Cesar Chavez 78th birthday celebrated

Across the nation, gatherings honored the 78th anniversary of the birth of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America and a leader in struggles for political and economic rights and peace.

In San Antonio, Texas, up to 15,000 people — a record number for the city — braved intermittent and, at one point, torrential rain and hail to participate in the Cesar Chavez Day celebration March 26. After a two-hour program of entertainment and speeches, marchers made their way downtown to Alamo Plaza for another program, with international peace being the most prominent theme. The importance of Social Security was also highlighted. Some marchers carried posters resembling street signs with “Cesar Chavez Avenue,” supporting a name change for part of Commerce Street.

A wide variety of unions and grassroots organizations were represented, including Food not Bombs, SEIU Local 1967, and San Anto Cultural Arts.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of labor and community activists gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for a mass in honor of Chavez’ life and legacy on his birthday, March 31. Chavez “had a genius for fanning the flames of righteous anger that he channeled into action, nonviolent organized struggle to advance the interests of workers,” said the Most Reverend Gabino Zavala.

Zavala, auxiliary bishop for the San Gabriel Valley region of the Roman Catholic Church, said the Chavez spirit of struggle is “something we need now more than ever as many corporations have stepped up antagonism to workers’ rights.” He called on participants to work for “legalization of immigrant rights, driver’s licenses, to close the gap between rich and poor.”

Workers from different unions offered short prayers to help win the demands of struggles, like “a new contract with affordable medical insurance,” “justice for hotel and laundry workers,” “greater opportunity for legalization, in education,” “respect for all workers and justice especially for farm workers.”

In Salinas, Calif., a 24-hour emergency “read-in” to save the public library system from a scheduled shutdown following budget cuts brought together residents, outstanding authors and people’s movement leaders. Among participants in the read-in, organized by the Salinas Action League, Code Pink and other groups, were United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, actor Hector Elizondo, and author Maxine Hong Kingston.

Students and parents will go to Sacramento on April 16, during National Library Week, in an effort to meet with legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about long-term help needed to assure the library system’s future.

In San Francisco, marchers, including unions and student organizations, paraded down Market Street before a festival in Civic Center Plaza.

“In Cesar’s life, you can find courage to always confront those situations that needed to be taken head-on,” said Chavez’ nephew, Federico Chavez. “With all the things Gov. Schwarzenegger is trying to do, we have to have the courage today that we can confront and overcome.”

Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer emeritus of the San Francisco Labor Council, took Schwarzenegger sharply to task for threatening to take away the Cesar Chavez Birthday holiday. Several speakers expressed concern over developments at the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona, where vigilantes are threatening violence against people trying to cross the border.