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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, pt 3, "Observations and reflections on the City Council hearing"

By Sean Cruz

Prior to hearing the invited and public testimony on the proposed ordnance renaming 39th Avenue, the Council heard comments from City staff members and various parties with their fingerprints on the “process”, and voted on accepting the report of the Planning Commission (which did no actual planning and no research on its own).

There was a consistent thread through these “process” comments that suggested the inevitability of renaming a street—just about any street—was a foregone conclusion…it was a matter of honing down three streets chosen at random to determine the actual “winner”.

Highlights from this portion of the agenda included:

A panel of mutually-congratulatory white folks describing their contributions to the “process” of selecting a street to sacrifice on the Altar of Empty Gestures….

Among them a project manager, blissfully unaware of how badly managed this project has been, enthusiastically offered up a slide show of empty patches of asphalt along 39th Avenue…you had to be there….

A consultant hired to mediate who appears to have spent far more time on assembling her self-congratulatory remarks than on any actual mediation….

A Historian Panel that lacked a single real historian, focused on the history of Portland street naming and renaming, completely overlooked the history of the man being “honored”….

A Planning Commission that did no actual planning throughout the entire process, presented a report to City Council that summed Cesar Chavez up in a single word: “Latino.”

Note to the Planning Commission: “Latino” refers to people whose Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking ancestors began arriving in the Americas in the 16th century, murdering and enslaving its inhabitants throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and across two continents, including the area that is now known as the American Southwest. It is not a pretty story…you should try reading a book now and then….

2nd Note to the Planning Commission: There is a presumption that renaming 39th Avenue will increase pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the street, but having conducted no traffic impact study (see project manager comment above), no one in the neighborhoods knows what to expect or how issues of safety, noise and air quality will be mitigated….

The months-long work of City staff, conducted completely within a Portland bubble, the clueless project manager, the Historian Panel Without Historians, the mediator who did not mediate and the Planning Commission that did not plan, produced two documents for the Council’s consideration, but not a single photograph of Cesar Chavez or farmworkers was in evidence…even the Committee Once Bent on Renaming Interstate failed to bring a photograph of Cesar Chavez to the hearing….

What could possibly be wrong with a process and an outcome like this?

The City’s process has stirred up a storm of anger directed at immigrants and farmworkers in general, and against Mexican and Mexican American people in particular, and yet the Office of Human Relations and the Human Rights Commission has let it all flow unchallenged and unanswered….

For Oregon farmworkers, perhaps the most important City staff failure was the absence of any input or activity from the Office of Human Relations or the Human Rights Commission to counter the racist rhetoric, and the fact that this Portland obsession drained the life out of any hope for meaningful reforms that would improve their living and working conditions within the next two years.

While the Director of the Office of Human Relations, Maria Lisa Johnson, was seen skulking in the Council Chamber recesses and in and out of various Commissioners’ offices prior to and during the hearing, she had nothing to say about the bigoted and racist comments the street-renaming obsession has generated.

The fact that she has been in the bag for renaming a street, beginning with Interstate Avenue, from the beginning, and was as quick as anyone else to accuse opponents of renaming Interstate as bigots, prior to her appointment to “lead” the City’s Office of Human Relations, points directly to the problem with this office.

If nothing else, you have to credit the City’s street-renaming “process” with being consistent: consistently ad hoc, consistently contrived, consistently faulty and consistently driven by City Hall insiders, insiders who are completely consistent in their desires to remain anonymous, at least until the street-renaming parade takes place along 39th Avenue….

More comments on the Council hearing coming soon, in Searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, pt 4….


Sean Cruz writes BlogoliticalSean at http://www.blogoliticalsean.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, pt 2

Searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, Oregon, pt 2

By Sean Cruz

I was invited to speak before the Portland City Council last night, who were conducting their own search for Cesar Chavez….

I want to thank Mayor Adams and the Council for providing the opportunity, very sincerely.

I provided written testimony to the Council, but decided to speak without referring to notes.

Unfortunately, I ran out of speaking time before the call to action part….

The sad fact of the evening was that the discussion was so frozen into the question of renaming a street, that no one would have heard the call, not even in the People’s Republic of Multnomah.

Supporters of renaming a street dream of cruising up and down 39th Avenue….

It will make them feel good about themselves, feel like they are actually doing something to benefit farmworkers they will never meet and causes they will never join….

…cruise to the North, cruise to the South…

…convenient shopping either way…

--------------


Searching for Cesar, pt 3 “Reflections on the City Council hearing” coming soon

The search continues….


Testimony for Portland City Council
June 23, 2009

My name is Sean Cruz; I am a resident of NE Portland.

Like Cesar Chavez, I am the son and grandson of Mexican farm workers; like Cesar Chavez, I am a Mexican American, a US citizen with Mexican roots; like Cesar Chavez, I am a Chicano. I found my own Chicano identity through Cesar Chavez, through the National Chicano Movement in California in the 1960’s.

Throughout this long Portland argument, Cesar Chavez has been variously described as a "Latino", as a "Hispanic", as a "not Hispanic, but an American", as an "American" and as a "Latino American", but never as a Mexican American or a Chicano.

None of these terms are synonyms, yet in Portland they are used interchangeably to describe very different—even profoundly different—cultures. Where is the honor in that?

In 1954, in Brown vs Board of Education, the school desegregation case, African Americans gained protection under the 14th Amendment.

Mexican Americans did not gain the same protection until 1970, in Cisneros vs Corpus Christi School District, where Mexican Americans were finally recognized in US courts as a unique, distinct ethnicity, as a People.

Is it any wonder that our children, our families suffer the highest high school dropout rates?

Portland, overwhelmingly white, is just about 40 years behind.... Mexicans, Mexican Americans have not yet gained recognition here in Portland as a People.

For all of the talk in respect to diversity, throughout the many pages of the documents before you in items 860-1 and 860-2 there is but a single reference to Cesar Chavez’ race, culture and ethnicity, and that is the word “Latino.” Where is the honor in that?

I recognize that two years ago, Mayor Potter and the Council very sincerely wanted to express respect for the life and achievements of Cesar Chavez in a significant, permanent public way, but frankly the Council was in receipt of some very bad advice, which brings us to where we are this evening.

With all due respect, where is the honor in accepting these document from five well-meaning-but-poorly-informed white people who cannot tell us apart?

I hope that you, Mayor Adams and members of the Council, will use this time to obtain a far better understanding of precisely who you are talking about when the subject is “Cesar Chavez” or “farmworkers” or “Cesar Chavez’ people” and why it is far too early to celebrate, not while farmworkers across the entire USA continue to suffer unjust and even inhumane living and working conditions.

This street-renaming obsession, focused entirely within the City of Portland, where there is little actual farm work, has cost farmworker advocates working to remove the injustices written into Oregon state law the entire past two years.

Had this street-renaming effort been focused on making a difference in real lives, we might have accomplished something real and we might have had something real to celebrate tonight….

The only wage earners in Oregon who have no right to overtime pay for working beyond 40 hours a week are our farmworkers, our mostly-Mexican farmworkers.

Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers won the right to meal and rest breaks during the workday only five years ago, the only population in the state denied that fundamental right.

Farm labor in the USA is not a “Latino” experience, or a “Hispanic” experience and not necessarily an “immigrant” experience.

Historically and to the present day, farm labor is by a wide margin a Mexican experience, a Mexican-American experience, and in California, where Cesar Chavez family and my family worked the fields, a Chicano experience, and it is 100% an experience of deep, abject poverty and injustice, conditions that continue to exist today.

“Hispanic” and “Latino” refer to cultures that originated in Europe and mixed here one way or another, beginning in the 16th century.

Before there was an Oregon, before there was a USA, before there was a Mexico, before there were continents named after a Portuguese sailor, our ancestors were here and we were a People. We were many Peoples.

Chicanos, like Cesar Chavez, identify with our aboriginal roots rather than the European. Our ancestors did not cross the Atlantic ocean to come to America.

All Chicanos are Mexican Americans, but not all Mexican Americans are Chicanos. You cannot tell us apart by looking at us.

These facts explain in part why the Portland Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has been completely silent on the street-renaming issue over the entire past two years. There are no Chicanos over there, and no farmworkers either.

The problems

The first problem, going back to the beginning of this mess, was the failure to recognize that there is no monolithic Hispanic or Latino community.

Racially and ethnically, culturally and by nationality, we are the most diverse people on earth, and we are each equally proud of who we are.

The second major problem is that this discussion ended as soon as it began, focused from the start on street-renaming as the only permissible way to honor Hispanic Latino American Cesar Chavez in the City of Portland, with every other idea frozen out.

The third problem was the failure to educate the public as to the life and achievements of Cesar Chavez, and as to the living and working conditions of farmworkers both then and now, which is related to the fourth problem.

The fourth problem (and I’m not referring to the specifics of the City’s legion of process problems) was the fact that the City’s process opened the door to the anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant insults and bigotry, and then stood aside and let the inflammatory rhetoric flow.

The City’s own Office of Human Relations and Human Rights Commission simply vanished. Their work appears to be built around collecting their paychecks.

The fifth problem is that if the same amount of energy had been expended on educating the public to the living and working conditions of Cesar Chavez’s people in the present day we might have had an opportunity to make meaningful change in the 2009 legislative session.

The Oregon legislature is about to end its 2009 session without addressing the issue, which means that Oregon farmworkers cannot possibly win the right to overtime pay for overtime work until the 2011 session.

That is a lot of hours of unpaid overtime, but here’s a nice stretch of asphalt, and a whole big pile of animosity to help you forget your troubles….

The sixth problem (and this is not near the end of the long list of problems) now facing Oregon farmworker advocates is how to develop forward momentum in the face of an almost totally white legislature that lacks any champions for farmworkers.

It was Cesar’s Mexican face that got him arrested for refusing to sit in the balcony, in the Mexican section of a movie theater, this U.S. Navy veteran.

In a town and in an era where signs saying “No Mexicans allowed” were commonplace, where the US farm labor force was mostly made up of Mexican men, women and children, whole families, grandparents, even pregnant women, enduring grinding poverty and hard labor, Cesar Chavez, Mexican American Chicano Cesar Chavez, short hoe in hand, began to organize the farmworkers, in fields like these….

Cesar Chavez’s struggle and his campaigns were defined by his life experience as a brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking, Mexican-American migrant farmworker, a person who far too many Americans would categorize even today as a wetback, and they do….

We’ve all seen and heard the bigoted comments that this street-renaming fiasco has generated.

The only persons that those insults are directed towards are Mexican people, Mexican-American people, like Cesar Chavez, like me. Papers or no papers, people can be very specific about who they do not like.

One would think that the City would have charged its own Office of Human Relations or its Human Rights Commission to mediate the conflict, to follow its own mission statement, to work to reduce the expression of bigotry and anti-Mexican discrimination that the City’s own highly-dysfunctional and mostly ad hoc street-renaming process set in motion, but that did not happen.

The reason that did not happen is because the Director of the Office of Human Relations has been in the bag for renaming a street from the very beginning.

Our Mexican American experience is unique to us, and Cesar Chavez brought that experience out of the shadows, brought us out of the shadows, Mexican people, Mexican Americans, Chicanos.

There is no honor in being told “you people all look alike.”

Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers remain in the shadows.

Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers remain the state’s only population that is prohibited by law from the right to overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

As we meet today, the New York State Senate is preparing to vote on a bill that would remove from state statute the race-based exclusionary laws that deny farmworkers the right to a day off from work, that deny farmworkers and no other workers the right to overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

The state of New York is home to a large duck liver pate industry, where farm workers are required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, force-feeding ducks.

Worse, a characteristic of the duck liver industry is that each worker is assigned the same several hundred ducks to force-feed three times a day each for 22 consecutive days. They cannot have another worker substitute so someone can get a day off “because it upsets the ducks.”

The Call to Action

I ask you today to choose to make more than a symbolic gesture, to make instead a real difference in the lives of farmworkers, sending a message of support to the farm workers of New York state.

I ask the Portland City Council to honor the courage of Cesar Chavez by calling for a City-wide boycott of duck liver products until the laws excluding farmworkers from the rights and protections that all other workers enjoy are removed from statute.

I ask the Portland City Council to honor the sacrifice of Cesar Chavez by calling on the Oregon Legislature to remove the provisions in Oregon statute that exclude farmworkers from the right to overtime pay for overtime work.
Thank you.

Sean Cruz
June 23, 2009
Testimony for Portland City Council

Monday, June 22, 2009

Breaking News: Portland Chavez Boulevard Committee vanishes!

By Sean Cruz

In a stunning new development, only hours before the long-anticipated hearing before Portland City Council on the question of renaming 39th Avenue, the entire membership of the Chavez Boulevard Renaming Committee has vanished, apparently leaving only its two co-chairs to soldier forward.

All photographs that might identify the Committee membership suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the Committee’s website, leaving only speculation as to who the brave souls were who once demanded that the City rename Interstate Boulevard.

The Chavez Committee has never posted the names of its membership, and has held no public meetings, so these photographs were all that gave a clue as to who its members might be during the whole of the past two years.

Among the photographs that once graced the Committee website were those of Maria Lisa Johnson, Director of the City of Portland’s Office of Human Relations, and of Martin Gonzalez, a member of the Portland School Board, both demanding that Interstate Avenue be renamed.

One hopes that these disappearances are not related to reported UFO sightings during a recent electrical storm.

Since so many of the Boulevard Renaming Committee members work inside City Hall, there is considerable concern that their absences might impact the City’s business during the current economic and budget crises.

The Boulevard Committee posted several historic photographs of Cesar Chavez on their website, and it is good to see them there, even if they are uncaptioned and hard to find; follow this link:

http://www.cesarechavezboulevard.com/CesarEChavez/index.html

The photos would probably have more impact if the Committee had found the time to spell his name correctly:

Hint: ”Cesare E. Chavez” is the wrong spelling; try again!

The Boulevard Renaming Committee apparently could not find the time to identify Cesar Chavez accurately, either, misidentifying him thusly:

“Who Was Cesar E. Chavez? A true American hero, Cesar was a civil rights, Latino, farm worker, and labor leader….”

Further research shows that the City of Portland’s entire Office of Human Relations and its Human Rights Commission have vanished as well, allowing anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican invective, bigotry and inflammatory rhetoric to flood the city unchallenged and unanswered.

From the City of Portland website:

“On March 19, 2008, City Council passed resolution 36571 which approved the creation of an Office of Human Relations (OHR) and a Human Rights Commission.

“Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the mission of the Office of Human Relations is to work toward: Eliminating discrimination and bigotry, Strengthen inter-group relationships, and Foster greater understanding, inclusion and justice for those who live, work, study, worship, travel and play in Portland.

“The Office of Human Relations will provide leadership on civil and human rights issues through the coordination advocacy, education, research, and intervention services. It will house the Human Rights Commission, comprised of 11-15 volunteer commissioners, who are charged with setting the strategic priorities of the office.”

Since the Office of Human Relations and the Human Rights Commission have been completely absent during the entire street-renaming debacle, it is unclear how long they have been missing, other than to draw their paychecks, which might be direct deposit….

More on this disturbing story to come….

http://www.humanrightsportland.org/aboutus.html

Sean Cruz writes BlogoliticalSean at www.blogoliticalsean.blogspot.com

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, Oregon

By Sean Cruz

I am searching for Cesar Chavez in Portland, Oregon.

Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American farm worker, son and grandson of Mexican farm workers, and a Chicano, like myself.

Cesar Chavez, the spirit of Cesar Chavez, ought to be easy to find…if you know what you are looking for…I found my own Chicano identity, you see, through Cesar Chavez, through the Chicano Movement in California in the 1960’s.

The Cesar Chavez they are talking about renaming a street for in Portland must be a different person than the one I know.

In this long Portland discussion, Cesar Chavez has been described as a "Latino", as a "Hispanic", as a "not Hispanic, but an American", as an "American" and as a "Latino American", but never as a Mexican American or a Chicano, not even by the people who claim to own the Chavez-honoring franchise.

It was his Mexican face that got him arrested for refusing to sit in the theater balcony, in the Mexican section, and nothing else.

Cesar Chavez’s struggle and his campaigns were defined by his life experience as a brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking, Mexican-American migrant farmworker, a person who far too many Americans would categorize even today as a wetback, and they do….

We’ve all seen and heard the bigoted comments that this street-renaming fiasco has generated.

The only persons that those bigoted comments are directed towards are Mexican people, Mexican-American people, like Cesar Chavez, like me.

Portland State University has a Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, where “Emphasis is on the experience of the Chicano and other Latinos as residents and citizens in the United States…Graduates with a certificate in Chicano/Latino studies will have…gained important insight into a very different culture within U.S. borders.”

This fact explains in part why the Portland Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has been completely silent on the street-renaming issue over the entire past two years. There are no Chicanos over there, and no farmworkers either.

In two years of kicking the street-renaming can-of-worms through town, what insights have been gained?

Most Portlanders in this street-renaming fiasco, completely ignorant of the fact that Hispanic and Latino cultures are not all the same, use these terms interchangeably to describe significantly different cultures, as if they are synonyms. There is no honor in that.

Chicanos are the warrior class. Not everyone likes to hear that. Cesar Chavez was a Chicano.

Farm labor in the USA is not a “Latino” experience, or a “Hispanic” experience and not necessarily an “immigrant” experience.

Historically and to the present day, farm labor is by a wide margin a Mexican experience, a Mexican-American experience, and in California, where Cesar Chavez family and my family worked the fields, a Chicano experience, and it is 100% an experience of deep, abject poverty and injustice, conditions that continue to exist today.

There is no honor in being told “you people all look alike.”

Our experience is unique to us, and Cesar Chavez brought that experience out of the shadows, brought us out of the shadows, Mexican people, Mexican Americans, Chicanos.

In Portland, Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers remain in the shadows, and the City Council and the Boulevard Renaming Committee have done nothing to bring about change where it matters.

Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers remain the state’s only population that is prohibited by law from the right to overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

Oregon’s mostly-Mexican farmworkers won the right to meal and rest breaks during the workday only five years ago, the only population in the state denied that fundamental right.

When the City Council meets on Tuesday, there may be farmworkers in the audience. What will they have gained at the end of the day? The right to overtime pay? Protection for the sexual harassment that these mostly-Mexican women farmworkers suffer in the fields and orchards? Any meaningful change to their living and working conditions?

The City of Portland offers them a stretch of asphalt instead, a victory only for the handful of City Hall insiders who are keeping their heads down until after the Council makes its decision.

Important note: The Boulevard Renaming Committee recently took down all of the photos from its website that might identify who its members are, all those City Hall insiders failing in the courage department, too.

Renaming a street against the will of the people who live there while failing to address the living and working conditions of farmworkers with anything more than rhetoric conveys no honor to Cesar Chavez.

Renaming a street without a single Mexican business or architectural feature, and with no Mexican food along its entire length is no way to honor Cesar Chavez.

It's not much better than the Boulevard Committee's boneheaded choice of Interstate Avenue for "honoring" Cesar Chavez, where the only sources of Mexican food was Taco Bell and Taco Time, two corporate franchises.

Until recently, Taco Bell was the subject of a lengthy, bitter boycott because of it's opposition to a 1-cent pay increase for farmworkers. That information never made it into the Portland "honoring" discussion.

The Chavez Boulevard Committee, which mostly consists of City Hall insiders and people without a drop of Mexican blood flowing in their veins, demanded that Interstate Avenue be renamed, which would have been fine for Taco Bell, but an insult to Mexican people.

The Boulevard Committee made the claim that failing to rename a Portland street would be an insult to Latinos and Hispanics, and the City Council bought it

Most people are simply indifferent to the living and working conditions of farmworkers.

Cesar Chavez recognized that in order to overcome that indifference, that American indifference, he had to educate the public.

So far, I’m not seeing much in Portland that gives a clue to Cesar Chavez, but I’m going to keep searching….

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some parents express their sickness by kidnapping their own children

By Sean Cruz

Susan Nielson's column in The Oregonian on the tragedy at Sellwood Bridge prompted me to post the following comments:

Some parents express their sickness in dramatic ways, by committing murder, by throwing their children off bridges, by drowning them like unwanted kittens.

Some parents express their sickness through neglect, with horrific results.

These cases command a great deal of attention, of public discussion, because they speak so directly to who we are as human beings, as parents ourselves.

The issues are clear, direct, and most of all, visible.

Other parents express their sickness in ways that are not so visible, not so easily understood, the legal issues may be cloudy, and with little physical evidence of the damage done to the child(ren).

These parents kidnap their own children and disappear, leaving nothing visible behind, no corpse, nothing for the media or the public to discuss, to care about.

My four children disappeared from Oregon 14 years ago in a kidnapping organized by Kory Wright, a Mormon zealot and an employee of Columbia Ultimate in Vancouver; the crime noted in The Oregonian’s August 1996 editorial “Say Yes for Kids.”

My son Aaron died in 2005, essentially from long-term medical neglect, heartbreak and abandonment, alone in an empty house in Payson, Utah, where his mother had taken him and then left him behind.

The Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 1041 (Aaron’s Law) in 2005, shortly after I buried my son, his arms covered with the scars of self-inflicted knife wounds, cuts he made in the months following the abduction, when he was largely under the control of Kory Wright, a Mormon zealot carrying out an old-fashioned Mormon shunning.

Aaron’s Law is a landmark bill, first-in-the-nation legislation, providing both victims and Oregon courts more tools to resolve and prevent child abduction, recognizing the emotional and psychological harm that child victims suffer when kidnapped by persons they love and trust.

One of Aaron’s Law’s most important clauses authorizes the court to order counseling sessions directed at educating the parents to the harm that their conduct is inflicting on their own children.

Most parents understand the difference between what is harmful and what is not and can be fairly objective about it, but every now and then something like the Sellwood case surfaces and we are reminded that this fundamental essence of our humanity cannot be completely taken for granted.

It is far more common for a parent to kidnap a child than to commit murder, but both actions have permanent consequences.

On the day that this mother expressed her sickness by throwing her two small children off of the Sellwood bridge, I discovered a photograph posted on the internet that illustrates the sickness of a parent that kidnaps her own children:

The photograph is of a toddler, 18-24 months old is my guess. No name is posted.

The photograph tells me that somewhere in this world, I have a grandchild.

My grandchild’s very existence is a secret, the photograph confirming that this child will be raised in a web of lies.

Somewhere, a parent expresses her sickness through her grandchild, through my grandchild, and on to a second generation of victims.

www.aaronslaw.blogspot.com






http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/susan_nielsen/index.ssf/2009/05/the_tragedy_on_sellwood_bridge.html

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cesar Chavez, a hollow memorial and the New York State of Shame

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon--

For more than two years now, an effort to rename a Portland street—just about any street—has imposed a purely arbitrary burden of stress and potential financial cost on a growing list of mostly unwilling neighborhoods.

The City is attempting to follow a “process” that has never been followed before, is still essentially ad hoc, and which defies logic and human comprehension.

If street renaming catches on in Portland, then the list of potential candidates and honorees is long indeed, enough to guarantee many decades of purposeless conflict and can-kicking through town.

The City of Portland “Planning” Commission, deciding that its role in the street-renaming “process” is to deliver bad-tasting medicine, chose to sacrifice a randomly-selected street on the Altar of Empty Gestures.

City officials, needing to weigh the political costs of renaming or not renaming 39th Avenue, are trying to figure out which way will cost the least votes, severely handicapped by the fact that they have been getting really bad advice all along.

The “honor” that some want to bestow on Cesar Chavez by renaming a street (almost any street) against the will of its residents is more like a gravestone in another form than it is anything else.

The entire citywide discussion over these past two years has referenced Cesar Chavez only in the most abstract of terms: He was a civil rights leader something something; farmworker something something; grape boycott; something about lettuce; something something….

The Portland discussion centers on the past, and a shrunken understanding of the past at that; nothing about the present living and working conditions of farmworkers; nothing about the future living and working conditions of farmworkers; nothing about what needs to happen if you really want to honor Cesar Chavez, amigo….

The Portland discussion boils down to creating a grave marker in the form of a series of street signs unconnected to any thing or any one or any idea that is related to either Cesar Chavez or the human rights abuses and discrimination issues for which he sacrificed his health and shortened his life.

These issues persist today, as Bob Herbert’s “New York State of Shame” commentary appearing in the New York Times makes clear, and yet in Portland the public discussion regarding farmworker issues does not go beyond renaming a stretch of asphalt.

The state of New York is home to a large duck liver pate industry, where farm workers are required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, force-feeding ducks. By statute, farm workers in the state of New York are specifically excluded from the rights to a day off or to overtime pay for overtime work.

Worse, a characteristic of the duck liver industry is that each worker is assigned the same several hundred ducks to force-feed for 22 consecutive days. They cannot have another worker substitute so someone can get a day off “because it upsets the ducks.”

Read the full article here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09herbert.html?emc=eta1

Farmworkers across the country remain mostly invisible. They and their families endure unthinkable living and working conditions that the rest of us are protected from in our respective state statutes.

In the state of Oregon, farmworkers are specifically excluded from the right to overtime pay for overtime work, same as New York. In Oregon, farmworkers have only had the right to meal and rest breaks since 2004.

Opponents to granting the right to meal and rest breaks in Oregon claimed that their mostly Mexican farmworkers didn’t want the breaks; they wanted to work right on through, make more money, the same claim that those opposed to granting the right to a day off in New York claim: “This notion that they need to rest is completely futile. They don’t like to rest. They want to work seven days.”

No discussion of these issues has taken place anywhere in Oregon during the past two years, or before that for that matter, and yet there is talk of “honoring” Cesar Chavez in the City of Portland....

Unless the Portland City Council can connect the public discussion to the real world of farm workers and take some kind of affirmative step, this entire ordeal is about little more than erecting a grave marker, and a hollow memorial at that.


New York State of Shame
By Bob Herbert, New York Times


The building housing the ducks in this lush region of the Catskills in upstate Sullivan County was huge, a cross between a gigantic Quonset hut and an airplane hangar. The ducks, tens of thousands of them ready to be slaughtered for foie gras, were stuffed and listless in their pens. It was a very weird scene. Genetically unable to quack, the ducks moved very little and made hardly any noise.

Animal-rights advocates have made a big deal about the way the ducks are force-fed to produce the enormously swollen livers from which the foie gras is made. But I’ve been looking at the plight of the underpaid, overworked and often gruesomely exploited farmworkers who feed and otherwise care for the ducks.

Their lives are hard.

Each feeder, for example, is responsible for feeding 200 to 300 (or more) ducks — individually — three times a day. The feeder holds a duck between his or her knees, inserts a tube down the duck’s throat, and uses a motorized funnel to force the feed into the bird. Then on to the next duck, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

The routine is brutal and not very sanitary. Each feeding takes about four hours and once the birds are assigned a feeder, no one else can be substituted during the 22-day force-feeding period that leads up to the slaughter. Substituting a feeder would upset the ducks, according to the owners of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, which operates the farm.

Not only do the feeders get no days off during that long stretch, and no overtime for any of the long hours, but they get very little time even to sleep each day. The feeding schedule for the ducks must be rigidly observed.

When I asked one of the owners, Izzy Yanay, about the lack of a day of rest, he said of the workers: “This notion that they need to rest is completely futile. They don’t like to rest. They want to work seven days.”

Covering this story has been like stepping back in time. Farmworkers in New York do not have the same legal rights and protections that other workers have, and the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry has taken full advantage of that. The workers have no right to a day off or overtime pay. They don’t get any paid vacation or sick days. When I asked one worker if he knew of anyone who had a retirement plan, he laughed and laughed.

To understand how it’s possible to treat farmworkers in New York this way you have to look back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt was trying to get Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide basic wage and hour protections for workers. Among the opponents were segregationist congressmen and senators who were outraged that the protections would apply to blacks as well as whites.

Most agricultural and domestic workers were black, and the legislation was not passed until those two categories of workers were excluded. New York State lawmakers, under heavy and sustained pressure from the agriculture lobby, have similarly exempted farmworkers (the vast majority of whom are now Latino) from most state labor law protections.

There was a good chance — right up until Monday, when the State Senate went through a sudden and cataclysmic change from Democratic to Republican control — that something might be done about this legislatively. On Monday evening, the Assembly passed (and Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign) a bill extending much-needed labor protections to farmworkers, including the right to at least one day of rest per week and, more important, the right to bargain collectively.

Republican senators were split on the bill, however, and the New York Farm Bureau, the lead lobbying agency for the agriculture industry, is furiously opposed to passage. With the upheaval in the Senate, the fate of the bill, called the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, is unknown.

A major supporter of the bill, the Rev. Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant Ministry of New York, said the Senate shift would have no effect on the campaign for passage of the bill. Another supporter, Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, also said she will continue to push hard for passage.

“It’s shocking that these conditions could exist in New York State,” Ms. Kennedy said. “We talked to a worker who had not had a day off in 10 years.”

That is not an argument that carries much weight with the Farm Bureau.

Sounding like an echo of Mr. Yanay, the bureau’s spokesman, Peter Gregg said, “They don’t want days off. The farmworkers want to work. They came here to make money.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09herbert.html?emc=eta1