Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Earlier generations of people often wonder how and to whom the baton will be passed—a symbol that struggle will continue in this unjust world.
Sofia García had trekked down the path with the César Chávez marchers in 2009. She played a starring role that year; she carried the banner of La Virgen de Guadalupe during the march—a tradition that the United Farm Workers practiced for many years during its pilgrimages, marches and rallies and which the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver emulate. La Virgen is the spiritual protectoress of the Brown eyed children of the sun as they struggle for social justice against all odds. She is a spiritual guia during our marches as we call upon our antepasados to join us to walk with pride and dignity.
Ms. García stated, “When I was asked to carry the banner of the Virgen Mary, I felt empowered, especially with such an amazing crowd of passionate community people with conviction.”
At the young age of 9, she had heard stories about many of the Chicano Movement leaders—individuals who had made supreme sacrifices to stand up against the oppressive forces that had kept the group invisible. She recollected writing a school report where she wrote, “Marches demonstrate a way of standing up for others who have rights that are not being followed.” The silent message in marches demonstrates dissatisfaction at the current social arrangements. It appears that her political consciousness was being shaped at this time in her life.
As a middle school student, Ms. García learned about restorative justice—a community-based approach to restoring justice and balance in community when things become imbalanced. She also played a mentorship role in the Latinx Student Alliance, designed to share local histories. As she stated, “We hosted historical events, for example, the history of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” which to many was considered the supreme law of the land.
Ms. García is now a Junior at Regis University studying Politics, with a Minor in Peace and Justice. On March 27th, 2021 she came to celebrate her father, Jim García, founder and current CEO of Tepeyac Community Health Center. Tepeyac received the César Chávez Peace and Justice Organization Award for leadership and service to the community. Because of the pandemic, there was no march.
“Everyone having a seat at the table,” was Sofia’s metaphor for social justice—the idea that all voices should be represented in a just world. Her values, imparted to her at a young age—speak of the sacredness of each human being, with a right to freedom and liberty. The social consciousness she possesses is a very mature view of what life should be about but rooted in the realities of the world. She has thoughts of attending law school. I think that she has already accepted the baton with all of its responsibilities in a very humble way.
Nonviolence is Essential in Fighting for Social Justice
Below is the speech I delivered after the Mass at Regis University, honoring Cesar Chavez on March 27th as part of the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver’s 20th annual celebration honoring the late humanitarian.
I want to thank Regis University, Dr. Nicki Gonzales, Fr. Kevin Burke, Vice President of Mission, and other Regis staff members who gave so graciously of their time to collaborate with the Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver for its 20th year celebration. Celebrating a Catholic mass was part of César Chávez’ tradition as farmworkers continued their struggle for economic and social justice. The partnership we have established for the last several years with Regis University demonstrates true generosity as its best.
La Virgen is the spiritual protectoress of the Brown eyed children of the sun as they struggle for social justice against all odds. She is a spiritual guia during our marches as we call upon our antepasados to join us to walk with pride and dignity.
I am glad to report that Dolores Huerta is on viral as we speak. The committee always pays respect to Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW), who has become a national icon. In the latest book on her life, (Si Ella Pueda! (2019), written by Stacey K. Sowards, the author states, “As a farm worker organizer and a cofounder of the United Farm Workers union, Dolores has demonstrated a lifelong commitment and social justice orientation to fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed.”
Based on what just happened in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado, that is, useless massacres, I thought I would make a few remarks about one of the essential gifts that César Chávez vowed to abide by in the union’s struggle for social justice—nonviolence, something he preached at the pulpit in América’s fields where farmworkers had been subjected to violence by strike breakers, teamster goons and on many occasions, an unfriendly public.
Violence comes in many forms and can be demonstrated in many behavioral manifestations. Separating children from their parents is an act of violence, with a long-term devastating impact on the psychology of children. Incarcerating children in cages is an act of violence, a tragic and humiliating experience with long term psychological consequences. Depriving workers of a livable wage and safeguards against a pandemic is violence against humanity. To otherize another person or group through racist rhetoric is violence; albeit violence of the tongue. This country is in crisis, suffering from violence and hate. Hate is generally manifested through violence.
What inspired César Chávez to practice nonviolence as a tool for creating social justice? He knew that no one had the right to destroy another human life. He knew that violence was a reaction to fear. He also knew that the antidote to fear is courage. Are human beings innately violent, with an innate negative impulse, buried in the consciousness of one’s soul, driving someone to use force and violence in meeting his or her needs? Or are human beings seeking out goodness with an aspiration to heal a collective soul wound? I have read and studied those who espouse a philosophy of nonviolence as a method for achieving social justice in the world for many years, but I also understand social movements throughout history wherein human beings engaged in violence and war.
It takes courage to act upon one’s convictions and to confront evil couched in immoral authority and a society that has collectively lost its willingness to implement its statutory commitment to its people. Chávez took control of moral authority when others refused to, using courage and his God-given agency to act upon his world. Regarding courage, Nelson Mandela, stated in his memoirs, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave [person] is not he who does not feel afraid, but [one] who conquers that fear.”
Fear is the serpent that devours our creative energies, leading us down paths to self and collective destruction. Courage is the dove that opens our hearts and prepares us for the inevitable battles in our world. Fear is poison. Courage is the medicine that will heal the wounded spirit. You may not always be victorious over your fears, but you can minimize the losses that lead to destructive behavior. If violence is an extension of hatred; then we become our own enemies when we are violent. Hatred destroys the individual internally and destroys your brother externally.
In the final analysis, man’s dominion over others has to be brought to justice. Someone has to have the courage to act on his or her moral authority when a society’s laws are unjust and when governments refuse to implement just laws; someone has to restore humanity, balance out the ongoing struggle of human beings against the oppressive forces that seemingly dominate human life. That takes ultimate courage. Chávez’ philosophy of nonviolence was not a cowardly act. He challenged farmworkers and their sympathizers to engage in non-violent forms of social protest and civil disobedience. He challenged his followers to walk the moral high ground. Engaging in nonviolence did not mean that he was a coward. He knew that farmworkers were also fighting for respect and human dignity.
Nonviolence requires commitment and an ability to articulate passionate moral persuasion with those who choose to be violent. And to be honest, many times moral persuasion doesn’t work. Therefore, many adhere to a philosophy of self-defense, especially when physically attacked. There are many good and honest people who believe that you combat violence with violence. The problem is that it leads to more violence, for as we know so well, “those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” to quote one philosophical treatise. As Ghandi said regarding violence, “an eye for an eye may mean that one becomes blind.”
There is no room for complacency when a human being decides to practice social justice through nonviolence. To be complacent with violence as it destroys our world is not displaying the kind of courage Chávez asked of us. We cannot hide behind stained glass windows to watch movements from afar; we should walk in unison with the people who seek out social justice.
When will we replace violence with atonement and forgiveness? We cannot become the evil that we are trying to eradicate. Spiritual growth happens when we truly forgive those, we believe have wronged us. We need to become the people we want others to be. True heroes will not be judged by how many human beings they have killed during times of war but rather how many human beings they saved by creating peace.
Let’s march in peace when we are called upon to address the evils in society.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. ©April 4, 2021 Ramón Del Castillo.
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