Editor’s Note: Latino Rebels accepts opinion pieces from presidential campaigns. The views expressed by specific campaigns do not necessarily reflect the views of Latino Rebels.
As a young activist, one of the first chants I learned was “Sí se puede”—yes we can. Simple, yet powerful, the chant (adopted by Barack Obama) was in fact coined by Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, the leaders of the United Farm Workers movement. Huerta and Chávez organized poor Mexican and Filipino farm workers into unions and led boycotts for better pay and working conditions.
Chávez and Huerta’s accomplishments are now celebrated as inspiring, but what many don’t remember is that the people behind the United Farm Workers movement were once villainized as “radical communists.”
Over the course of history, Latinos and Latinas who have fought for substantive equality have been labeled as radicals again and again. To name a few: we’ve had heroes like Emma Tenayuca, who most notably lead the 1938 Southern Pecan Shelling Company worker’s strike, and Luisa Moreno, who worked to unify Spanish-speaking communities in New York and organized her female coworkers into a Garment Workers Union during the Great Depression.
Those attacks were intended to smear freedom fighters and derail the fight for equality. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.
The desire for true economic freedom is what drives movements like these to deliver victories for the working class around the world.
In 1965, farm workers were paid 90 cents per hour with an additional 10 cents per bucket they picked. Along with these unlivable wages, the workers were subject to inhumane work conditions with little to no access to water, no toilets, and race-segregated housing. Workers paid two dollars or more per day for mosquito infested unheated metal shacks that had no indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.
What César Chávez understood is that getting people involved in direct action could change politics. He believed that liberty for his community would only come if workers owned a piece of their workplace and had decision-making power. The Farm Workers Credit Union provided loans to workers when banks denied them. Instead, the banks financed the big farm owners who were exploiting their workers in the fields.
By pulling together their resources as a community, workers were able to sustain themselves through the winter months and into summer months when they went on strike. Solidarity gave them freedom and autonomy to fight for their economic and human rights.
Huerta and Chávez were not alone. The Brown Berets helped lead the fight against police brutality, bad school conditions and a racist educational system in East Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s, putting free programs in place to help their communities.
The Brown Berets, a Chicanx liberation group, founded El Barrio Free Clinic in response to pressing issues facing the Mexican American community, like the lack of access to affordable healthcare. The clinic was operated by an all-volunteer staff and helped low-income families who could not afford to see primary doctors near them. The community came together to ensure that all people, even those with limited resources, had quality healthcare and giving them true economic freedom from healthcare bills.
Sadly, we still face many of the same disparities as the movements before us. Healthcare in our country has not become more accessible. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 Latinos in the United States are uninsured, which makes Latinos the largest uninsured ethnic group in the country. Currently, organizations like Mijente, Movimiento Cosecha, and RAICES are spearheading people-owned and powered services to help our community with legal fees, housing, and legal services at no cost in the fight for justice.
Latinx workers, disproportionately working in minimum wage jobs, are still fighting for a living wage, the right to unionize, better working conditions, and basic benefits like paid time off and family, sick, and maternity leave.
So when we hear Senator Bernie Sanders saying that everyone living in this country should be able to receive free-at-point-of-service health care (regardless of immigration status), that’s revolutionary. When we see him say we should raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars and confront Walmart to allow workers to own part of the company they work for, we are seeing someone who is standing with working class people in this country by calling out the greed that has kept too many of us poor without the economic freedom to thrive.
Our campaign is talking about a government by the people, for the people, to help the people—and that’s why those in power are using the same old scare tactics they’ve used against every person in our country’s history who has fought to do good for all people rather than for their bottom line.
True economic and social freedom is realized by empowering people, not big government or big corporations. We elect our legislators to protect and expand our economic rights. Now it’s up to us to hold them accountable.
Now more than ever, in the face of right-wing nationalism and our rapid movement towards oligarchy, we must stand up and remind this country that our victories have always been driven by people power. It’s time to come together for the good of all—just like our forebears did for the rights we enjoy today.
César Chávez and the Farm Workers Credit Union, the Brown Berets and their community health centers, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign: our country is replete with examples of heroes that made a difference. Now it’s up to us to make this country a place where all of us have the economic and human rights we deserve. It’s going to take all of us coming together to create a country where all of us can thrive, not just a wealthy few. When we think about who to vote for, we should choose the candidate who has been amplifying and supporting our fight for worker’s rights, by walking with workers on picket lines and trying to ensure a dignified life for all regardless of immigration status, income, race, or gender.
I believe that candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Belén Sisa is the Latino Press Secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign . She tweets from @belensisaw.