Activist Dolores Huerta has lived to see her life’s work memorialized in a new documentary, simply titled Dolores. Encompassing Huerta’s first work as an activist over the past 60-plus years, the film documents her work for fighting for workers’ rights, the Latinx community, women’s rights, and the environment, arguing that Huerta should have a larger place in history — an argument that’s hard to disagree with.
Now 87, Huerta is still working in activism, encouraging women, particularly women of color, to run for office through her Dolores Huerta Foundation. She was an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, and took to the streets herself at Sundance Film Festival. She regularly speaks out about the rights of women and people of color — most recently, she spoke out against Trump’s decision to end DACA.
I met with Huerta in the garden of a Manhattan hotel in mid-August, a little over a week after Charlottesville, Virginia filled with white supremacists for the “Unite the Right” rally. Over our conversation, Huerta expressed her displeasure with our current president, spoke out about white supremacy, and urged us all to get a little more active in politics — particularly at the local level.
Can you tell me about your decision to say yes to this documentary?
Carlos Santana [who produced] is the one who came up with the idea of doing a documentary. I kind of didn’t want it to be focused on myself because I thought the people it should focus on were the farmworkers and the [UFW] martyrs who were killed [fighting for workers’ rights] — the first was a young woman named Nan Freeman, she was from Boston and she was killed in Florida. I think those are the people who should take the credit.
What was it like the first time you saw the finished documentary?
I was thrilled, because the thing about Dolores the movie is that it’s so relevant in terms of what’s happening in today’s world. And who would have known that? When we started this film four years ago, who would have realized that it would have the message we need for today’s world?
Yes! So many of the same battles are still being fought — how do you continue to fight and not get discouraged?
We haven’t completed the journey, even though we’re getting this pushback from the Trump administration, and so many of the things that we have fought for are being taken away. But I think the movie is a call to action, to say to everybody, you’ve got to get involved, and you’ve got to get involved at a local level, and vote, and see what your elected representatives are doing, and encourage people to run for office.
Right now, so many young people are becoming involved in activism for the first time. What is your advice for them?
First of all, I would tell them congratulations, and how much they’re needed, but I also really want to invoke the spirit of nonviolence. Remind people that India was liberated through nonviolence by Gandhi, that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, the leader of the Civil Rights movement, through nonviolence, was able to change some of laws of our country and give African Americans more access to voting, as well as Latinos and others who were being blocked out. So we can win, and we must win, with nonviolence. The thing is that if people use violence, they’re really joining the Nazis when they do that. If we could just remember that, and take that anger you might have, and use that energy in a positive way.
When the events in Charlottesville happened, were you watching? What was your response?
I was in Atlanta, Georgia, at the NetRoots Conference, and people at the conference just walked out and had this really great demonstration at the capitol in Atlanta. We had over a thousand people there. And it’s wonderful that so many of the people who are demonstrating are not people of color, they’re Caucasians — I want to thank them, because they know the harm and this cancer we have that is racism in our country, and they’re taking on the challenge and supporting people of color that are the victims. Heather Heyer was killed, but also, we should mention the two deputies that were killed. These were all white folks that became victims of racism, you might say, because of what happened with that rally.
From your perspective, the white supremacists that are gaining ground under the Trump administration — is this something that’s growing again, or has it always been there?
As a person of color, we live with this every day. We get these microaggressions, there’s always something: The way people look at you, the way people ignore you, the way people talk to you. We have to face it every day of our lives. But what’s happening now is the fact that it’s now so visible, and the thing about it being now so visible and so harmful is that people are now realizing, “Hey, this is affecting us, this is affecting our whole country, this is affecting our whole world.” Because we in the United States, we are the leaders of the free world, and 75% of people in the world are people of color, so you’ve got to get rid of this idiocy that somehow if you’re white, you’re superior. You’re just like me.
The one thing about the movie that I love is that it shows that the people who were the poorest, the most denigrated of all, and had the least power, were able, by appealing to the American public to support them, to go against the most powerful forces — the president of the United States, Richard Nixon; the Governor of the California, Ronald Reagan; the biggest grower organizations in the United States of America — and win. So I think that’s a strong message, that we all have the power. But we’ve got to exercise that power.
Can you tell me how you see Donald Trump, from your perspective of having worked against Nixon and other presidents?
I think Trump has brought the whole issue of racism to the forefront, by his words, by his actions, by his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and African American people. He made it visible, and now we realize that this is something that we have to challenge. He has given license for people to be racist, so that they can show their true colors. But in a way it’s good, because we realize, now that it’s so visible, that we have to do something about it.
I know you have worked to encourage women, especially women of color, to run for office. And we’ve seen that more and more women are registering to run right now. What advice would you give women who are thinking of running for office for the first time?
First of all, I congratulate them, I say to them, don't be afraid. A lot of times women won’t run for office because they think they don’t have the experience, and I say to them, do it like the guys do it, learn on the job!
And how can we help them get elected?
Well, number one, give money, whatever you can, and number two, go out there and do that phone banking, help with mailings, help go door to door if you possibly can. That’s very, very important. That’s what I call organizing 101: Talking to people and knocking on doors and getting people to vote. And I also want people to engage in their local political party to make it stronger and to bring more progressive values.
And I want to say this, too: Marching is good, protesting is good, but we also have to engage in the hard work — the elections, the voting — because this is where we elect people that are going to make the decisions about where we’re going to spend our money, and what kind of policies are going to be approved or disapproved. So please, know who your school board member is, who your city council member is, who your state representative is, who your Congressperson is, and not just the president of the United States. We’ve got to get civically engaged on every single level.
Something we do at BUST is ask women what about their defintion of feminism is. What would your answer be?
A feminist is a person that cares about the environment, that cares about global warming and works to preserve our environment, our world. A feminist is a person who cares about immigrants’ rights, a person who cares about workers’ rights, a person who cares about our LGBTQ community, and absolutely, reproductive rights for women. And that’s what a feminist is, which means that men can also be feminists.
Top photo: Dolores Huerta press conference 1975. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs Wayne State University
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