Friday was Cesar Chavez day. It is a day worth celebrating, honoring a man worth remembering.
The LA Times called him a Ghandi-like figure to Mexican Americans. And in many ways, it's true. At one point in his fight equality, he went on a hunger fast that lasted some twenty-five days. I remember reading that story when I was young, and wondering what the world would look like, if leaders of such sacrifice and determination, were still alive today. Little did I know, we would be born into an era which would demand such qualities from all of us.
I've thought a lot about Chavez this weekend, as we canvased homes in east LA for Wendy Carrillo. I wanted to take a moment, and remember the day I met his co-founder. A woman who built the United Farm Workers movement, side by side with him. Dolores Huerta. Given what is true of women in so many corners of the world today, it seems safe to assume she carried a tremendous amount of the burden, in building their movement. And the work. And the sacrifice. And the brilliance. And the courage. Yet, we don't see too many headlines, comparing her to Ghandi.
Dolores came and visited us at Standing Rock. It was the middle of October, and while cold, it was still functional. I had the great honor of walking with her through camp, and showing her so many of the projects that surrounded us. Folks building homes for one another. Blockades for the wind. Spaces for healing. Spaces for cooking. Spaces for warmth. For prayer. Folks building yurts and tipis and tents and wigwams and lean-tos. Folks taking out the recycling, creating compost toilets, and organizing donated gear. Folks taking care of elders and children. Folks chopping wood. Distributing wood. Surviving, in resistance. Together.
After a couple hours of walking through camp and meeting all the brilliance and creativity around us, we eventually ended up at the Indigenous Youth Council. In many ways, these are the young people who began the movement that brought so many tens of thousands of us to the Dakotas.
It was a special few hours. The youth had run from the Dakotas to D.C., to awaken a nation. The youth had then consistently stood on the frontlines, facing tear gas, sound cannons and worse. And the youth were then - far too often - straddled with a criminal record for defending a river they consider an ancestor.
Watching these youth sit at the feet of a woman who had been arrested more than fifty times for her activism, brought a profound spirit into the space. The courage of a new generation, humbly sitting before an elder who had also given birth to a revolution. A elder who bore the scars of the struggle, with a dignity that could only be called grace.
In that meeting, Dolores asked what was most urgent to the young people seated before her. Their answer was resounding. Red Fawn. A woman who had served as a mentor to many of them, who had been targeted by police, and who was now being kept behind bars as a political prisoner.
It was a single moment in a long conversation. Before departing, Dolores led us in a great crescendo of clapping, along with their legendary chant;
sì se puede,
sì se puede,
sì se puede,
sì se puede !
Eventually a friend pulled through the mud with a car, and we said goodbye to one another. In the midst of a community living in full time resistance, my body welled up, as I thanked her for the life she had lived. Choking through words, i told her that if our generation sees far, it is because we stand on the shoulders of the generation she helped define.
The next day, a group of artists gathered in an old army tent. We had come from different corners of the country, but our hope was the same; to support an indigenous community with a message to share. To do so, we knew the central challenge was in ensuring local leaders maintained editorial control. There is a long legacy of this work being done with great carelessness.
After an hour or so of talking in circles, Wendy finally spoke up. While we all had our own ideas of what should be what, she said we had already been told what project was most important. By the youth council. Yesterday.
Red Fawn had been targeted by police, tackled, thrown behind a wall of officers, arrested, accused of firing of a weapon, and thrown in prison. She was being held with $100,000 in bail charges, and her hearing was in 9 days. We had to get the word out quickly, and raise money for her legal defense. Wendy said she was confident we could get it done. We all decided to follow her lead.
We spent every waking moment of the next week, meeting with her family and working with those directly affected by her arrest. In a tent powered by the power of the sun, we crafted a small story that gave voice to so much of what was around us.
The campaign was released and money was raised for legal fees. But authorities transferred Red Fawn to Federal Court, and she has been held without bail ever since. As they move her from cell to cell, her family continues to pack up their belongings, and move to whatever new town allowed the construction of another federal prison.
Red Fawn continues to be a political prisoner of Standing Rock. She is also a relative of those who helped start AIM - the American Indian Movement. Many members of AIM have been continuously monitored, harassed, arrested and worse, by federal authorities for decades. Her case is a small insight into how the United States government has continued terrorizing indigenous communities.
Looking back, it's clear that most of us had neither the confidence nor the courage, to take on the campaign to Free RedFawn. That strength came from Wendy. She heard the concerns of the community, and believed we could do what was necessary to address them. She then worked around the clock, to ensure it came into being.
For this, and so many other reasons, I believe Wendy is a leader who will fight for justice in this land. She walks with the same calm courage I saw in my few short hours with Dolores Huerta. And with the determination of a woman who knew she was American, decades before federal institutions acknowledged her as such.
There is so much more to say. But on the weekend after Cesar Chavez day, perhaps it's best to simply end with; sì se puede.
Election is Tuesday y'all. #americaforAll