Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder, United Farm Workers
Dolores Huerta, Civil Rights icon, discusses how she led a historic boycott against the grape industry to gain better working conditions for farmworkers.
Margaret Cho, Comedian
ERIN BROCKOVICH: In high school, I was labeled the girl least likely to succeed. So I don't think that they ever saw certainly what I do today coming. I was a dyslexic every time I came home from school with another D stamped on a test and feeling defeated. My mom would say, oh, you have to buck up there and where's your sticktoitiveness? And that struck a chord.
Even today, when I hit that wall, I hear my mother-- sticktoitiveness. It's that persistence. It's that obligation. It's that stubbornness, and you can rise. And you can do it.
I saw medical records in there, and they were blood test results of two little girls. All these autoimmune problems. I couldn't even pronounce some of them.
May not have been the brightest tack in the box, but I certainly knew that the autoimmune system was something that would be very vital to how we survive in life. And if it's impaired, what could it lead to? And that's when I asked Mr. Masry if I could look further into the case.
Roberta shared stories with me about other neighbors. They were complaining not necessarily of diseases at first but chronic nosebleeds, chronic skin rashes, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, and chronic respiratory problems. I just found it odd, and that's when I really began to start digging. Going back out there and getting well samples myself and getting experts together and finding the documents and showing the readings.
We uncovered what was a massive groundwater contamination. This groundwater had been contaminated since the '60s. PG&E knew it. It was covered up.
It was a long process. There was moments where every single one of us felt defeated. Maybe we're in over our heads. And everybody said this is PG&E. You can't take on this company.
I'll never forget the day Ed Masry called me into his office, and Ed said, you know, I think we're going to have to give it up. I said, are you kidding me? We're sitting in this library of all of these law books that became these laws. How is it you think that came to be, Ed?
Because somebody somewhere went out on a limb, they created law. They changed a life. They made a difference, and you're going to give up. No. So I'm like, let's go get them, and we did.
I was overjoyed. Money wasn't going to give these people that their lost lives, their lost spouses, or children. I don't know that you ever had to give them a dime. The victory was they were heard. The victory was that they hoped something could change in the future.
Hinckley was a microcosm. I'm dealing with 1900 Hinckley's in the United States alone, and I think those people are a beautiful representation of their uprising to be heard. Not for the sake of the suits or for the money but for the sake of what's right.
DOLORES HUERTA: I think the one thing that really kind of hooked me for life was going to the home of some workers who did not have linoleum or wood on their floor, only dirt. And yet these are people who are working. They're working very hard, and you know that this is wrong.
Growing up as a person of color, you just see so many injustices. As a teenager, you saw the way that I was treated, my friends were treated. And it just-- at some point you just wish that things were different.
Conditions in the fields were very bad. Farm workers are not respected at all, to the point that they didn't have toilets in the fields for workers. They didn't have cold drinking water. Workers were earning, like, maybe $0.75 an hour.
I said, Cesar, I think the only way that we can do this is if we boycott all California table grapes. And Cesar thought no, I think we should boycott potatoes because this particularly grower also had potatoes. And so I said, well, you know when people think of potatoes, they think of Idaho, they don't think of California.
Boycott grapes. Boycott grapes.
So we went ahead and started the grape boycott.
One of the tactics that we used very successfully is we got the chain stores to take the grapes out of the whole chain.
During the strike, there were times when my home was terrorized in the middle of the night, my windows broken when I'm there alone with my children. And we had shotguns and rifles aimed at us. When you're in the movement, when you're on this path for justice, you know that things are going to happen.
Within months we were able to win the boycott.
We, as women, that we've got to put big lights around our accomplishments, right, and around our ideas, and not feel that we're being egotistical when we do that because it's a way of letting the world know that yes, we as women can accomplish great things.