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November 13, 2008

The Farmworkers Movement - Forerunner of the Obama Campaign?

Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement came up with the blueprint for taking the idea of community organizing into the political realm.  So says Randy Shaw, the writer of the new book, "Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century".  In a post at Truthout, Shaw says:

During the United Farm Workers' critical decade of growth, from 1966 to 1976, farmworker activists became experts in conducting voter registration among low-income and minority voters, and operating get out the vote (GOTV) drives to boost turnout in traditionally low-voting, working-class neighborhoods. The UFW responded to political attacks from growers by adopting innovative approaches for almost every type of electoral campaign. These strategies brought the union victories in statewide initiative contests, legislative fights and races for public office - and continue to set the course for today's progressive election campaigns.

In 1966, Fred Ross, had organized the successful campaign of Edward Roybal, the first Mexican-American to win a seat on the Los Angeles city council in 70 years.  In 1967, Ross helped the UFW develop a model of grassroots voter outreach to Latino and other low-income and minority voters. 

Chavez and Robert F. Kennedy were staunch allies.   Kennedy had publicly supported the UFW during 1966 Senate field hearings held in California to investigate the California table grape boycott.  In April and May of 1968, Chavez and the UFW used the painstaking voter outreach model they'd developed.  The UFW organized the state's politically disenfranchised Mexican-American neighborhoods of East Los Angeles to build support for Kennedy. 

A key strategy the UFW developed during the Kennedy effort was the recruitment of volunteer organizers who could be counted on to turn out their neighbors to vote on election day. These volunteers were recruited at their doors by UFW campaign workers, who were simultaneously contacting voters, training them to conduct voter outreach on the spot, and enlisting them for GOTV efforts on Kennedy's behalf. This emphasis on developing volunteer leadership was as central to the UFW's electoral work as it was for the boycott, and it would become a major component of Latino voter outreach efforts in Los Angeles three decades later. 

The votes of those newly registered Mexican-Americans was very important in Kennedy's slender lead over McCarthy in California. 

The farmworkers movement  that Chavez and the UFW developed over the years between 1966 and 1976 "brought community organizing tactics and strategies - voter registration drives, mass petition drives, intensive door-to-door and street outreach, public visibility events to catch the attention of voters and the media, and election-day voter outreach efforts - into the electoral and legislative arena."

Marshall Ganz and other UFW veterans used the UFW model in a series of campaigns in the 1980s. "this grassroots mobilization and voter outreach model spread throughout California through labor-backed organizations, fueling the transformation of California politics".  And then Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Texas.  The model expanded nationally through SEIU and other unions.

Marshall Ganz, after much more organizing and a return to college to finish his undergraduate degree and earn a Ph.D, began researching, teaching, and writing at Harvard, working on leadership, organization and strategy in social movements and politics. 

It was Ganz who designed the field-organizing and volunteer training systems that turned Obama's campaign volunteers into organizational leaders.  What an important pedigree and useful for us to know.   It also bodes well for us as we turn to permanent organizing of Democratic volunteers.

Take a read.

Posted by Lynn Allen on November 13, 2008 at 12:39 PM in Best Practices, National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink

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