Project 21’s Joe Hicks to Tell Congress: UFW’s Cesar Chavez Should Not Be Honored with Public Funds

Joe R. Hicks, a Project 21 member who marched arm-in-arm with Jesse Jackson at Cesar Chavez’s funeral in 1993, will testify before Congress Thursday morning in opposition to spending public funds honoring the late United Farm Workers union organizer.

Hicks was asked to testify about Chavez as part of congressional consideration of H.R. 359, “The Cesar Estrada Chavez Study Act,” introduced by Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA). The bill would authorize a “special resource study of sites associated with the life of Cesar Estrada Chavez and the farm labor movement” that could lead to inclusion of sites in the American Southwest deemed important in Chavez’s life in the National Register of Historic Places or even become honored national landmarks similar to sites related to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In testimony before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Hicks will compare Chavez to Dr. King. Hicks will note that a “consensus that King’s life-long commitment to nonviolence and equal opportunity was unassailable” helped lead to the honor that is bestowed on locations such as the Lorraine Motel, the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, among other places.

“This,” charges Hicks, “must be compared and contrasted with how Cesar Chavez dealt with violence as his UFW organizers often made use of strong-arm tactics against field workers in California’s Central and Coachella Valleys. One field organizer said he remembers seeing ‘loyal Chavez followers bash the heads of reluctant field laborers.’ He said the organizers ‘visited the fields, intimidating peasants with threats and violence.’ Despite the public persona as a man of peace and nonviolence, Chavez did or said little to reign in the violence, which may explain why it’s difficult to find farm workers who have anything good to say about him or the UFW. In fact, labor leaders who lead non-UFW farm worker associations hotly dispute the notion that Chavez or the UFW ever represented their views and challenge what they see as ‘mythology’ surrounding Chavez.”

Hicks will appear before Congress as someone intimately familiar with the organizing work and the tactics of the UFW and its leader, Cesar Chavez. During the 1970s, the height of the UFW’s efforts to organize field workers throughout the Southwest, Hicks was left-wing political activist. In 1976, Hicks spent time in the then-Soviet Union and was a member of the Communist Party USA. Hicks was in the company of Chavez on several occasions, interacted with his organizers on a routine basis and trained UFW activists in “revolutionary theory” classes.

Hicks has worked on civil rights issues at the local and national level for over 30 years. In addition to his work with Project 21, Hicks is currently the vice president of Community Advocates, Inc. (CAI) in Los Angeles. CAI “is committed to taking the quest for human and civil rights beyond the fight against intolerance and discrimination” through fostering common ground among races, ethnicities and religions. Prior to CAI, Hicks served as executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the California State Bar’s Board of Governors.

“It is a great honor for me to be able to address our national lawmakers on this important issue. How best to expend public funds, and on what issues, is something of great concern to the voting public,” said Hicks.

The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold the hearing in room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building at 10:00 am on Thursday, March 29.

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