I just never got ‘into’ Cesar Chavez; my husband, a long-time fan of Robert Kennedy, did. That mix of ‘for The Worker’ sacrifice, with the Catholic overtones, just got to him, and many of his contemporaries.
Like Bobby Kennedy, my husband was privileged. He didn’t realize just how privileged (still doesn’t, for the most part). But, having a roof over his head was never a serious concern, his mother never had to take a job outside of the home, and his dad (after the college days) wasn’t working holidays and the night shift to afford Christmas presents.
Many of Chavez’s middle/upper-middle-class supporters were like that; for the price of a grape boycott, they could consider themselves an ally of the poor. Initially, some parts of the UFW did resemble that ideal.
But, not for long. The seedy underside of the movement was always there - Chavez was yet another of the many Alinsky-trained community organizers, who eventually had their motivations questioned. For Chavez, it was always more about him, and his radical agenda, than the workers.
Like most ’60s radicals—of whatever stripe—he vastly overestimated the appeal of hard times and simple living; he was not the only Californian of the time to promote the idea of a Poor People’s Union, but as everyone from the Symbionese Liberation Army to the Black Panthers would discover, nobody actually wants to be poor.
The lesson the writer of that article takes from the story is the wrong one. It’s not about the former radical, and how awful it is that he lost his righteous ideals.
It’s about the way that Leftist USE people in need, to get their Leftist agenda in place.
It was NEVER about the farm workers.