CNN reports that President Barack Obama "made modern history Monday by announcing the creation of a monument to honor the late labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez." Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz in Keene, California where Chavez lived and led the United Farm Workers movement from the 1970s until the early 1990s is now Cesar E. Chavez National Monument and part of the National Park Service system. The monument is the first honoring a Latino born later than the 1700s, according to CNN.
Chavez died in 1993 but the Farm Workers Union he co-founded with Dolores Huerta lives on - and has been an extremely powerful voice in fighting for LGBT equality and against such antigay measures as Prop 8. No doubt Obama was looking to scores some political points, too, since, as CNN reports, "a big turnout among Latino supporters in states where the race is close could help Obama win re-election against GOP challenger Mitt Romney."
Decades ago, Obama said, when Chavez began his farm worker movement, "no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation's food -- bent down in the beating sun, living in poverty, cheated by growers, abandoned in old age, unable to demand even the most basic rights."
"Cesar cared," the president said. "In his own peaceful and eloquent way he made other people care too." Chavez's organized labor marches and other protests, including a boycott of table grapes, led to "some of the first farm worker contracts in history," Obama said. "Let us honor his memory, but most importantly let us live up to his example."
Apparently Gov. Jerry Brown attended the event - but he's in some hot water with UFW and Latinos across the state for vetoing three significant bills. From the UFW website:
Farm workers, domestic workers, and DREAM students gathered in front of the Ronald Reagan State Building alongside several labor and community organizations to unite against the governor's vetoes of key legislation to extend protections to the Latino community: the Trust Act, the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights and the farm workers' heat protection bills. A sheep was also in attendance to remind Governor Brown that farm animals will continue to have more protections under California law than farm workers, as well as Rosie the Robot, the domestic worker robot from 'The Jetsons.'
The Trust Act - authored by openly gay Assemblymember Tom Ammiano - was touted as an anti-Arizona "papers please" bill that would have prohibited local law enforcement officers from detaining suspects for possible deportation in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they were involved with serious or violent crimes.
"It is disappointing that Jerry Brown doesn't want to be the anti-Jan Brewer," Aarti Kohli, senior fellow at the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at University of California, Berkeley School of Law, told the AP. "The advocates feel very betrayed. They feel like the immigrant and particularly the Latino community have been behind the governor ... and that he hasn't really shown a deep understanding of these really serious issues."
On Sept. 30, Brown also vetoed Assemblymember Betsy Butler's AB 2346, The Farmworker Safety Act of 2012. The bill would have ensured that water and shade are provided to California's farmworkers and would have more severely punish non-compliance by making the growers liable for heat-related illness. Further, it establishes a private right of action so that farmworkers can hold their employers accountable under the law.
How important is this bill? AP reported last Wednesday, Oct. 3, that an unidentified 51 year old farm supervisor on a Salinas Valley farm died Monday, Oct. 1 of a heart attack while working outside in the "95-plus-degree weather on a Dole Fresh farm near Soledad when he collapsed. The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating whether the death was related to the heat."
Butler said Sunday afternoon before heading up to the Obama-Cesar Chavez event that his man's death makes five heat-related deaths this year.
In his message vetoing AB 2346, Brown said:
"California's current outdoor heat standards are the most stringent in the nation, and compliance with them has been improving each year - from a low of 32% in 2006 to more than 80% in 2012.
I am convinced that these standards should be improved, but this bill is flawed: it would create through legislation a new enforcement structure that would single out agricultural employers and burden the courts with private lawsuits. I believe the regulatory process is more flexible and the better way to improve standards for farm workers.
My administration stands ready to help, but ongoing litigation about past enforcement practices continues to drain resources away from improving the existing heat standards and ongoing enforcement.
One wonders what Cesar Chavez might have thought about having Brown at this historic monument dedication - after he vetoed two bills that go to the heart of the United Farm Workers movement: protection from the whim of law enforcement and protection from the cruelty of an employer that puts profits over shelter from unforgiving elements. LGBT people understand this, whether personally - one suspects that a few UFW workers might be gay, too - but certainly LGBT people have been at the mercy of police and antigay elements, not matter what form they take and are grateful for the opportunity to threaten legal action as a last recourse.
LGBT people such as Tom Ammiano and LGBT allies like Betsy Butler understand the need for such protections as a principle of plain old humanitarian civil rights. Jerry Brown once understood that, too.