This week marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of worker's rights hero, Cesar Chavez. In the United States, March 31st is celebrated as Cesar Chavez Day, in honor of his birthday. Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW), shortly thereafter joined by Dolores Huerta in the movement.
In a speech entitled Jesus's Friendship Chavez asserts that "the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature." In that same speech he goes on to say "I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus' promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied."
Chavez led many fasts over the course of his work. He said "a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes...I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice."
Chavez encourages us in this work saying "it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity."
Today, the work continues and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is leading the charge. Though McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell have all committed to higher wages for farm workers, Wendy's refuses to pay the penny more per pound of tomatoes that would make such a significant difference in lives of those picking them. The White House-recognized social responsibility program calls not only for the important wage increase, but also for a series of commitments to ensuring that workers’ and their rights are respected.
In honor of Chavez's birthday this week, consider fasting from Wendy's food to join the national boycott demanding the fair treatment of farmworkers. Then, check out this collection of litanies and worship resources from the National Farm Worker Ministry and see how you might honor the work of Cesar Chavez through prayer and service this week, and through the year.