CHICAGO — “The great thing about people who lead great lives is they inspire others years later to stand up for what is good and just,” declared Rev. Calvin Morris. “Rudy Lozano’s footprints show us the way for activism in today’s historic struggles.” Morris, director of the Community Renewal Society opened a June 22 gathering of over 250 people paying tribute to the remarkable life of Rudy Lozano, cut short by an assassin’s bullet 25 years ago.
Speaker after speaker illustrated how the seeds sown by Lozano and his fellow activists in countless struggles have blossomed into today’s mass people’s upsurge cresting in the electoral arena. A short video included remarks by Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Cesar Chavez and several of today’s young activists.
Lozano emerged as a leading force in the Mexican American community here in the late 1960s as a student. He organized a movement demanding a new high school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and a curriculum that respected the contributions of Mexicans to history. That struggle eventually led to the construction of Benito Juarez High School.
“There are three pillars to the essence of Rudy Lozano, observed Jesus Garcia, director of Little Village Economic Development Corporation and a close friend and co-worker. Garcia said Lozano was a man of action, believed in the power of organized labor and multi-racial unity and fought for involvement of the Mexican American community in the electoral process and building of political independence.
Lozano was instrumental in building a multi-racial coalition around the historic mayoral campaign of Harold Washington in 1983. Lozano helped bring the Mexican American community into the winning alliance and ran for alderman against an entrenched machine candidate. He lost by 17 votes and was to be appointed vice mayor by Washington. However, Lozano was assassinated in his home before the appointment.
Lozano’s widow and co-worker, Lupe Lozano spoke about the struggle to create the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization, which remains on the forefront of political independence in city politics. Twenty-second Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz told the crowd he couldn’t take on Mayor Daley without the IPO’s strength and support.
Lupe Lozano said despite losing the first aldermanic election “we won the founding of a multi-racial coalition and the election of Harold Washington. Rudy saw a bigger vision – victory for people of all of Chicago. Rudy represented a symbol of unity,” she said.
Garcia won an aldermanic election shortly after Rudy’s death and then became the first Mexican American elected to the state legislature. He noted the movement continues to grow and that it elected a block of independent labor-backed aldermen in Chicago last year.
Lozano became the Midwest organizing director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the precursor of Unite Here. He was organizing tortilla workers when he was killed. Those behind the murder remain a mystery.
The keynote speaker was Joel Ochoa, a Lozano friend, organizer for IAM Local Lodge 727N and the California Immigrant Workers Association. Ochoa said the movement Lozano helped create with Burt Corona and others put the whole discussion of amnesty for undocumented workers in the center of public debate.
“The AFL-CIO has completely changed its position and millions have taken to the streets. For that I can say thanks Rudy Lozano and Burt Corona. The fight was and is about political power. They realized the Mexican American community needed to unite with other communities and needed to create coalitions,” he said.
Richard Barnett, an aide to Mayor Washington summed up Lozano’s political legacy in a Chicago Tribune quote. “It was people like Lozano who built the foundation for Barack Obama’s historic run for the presidency” through his dedication to grassroots work and unity.
The event ended when the next generation of Lozanos took the stage. Sons Rudy, Jr., Pepe and David are all deeply involved in the progressive political life of the city carrying forth their father’s mighty vision. Pepe Lozano implored the crowd to become engaged in the 2008 elections and to not let this moment in history pass anyone by.