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Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta still bringing power to the people

To Dolores Huerta solving civil rights problems is simple.

“You organize,” Huerta said.

Organizing is simple, too, she said. You start with small groups and talk. Education and awareness takes place through talking.

It’s what she learned about being a community organizer and activist from Fred Ross, Sr., an American organizer who, in 1948, founded the Community Service Organization – a Latino civil rights group – and later trained Cesar Chavez. Chavez and Huerta went on to become the forces behind the United Farm Workers of America.

Racism, division, the census, voting, education, these were some of the topics upon which Huerta shared her thoughts, experiences and inspiration with an audience at Hanna Institute’s Breakfast Series on Thursday, Sept. 12.

Huerta, 89, encouraged everyone to get involved in their communities, in society.

During World War II when there was the “war effort,” Huerta said, “everybody had to engage, because we were at war. As kids we would have to go out and collect tin foil. Everybody had to do something for the war effort.”

“It’s going to take the same type of effort to get rid of racism,” Huerta said.

She feels “sorry” for President Donald Trump “because I don’t think he had the good fortune, like I did, to be raised in Stockton, California, with a lot of different ethnic groups, and being able to learn their culture, eat the food, all growing up as kids in each other’s homes,” she told the Index-Tribune in an interview. “I always feel sorry for people who don’t grow up with people from different ethnic groups, especially people of color. I feel they’re deprived.”

This area – Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties – is deprived of diversity, too, Huerta said.

“We do have to remind everybody that we are one human race,” she said to the audience. “And our human race came from Africa.”

The human race spread out from Africa and traveled the planet, Huerta said.

“They went to Asia and people got lighter skin… they went to the Americas, and I like to say one of our tribes ended up in Europe where it’s very cold and they lost their color,” she said drawing chuckles from the audience.

“We have to remind people that we are all Africans of different shapes and colors,” Huerta said, adding that to the neo-Nazis and white nationalists she’d like to say, “Just get over it, you’re Africans, OK?”

In an interview with the Index-Tribune she said the scarcity of African Americans in this area “troubles her a little bit.”

She believes if one were to research the history of the region there might be a trail of “red lining,” which would have prevented people of color from being able to purchase housing.

This icon who worked alongside Cesar Chavez to improve farmworker rights in the 1960s said she would work to solve the problem of diversity through integration and housing.

Affordable housing for families is one of her concerns for Sonoma Valley, but with the 2020 census in sight she urged the audience to spread the word and tell everyone to make sure they get counted to ensure communities are accurately represented and receive the full share of funding that is based on population.

“So we have to really impress upon them not to be afraid to be counted,” Huerta said. “If we want people to represent our families then we need to be counted, and that goes not only for the U.S. Congress, that goes for your school board, your city council, your county council and your state legislature. Our democracy cannot work if we do not participate”

The immigrant community needs to be reassured that any information they give to a census taker cannot be shared with anyone or any other agency.

“If anybody divulges any information on the census they can go to prison for five years or pay a $250,000 fine,” she said.

Get out and knock on your neighbors’ doors and let them know they need to be counted, Huerta said.

Always the community organizer and activist, Huerta ended her talk with a rousing call and response.

“Who’s got the power?” she shouted.

“We’ve got the power,” answered the audience.

“What kind of power?” Huerta asked.

“People power,” they yelled.

And of course, she finished with an “organized hand clap” and chants of “Sí se puede.”

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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