Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Cesar Chavez Film Stirs Memories from 41 Years Ago

Cesar Chavez as photographed by Cathy Murphy

Last Saturday, I saw the  film, Cesar Chavez, with my 32 year old daughter, Amanda.  I was moved to tears at several points.  My daughter, too, was emotionally moved although she was born many years after the events that were portrayed in the movie.  The film highlighted the life of the labor leader primarily between the years of 1962 and 1970 as Chavez struggled to establish a union for farm laborers in the California grape vineyards.  I thought it was a fair and accurate film that captured the spirit of the times and the character of the man.  I know this because I knew Cesar Chavez when I worked for the United Farm Workers and was part of that movement in 1973.

On December 9, 1972, I graduated from the University of California at San Diego.  I was 22 years old and I had watched the previous 4 years of tumultuous social change from a fairly privileged viewpoint, a beautiful campus in the beach community of La Jolla, California.   Many of my fellow students had dropped out to do something to change the world - finding their academic life irrelevant. I stayed the course knowing it was important to finish college because I was the first person in my family to get a degree.  It was a gift that my parents helped me materially to achieve.  

I had been an activist while I was in college. I had protested against the Vietnam war and frequently supported causes that fought social injustice, but now I was ready to take the next step toward becoming my own person.  I had helped the UFW in Los Angeles in the summer of 1972 on the "No on Proposition 22" Campaign.  I also had studied the theory and history of non-violent direct action in a course at my university and was impressed with Chavez' embrace of the principles of Mohandas Gandhi in forcing social change.  I applied to work for the United Farm Workers' Union and received a reply on January 18, 1973:

I was to be paid $5 per week (this was true for everyone working for the UFW, including Cesar Chavez), plus room and board (provided by a union house or host) and gasoline for my car if it was to be used by the Union.  

Initially, I was asked to start work as a community organizer on the Lettuce and Safeway Boycott in San Diego, under the direction of John Waite before the UFW could make arrangements to send me to Arizona to work on an organizing project.  John was a minister from Ohio who worked for Chris Hartmire and the Migrant Ministry.  He and his wife and family had been sent to San Diego from the midwest to help organize the lettuce boycott in San Diego.

Cesar Chavez and John Waite at a rally for the UFW

Jerry Robinett
In March, 1973, I was sent to Tucson, Arizona to help register voters and gather petition signatures to recall Governor Jack Williams who had signed a bill prohibiting farmworkers from striking or using the boycott tactic in Arizona. I was joined by Louise Caldes from Carlsbad, California and we were housed by the family of Jerry and Ellie Robinett in Tucson.  Jerry was an underground mining Electrician and a member of the UMW.  Both Jerry and Ellie were devout Catholics and strong advocates for justice for the poor and dispossessed, so offering us shelter in their home came naturally even though it was a burden on them and their privacy.  We lived at the Robinetts for more than three months. I loved this area of southern Arizona.and was able to get out and explore the beautiful desert and mountains on my one day off.

Living in Tucson, Arizona in the spring of 1973 

During those three or so months in Tucson, I worked with a crew of volunteers who also worked full time for the UFW.  We met each day at the Old Labor Council building.  We looked like a motley crew.  But everyone (and I am sorry I have forgotten some people's names) was dedicated, sincere and hard-working.  Cristoff was a conscientious objector from Germany sent to the USA for "alternative service" working for the Migrant Ministry. He had a knack for learning foreign languages and he quickly picked up Pima, Spanish, and Yaqui.  He was our "union car mechanic," keeping his favorite union car, "zee rocket" (an old rambler without a hood), running.

Here I am with Nellie, Cristof and Big Frank

Ruben and Sally

Margaret Cowan (left) was our leader
I worked 6 to 7 days a week, registered voters and gathered petition signatures.  I  had 3 years of academic Spanish in college and, because I had to speak Spanish everyday going "door-to-door" in South Tucson, I got very fluent. There were days that I took a little longer to talk with folks I met, especially the elderly, lonely and sick residents who answered the door and appreciated a visitor.  I remember one man with cancer with open wounds who was dying all alone.  I listened to him for more than an hour as he talked about his life. Our local leader, Margo Cowan, is still in Tucson, now a lawyer representing immigrants and fighting for immigration reform.  We turned in over 170,000 signatures to recall the Governor but the Recall Election was never held.  

After submitting the signatures, Cristoff (my German friend) and I headed for San Diego for a couple of days off.  He'd never been to California and I let him drive my car when we were pulled over in Chandler, Arizona, by a state highway patrolman when Cristoff passed him crossing a double line as the road narrowed.  I had both UFW and "Hit the Road, Jack" recall stickers on my back bumper and I was afraid of what might happen to us.  Cristoff handed the officer his driver's license and the officer asked Cristoff where he was from. Cristoff told him he was from Germany and he worked for the UFW.  I kicked his leg trying to get him to "shut up".  The officer asked: "What exactly do you do for the UFW?"  Cristoff said he had come all the way from Germany to help the farmworkers get rid of the governor of Arizona because he was against the right to organize for farmworkers. I thought to myself: "We're going to jail!" But the officer must not have liked Gov. Jack Williams either, because he simply gave Cristoff a warning and told us to be more careful and have a safe journey to California.

After the Arizona Recall Campaign, I returned to San Diego where I was to direct our Boycott of a Safeway store in Pacific Beach.  We then started the Gallo Wine Boycott. Portuguese and Mexican immigrant farm worker families who were strikers at the Gallo winery were sent to San Diego. We found housing for them. We had a huge old three story house in Logan Heights called "The Union House" where we and the striker families lived.  We spent everyday picketing liquor stores with leaflets asking people to boycott Gallo wines.  The rest of the time we were having community wide meetings to raise support.  

Cesar Chavez frequently met with our local boycott staff during the time I was in the UFW.  Most times we wouldn't get prior notice that he was in town but were told to come to a meeting and in walked Cesar.  He was a soft-spoken and humble person, never haughty or prideful although he was now internationally famous.  He was very inspiring to us staff and we would have done anything for him.  One day, I was told to take my car (now the "union car") and pick up Cesar Chavez at the San Diego airport and bring him to a meeting at Minnie Ybarra's house in Logan Heights. I was very nervous and it must have showed because his bodyguard, Richard Ybarra, took over driving as we sat stuck in traffic from the airport.  There were many death threats to Cesar's life and being stuck in the traffic was a potential security threat. 

Cesar and Richard Ybarra (Cesar's son-in-law and bodyguard)

September 21-23, 1973, I attended the First Constitutional Convention of the United Farm Workers National Union, AFL-CIO in Fresno, California.  We had addresses of solidarity and support from union leaders, religious leaders and Senator Edward M. Kennedy.  It was a wonderful and inspiring event that I am proud to have attended.  Here is the Agenda of items and speakers. 

I left the UFW in December, 1973. Inspired by the role of attorneys in the UFW, I took the law school exam (LSAT) in 1974, then applied and was accepted into the University of San Diego School of Law.  I withdrew after 6 weeks, however, when I changed my mind about the grueling study and expensive 4 years of attending Law School at night and working days.  

What I learned in the UFW made me a life-long supporter of worker's rights and the value of unions.  Both of my parents were workers but they were Republicans and never had anything good to say about unions. My year-long experience working for the UFW made me a believer that the only way poor people and workers could get justice was through organizing themselves.  I was working at an electronics manufacturer in 1976 and supported a union drive.  Then I had the opportunity to work at a large aerospace company represented by a union and I got hired there in 1977.  I joined the Machinists' Union and got an immediate negotiated "cost-of living raise" within two months of working "union."  I was a member of the Machinists Union (IAM&AW, AFL-CIO) for 19 years.  I was elected as a Union Business Representative in 1986 and served for 9 years as a full time union representative, defending workers at my company.  Today, I thank the union for my retirement pension which I was able to get at age 55.

In 1993, Cesar Chavez passed away in Yuma, Arizona.  I did not attend the funeral but my Vice President of the International Association of Machinists Union, Justin Ostro, was there.

Justin Ostro, VP of the IAM & AW, AFL-CIO with Delores Huerta, VP of the UFW, AFL-CIO at the funeral of Cesar Chavez
My experience with the UFW in 1973 was a formative time and made me who I am today.  I will never look at food without understanding how it was produced and how farm workers lived.  I will always respect a picket line.  I will always fight for social justice.  I will always respect the tactics of non-violence as a means of political struggle.  For this, I thank you,  Cesar Chavez.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vote for Alan Webber June 3rd and Get Susana Martinez Out of Office in November

A political outsider, Alan Webber is a progressive Democrat who has a proven background of collaborative partnership for economic development, and that's exactly what New Mexico needs.  New Mexico is a beautiful state with wonderful natural resources but with some of the sorriest statistics of economic well-being in the United States. One fifth of the 2 million people in New Mexico live below the National poverty line.

New Mexico is at rock bottom of fifty states measured by 16 key indicators for overall child well-being

The grinding poverty of 31% of New Mexico's children has resulted in an "achievement gap" in educational accomplishments of our elementary school aged children as recently documented by a recent report by NM Center on Poverty and Law:

Table 2. New Mexico achievement gap between low-income and non low-income 
students that are “at or above proficient” in reading and math (NAEP 2013) 
    % of low-income students        % of non-low-income students       Achievement gap 
4th grade reading       15 %                                   39 %                                  -24 

8th grade reading       16 %                                   37 %                                  -21 

4th grade math            24 %                                    51 %                                  -28 

8th grade math            16 %                                    39 %                                  -23 

Our college educated young people as well as many of our younger families struggle to find good-paying jobs and are leaving the state for greener pastures.  According to recent statistics, New Mexico's growth rate is stagnate and most recently has experienced a net "out-migration" of population:

In recent years, New Mexico has had more people leaving the state than have come here. In the 12 months that ended July 1, 2013, the state had a net outmigration of 8,809, according to Census Bureau figures. Between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2013, the state’s net outmigration was 9,750, the Census Bureau said.
In January, 2010, a Republican Governor was elected with many promises to improve the state. Her name is Susana Martinez and she is considered one of the "bright lights" of the national Republican Party because she is a female Hispanic Governor in a predominantly Democratic state.  Governor Martinez is definitely on the short-list as a Vice-Presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2016.

But her accomplishments are practically nil for the people and state of New Mexico.  Her record on the economy is lackluster.  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one indicator of economic health. By the start of Martinez' 3rd year in office, the rate of change in the state's GDP had only improved to a mere 0.2% while its southwestern neighbors were enjoying faster increases in their rate of GDP growth and the US rate was accelerating.

In fact, the economic indices for New Mexico have been stagnate for the most part since Martinez was elected in 2010.  There has been some improvement in the unemployment rate which has declined 1.2% and is now at 6.7% as of February, 2014, but BLS statistics indicate only 16,015 net new jobs were created between January, 2010 and February, 2014.  Without enough good jobs in New Mexico, thousands of workers have moved out of state since April, 2010 to find work,.  The real question to be asked is what has Susana Martinez done to attract and retain jobs to New Mexico?

The New Mexico economy is heavily dependent on government, energy industries, agriculture and mining, film and television, and tourism.  Manufacturing, not so much.  Although she touts New Mexico as a tax-friendly state to attract business with a recently enacted 0% corporate business tax for manufacturers and she talks a lot about trying to land the Tesla Battery Manufacturing Plant, the truth is she tried to kill the nascent film industry when she vetoed HB 379 in 2013 which would have continued and improved tax rebates for films and television made here in New Mexico. The film tax rebates were begun under a Democratic administration and therefore were not favored by Martinez. The Democrats in the State legislature and the outcry of New Mexico's citizens caused her to reverse gears when she signed almost the exact same bill a few days later.

There are a few industries that are getting very favorable treatments from the administration of Susana Martinez and that is the mining, dairy and oil and gas companies who provided her with so much political money in 2010.  In 2013, Susana Martinez rewarded her contributors with favorable environmental law revisions to allow the corporate dairy farms and copper mines to pollute ground water supplies - one of New Mexico's scarcest and most precious resources.

Susana Martinez is a member of the political party that shut down the government in 2013 and damaged the state's economy and jobs of a high percentage of New Mexico's citizens.  She didn't take on the Republican National leadership and tell them their antics in Washington, DC were hurting New Mexicans.  Her silence was an extreme disservice to our state.

She has done nothing to alleviate the extreme poverty that is a major contributor to our young people's poor educational preparation and unemployment.  Indeed, it is the horribly high level of poverty that causes the collateral damage to New Mexican families suffering from substance abuse, homelessness, child abuse, crime, poor health and hunger.

Susana Martinez is more concerned with attaining a higher national office and so her actions are meant to attract the Tea Party and conservative GOP interest nationally, so to show she is a fiscal "hawk", she has acted to cut important government services for the poor and mentally disabled.   In 2013, she stopped funding for behavioral health facilities serving 30,000 persons saying there was mismanagement.  Martinez gave "no-bid contracts" for an auditing firm and behavioral health services to Arizona companies that have provided her with political support.  Now a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal reports findings that 23% fewer New Mexicans are receiving mental health care. Then, $6.6 million of the budget of the state's child welfare department (Children Youth and Families Department) was returned to the state treasury amid rising child abuse and mental health treatment demands.

When Susana Martinez was elected in 2010, 1 in 5 New Mexicans did not have any kind of health care through insurance or other government programs. After the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010 and offered millions of dollars in federal assistance to set up a state-wide health exchange, Democrats and Republicans in the New Mexico legislature passed a bill in 2011 to set up the exchange.  There had been a year of work with "shareholders" from the industry, business, consumers, and hospitals.  The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce urged the Governor to sign the bill and establish a state-wide health insurance exchange to help 450,000 New Mexicans get health insurance. The newly elected Governor, catering to the far-right hysteria about "Obamacare," chose to veto the bi-partisan legislation. She finally signed a bill in March, 2013 to establish a state health exchange, but with two years lost, the state exchange was not ready to enroll people on its own exchange by October 1, 2013 and individuals seeking health care were re-directed to the over-burdened federal web site. I am one of the people who needed to purchase individual insurance and I can tell you it was one big mess.

On education, her main strategy to "reform education" is to blame teachers for New Mexico's children's poor educational performance.  She brought in as her Cabinet-level Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera, from Florida at Jeb Bush's recommendation.  Hanna Skandera, who has never been a teacher herself, promotes the "privatization" of education. Her primary "solution" to improve the schools is to implement "endless testing" so that teachers spend long hours teaching "to the test."  This has done nothing to improve the educational levels of our children and it drives veteran teachers to retirement.  Martinez' arrogance and ignorance of the value of teachers can be heard in this audio clip provided by Mother Jones Magazine as Susana Martinez slams teachers who get a year round salary but "don't work...3 months out of the year":

Why has Susana Martinez acted in a way that hurts some of our most needy New Mexican citizens? She does this this to demonstrate that she is a "fiscal conservative" as part of her bona fides for 2016 national political office.  The daily damage of such policies to the people of New Mexico is staggering and doesn't help promote the state as a desirable place to relocate your home or business.

As mental illness, substance abuse, domestic and child abuse and crime increases in New Mexico, it seems that the solution of our Republican Party leaders (like Albuquerque Mayor Berry and Governor Martinez) is to militarize the police and let them loose to "shoot-to-kill" the homeless, alcohol and drug addicted and mentally disabled citizens. The highly publicized case of James Boyd was treated with initial silence by these leaders with the new police chief even pronouncing it as a "justified" killing.

One more thing I need to say here. Martinez got elected in 2010 on an "anti-corruption" platform and a pledge to have the most "transparent administration" in New Mexico's history. This appealed strongly to NM voters who were weary of political corruption cases. There has been in New Mexico a long history of corruption and "pay-to-play" politics that have affected both political parties, but the swirling controversy over the former Democratic governor, Bill Richardson and his relationship to investment companies who were given favorable treatment for political contributions, helped to defeat his Lt. Governor, Diane Denish, with "guilt by association".  Now we are seeing that Susana Martinez is just as concerned about keeping the voters in the dark about her own "back room" deals. Her missteps have been chronicled recently in some conservative national magazines as well as the Republican-leaning Albuquerque Journal.  Her "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" rhetoric on "transparency" opens her up to charges of hypocrisy.

There is no question that Susana Martinez must go as Governor of New Mexico.  If she wins in November, 2014, she will be the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in 2016.  We cannot let that happen to our country.  There are 5 Democrats running for Governor in New Mexico. They all hold similar views about what's wrong with New Mexico. What is different is their vision on what must be done to fix our state. Three of these candidates (Morales, King, and Lopez) have long been in political office and the fourth, Lawrence Rael, has a long history of service in public administration.  None of the four attract the interest of the New Mexico population as a whole.

Voters in New Mexico are weary of partisan battles that produce no innovative solutions to our problems. Since 2008, when Democrats were 50% of registered voters and Republicans were 32% and non-affiliated voters were only 15%, there has been a developing trend of New Mexico voter registration toward non-affiliation so that as of March, 2014, registered voters are now 47% Democrat, 31% Republican, and 19% unaffiliated.  The one candidate who has the best chance at rallying Democrats and Independent voters against Martinez is the non-politician who believes New Mexico can be a better place for everyone: Alan Webber.  Webber's campaign has the most momentum of all five candidates because he is able to energize voters with his "out-of-the-box" thinking.  He has been able to raise the most money to date to wage a campaign against the millions of dollars Martinez has. The Primary Election is June 3rd.  But to not repeat apathy and disinterest among the voters that occurred in the 2010 NM Governor's race, we must let people know they have a visionary leader who can go the distance with Martinez: Alan Webber.  Here is his vision to turn around New Mexico.  If you are not registered as a Democrat, you cannot vote in the Primary for Alan Webber.  Change your political party to Democrat before May 3rd in order to vote in the Democratic Party Primary June 3rd.  Please post a link to this blog on your Facebook page or forward to your fellow voters in New Mexico.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in Central New Mexico

Quarai church ruin
 There is a National Monument not too far from Albuquerque that is a silent world of a past civilization that existed for five centuries on a high mountain plateau.  Displayed are the artifacts, buildings, and history of two cultures: The ancient Puebloan civilization from the 12th century up until the 17th century when Spanish led-expeditions established Catholic churches at each of three Pueblo villages: Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira. You can get there via the Salt Missions Trail Scenic Byway.  Plan for a full day trip if you go.

The Puebloan Culture masonry-style is easy to see in these excavated ruins 

Abó church ruins

Compare this construction with the those of Chaco Culture National Historic Park in Northwest New Mexico.

The settlements have not been occupied for more than 300 years.  The native people probably abandoned the villages during extreme drought in the 17th century.  

 A kiva in a Catholic church may have been an accommodation of native religion by the Franciscan padres

Gran Quivira ruins are the most isolated of the three ruins of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

Some of the excavated Puebloan buildings at Gran Quivira. 

The quiet, desolate location of the Gran Quivira ruins gives you the feeling of great spiritual presence of past lives lived here.

The church at Gran Quivira was never finished.  The Spanish left in the late 17th century.

More pueblo mounds have been excavated at Gran Quivira than the other two locations

Read about the architectural history of the Salinas Pueblo ruins: "In the Midst of a Loneliness" by James Ivey