On August 23, the United Farm Workers embarked on a
200-mile, 13-day march that wound through the streets of California to pressure
Governor Jerry Brown to pass the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Now Act, or SB
126, a bill that would make it easier for farm workers to unionize.
On September 8, approximately 90 farm workers and
supporters gathered at the state Capitol to watch SB 126 pass the Assembly with
a vote of 46 to 24. The bill has the support of the senate and the Governor, a
huge difference from June when a similar bill, SB 104, was vetoed.
Think for a bit about the mentality of the person that
agreed to dedicate 13 days of their lives and walk 200 miles through California
for a bill that would improve the lives of so many people.
These men and women are unknown heroes who accepted the
task in the most humble manner. There were about 15 permanent marchers: some
were workers, three were student volunteers (two from Minnesota), three were
over 80 years of age, two were UFW staff, and, of course, there was the UFW
It was a shapeless movement at first; no one knew who
we were. We had a goal even though we didn’t know if the goal would be met.
Would the governor listen to us? We didn’t know. Would he pass a bill in our
favor? We didn’t know. Would we even be able to make it? We didn’t know.
Little by little, step by step, and day by day,
however, the movement began to take shape. After three days the body adjusted to
the pain, the blisters, the soreness and the heat.
There were days where all we saw were corn fields, huge
stalks of bright green huddled together and dancing with the wind. There were
vast fields of watermelons and cantaloupe, red strawberries and workers picking
in their rhythmic fashion looking up for a bit to watch us pass by and
There wasn’t much chanting in those fields, just
walking and watching brown dirt and green crops, smelling pesticides, and
feeling the body sweat and water go down a very thirsty throat.
Every now and then, to pass the time, we sang mariachi
songs that everyone knew. In those hours we weren’t pressuring the governor to
sign any law as much as we were building a sense of community among ourselves, a
sense of friendship that went beyond legislation and power.
It wasn’t long, however, until people began to notice.
And after we started getting more press, more people started stopping us in the
middle of the street to donate water, money, food, anything. They also didn’t
know if what we were doing was going to pay off, but they admired the
We were nobodies walking through a stretch of blacktop
like old vagabonds in Kerouac’s crazy fashion, in Dylan’s crazy dream. Our size
oscillated like the universe as we traveled from Madera to Le Grand, Le Grand to
Mercedes, Mercedes to Livingston, Livingston to Turlock, Turlock to Modesto,
Modesto to Manteca, Manteca to Stockton, Stockton to Lodi, Lodi to Galt, Galt to
Walnut Grove, Walnut Grove to Franklin, Franklin to Sacramento.
We marched right through, not around, the cities. We
made it a point to go through the cities and neighborhoods. The
more farm workers living in the communities, the better. Slow
down, chant louder, flyer more, talk to more people, knock on doors, invite them
to the program.
And every day the community came together to welcome
us, feed us, and open their homes up to us. I had the responsibility of making
sure everyone was fed first, then I would eat; that everyone had housing first,
then I would sleep. And if that meant that I had to sleep on the floor, on the
floor I slept.
As the march progressed I came to the conclusion that
whoever says that humans are, by nature, greedy, self-centered and violent, is
wrong. Humans by nature want to care; we want to feel as if we belong to
something and will do these random acts of kindness in order to feel as if we
put in a little stone that built the wall. Humans have a good heart and a good
soul and an amazing ability to live and love.
The marchers, too, amazed me. Near the end of the day
they were tired. But after some food and some music they laughed, they smiled,
they danced, they danced! After marching over 15 miles a day with their
feet blistered and torn they danced and laughed as if nothing had happened. What
a will to resist depression, what a way to cope with pain.
After the march was over, after everything was cleared
out of Sacramento, I drove home and lay in my bed; tired, with a sense of
emptiness, I reflected on the experience. The task at hand has been
accomplished, but we are far from done. As tiresome, as long, as difficult as
this march may have been — it’s only the beginning. This is the first stage in a
perpetual battle for the rights of farm workers; the next chapter awaits and I’m
ready to move.
“Joaquín Magón” is a youth reporter from Coachella
living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers. He will contribute
blogs regularly for Coachella Unincorporated.