Briefing Notes No 48
Dolores The Movie (2017)
March 16, 2018
After-screening panel discussion and Q and A with Professor Michael McQuarrie and Kate Van Dermark, Vice Chair of the DAUK Women’s Caucus
Why this film and why now?
When Carlos Santana, the ’God of Latin Rock’ initiated this film project, he felt there was a compelling need to ‘correct the historical record’ about Dolores Huerta. He, Peter Bratt, its producer, and Dolores Huerta knew her story remained relevant, but did not envisage the new political landscape into which the film would be released. They could not predict the urgency, currency and power of its message.
We chose to screen this in Women’s History Month—the official month devoted to ‘herstory’. Until recent years, Dolores Huerta’s campaigning work and achievements have been under-valued and under-represented in historical and political accounts. In 2012 President Obama rather wryly acknowledged that it was Huerta who originated his key 2008 slogan of Yes, we Can (Si, se puede).
Who is Dolores Huerta? Why is it important to know about her work?
Dolores Huerta was a key actor in the battles for social and economic justice throughout the tumultuous 60s and 70s: campaigning and organizing for labor rights, civil and voting rights, against pesticides and for Mexican American, immigrants’, minority and women’s rights and dignity. And she has continued that work through the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Dolores has always been an advocate for ‘grass roots’ community organizing. As the film indicates, this involves living and working alongside members of the community, directly sharing their lives. It entails what we now call ‘capacity building’ – ensuring people have the skills and resources as well as the self-confidence to build their own organizations and act – to realize their power when they act together: Si, se puede!
Alongside community organization, Dolores has relentlessly focussed on securing voting rights, ensuring that people exercise their right to vote and leverage powers to achieve legislative change.
As a community organizer, Dolores founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements.
For example, she was instrumental in changing voter registration procedures in California and the enactment of new labor laws in California in 1975: the first in the United States to grant farm workers
the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions.
By 1962 Dolores and Cesar Chavez had decided that it was only through the organization of farm workers, especially Mexican-American workers, into a union that wages and working conditions could be improved. Thus, they embarked on the project of creating the National Farmworkers Association which then became the United Farm Workers union. The key moment in the development of the union was the Delano grape workers strike. Workers in Delano, mainly Filipino, decided to strike and called upon the fledgling NFWA to support them. The film shows the range, scale and brutality of opposition and repression the strikers faced from the growers and local law enforcement. Because the farm-workers were not covered by the Taft Hartley Law’s prohibition on boycotts, they could and did organize a very effective nation-wide boycott of non –union table grapes in the late 60’s and again in 1973.
Their philosophy and approach
These campaigns and organizations embodied and illustrated two key features of their philosophy and approach: the commitment to non-violence (drawing upon both Gandhi and Martin Luther King) and the need to build ‘connections’ across campaigns for social and economic justice. Links with the Civil Rights Movement were key, including combatting racism, invoking pride and respect for minority identities (for example the Chicana/Chicano movement , and fighting against ethnic and racial division. When Chavez died in 1993, Dolores was not chosen to replace him; while she stepped away from the UFW, she continued her campaigning and organizational work. While always a feminist, and at the forefront in providing childcare to enable civic engagement, it was through the grape boycott that Dolores came to fully engage with the feminist movement and the significance of being pro-choice for achieving women’s rights. She continues to stress the need to campaign within and across communities and movements for all human and civil rights-e.g. is a strong advocate of LGBT rights.
The film is a kaleidoscope: It invites us to learn more about this history as well as to investigate specific issues: e.g. unions and their role (only 11% of workers are now unionized), environmental justice, how to mobilize and organise effectively, how to empower women and all our citizens.
The information and sources provided as well as the views expressed here reflect
neither the views of DAUK or the Democratic Party nor their endorsement of, or association with them.