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By Julian Peeples

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist,” said Dolores Huerta. “Every minute is a chance to change the world.”

Photograph by Joe Brusky

For more than six decades, the legendary organizer and activist has led the fight for civil rights, jobs with justice and safe, supportive communities for children and families, inspiring generations to fight for an America where everyone has a chance to succeed and thrive. As we celebrate Huerta and her lifelong teachings on her 94th birthday April 10 — Dolores Huerta Day — it’s only appropriate that she spent the last months of her 93rd year making “good trouble”: rallying with in-home support workers in Bakersfield and leading a massive conference in a “sí, se puede” (“yes, we can”) chant in Texas.

“I want students to get a sense of their own empowerment and the things they can do to make the world a better place.”

Huerta’s presence in labor struggles in the Central Valley and throughout California is a constant for as long as most can remember — and her connection to public schools, educators and CTA is storied. She grew up in Stockton and studied to become a teacher, earning her credential at San Joaquin Delta Community College in the early 1950s. But seeing the condition of her students as they came to school every day cut her time in the classroom short, as she decided to take a different path to help children and families in need.

From her work co-founding the United Farm Workers and shining a light on the most invisible workers in America to fighting for voting rights, stronger communities and resources for public education, Huerta’s efforts and words have inspired since farmworkers first started walking picket lines in the fields of Delano in the 1960s — and her words have been just as moving more recently in support of educators and CTA.

National Park Service

“I’m very proud to be in the same space as CTA and the great work that teachers are doing. To be able to stand with teachers is a great honor,” says Huerta. “Teachers are the foundation of our democracy and the soul of our nation. We’ve got to give teachers the respect they deserve and the resources they need.”

Starting in the 1960s, Huerta worked with fellow labor hero Cesar Chavez, first meeting at Fred Ross’ Community Service Organization and leading United Farm Workers together for decades, where she coined the phrase “sí, se puede.” In 2003, she established the Dolores Huerta Foundation to organize communities and develop future leaders, power massive voter registration drives and empower communities to fight for rights and progress.

“The only way our country is going to survive as a democracy is that we have strong education and strong teachers that are supported.”

National Park Service

There are four elementary schools in California named in honor of Huerta, who was also inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2012, Pres. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, and her house when she worked and organized in Delano is listed as a noteworthy place by the National Park Service.

Huerta has joined educators for major struggles over the past few years — picketing with her grandson and friends outside their school during the United Teachers Los Angeles strike; leading chants in the pouring rain during a rally for the the Sacramento City Teachers Association strike; and heading a mile-long march through the streets of Oakland during the Oakland Education Association strike.

“The only way our country is going to survive as a democracy is that we have strong education and strong teachers that are supported,” Huerta told thousands in Sacramento in 2022. “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power! What kind of power? Teacher Power! ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”

Huerta and her foundation have also fought alongside CTA to support schools and communities through Propositions 30 and 55, championed CTA’s legislation to reform charter schools, and voiced opposition to new charter school petitions in the Central Valley.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2018 designating April 10 as Dolores Huerta Day, making her the first and only living person to hold the honor. Instead of a state holiday, the day is intended to recognize Huerta and teach California students about her life.

“I’m glad to share the lessons I’ve learned in my life so that others can learn from them,” says Huerta. “I want students to get a sense of their own empowerment and the things they can do to make the world a better place.”

In 2019-20, a group of CTA educators collaborated with the Dolores Huerta Foundation to develop a curriculum to celebrate the famed labor leader and her life and teachings, creating lesson plans and content for students at all grade levels to help examine the essential question: “How do people work together to solve problems and struggle to implement the solution?”

The curriculum is available for free. These lessons cover the rich history of working together for change in the Central Valley and California to help inspire young people to work to better their communities.

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