“We wouldn’t be going to war if women were in power right now,” said Dolores Huerta, lifelong women’s rights activist and the featured guest speaker at the GCC Women’s History Month program.
Addressing a near-capacity crowd in the GCC auditorium on March 13, Huerta, co-founder, with Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers of America, said, “If women are not at the table when [men] make the decisions, they’re going to make the wrong decisions.”
Huerta, who chose “Women Making Changes in Today’s World,” for her topic, added, “Women are not sex objects.” The comment elicited avid applause, and her speech would be interrupted by applause 10 more times.
She made it clear that she felt more women should be intimately involved in making more of the decisions that affect workers in general and women in particular. Toward this end, she has lobbied elected officials on behalf of women in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
The 72-year-old mother of 11 graduated from college with the financial help and moral support of her mother. She chose teaching for her career. However, when she saw most of her pupils coming to school with bare feet and empty stomachs, she decided she could “help the children better by helping their parents,” most of whom were in agriculture.
Huerta has lobbied elected officials at both the state and national levels for the rights of women as much as for the rights of farm workers. Her efforts helped win the fights that resulted in equal pay for women, unemployment insurance benefits for illegal immigrants, disability payments for workers injured on their jobs in the fields, public assistance and health care services for the children of migrant workers, the ban on toxic pesticides such as malathion and DDT and even toilets in the fields for workers.
Huerta and the late Cesar Chavez had been co-workers at the Community Service Organization, a Stockton social services agency created to help Mexican-Americans. When Chavez left the organization and went to the National Farm Workers Association, she followed him. The association was the forerunner of the United Farm Workers of America.
Although she heads the Delores Huerta Foundation and Institute for Organizing, which recently received a $100,000 grant, Huerta is still active in union business and recently led a 165-mile march from the Central California agricultural valley to the state capital in Sacramento to demonstrate for more women’s and workers’ rights.
Huerta said, “We want to see a strong national union in our lifetime,” and she would like to see more women in the upper echelons of unions.
All of her children have done union work at one time or another. Some passed out handbills as youngsters, and others have worked for the UFWA as adults. Huerta said, “My sister taught her kids how to shop; I taught mine how to picket.”
When the laughter subsided, she spoke seriously again, saying, “The women’s movement has made a lot of gains,” but there are still more to be made. She added, “We still have a lot of racism against Latinos and African Americans in the United States. We are one race. We are the human race.”