A self-proclaimed “Born-Again Feminist,” Dolores Huerta, now 83, has been a prominent community organizer and civil rights activist for most of her life. Though, she is best known for co-founding the United Farm Workers union with Cesar Chavez, Huerta is still empowering workers to organize to improve their lives, most recently through her Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“I got involved in community organizing, and actually doing voter registration, going door-to-door, came to the homes of some of these farm workers and saw that they didn’t even have any kind of wood or linoleum on their floors. Their furniture was orange crates, and their children were barefooted.
And I thought, this is wrong, because these people are working very, very hard out there, picking our food every day, and yet, they can’t even afford to live decently. And so that’s when I made up my mind that I was just going to quit teaching.”
Huerta planned and led the successful strikes against California grape growers throughout the 1960s and 1970s, directing the UFW in 1965 during the Delano grape boycott. As a result of her hard work and organizing savvy, the entire California grape industry signed a three-year agreement to collectively bargaining with the UFW in 1970.
But Huerta wanted more women to be involved, more women on their executive board, and more women on their ranch committees. Huerta threw her entire being into the cause, getting arrested on 22 occasions for her participation in civil disobedience activities. In 1988, she was severely beaten by San Francisco police officers while participating in a peaceful and lawful protest against presidential candidate George H. W. Bush. The beating was caught on tape, and after winning a judgment against the City of San Francisco and its police department, Huerta used the money the support the farm workers.
Huerta is so devoted to helping others achieve justice and instilling within others the belief that each person has the ability to create change; her life’s work has ultimately been driven by this idea:
“We would say to the workers, “You have power.” And they would say, “What kind of power do we have?”
“Your power is in your person. And you, together with other people, other workers, you can make the difference,” says Huerta. “But you have to remember that nobody is going to do it for you. If you don’t get out there and try to solve your own problems, it’s never going to change.”
Click here to learn more about other female organizer heroes and the Women Fight Poverty NOW campaign.