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15 annual Cesar Chavez March: What goes into organizing?

Updated: Apr 9, 2018

Art by Omar Coronado of Colonia El Jay and member of the union

By Jonathan Salinas

The annual Cesar Chavez March hosted by La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) has, since its inception in 2003, attracted hundreds every year and is one of the biggest and most celebrated marches in our community. But what goes into organizing such a large event?

LUPE is known for the social services they provide to their over 8000 members (immigration, legal, tax services, health consultations) which offer security and solidarity. But LUPE also honors and continues the community organizing models founded by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez during the farm-workers movement of the 1960s under the flag of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

It is these community organizing models and traits, which focus on people empowerment through communal participation at house meetings (juntas caseras) that carries into the organizing that went/goes behind this spectacular unity of people who have accepted the responsibility of acting for social change.

Beginning in December, Organizing Coordinator Martha Sanchez, who has been with the union since 2006, mobilized her department's community organizers (3 in Hidalgo County, 1 in Cameron) to invite active membership, and even members who may not be as active in hopes that they do, to meet for the first organizing meeting for the March where they decided on a theme and topic for tomorrow's march.

"Our first meeting was to reflect on what the history of planning the march was, what we had in the past and how to arrive on the theme;" Sanchez said Friday. "So reflect on past but looking to future; what is brewing, what is going on, my job was facilitating those reflections on the past, what we are looking at right now that really needs to be put out there. What is an issue that right now is brewing that is going to make our march for successful."

That brewing issue is DREAMers: With principles and values, "Soñadores con principios y valores."Sanchez stressed that her primary role as facilitator was to assure that LUPE staff did not override the voices of the members participating, as she reconfigured the organization of the annual march once she came on to reflect what members say and want, rather than the other way around.

"One of things we see in people who are oppressed is that they don't know they have value and dignity," said Sanchez. And so the way I started the process for decision-making from leaders for the march was for them to practice their own abilities and put into practice what their participation has taught them. Before, the march was done by the staff, what I wanted to do was for the leaders to feel empowered. We cannot empower people. But we can provide the space for people to practice their power, if they have the space to decide, their dignity is upheld. When they see it play it out they will see that their opinions matter. It was a struggle to come to this process of organizing the marcha. I had to brustle people. What are the opportunities for people to come and make the decisions. “By them, not for them” I realized we were missing this opportunity. So now it’s fully decided by them. Little by little, increasing the members when we come part of it."

Sanchez's organizing department and the LUPE staff is working overtime to implement what their members and leaders envision.

Two of those leaders are Mary Romero and Marce Alejandre from Edinburg. Both mothers, they have been organizing with LUPE longer than they can remember. When asked how many marches they have been to, Mary said "Oooooo, ni me acuerdo!"; "Oooooo, I don't even remember!" Romero has been attending marches since about 2005 and began organizing a few years after. But what makes this one different for her is a sense of coraje.

"Eh sido que hay algo bueno o más positivo. Los padres, no dejan de jugar con ellos porque si es una lucha de seguir adelante y tener otro dia mas junto con tus hijos. Lo miro como una burla, mentalmente...tengo coraje en la cuestión que nos ha humillado más de lo que ha sido, no nos ha respetado absolutamente nada. Entonces familias inmigrantes van a salir y decir no esta bien lo que están haciendo. Es algo de coraje, impotencia, de poner un alto…”

More than this Alejandre says that it takes participation, consistency, heart and passion to want to serve others and your community. Seconded by her compañera in action, Romero says that one needs to give their heart and soul to the cause.

"Igual, hay que tener también la pasión, el interés para luchar por tu comunidad, por los de más. Por ejemplo, para la Marcha de César Chávez, hay que entregar todo, el alma y el corazón porque estás luchando por lo justo. Si no sientes ese cariño, respeto para la comunidad y otras personas, se ve que no participan en ciertas cosas. Es importante participar en todo."

What they would want most out of the march is to be heard and for this administration to know that they too are human, just like them and that their rights will be protected and upheld.

"Que el presidente, y todos los que gobiernan este país que nos escuchen. Todo el mundo tiene el derecho de soñar, alto tener vida dignas para familias, queremos trabajar, queremos derechos, jóvenes merecen otra oportunidad. Ya no pueden jugar con nuestros sentimientos, que vamos a seguir adelante," said Alejandre.

Chavez passed away on April 23, 1993. What lessons can we draw from this great labor and human rights activist during such a time when our community is facing literal militarization, on top of increased deportations and harassment by immigration agencies of the government, I asked Sanchez:

"His legacy will remind us that people have been under really bad situations before and when people believed farm-workers were not valuable, they [UFW] changed that. He will encourage us to come together and organize, and unite because we are capable of changing the destiny of this country. Isolated, we cannot, but together we can."

The marcha will begin at San Juan Municipal Park at 9:00 a.m. and commence at La Union del Pueblo Entero where there will be a rally, food, games for the kids and convivio.

Frontera de Salud from UTSA Health Science Center will be providing FREE health screenings, including cholesterol screenings and CPR training before and after the march.

Joining them Saturday will also be international, award-winning poet and immigration writer, Rossy Evelin Lima and Together Juntos organizer, Fernando Garcia. Together Juntos is a Caravan that traveled to 12 cities along the Texas-Mexico border over a two-week span in order to train trainers on what rights the immigrant community has when they encounter law enforcement in the midst of SB4. Lima, Sanchez and South Texas Human Rights Center Director, Eddie Canales, all of whom will be presente mañana.

Ahi nos vemos, y si se puede!

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