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¡Si, Se Puede! (Yes, We Can!): Bobby Kennedy Visits Cesar Chavez-REVISED

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Published on Aug 2, 2010

Raw television outtakes of Senator Robert F. Kennedy arriving at Delano, Calif., to help United Farm Workers union president Cesar E. Chavez break his nearly month-long "spiritual and penitential fast for nonviolence," March 10, 1968. (For background on this visit, see the video "Walking the Gauntlet: Bobby Kennedy's Mission to Delano-REVISED" on this YouTube.com channel).

AT KENNEDY'S SIDE

Kennedy arrived in a car driven by the Rev. Jim Drake, Chavez's administrative assistant, with UFW co-founder and vice president Dolores C. Huerta (beginning at 00:47) and shook hands with LeRoy Chatfield, another aide (beginning at 00:43).

Three months later, on the evening of June 4-5, Huerta would share the platform with Kennedy at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel (now the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools) when he addressed his ecstatic supporters after winning the California Democratic presidential primary with the strong support of the Chicano, or Mexican American, and "black" communities. After leaving the dais to address a news conference, Kennedy was mortally shot in a pantry and died the following day.

Standing behind Kennedy at Delano, in a yellow shirt, was Andy Imutan (4:21), a UFW vice president and a leader of the Filipino American grape strikers.

At Delano, Kennedy wore on his left lapel a version of the UFW's black and red Aztec eagle button (00:45), perhaps given to him by Peter B. Edelman, one of his legislative aides and speechwriters, who was Kennedy's point man on the UFW's boycott against table grape growers. "The significance was to show support for Chavez and the work of the UFW," Edelman explained in a letter to the moderator of this channel (Peter Edelman email letter to Paul Lee, Sept. 6, 2010, 10:05 PM).

¡SI, SE PUEDE! (YES, WE CAN) - UFW MOTTO

Edelman, who introduced Kennedy to Chavez, described the farm workers' struggle and how the senator became involved with it as follows:

"Farmworkers have always been badly paid and the work has always been performed under very bad conditions. Prior to Cesar Chavez, the various sporadic efforts to organize farmworkers into a union had always failed. In 1966 when Kennedy first became aware of Chavez and the United Farm Workers, he was impressed and wanted to know more.

"In March of 1966 he went to California with the Senate Migratory Labor Subcommittee, of which he was a member, for hearings designed to give Chavez and the UFW a national platform and enhance their leverage in organizing against the entrenched and powerful growers. The two men took an instant like to one another and bonded immediately into a close relationship that lasted until RFK's death. Kennedy became Chavez's leading advocate in Washington, and the two men and their close associates were in frequent contact.

"Through the efforts of Kennedy and others, the Fair Labor Standards Act was finally amended in 1966 to extend the minimum wage and overtime rules to some of the farmworkers -- about 1 percent of the nation's farms and a third of the country's farmworkers. ...

"Chavez ... went on a [fast] in early 1968. His staff was deeply worried that he would die, and that he was gravely at risk of permanent damage to his health. ...

"Chavez's staff got in touch with me and said the only way Chavez would break the fast would be if Kennedy came personally to see Chavez and ask him to resume eating. Kennedy agreed, and that was why he was on his way to Delano on March 10, 1968" (Edelman to Lee).

RFK ON THE FARM WORKERS

With passion and sincerity, in his typically halting manner, Kennedy spoke in support of Chavez's attempt to keep the struggle of the farm workers nonviolent:

"I think people are frustrated and I think they're terribly disturbed by the fact that they haven't had more success and that the federal government in Washington has not been helpful to them and that the state has not been helpful to them, and this is not only true here, but elsewhere in the country, so that there is this frustration and there is apt to be this explosion.

"I think that Cesar Chavez is very influential, but I think also what in the last analysis is the answer is that we pass the laws that will remedy the injustices. That's what we should do, that's what those of us in Washington should do. We shouldn't just deplore the violence and deplore the lawlessness. We should pass the laws that remedy what people riot about. We can't have violence in the country, but we should also not have these injustices continue."

NOTE: The moderator would like to thank Peter Edelman, Peter Goldman and UFW spokesperson Marc Grossman for their kind and generous assistance in properly contextualizing this historic video.

(Video Courtesy Producers Library)

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