most of us in America wallow in a season of gastronomical over-indulgence,
here's some food for thought: In the late 1960s, thanks to Cesar Chavez
and the United Farm Workers (UFW), deciding whether or not to buy grapes
was a political act.
Three years after
its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around
Delano, California ... a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that
appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of
a national boycott. Trusting in the average person's ability to connect
with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight -- and a
lesson in social justice -- into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans
"By 1970, the grape boycott was an unqualified success," writes
Marc Grossman of Stone Soup. "Bowing to pressure from the boycott,
grape growers at long last signed union contracts, granting workers human
dignity and amore livable wage."
Chavez is perhaps best known for the grape boycott, but in line with
his collective soul, he was always the first to admit that it was not
entirely his idea. In fact, he was initially against the boycott until his
co-workers explained that the best method was not to boycott individual
labels, but all grapes. In this way, the grapes became the label itself.
Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and
his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous
pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the
cause and to the non-violent methods he espoused. Even when threatened
with physical harm, the furthest Chavez and his comrades would go is
Once in 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez's picketeers, a
bit of labor solidarity solved the problem without violence. William
Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president
of the International Seafarers Union.
"Within hours," writes David Goodwin in
Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People, "Hall
sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march
with the strikers on the picket lines ... There followed afterward no
further physical harassment."
"The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts-in urban slums, in
the sweat shops of the factories and fields," said Martin Luther King, Jr.
in a telegram to Chavez after a UFW electoral victory. "Our separate
struggles are really one-a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for
The roots of Chavez' effectiveness lay in his ability to connect on a
human level. When asked: "What accounts for all the affection and respect
so many farm workers show you in public?" Cesar replied: "The feeling is
"He never owned a house," says Grossman. "He never earned more than $6,000
a year. When he died ... he left no money for his family. Yet more than
40,000 people marched behind the plain pine casket at his funeral,
honoring the more than 40 years he spent struggling to improve the lives
of farm workers."
struggle for freedom, dignity, and humanity just marked 25 years since its
inception: Food Not Bombs (FNB).
Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980, FNB was the brainchild of Keith McHenry
and seven other activists. "We came out of the Clamshell Alliance," says
McHenry, " [which was] trying to shut down Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.
It was a collection of mostly anarchists but also included Quakers and the
Red Clams, who were socialists."
FNB is responsible for starting hundreds of autonomous chapters
throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia ... where food that
would otherwise be thrown out is recovered and transformed into hot
vegetarian meals that are then served to the homeless and at protests and
other events. With roots in a variety of social causes, it's not
surprising that McHenry describes the FNB project as essentially "the food
wing of a movement that includes anti-authoritarian music, art, unlicensed
radio, zines, squatting, needle exchange, bike and hemp liberation, info
shops, computer networking, autonomous decentralized non-hierarchical
organizing, consensus decision-making, and sharing a philosophy of
tolerance, joy, and free expression."
By linking the national problem of homelessness with the larger issue
of rampant militarism, McHenry's goal is to address "the inhumane agenda
of the government at both the personal and international levels" as a path
towards beginning a nationwide debate.
"The FNB volunteers believe that it's not too late to help build an
alternative to transnational corporate greed," says McHenry. "People,
through their actions, can change the political agenda."
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at:
This essay is excerpted in part from his new book,
50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American
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