Posted by Heather Moseley and Annie Wilkinson
"Wozani!" we all stood and cried together—Dolores Huerta, us, and a room full of activists and community members at the recent International Museum of Women “Extraordinary Voices, Extraordinary Change” program in San Francisco. Wozani, a Zulu call for unity meaning “people together,” is the phrase Huerta shared in closing; as an offering of inspiration and energy for continued activism. Whether uttered in the South African savanna, or the streets of California—“Si se puede!**”, the expression celebrates our collective power and common belief that social change is possible. It binds us together in our struggles for human rights, justice and equality and keeps us marching, adelante.
This is just one of the concepts Huerta conveyed, as she reflected on her life as a Chicana woman, mother, labor activist, and co-founder of United Farm Workers of America. You can also add long-time advocate for gender, racial, economic, and migrant justice to her resumé for good measure. With as much wit as wisdom, she shared her perspectives on what has kept her activism going strong for so many years. Here are but a few of the insights she shared over the course of 90 minutes:
Be strong. Let not a fear of criticism hold you back. Sometimes, Huerta said, “Women hold back because they’re afraid to be criticized…If you take a leadership role, a ‘warrior path’, you are going to have arrows thrown at you.” One need not look farther than the 2008 presidential campaign, the confirmation hearing of Justice Sotomayor, or the nightly news to see that much of this criticism is shrouded in sexist premises. We must step up and advance on, Huerta said.
We must engender our activism. “When a movement begins, we start fighting as humans. Only later do we see the need to fight for ourselves as women.” No movement for social and economic justice can achieve its goals without the full participation and equality of women. We must see all of our activism through a gender lens. Further, urged Huerta, “Promote female preachers, female politicians, and hope that this brings change to the policies.”
Practice civic engagement as a responsibility to future generations. “Specifically,” Huerta advised, “make time for civic participation.” Civic participation demands the full participation of all represented, including women. When asked how, as a mother of 11 children, Huerta managed full-time work and activism she responded that her civic engagement did not exclude her children. “Include your children where you can. Bring your kids to meetings. Rear the next generation of activists. Engage your children! Include them at a young age, or else in their sheltered existence they become afraid of the world.”
Huerta ended her comments as every effective organizer does—with a call to action—this one to show solidarity with Iranian voters. At nearly 80, Huerta shows no signs of slowing down.
**“Sí se puede” was coined by Dolores Huerta herself, along with fellow labor activist Cesar Chavez. According to the official glossary of the United Farm Workers, the phrase means, “Yes, it can be done!” but is often translated as “Yes we can” or “Yes you can.”
Heather Moseley is an Accounting Associate at the Global Fund for Women and Annie Wilkinson is the Development Associate of Philanthropic Partnerships.