Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta spoke about her ongoing efforts for social change in a public discussion with President Daniele Struppa Monday night.
Huerta, a co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the organization that became the United Farm Workers, urged the audience to vote in the upcoming midterm election on Nov. 6.
“I always tell people, ‘election day is the most important day of your life,’” Huerta said. “If we don’t step up, then nothing changes.”
In the last election, there were more people who chose not to vote than those that did, she said. Everyone, especially young people, needs to exercise their voting rights in the upcoming election if they want their nation and world to improve.
Huerta, 88, a mother of 11 and a grandmother of 10, is known for her advocacy of voter participation, her ongoing efforts to help women, children and the poor, and her fight for policy changes to prevent police brutality. She picked up that cause after suffering a life-threatening assault at the hands of police during a protest against Vice President at the time George W. Bush.
The evening took a surprising turn during the period of audience questioning when Brittany Bringuez, a senior integrated educational studies major, questioned Huerta about Chapman’s record regarding labor issues.
“It’s kind of ironic that your life’s work has been around worker’s rights and fairness and justice and I think it’s particularly interesting that Chapman doesn’t allow its staff to unionize,” Bringuez said. “How do you keep going against the big guys when you don’t have power?”
Struppa was quick to cut Bringuez off.
“It’s just not correct,” he said.
In response to Bringuez, Huerta urged people to be persistent, have care, and not to waste their time.
“We’re empowering people. A lot of people are afraid to get involved,” Huerta said.
During the discussion, Huerta urged educators to broaden their curriculums to include the history of struggles for equality.
“The way to erase the ignorance is to teach,” Huerta said. “We have to teach the true history of the United States of America. Starting at a young age, children are not taught of the injustices, such as how Native Americans were the original landowners and how, through slavery, African Americans were responsible for building the infrastructure of America.”
A video shown gave information on the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF), which demonstrated the lives of community members who received financial, emotional and professional help from the foundation.
Huerta condemned what she described as the continuing bias against minorities in high school. Namely, with Kern High School District, which lost a lawsuit against the DHF for mistreating students of color. She also urged reforms in the criminal justice system, advocating fewer incarcerations for minor misdemeanors and allowing people in prison the right to vote.
Increasing the minimum wage to one that matches the cost of living now and acknowledging unfair labor treatment also needs to happen, she said.
Despite the serious subject matter, Huerta drew laughter from the crowd with her witty remarks.
“Friends don’t let their friends shop at Walmart,” joked Huerta, referencing the giant retailer that has been the subject of many labor rights complaints.
“(Americans) are economic colonizers. We have to change our foreign policy to help other countries develop,” Huerta said.