It’s 2020…100 years since suffrage movement activists won the right to vote for many women across the country. As we look back to notable moments like this in history, we celebrate women leaders and acknowledge that the path to gender equality has not been inclusive and we are still on it. For that reason, the Change Matrix team is sharing a series of personal essays about women. They might be women we know who were models or mentors and influenced us as professionals. They might be women whose work we have loved and integrated into our own. They might be about our identification as women through a cultural lens.
A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing one of my personal she-roes, Dolores Huerta, speak at an event in Denver. The audience had just viewed the documentary Dolores, that spoke to the circumstances that fueled her activism and her achievements as a leader fighting for workers’ rights. She was moved by the injustice she saw around her and has described her work as a calling. She was a trailblazer at a time when women focused mostly on their domestic roles as wives and mothers. She was a co-founder of what would become the United Farm Workers (UFW), which continues to be the largest farm workers union to this day. Through the grape boycotts, strikes, and marches in the 1960s, the UFW got the large agricultural growers at the table and Dolores was instrumental in negotiating the first contract that supported fair wages and humane working conditions for farm workers. The UFW’s work launched the environmental justice movement, recognizing the disproportionate impact of pollutants on communities of color. Despite her vast achievements, she has often been overshadowed by her co-founder Cesar Chavez. The documentary raised some of the racist and sexist attitudes she fought against. Unfortunately, her power was sometimes seen as a threat and not an asset, despite the vast contribution women made to the movement.
When I look back at the labor and social movements she led and continues to inspire, I choose to celebrate Dolores for her contribution and the sacrifices she made in order to do this work. She has inspired generations and demonstrated the ability to harness both individual and collective power—and particularly the power of women—to create change. As a Latina, I’m proud of the path she created for other women. Though there was some resistance to her leadership, she was able to empower other women and brought them into the folds of leadership. That day in Denver, she was in her late 80’s and the level of energy she generated was striking. She continues to speak up, show up and do the work; and inspires us all to continue to do the work.[Picture above: Photograph from the LA Times, http://www.trbimg.com/img-588274c1/turbine/la-et-sundance-updates-1484940951]