The slogan “Yes we can”—in the form “¡Sí Se Puede!”—doesn’t originate with Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It goes back more than four decades to the heyday of the United Farm Workers, an organization that at its height won many labor victories, secured collective bargaining rights for California farm workers and became a major voice for the Latino community, which was previously excluded from national politics. The UFW was once a transformative political force of a kind now largely lost in contemporary America.
Trampling Out the Vintage is the authoritative account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers and its most famous and controversial leader, Cesar Chavez. Based on many years of interviews—with farm workers, organizers, and the opponents and friends of the UFW—the book tells a story of collective action and empowerment rich in evocative detail and stirring human interest. Beginning with the influence of the ideas of Saul Alinsky and Catholic Social Action at the union's founding, through the UFW’s thrilling triumphs in the California fields, the drama concludes with the debilitating internal struggles that left the union a shadow of its former self.
A vivid rendering of farm work and the world of the farm worker, Trampling Out the Vintage is a dramatic reappraisal of the political trajectory of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and an essential re-evaluation of their most tumultuous years.
For May Day, we present our latest Five Book Plan: L.A. Kauffman, author of Direct Action, selects five essential histories of political organizing in the United States.
Black Panther women, West Oakland, 1970.
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (ed. David J. Garrow), The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (University of Texas Press, 1987)
Many people know that Rosa Parks was a trained and seasoned political activist before the famous day when she decided to stay in her bus seat. But few are aware of the large, well-organized network of black women in Montgomery that transformed her arrest into a historic campaign of mass noncompliance. This engaging memoir by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, a key initiator of the Montgomery bus boycott, reveals the behind-the-scenes work of local organizers who had long been waiting and planning for the right opportunity to challenge racial segregation in their city when Parks was arrested. In an era when movements rely heavily on the internet to mobilize participation, there's much to learn from the extraordinary tale of how black women in Montgomery sprang into action the moment Parks was arrested, secretly distributing more than 50,000 leaflets throughout their community in fewer than 24 hours, and thus launching the boycott without tipping off the city's white leadership.
It is 90 years since Cesar Chavez was born. In observance of his birthday, we present an excerpt from Frank Bardacke's Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of United Farm Workers, examing Chavez's earliest years as an organizer, working under the influence of Father Donald McDonnell.
Chavez and other members of the Community Service Organization. Courtesy of the César E. Chávez Foundation.
Cesar Chavez left the North Gila Valley with two other treasures besides his memories. Although he had not liked school, he had become a good, quick learner out of the classroom. One uncle taught him to read Spanish; another read him the Mexican newspapers. A classic autodidact, throughout his life he would suck up one subject after another, move from one enthusiasm to the next: the art of shooting pool, Catholic Social Action, the theory and practice of Saul Alinsky, the life of Gandhi, the history of unionism in the fields, the varieties of religious experience, the intricacies of labor law, printing, faith healing, the Synanon Game, theories of scientific management. His biographer Jacques Levy, who was also a dog trainer and helped Chavez train his two dogs, told me that Cesar was the most absorbed, committed student of dog training he had ever met. Chavez read, he questioned, he listened, he learned.