Reading List: Cesar Chavez

Just finished reading a compilation of Cesar Chavez’s speeches in an anthology titled An Organizer’s Tale. I had wanted to get a taste (pun intended?) of this legendary man’s 92961-004-4F2C3BDB


Chavez, who lived from 1927 to 1993, spent the majority of his life organizing farm workers. He formed the National Farm Workers Association, which became what we now know as the United Farm Workers of America.

Like Gandhi, Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez believed in the power of nonviolence as the key to social change. Getting involved in democratic systems and organizing for economic and political power (through boycotts, strikes, fasts, and advocacy) were the strategies Chavez believed were most effective for social revolution. He said, “Participation and self-determination remain the best experience of freedom; and free men instinctively prefer democratic change and even protect the rights guaranteed to seek it. Only the enslaved in despair have need of violent overthrow.Huelga

He counted on the church to support his work, recognizing that the church was the seat of huge economic and social power, as well as spiritual support for the duration. He called on the church to act on the mission of Christ in working for the poor. In a speech, he proclaimed, “We don’t ask for more cathedrals. We ask for its [the Church’s] presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.

Have we heeded this call? As Christians, are we truly following Christ in his friendship with the poor? Are we sacrificing for those who suffer? Are we promoting nonviolence through unity and solidarity, or developing more structural violence through oppression and elitism?

As Chavez said, “The answer lies with you and me. It is with all men and women who share the suffering and yearn with us for a better world.