Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics

By Hahrie Han | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Theoretical Foundations

WHEN ELENA, a sixty-three-year-old community activist, describes the roots of her political activity, she paints a stark picture:

We actually migrated here from Texas. My mother became a single working mother, and not having been anything other than a housewife when we arrived in California, she found herself having to support two children on her own, and she was forced to actually go out and work in the fields. And in those days they didn't have the child labor laws, so she used to take me with her to work in the fields with her during vacations and weekends and what have you. I was nine years old at that time, and my sister was eleven. So we became farmworkers…. Working in the fields was really bad.… It was new to me—working in the fields, first of all, and then hearing how the supervisors and the crew bosses were disrespectful to my mother, were disrespectful to older people and to anybody. Sexual harassment was high. My mother was always very careful with me as a young girl—for example, they provided no toilets, so where do you go when you needed to go and relieve yourself? And my mother having to take valuable time off from work just to accompany me to go to the bathroom—so it was that kind of treatment, that kind of situation was difficult for me.… It was quite an eye-opener.

These experiences as a farmworker laid the foundation for a lifetime of political activism for Elena. Despite lacking the resources typically associated with political participation—money, education, and civic skills— Elena got very involved in farmworker organizations. Her activism did not stop there, however. Not only has she worked for community-based nonprofit organizations throughout much of her adult life, but she has also been involved with women's rights organizations, the peace movement, immigration rights, labor, and environmental action. She first got involved neither because she was interested in politics nor because she had a sense of her own power as a citizen. Instead, she perceived injustice in

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