Violence in American society may not be feasible and sustainable without building a culture of peace. As we prepare to celebrate the 17th annual march to honor the legacy of César Estrada Chávez, communities plagued with this epidemic might want to seriously consider studying Chávez’ life and his philosophy of nonviolence. He was one of few leaders that confronted agribusiness with their megabucks and inhumane labor policies. He did so on behalf of powerless farmworkers that had been abandoned by law. His cause was not hedonistic; it was activism at its best. To understand peace, one must understand what violence does to our collective spirit.
This year, the theme of the march is Educating and Protecting Our Children. In 2015, when Chávez’ bust was permanently placed in César E. Chávez Park, it was a reminder that only through the practice of nonviolence can human beings achieve the high ideals set forth by Chávez and other leaders that sacrificed their lives for the greater good. Chávez believed that nonviolence retains the unconditional dignity of the individual. To act violently would lead to self-destruction.
The time for justice is now. We can no longer wait as time passes uncompromisingly controlled by those who seek power over others. Time moves and without action nothing is changed.
As I reflect over the last 17 years that the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver has done its work, I am grateful at the commitment that my compañeros/as on the committee have made. They have faithfully devoted and sacrificed their time away from their families and significant others to keep the legacy of social justice and activism practiced by César Chávez alive. As José Antonio Orozco states in his book, César Chávez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence:
“The grandest legacy of La Causa would be a contribution to the development of a culture of peace that can work toward a better world.” Orozco borrows a definition of a culture of peace from the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization that defines this as a, “set of values attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes and solving problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations.”
Chávez rebuffed any type of violence as he preached nonviolence on América’s dusty fields from pulpits made of cardboard. One of the rituals rooted in Mexican culture that he practiced as an antidote to violence was el peregrinación. The 300-mile pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 was organized not to beg for sympathy from the atrocious conditions that farmworkers were experiencing in the fields but to heighten the social consciousness of the growers. As Chávez has stated, “A trip made with sacrifice and hardship is an expression of penance and commitment—and often involving a petition to the patron of the pilgrimage for some sincerely sought benefit of body or soul.” The inclusion of his Catholic faith during United Farm Workers (UFW) marches was never used as a tool for proselytization. He honored all faiths and invited all religions to participate in the struggle.
Another ritual that Chávez practiced was the fast, which confused and angered many of his followers. He fasted, not to make a spectacle of himself but to express to others whose impulses are geared towards fighting violence with violence, to refrain. Depraving himself of food and ridiculed by violence of the tongue by some as possessing a Jesus Christ complex was in actuality a revelation that one of the ways you can affect long term change is when you penetrate the soul of a human being with kindness and nonviolence. Once confronted with truth, anyone that is true to himself or herself, cannot regress.
Chávez was intimately aware of how “Americans generally associate México, particularly the border regions, with crime, random violence, drug trafficking, political corruption and sexual vice,” neglecting the many forms of violence that governments use as social control methods in border towns through the militarization of the border. He was fully aware of how undocumented workers were transformed into modern day slaves, used as political pawns by power brokers who used incessant violence to try to destroy La Causa. In the Plan de Delano, Chávez sought remedies to end the suffering endured by farmworkers. As the plan stated, “We are suffering. We have suffered, and we are not afraid to suffer in order to win our cause…Our men, women and children have suffered not only the basic brutality of stoop labor, and the most obvious injustices of the system; they have also suffered the desperation of knowing that the system caters to the greed of callous men and not to our needs.”
Chávez denounced American racism, economic inequality and national policy in society where institutionalized violence was used to maintain the appalling social arrangements. He had witnessed structural violence embedded in América’s institutions; violence on the streets, violence inflicted upon others in personal relationships and violence developed through inhumane comprehensive immigration policies that has grown in scope and intensity. DACA students can attest to this as they live in fear and deprivation of basic human rights.
Chávez criticized narrow chauvinistic nationalism, describing it as a cover up for macho tendencies to control. Orozco states in his book that, “Power over others clearly resembles the kind of strength cherished by macho masculinity.” This kind of power can be abusive and destroy others. We should realize that power in communion with others coupled with nonviolence is a stronger force than dying by the sword. It can be a spiritual reawakening that brings community together tearing down false borders that maintain distance and dissonance between human beings. Chávez worked arduously at building power with others not over others.
Long term social change is hard work. At times, it seems virtually impossible especially for the plight of the poor who suffer from social catastrophe on a daily basis in order to survive. A lesson that Chávez left us is that only through constant pressure, exposing truth and building solidarity can we create and sustain a culture of peace. Truth revealed through nonviolent struggle is more effective and will eventually overpass untruths echoed by violence. The time for justice is now. We can no longer wait as time passes uncompromisingly controlled by those who seek power over others. Time moves and without action nothing is changed.
There can be no honor in violence that obliterates human life. Compassion for those who lack understanding and who destroy human life and rationalize it through mechanisms of institutionalized policies aimed at human destruction, will emerge as we forsake violent impulses.
The culture of peace is not a panacea. It is not a life without conflict; it simply allows human beings to recognize their own frailties, with forgiveness as an antidote.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. ©3/27/2018
Ramón Del Castillo.
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Una Despedida Para César Chávez
Somewhere in Heaven,
a place has been waiting
for your arrival.
The time to orchestrate
“el union” with the Grand Organizer
No more sweetheart contracts.
No more pesticides.
No more scabs.
No more picket signs.
No more deaths caused
by insensitive growers,
only the sweet smell of orchids and roses
growing tall and honorable
in lettuce fields donde la tierra
is cultivated with justice
whose soil is tilled
with the philosophy of non-violence
de la gente humilde
que buscan paz.
Bring out the bandera roja
with the eagle centered
en el medio,
let it flutter
so la huelga can
spread it wings
flying away with brother César
to the Promised Land.
Remember its white circle symbolizing
a pure and just cause;
its red color symbolizing unity
y la muerte injusta brought upon
by the oppressor
against farm workers seeking dignity.
Use the bandera to wipe away las lagrimas
human tears that fell onto mother earth
from Delano to Michigan
from Sal Si Puedes to Ft. Lupton
during those times when human lives
abused and discarded.
Remember the bloodshed
as a worthy cause
y los grape and lettuce boycotts
when human beings knew not
el valor de su hermano.
Somewhere in Heaven
a place has been
waiting for you.
Pasa con Dios, Hermano César.
Your kind gentle words
will now sprinkle down from el cielo
like the springtime raindrops
that water the crops
growing the nourishment
for a better tomorrow
of those relentless moments
when we marched on the streets
of urban America
so that our brothers and sisters
in the fields might obtain justice.
Somewhere in Heaven,
a place has been
set aside for you.
San César Chávez
talk to God for us
to send wisdom
in spiritual forms,
in poetic forms
in musical forms
in dance forms
so that your struggle
will not have been
¡Vaya con Dios, César!
¡Gracias por su conocimiento!
Gracias por el tiempo
que estuvistes con nosotros.
¡Que viva la huelga!
¡Y que viva el espiritu de César Chávez!
© Ramón del Castillo 4/1993