Magazine article The Nation

Prize for Dolores Huerta. (Comment)

Magazine article The Nation

Prize for Dolores Huerta. (Comment)

Article excerpt

Dolores Huerta flouts the smug conventional wisdom that the 1960s are behind us. She won't settle down and become an anachronism. The 72-year-old Huerta marched 165 grueling miles from Delano to Sacramento this year to demand that centrist Governor Gray Davis sign a mandatory mediation bill for farmworkers. Few insiders thought the bill had a chance. But when Huerta said she would start a hunger strike during the final days of the intense gubernatorial campaign, Davis did the right thing.

For that kind of moral commitment and savvy, Dolores Huerta is being awarded the $100,000 Puffin Prize by the Nation Institute, given annually to a social justice activist for a lifetime of sacrifice for a cause. The Nation community shares Huerta's commitment to justice for farmworkers and causes that are unseen by the powers that be. For example, the magazine's longtime editor Carey McWilliams became head of California's immigration and housing division in 1939 and wrote about the shameful condition of migrants in the very fields where Dolores Huerta grew up.

For Huerta, the notion of a "lifetime of sacrifice" means living to the fullest. When I asked how she planned to spend the $100,000--say, for example, on a car that works or clothes for her eleven kids--she already had a plan. "We need an organizers' institute" to train more Dolores Huertas for the future, she said.

Her fifty years of activism began when she quit teaching public school in 1955 to become an organizer in the Stockton chapter of Fred Ross's Community Service Organization (CSO). Several years later she connected with Cesar Chavez to organize what became the United Farm Workers of America. In 1960 she lobbied then-Assemblyman Phil Burton for farmworker benefits--forty-two years before lobbying Burton's younger brother John to be her champion in the showdown with Gray Davis.

Over that half-century, she helped organize the UFW over the initial opposition of the CSO, at a time when the AFL-CIO thought migrants couldn't be organized like factory workers. …

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