USC Price School of Public Policy

Labor icon Dolores Huerta discusses organizing, nonviolent resistance with Price students

April 21, 2017

Dolores Huerta at Bovard Auditorium (Photo by Rachel Huguet)

By Matthew Kredell

Student groups from the USC Price School of Public Policy partnered to bring renowned labor activist Dolores Huerta to Bovard Auditorium in March for advocacy training and a discussion of her remarkable history with nonviolent resistance.

Led by Price Women and Allies, the event was cosponsored by several student organizations including the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD), Graduate Policy and Administration Community (GPAC), Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles (PELA), Price Latino Student Association, Price Society of Black Students, and Price Social Innovation.

Huerta, who recently turned 87, is one of the most prominent labor leaders and activists in American history. In 1962, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez and played a key role in the first contract effectively bargained between farm workers and an agricultural enterprise. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States, from President Obama.

“My passion is organizing,” said Huerta, who currently serves as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she founded in 2002 with the mission to create networks of organized communities pursuing social justice through systematic and structural transformation. “I cannot think of a better time that we need to organize than we do right now in the times that we are facing.”

Huerta pointed to the current economic situation, with one percent of the population controlling 80 percent of the wealth. She added that 40 years ago, there was a 40-times difference between the salary of a CEO and a worker, but now that multiplier is almost 500 times.

She also brought attention to President Trump’s budgetary proposal to increase military expenditures by $54 billion, while cutting federal funding for services such as Meals on Wheels for seniors and Planned Parenthood.

“I always like to say the answer is don’t mourn, organize,” Huerta said. “Some of these policies have to be changed, but the only way we can think of changing them is by organizing.”

Words of encouragement, advocacy

In sharing lessons from her own experience, Huerta told students that they don’t need numbers to get started. She and Chavez were only two people when they founded the National Farm Workers Association, which lives on today as United Farm Workers. They then added some friends and relatives to get up to a dozen people, before going door to door and organizing a thousand farm workers.

“Sometimes people think you’ve got to have 100 people to make a change, but you don’t,” Huerta said.

She asked her student listeners to run for office in their lifetimes. A position on a school board might not seem like much, but can help get ethnic studies into schools, Huerta said as an example. She cautioned that when people don’t receive their message, not to get mad but instead take it as, “they’re just not ready for you yet.”

Huerta said her foundation is currently working in support of Senate Bill 54, referred to as California’s “sanctuary state bill,” which aims to restrict local resources from being used to enforce federal immigration policy.

She urged students to talk to their classmates, or go up to people sitting on campus and bring up that issue, or one of their own choosing.

“Everybody you recruit, I can assure you will recruit someone else. Little by little, we built it,” Huerta said. “Everyone here can become an organizer.”