Established in 2004 by the longtime labor activist and avowed socialist Dolores Huerta, the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) describes itself as “a direct-action organization and hands-on training center for community organizing, leadership development, and policy advocacy.” Specifically, the Foundation recruits organizers from low-income, working-class communities and trains them, using a “grassroots organizing model,” to pursue “social justice” for their constituents. The ultimate objective is to help bring about the “systemic and structural transformation” of an inherently inequitable American society. To date, DHF trainees have established seven separate community organizations, all situated in the rural, low-income communities of California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. Known collectively by the name Vecinos Unidos (United Neighbors), these organizations focus on four major program areas:
1) DHF’s Civic Engagement program trains new community organizers to speak directly and effectively to public officials, and provides them with a platform from which to advocate for desired changes. Founded on the premise that “issues of women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, labor rights, and civil rights are individual threads of a much larger tapestry of justice and universal human rights,” the Civic Engagement program uses a combination of new media, traditional media, coalition building, and public lectures to raise awareness about these matters.
An ongoing project of DHF’s Civic Engagement program is its Voter Engagement initiative. In conjunction with California Calls, a state-wide coalition of 27 community-based organizations in 10 counties, DHF in mid-2011 registered approximately 3,000 new voters in the Central San Joaquin Valley and helped some 1,400 existing voters “transition to permanent absentee ballots to increase voter participation.” During each election season, DHF staff and volunteers also participate in get-out-the-vote campaigns. While claiming that these voter-engagement efforts are “non-partisan,” the Foundation invariably pursues left-wing agendas. In 2008, for instance, it urged voters to oppose Proposition 8, which sought to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. And since 2005, DHF has worked to defeat three parental-notification initiatives that would have “impede[d]” the “reproductive rights” of female minors.
In 2010, a high priority of the Civic Engagement program was to make certain that all the residents of DHF’s target areas were counted in the U.S. Census, so as to “ensure proper political representation”—i.e., maximum access to government-provided benefits—in the aftermath of legislative redistricting. Toward that end, DHF collaborated with the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF) to organize public workshops designed “to educate local communities of color about the impact of redistricting.” Further, DHF trained some 200 volunteers to knock on thousands of doors and help residents fill out their Census forms.
2) DHF’s Environment program trains community organizers to gather petitions and pressure their local political representatives to allocate public funds to “[the maintenance of] parks, adequate public transportation, infrastructure improvements, the reduction of pesticide use, increased recreational opportunities, and culturally relevant services.” Some notable initiatives of this program include periodic neighborhood cleanups of debris littering the local landscape; a “sugary drink campaign” emphasizing the importance of consuming fewer artificially sweetened beverages, so as to diminish the incidence of such conditions as obesity and diabetes; and a domestic violence initiative, conducted in partnership with MALDEF, teaching community organizers “to identify and prevent all forms of domestic violence including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.”
3) The Education program trains parent committees in the art of “navigating school systems, improving communications with teachers and school administrators, and advocating for systemic change to ensure academic success for all students.”
4) The Economic Development program—reasoning from the premise that many constituents of DHF communities lack “access to financial services” and are frequently victimized by “predatory economic practices” that “perpetuate economic disparity”—offers a Micro-Lending Program and financial-literacy classes designed to help low-income people improve their economic circumstances.