Dolores C. Huerta was born April 10, 1930 in Dawson, New Mexico, where her father was a miner, field worker, union activist, and state assemblyman; her mother, Alicia Chavez, was a successful businesswoman who owned a restaurant and a large hotel. Huerta’s parents divorced when she was three years old, and the girl was raised thereafter (along with her two brothers and two sisters) by her mother, in Stockton, California.
Although a number of Huerta’s online biographies indicate that she graduated from Delta Community College, the San Francisco Chronicle has revealed that she actually “fell a few units short of her degree.” She never subsequently returned to campus except to collect honorary degrees, conduct radical activism workshops, and give commencement speeches.
As a young adult, Huerta taught school (without an education degree) until 1955, when, as a single mother of seven children (she would eventually have four more), she launched her career as a political activist dedicated to radicalizing migrant farmworkers, many of whom were illegal aliens. Huerta has since acknowledged that when she was a young woman, her busy activist career caused her to be an absentee mother who ignored her parental responsibilities.
In 1955 Huerta co-founded the Stockton, California chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO), a “voters’ rights” group. While there, she met the socialist labor activist Cesar Chavez (who was trained in activist tactics by Saul Alinsky) and helped to establish the Agricultural Workers Association. In 1962, Chavez and Huerta broke away from CSO when it would not make the unionization of farmworkers a high priority, and they created the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Three years later, NFWA became known as the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), and Huerta would serve as the organization’s vice president until 1999.
In 1965, UFW launched a strike (known famously as the Delano Grape Strike) and national boycott against California grape growers who refused to recognize the new union; Huerta served as the boycott’s east coast coordinator. The dispute was ultimately resolved in 1970, with the signing of a three-year contract that regulated bargaining agreements between California and UFW.
Also in the 1960s and early ’70s, Huerta was an anti-Vietnam War activist. On June 22, 1972, she sponsored—along with such notables as Bella Abzug, Ruby Dee, Jane Fonda, and Cora Weiss—an anti-war protest known as “The Ring Around Congress,” which featured some 2,500 demonstrators who encircled the Capitol Building in what they described as “an action by the women and children of America for the women and children of Indochina.” Specifically, the protesters demanded “an immediate cutting off [by Congress] of the funds which perpetuate their [the Indochinese people’s] slaughter, make victims of young American men, and deny the needs of our poor people at home.” The “Ring” was a project of the Communist Party-dominated Women Strike for Peace and other likeminded groups.
In 1973, Huerta led a major consumer boycott that resulted in the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which allowed farm workers to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.
After meeting Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, Huerta augmented her labor organizing with gender-equity activism. In a 1973 interview with The Nation on sexism in the labor movement, Huerta stated: “I really believe what the feminists stand for…. Excluding women, protecting them, keeping women at home, that’s the middle-class way.”
In May 1973, Huerta was a sponsor and speaker at a Chicago conference where the Communist Party USA merged the Angela Davis Defense Organization with the Angela Davis Defense Committee to form the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
Sometime around 1980, Michael Harrington recruited Huerta into the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which in 1983 would merge with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
In 1990, Huerta—along with such prominent leftists as Ramsey Clark and Barbara Ehrenreich—participated in The Committee for Responsive Democracy’s hearings on the “need for significant reform of the two-party political system, as well as the feasibility of forming a new party.”
In 1993, Huerta was honored with the annual Eugene Debs Award, named after the man who founded the Socialist Party of America.
In 1995-96, Huerta actively participated in the left’s unsuccessful effort to defeat Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights initiative, which sought to ban affirmative action in the state’s public sector.
In April 1998, Huerta was a guest speaker at “Making Trouble: Building a Radical Youth Movement”—a Berkeley, California conference where young radicals could meet and form coalitions around such issues as “Environmental Justice,” “Art and Revolution,” “Immigration,” “Third World Organizing,” “Economic Globalization,” “Affirmative Action,” and “Reproductive Rights.” Keynoted by Barbara Ehrenreich, the event also featured such speakers as Tom Hayden, Angela Davis, Cornel West, Barbara Lee, Jello Biafra, and Ron Dellums.
On November 6, 1999, Huerta spoke at a Los Angeles rally calling for a holiday to mark the birth of Cesar Chavez. The contact person for the event was Evelina Alarcon, an affiliate of both the United Farm Workers and the Communist Party USA.
Huerta summarized her life’s mission in a 2001 interview given while she was recovering from a near-fatal opening in a major artery in her intestines. When asked about the future of La Raza (literally, “The Race”), the name which radical Hispanic activists have given to their reconquista (re-conquest) movement, she said: “The future depends on us. We need to organize and elect officials that will really represent us…. The opposition are the Republican corporations whose goal is to take over the governorship of the State of California. That’s why we need to establish a leadership institute and foundation that will train young organizers to build communities from the ground up.”
Driven by a belief that true democracy can only be achieved through a redistribution of wealth, Huerta has been imprisoned more than twenty times as a result of her participation in various protests. In a 2002 interview, she stated, “I think organized labor is a necessary part of democracy. Organized labor is the only way to have fair distribution of wealth; it helps create a middle class. Without a middle class, there would be no democracy.”
Huerta has actively opposed America’s post-9/11 War on Terrorism, which she believes is really a war on immigrants. Accusing President Bush of possessing a “cowboy mentality,” she told WarTimes.org in 2003 that the U.S. had trained both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, whom it was now fighting to depose. “It’s always been a part of U.S. foreign policy to first put a dictator in power and then to get rid of him,” said Huerta.
In September 2003, less than a month before losing his job as California governor in a recall election, Gray Davis appointed Huerta to fill the remainder of a term on the University of California Board of Regents, the governing body for the UC system. The appointment came just days after Davis had signed legislation permitting illegal aliens to obtain drivers’ licenses. Earlier in the year, he had also signed an extensive farmworkers’ bill on whose behalf Huerta had agitated.
In 2004 Huerta established the Dolores Huerta Foundation to train community organizers to agitate for “systemic and structural transformation.”
On at least one occasion, Huerta was a guest speaker at a gathering of the Socialist Scholars Conference (SSC), which disbanded after 2004. To view a list of additional noteworthy SSC speakers and panelists, click here.
On September 24, 2005, Huerta was one of numerous high-profile speakers at the “Call to United Mass Action,” a 300,000-person anti-Iraq War rally in Washington, DC that was co-organized by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice. Other speakers at the event included Ramsey Clark, Cindy Sheehan, George Galloway, Ralph Nader, Lynne Stewart, Mahdi Bray, Elias Rashmawi, Larry Holmes, Brian Becker, Michael Berg, Michael Shehadeh, and Al Sharpton.
In April 2006, Huerta was invited to speak at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, ostensibly “to inspire students” who were preparing for crucial examinations. During her remarks, she exhorted the youngsters to march in protest against Republican lawmakers’ efforts to put an end to illegal immigration, and twice stated that “Republicans hate Latinos.” At the same event, Huerta spoke out against the accumulation of wealth, and in support of the communist dictator of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez:
“The average pay of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company is three million to nine million dollars a year. What are you going to do with all that money, right? I don’t care how much money you make. You can only eat three meals a day, you know. You can only wear one suit of clothes a day, you know. So the idea, a lot isn’t wrong, as long as you use it for the people, like what Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela.
“You know, I was in Venezuela recently with the president, Hugo Chavez, and he is putting up cooperative factories for the people, so that they can have work. And the people there elect their own representatives. They are making shoes for the schoolchildren, uniforms for the schoolchildren; backpacks and t-shirts. They have a cooperative farm where the people grow their own food. The military comes in to build houses for the people, and you know what? Right there, by the factory, they have a medical clinic and a dental clinic, free, free for the people. They can go to the doctor. They get their dentist and medical [care], free of charge…. Why can’t we do that here in the United States?”
This was not the first time that Huerta had spoken highly of Chavez. On January 8, 2006, for instance, Huerta was part of a delegation of Americans who met with the Venezuelan president for more than six hours in Caracas. Other members of the delegation included the actor Danny Glover and Ivy League professor Cornel West. Huerta called the visit with Chavez a “very deep experience.”
In a March 2008 speech in San Bernardino, California, Huerta, responding to opponents of illegal immigration to the United States, said: “We didn’t cross the [U.S.-Mexico] border; the border crossed us.” She then proceeded to suggest that the issue of immigration-law enforcement was moot because the reconquista had already been completed. “It’s really too late,” Huerta explained. “If 47 million [Latinos] have one baby each, it’s already won.”
On another occasion, Huerta told illegal-alien farmworkers, “You deserve to get paid every dollar you earn and have safe housing and transportation.” Moreover, she has advised illegals who feel they have been underpaid, to call the U.S. Department of Labor. “The call is free and confidential,” she assured.
Huerta is an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), along with Bogdan Denitch, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eliseo Medina, Eugene “Gus” Newport, Frances Fox Piven, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West. Moreover, Huerta has served as a board member with the Feminist Majority, Latinas for Choice, the Center for Voting and Democracy, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and People For the American Way. She is also president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which describes itself as “a direct action organization and hands-on training center for community organizing, leadership development, and policy advocacy.”
For additional information on Dolores Huerta, click here.