Justin Feldman has an article in today’s Counterpunch that claims Cesar Chavez was “virulently anti-immigrant.”
“Last Sunday was Cesar Chavez’s birthday. The United Farm Workers, founded by Chavez in 1962, marked the occasion by organizing five pro-immigration reform marches throughout California. Other groups organized Cesar Chavez Day events in San Antonio and Phoenix that shared the pro-immigration reform theme. The irony is that during most of his tenure with the UFW, Chavez was virulently anti-immigrant in his public and private lives. He led his union to campaign for the deportation of undocumented workers and, at times, even green card holders became targets.”
I have included the article below, but my point I mention it only to consider whether the whole idea of tying movements to heroes might itself be reactionary. Does a statue of Dr. King run the risk of serving as a substitute for his own revolutionary spirit?
When movements are identified with individuals, critics need merely find some human flaw in that hero to discredit the movement. So, if Martin Luther King can be shown to have had a problem with sexism, or Cesar Chavez can be shown to be anti-immigrant, or if Jefferson can be identified as racist, then some feel justified in dismissing the movements with whom their names have been identified.
But tying grassroots movements to heroes runs a greater risk. When grassroots movements are tied to individuals, they die of contradiction. We cannot be grassroots and also submit to a leader. We cannot fully respond to the present crisis through the eyes of heroes who are dead. When we gather in the name of any hero of the people, we hold up their corpse and renounce their own revolutionary spirit.
Bertolt Brecht put the following words in the mouth of Galileo:
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
I confess my articles and sermons are peppered with quotes from hereos. I doubt that I will ever completely drop that practise but, for that very reason, I must also remember the risk of such homage and tie every call to social justice not to a personality but to a principle.