Education, voting can empower America, says labor activist Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta
Labor activist Dolores Huerta spoke to a crowd at Northwestern University Thursday to kick off this academic year's programming, "Gender, Work, and Power," for the university's Women's Center.

By Katie Rice
Medill Reports

Labor activist Dolores Huerta thinks America is standing at a political and social crossroads to do the right thing for workers, women and people of color — especially with the upcoming midterm elections.

“We have to support each other,” Huerta said. “We have to protect each other. And we can stop this whole thing of hating somebody else because they happen to be different.”

Huerta visited Northwestern University Oct. 11 for “An Evening with Dolores Huerta,” a keynote address hosted by the university’s Graduate Student Association and the Women’s Center. The event kicked off the Women’s Center’s 2018-19 programming focused on  “Gender, Work, and Power.”

“When you’re out there voting, it’s not just about yourself,” she said. “We have to become the messengers of peace and justice. We have to be the gardeners that are out there sowing the seeds of justice.”

Huerta emphasized the importance of education, particularly in the subjects of history and economics, in creating an educated American public. Education can help combat racism by teaching children about aspects of American history are often glossed over, like the oppression of American Indian and African American groups and the labor rights movement — both topics which have had a ripple effect on American society into the present day, she said.

Quoting Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, Huerta said: “‘If you do not have (an) educated citizenry, then what you will have in a country (is) the greedy and the powerful will rule.’ And that is kind of where we’re at in the United States of America today.”

The emphasis on women’s studies is just as important, Huerta said. Learning the history of feminism is key to understanding how it paved the way for the roles of women in today’s society and in groundbreaking social movements like the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter.

Huerta said a record number of women are running for office in United States, and that getting women elected will “change the complexion” of the country.

“A lot of times, I think we as women, we kind of hold ourselves back. … But the one thing my mother always told me (was) ‘Never be afraid to speak up.’ Even if sometimes in life what you’re saying is not the right thing to say, the main thing is (to) let your voice be heard. And I’m a small person, as you see, and that was kind of very difficult for me to remember that, what my mother told me, but I thought it was very important.”

Huerta concluded by encouraging the audience to politically organize and to vote.

Her message of activism stuck with members of the audience, who had filled the auditorium nearly to capacity. As Huerta finished speaking, the audience erupted in cries of “Sí se puede” — “Yes we can” — a slogan Huerta came up for the United Farm Workers of America.

“It’s like we’re seeing Martin Luther King Jr.,” said attendee Ted Georgeson, 62, who works as a cook. “She’s history. She’s an integral and important part of our history.”

Tatiana Solis, 20, said she had heard Huerta speak at a conference before, but this setting felt more intimate and personal.
“Dolores Huerta is not only a voice for women, but she’s kind of like a call for action for Latina women in general to be stepping up and having their voices heard,” said Solis, a student at Harold Washington College in Chicago. “It’s our time to shine.”

Photo at top: Labor activist Dolores Huerta spoke to a crowd at Northwestern University Thursday to kick off this academic year’s programming focused on “Gender, Work, and Power,” for the  Women’s Center. (Katie Rice/MEDILL)(Reporter Name/MEDILL)