MLT Salutes Cesar Chavez – “Father of Environmental Justice”

Cesar Chavez – Leader in Labor and Environmental Justice

Most people have heard his name associate it with seeking fair pay and better working conditions for farmworkers, but he did more than that, much more. His efforts for better working conditions went far beyond demanding fresh drinking water, proper sanitary facilities in the fields, and decent housing. Decent working conditions also called for steps towards environmental justice–banning of toxic pesticides on grapes.

According to an article by Marta Segura, one of the first chicana women to major in environmental studies, Chavez is the father of environmental justice. It was Chavez and the United Farm Workers, under his leadership, that demanded a ban on pesticides in the vineyards. Segura, who earned a masters in public health it UC Santa Barbara in the 1970s,  first learned as a high school student about the connection between these pesticides and birth defects such as spinal bifida. She was horrified to learn about these children, “who never had a chance to lead a healthy life.” Her awareness came, in part, from educational pamphlets produced and distrubuted by UFW organizers.

Chavez knew and spread the word that exposure to these widely used toxins led to cancer, birth defects, chronic lung and organ failure, and premature death. His work saw him reaching out to Mexican, Filipino and Muslim farm workers in California and beyond.

MLT salutes his efforts and those of the UFW, today, on Cesar Chavez Day. Their dedication made the environment safer for everyone who works in, lives near, or consumes straight-from-the-field agricultural products. Much work remains to be done, literally, in the fields of environmental protection and social justice. But we all owe a debt of gratitude to his passionate and dogged determination in the face of fierce and often brutal repression.

You can read the full text of Segura’s article here.

Photo – Caesar Chavez at the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers Union, talking with grape boycott leaders, Keene, California, Library of Congress Public Domain Archives