I had the privilege of traveling with our National Coordinator, Nico Gumbs, to the Golden State, California for the first 2014 Winter board meeting of the National Farm Worker Ministry. It was a first for myself on two occasions: to attend a NFWM Board Meeting, and also to travel to California. We see it through various media outlets all the time, the mystique and charm of California, and in the context of organizing and supporting the farm worker movement, that vision of California is well merited. The three days I had in Tehachapi, Keene, the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Bakersfield was one of the more transformational experiences I’ve had as an organizer.
From landing in Los Angeles and taking the three hour trip (Tehachapi is two hours, but we were on the I-405 during rush hour!) it was almost well worth the California experience in itself. I was able to see the beauty of the California mountains and deserts, but was a willing listener and observer to the many farm worker and organizer stories of the NFWM board members, Suzanne Darweesh, Mary Martens, and also Mike Clements. Moment after moment, I was taken aback and surprised by all the names these people dropped, many of which I’ve only read about or seen glorified by others, and I had the honor in being amongst people who knew them personally! This was a recurring theme during the board meeting.
Being in UFW territory, we participated with them and many other faith leaders in Bakersfield, CA to put pressure on Congressman Kevin McCarthy around Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Seeing all these faith leaders together from across the country was inspiring. We don’t see it often enough, but these people really make the difference in being the spokesperson for their congregation, and to rally around farm worker rights, words cannot truly describe how much excitement I felt during that moment.
Perhaps the most encompassing moment emotionally was our stay at ‘La Paz’ the affectionate term for the UFW headquarters, and the final resting place of Cesar E. Chavez. It’s now been claimed as a National Park, so we had a chance to walk through the museum to see all the relics and pictures from the Delano Grape Boycott. It was also an opportunity to hear from many of the board members, many which were personal friends with Cesar Chavez, talk candidly about the moments they shared. There was so much love and excitement at La Paz, and a willingness to include myself and another young board member, into the farm worker movement. We were able to hear first hand from the farm workers today who were organizing their workers, and be guided by the many willing staff of the UFW. The food provided to us was simply amazing every single day, and the view, among the mountains of the Central Valley, was absolutely breathtaking.
Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW president, visited us and spoke to us, many for the first time about the UFW and the campaigns taking place, including the promotion of the Cesar Chavez biopic. We also were serenaded by the Equitable Food Initiative, an organization attempting to improve the working conditions of farm workers, but in the west coast. Although he was fighting sickness, Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son, was able to make it at the conclusion of the Board meeting, and give us a rousing speech, making us aware that this farm worker movement is more than worker rights, it’s about respect and changing lives
It was all about organizing with love, respect, and with purpose on this trip. Many laughs and emotional moments all around. Julie, a NFWM Board member, and a person I had a strong relationship with from simply being a passenger in the caravan I took was moving on after 13 years on the board. In her speech, she said it would be difficult, because she felt like we were family, and that’s how I felt, in only my first board meeting! Being around the combination of people, scenery, and history was really great and the next YAYA with an opportunity to attend the board meeting will not regret it.
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