Dolores Huerta: Civil rights icon, whose slander of Bernie Sanders still troubles me. Annette Quijano hosts a screening of ‘Dolores’ biodoc Dec. 12 – see it free with her

I have very mixed feelings now about Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers organizer, fearless feminist, 87; and the subject of the documentary DoloresI grew up revering her, but something she did 22 months ago shook my opinion of her. That’s one reason I’m going to try to attend a free screening of the film, a hit on the festival circuit, hosted next week by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. I need to remind myself of Huerta’s life work.

DOLORES: Documentary film screening
When: Tuesday, December 12, 6pm
Where: Kean University STEM Bldg Auditorium (1075 Morris Ave, Union NJ) Campus map
Hosts: Assemblywoman Quijano, PBS, and Kean University
About the movie. Among awards: Audience Award, Best Documentary Feature, Montclair Film Festival
RSVP here. Free. Popcorn & light refreshments provided

On February 20, 0216, at the Nevada Democratic Caucus, Dolores Huerta was at the center of what appears to be a deliberate attempt to smear Bernie Sanders supporters as racist. You remember, Huerta tweeted that Bernie supporters chanted “English only!” when she offered to translate for Spanish speaking voters. The accusation was sudden, specific, without equivocation. She included United Farm Workers’ motto, Si Se Puede! (her phrase, not Obama’s). Actress America Ferrera backed her. Both were there as Hillary surrogates. And within minutes, Huerta’s story went viral.

Huerta at Nevada Caucus. Photo: Alice Ollstein

Only one problem: It never happened. Video showed there was no chanting, and the person who said ‘English only’ was the caucus chair on the stage (surrogates addressing voters would have violated the rules) (mitú, a Latino site, has the story) Reports show there were people shouting “neutral” as Huerta was being ‘ushered down the aisle’ As likely the most influential person in the room and dressed ‘head to toe in Hillary gear,’ allowing her to translate procedure for the entire caucus would have challenged neutrality. And there was certainly some chaos in the room.

But Huerta’s decisions still mystify me and challenge my view of her. I want to believe they were a mistake. She was 85 then; you can imagine a mistake. Yet neither Huerta nor Ferrera (who has young ears) ever apologized for, corrected, or took down their posts, far as I know. Even when video came out disproving them. Even after Snopes said: FALSE. That troubles me. They were both there for the Hillary campaign; and events suggest the campaign planned this. Or at the very least crafted and circulated a narrative of racist attack and victimization before they knew there really was one. And I don’t want to believe Dolores Huerta is as irresponsible as that campaign showed itself to be.

You can’t deny how much mileage this false story gave Hillary. Some people still believe it.

Making Sanders look like a whites-only candidate was, in fact, Hillary strategy: Just 2 weeks before, Tom Perez (now DNC Chair) emailed HRC Chair John Podesta suggesting the campaign forward a narrative that Sanders was attractive “only among young white liberals,” saying “Nevada is an opportunity to fight back”.(exposed by WikiLeaks). Days later, a respected Latina elder accuses Bernie people of awful, racist behavior. Team Hillary had preconditioned her fans to believe ‘BernieBros’ were assholes who would shout down an old woman; people just ate it up. The lie, feverishly pumped out by HRC’s propaganda machine David Brock & Peter Daou, went around the world in minutes. They never took it back, which doesn’t surprise me. But neither did Huerta. That does surprise me.

I grew up revering this woman, whose full life deserves this film tribute. And statues, and books and scholarships. Dolores reminds us that the farm workers union created the idea of environmental justice. I’m overwhelmed at the size of just that one idea. And Dolores Huerta was at its very heart. Fearless, determined, effective. I need to see this film, because I’m still raw she’d trade on her stature for a cynical campaign move to fool the very people who believe most in her. “English only!”  Hillary Clinton’s in this movie. Does she ever have a moment of self-reflection that her campaign appears to have used this American hero to slander an opponent and his people? I doubt it. Does Huerta? I hope so.

A lot of questionable stuff went down in service of Hillary Clinton, a lot of bad faith actions. I wish I could say Huerta’s decades of leadership outweigh a day of bullshit in Nevada, never taken back. I need it to. It was painful to see someone who deserves my respect and admiration do something so damaging that I cannot respect or admire. So I need to see this movie, and remember the lives she changed, the people she empowered, the workers whose labor she lifted. To watch other people light up, seeing it. I need to remember Dolores Huerta’s full life, even if she never makes good on what she did in Nevada. She’s worth that, and much more, from me. I’m glad somebody made this film while she was still here. And happy Assemblywoman Quijano is making it available free, to let Dolores inspire people all over again. Including me.

Comments (2)

  1. Stephen Danley

    Man. That trailer is so powerful. And thanks for sharing – I think these conversations are important. It’s one of the things I struggle with in SJ — how and when to collaborate with folks I’ve admired at times, and seen do deeply problematic things at time. So challenging.

  2. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Right with you.

    I will always be disappointed in the kind of cheap trick the Nevada Caucus looks like, and in her apparent part of it. But she is Dolores Huerta, my elder in every way I respect my elders in what was once commonly called the movement. She should be honored, not for that, but for so much more than that.


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