustained his work. A grossman, said,
many people, for one hundred years before Caesar Chavas tried
and failed to organize farm workers, people who had a

(02:55):
lot more resources and money and had much better education,
tried and failed, and he succeeded. I think because he
was one of them. It was not an academic pursuit
for him. Chavez endured government investigations and death threats from
the rich and powerful. He often traveled with two fierce
looking German shepherds named Boycott and Weelga meaning Strike, who

(03:18):
were both friends to Javas and deterrence to those who
might wish him harm. He also credited those dogs with
his decision to become vegetarian, and he became an animal
rights activist later in his life. As he had done
in the fields as a young man, Chavez put in long,
hard hours organizing workers, traveling from town to town, pushing
for better wages, improved working conditions, and access to insurance.

(03:40):
He employed boycotts and strikes to try to better the
lives of those he represented. In nineteen sixty five, Chavez
and the National farm Workers Association joined forces of the
group of Filipino grape workers in the Delano, California grape strike.
It lasted five years and included a boycott of table
grapes that spread throughout the nation. A Chavas insisted, with

(04:02):
an acute awareness of the violence that royaled the country
that decade with other protests and civil rights movements, that
the protest remained nonviolent, but as it wore on, many
workers grew impatient. To focus strikers on staying strong without
using violence, and to show those throughout the country their resolve,
the Javas went on a twenty five day fast. Thousands

(04:25):
streamed into the tiny windowless room near Delano to see him.
During his fast, he lost thirty five pounds that's about
fifteen kilos during those twenty five days. In a statement,
Javes said, to be a man is to suffer for others.
God help us to be men. It took more time,
but in nineteen seventy grape growers signed their first union

(04:48):
contracts with the farm owners, providing workers better pay and benefits.
The Delano Fast was not the only one that Javes
would undertake over his long career. He went for thirty
six days out food in nineteen eighty eight to protest
the threat that pesticides post of farm workers and their children.
He continued to work and organize for the United farm

(05:08):
Workers throughout his life. He was in Arizona in nineteen
ninety three helping to defend a union in a lawsuit.
When he died peacefully at the home of a longtime friend,
and he was sixty six years old, Some forty five
thousand people attended his funeral in Deleno, California. He's now
buried in Keene, California, where he lived and labored for

(05:30):
the last quarter century of his life, and where the
Caesar E. Chavas National Monument is now located. Throughout his life,
Chaves fought for farm workers, but he stepped outside union
activism too. He came out strongly against the Vietnam War
in the nineteen sixties, and in the seventies was active
in the struggle for gay rights. In nineteen eighty four,

(05:51):
in a carefully crafted speech in front of the Commonwealth
Club in San Francisco, his first time speaking from a script,
Java's laid out his vision. That's an excerpt. Once social
change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the
person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the
person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who

(06:12):
are not afraid anymore. Our opponents must understand that it's
not just a union. We have built unions like other
institutions can come and go, but we are more than
an institution. For nearly twenty years, our union has been
on the cutting edge of a people's cause, and you
cannot do away with an entire people. You cannot stamp
out a people's cause. Regardless of what the future holds

(06:35):
for farm workers, our accomplishments cannot be undone a la cassa.
Our cause doesn't have to be experienced twice Today, the
University of California, Berkeley has a student center named after Chavez.
High schools, elementary schools, streets and parks bear his name,
so does a Navy ship. In two thousand and three,

(06:56):
the US Postal Service issued a stamp with his likeness.
In twenty twelve, President Barack Obama christian the National Monument
where Chavez is now buried even more in his honor.
The people he inspired continued to carry on his work.
A Grossman cited a couple of examples off the top
of his head. A young teachers ad in California who's
now a school district superintendent. A young paralegal who's now

(07:19):
a superior court judge in the state. A Grossman said,
he saw the greater good of helping people fulfill their dreams,
and some of them were dreams that many of them
didn't even know they had. He really instilled hope and
confidence in people who never had them before. In August
of nineteen ninety four, a little more than a year
after his death, Chavez was awarded the Presidential Medal of

(07:42):
Freedom by President Bill Clinton in a ceremony at the
White House. Helen, an activist herself, received it in his place.
Clinton said during the ceremony, the farm workers who labored
in the fields and yearned for respect and self sufficiency
pinned their hopes on this remarkable man, who, with faith
and discipline, with soft spoken humility and amazing inner strength,

(08:05):
led a very courageous life, and in so doing brought
dignity to the lives of so many others, and provided
us for inspiration for the rest of our nation's history.
Today's episode is based on the article how Caesar Chavez
united thousands of farm workers and became a civil rights

(08:25):
icon on how stuffworks dot Com, written by John Donovan.
Brain Stuff is production of by Heart Radio in partnership
with how Stuffworks dot Com and is produced by Tyler Klang.
Four more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
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