Cesar and Martin, March ‘68
In early 1968 the philosophy of nonviolence was sinking beneath a tidal wave of bloodshed and death. The previous summer, rioting had erupted in major urban centers across the United States. In Detroit, where the worst violence took place, forty-three people died. The Tet Offensive cut a path through the month of February and ended with 2,259 U.S. servicemen and thousands more Vietnamese dead. Since late February, U.S. Marines at Khe Sanh had been under seige from North Vietnamese regulars in what would become the longest battle of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.
In the California grape fields, the two-and-a-half-year-oldstrike by Filipino, Mexican, and Mexican American workers was under attack from corporate growers and their allies. The violence directed against the picket lines had generated talk among the strikers about retaliation. In order to recommit his organization to the philosophy of nonviolence, on February 15 the forty-year-old farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez began what would become a twenty-five-day fast. Reflecting on his philosophy a few years later, Chavez told an interviewer: “Some great nonviolent successes have been achieved in history….