by Katixa Mercier
On January 21, 2018 at Civic Plaza, the Women’s March once again assembled. The women and men of Albuquerque, New Mexico gathered and voiced their demands, joining sister marches across the country. This year’s agenda was Power to the Polls. By voting people can demand better: better health coverage, equal pay, maternity leave, better representation.
Many treat these rallies as partisan events, and yes, there was likely a heavy representation of Democrats, as this march first started in response to the current administration. Because it is easier to say, “fuck so-and-so,” than it is to elevate and have a calm, lucid dialogue, rallies like the Women’s March are a great outlet to communicate frustration. It’s an opportunity to find a sense of unity with others who share the same sentiment.
Often at rallies, crowds will render to one mantra or chant, repeated in response to opposition protesters or sometimes as a means of solidarity. We’ve heard so many clever ones, some tailor-made. But no matter the function, one tends to surface, no matter the political affiliation: “Yes we can.”
This particular chant is associated with Barack Obama’s administration—it was his campaign’s tagline and used in many of his speeches. But the chant goes back much farther than Obama in Illinois and actually started as “sí se puede.”
Dolores Huerta, born Dolores Clara Fernandez in Dawson, NM—just over 200 miles from Albuquerque—in 1930, is the person to credit. Huerta was raised in rural New Mexico, and later in Stockton, California, by a family of farmers, miners, and above all, activists.
Her father was a labor union activist who would later take a seat on the New Mexico legislature. Her mother was an entrepreneur and vibrant independent woman with compassion for the underrepresented. And both led Huerta to her ultimate path as an activist and a feminist.
However, the spark that would ignite her fire started in her days as a teacher in Stockton. Huerta was teaching a group of children that seemed rather distracted. She tried a number of different teaching techniques, assuming boredom and the countdown to recess were causing this difficulty in commanding the classroom. Later, she would realize that the reason was much more concerning than she thought.
Her students were hungry. They weren’t bored or having behavioral issues—they were distracted by hunger pains. Disheartened, Huerta sought a solution. She analyzed the employment and opportunities for her student’s parents. What she found was that her hungry students were the children of migrant workers, notably farmers. The solution was not necessarily a food bank or food stamps; it was ensuring that the parents had rights to equal pay.
Huerta took to the local community service board and began to organize voter registration for these underrepresented communities, making sure that they could vote on certain bills that would radically change their working conditions. In her time organizing, she and the CEO of the community-service organization, Cesar E. Chavez, became fast partners as they had one common vision: abolish socio-economic inequality.
As their shared mission didn’t necessarily fall in line with that of the community-service organization, in 1962, Chavez resigned and, with Huerta, launched the National Farm Worker’s Association.
Just over a decade later, Huerta and Chavez were still at it, pushing for the rights of farmers. In 1975, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act became law, allowing farmworkers to unionize and demand better wages and working conditions. In the pursuit of assembly and solidarity, throughout the many rallies hosted and demonstrations outside lawmaker offices, one chant was the common thread through it all: “Sí se puede!”
Yes we can.
Huerta has had a career rich in accomplishments that have changed the lives of many. She continues today at the age of 87, focusing on the rights of working poor women and children, traveling the country and campaigning for change. Her mission isn’t a partisan one, but rather is inclusive and continues to honor her original mission.
January 21 is just behind us, and with a new year comes new opportunity and a replenished enthusiasm to make old dreams a reality. Whatever your particular concerns may be, as a woman or as a man concerned for women’s rights, please continue to gather and meet other like-minded individuals; a powerful partnership could depend on your willingness to care, to show up and take part.
My intention is to remind myself, and others, that in this world of instant gratification, major change and recognition for an issue takes time and isn’t always an overnight sensation. It takes more than copying and pasting a paragraph or two into a Facebook status bar. It requires consistent participation and the weathering of storms.
If rallies aren’t your thing, find a venue to empower those who need to have their voices heard. Engage in a calm dialogue about what keeps us up at night. Collaborate on how we can all right some serious wrongs. Remind the world that “shithole” countries have never and will never exist. And above all, remember that revolutionaries and the spark of a revolution are sometimes born just miles away.
About the author: A triple threat: nerdy, always hungry, and the last one off the dance floor. Katixa Mercier lives locally and professionally marinates the Albuquerque metro area working for a boutique distributor. When not hosting a libation-centric event, she is likely cooking with her husband and dachshund, listening to vinyl.