Hundreds of community organizers, students, labor groups, and more took part in the 15th Annual Cesar Chavez March last Saturday, in order to continue the legacy of the farm worker and civil rights activists who passed away in 1993.
The event began Saturday morning at Southside Park, less than a mile from the Capitol, where a festival awaited the mass of supporters.
Traditional Aztec dancers took to the amphitheater as a crowd gathered, many donning red shirts and signs of the #RaiseTheWage campaign. The stage was filled with ritualistic smoke and beating drums as the Latino community remembered their heritage while also working for a better future for minorities in the US, as well as for the people suffering from violence and corruption in Mexico.
Besides pushing for a $15.47 minimum wage, participants rallied behind causes like immigration reform, worker’s rights, police brutality, public education, empowerment of women, and injustice from the Mexican government among other things.
Student Mildred Gonzalez spoke scornfully of the challenges Latinos and Latinas face here and in Mexico, where she, like many at the march, still has relatives.
“We have to do what needs to be done,” she said, referring to the corruption and violence that is not being addressed by the Mexican government, especially its handling of the apparent kidnapping and killing of 43 missing students in Mexico. “If something is wrong, change it,” she continued.
Gonzalez went on to advocate for higher education and increased representation for minorities in the education system.
“There isn’t anything more powerful than an educated Latina,” she declared.
Al Rojas, former Labor Commissioner of the state’s Department of Industrial Relations, spoke as well, calling on community members to hold the government accountable for its treatment of the so-called “one percent,” the wealthiest and often most influential people in the United States.
“How many CEO’s went to jail?” Rojas asked the crowd, to which it replied, “Zero.”
Rojas also made it clear that it is important to remind politicians that Latino voices matter too.
“We are coming after you,” he warned politicians and corporations who he sees as neglecting the needs of many in this country.
Speakers also included Senator Richard Pan, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, and County Boardmember Phil Serna.
As the former Labor Commissioner left the stage, the march began, with a fleet of classic cars leading the charge to the Capitol, with dancers, banner-waving demonstrators and the media not far behind.
The march, though less than a mile long, was filled with the waling of sirens from the caravan of cars, cheering, and chanting, “Si, se puede!” or “Yes we can.”
Food trucks and organization vendors waited as the crowd poured onto the south steps of the Capitol Building. From there, additional speakers voiced their concerns to an enthusiastic audience.
One man from the organization Veterans for Peace stepped up in solidarity with the Latin American community, criticizing the amount of money the federal government spends on the US military, money that many argue should go towards public services.
“I’ve been inside the belly of the beast,” he said. He then held up a multicolor ribbon representing the federal budget. The red bar, taking up about half of the ribbon, stood for the military budget, he claimed. The other slivers of color were for everything else.
More followed, with criticisms ranging from the president’s record on deportation to the less than livable wages earned by many in the state and the country.
Professor Dean Murakami of the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers responded to the assertion that the resources to raise the minimum wage and build up minority communities are just not there.
“California has the eighth largest economy in the world. One in eleven billionaires lives in California. Don’t tell me there’s no money.” Murakami went on to criticize policies that seem to allow much of the state’s wealth to remain in the hands of those billionaires.
Maile Hampton also spoke to the crowd of here experiences with local injustice. Hampton is currently awaiting trial in what many view as a bizarre and ironic case.
Hampton, a Sacramento resident, is facing a charge of what the California Penal Code defines as “lynching.” During a counter protest critical of police brutality, Hampton attempted to pull a fellow demonstrator out of police custody, for which she spent a day in jail, and will now appear in front of a judge next month.
The event took place just a few days before national Cesar Chavez Day, which is held on the iconic leader’s birthday, March 31st.