Ambassador Nathaniel & Elizabeth Davis Civil Rights Legacy Award on October 9, 2012


I want to thank the Pomona Valley Democratic Club for this award. I am so honored to be recognized alongside such great community leaders as Gail Clayborn, John Owsley, and Congressman Joe Baca – to have as the emcee, an exemplary union and community leader – Connie Leyva. Now, this is the way to honor genuine civil and human rights leaders – this is the way to honor the legacy of of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Davis! I accept this award as a collective award — with my wife – Rose – who is a foundation in all I do (and one of the primary reasons that we recently celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary) – with my son Joaquin and his family – Laura and my Grandson Antonio — with my other son, Jose Luis — who are all part of ensuring the energy that it takes in the building of family – whether it is in the home or in the community. I accept this award also on behalf of all the community organizers and community leaders here, you know who you are – whose work in transforming the Inland Empire region – makes us shine – are the salt of the earth – and whose work often goes unrecognized.

Although I am a runner, a father, a grandfather, an emeritus professor, a researcher, and a writer – I am also a community organizer – an intellectual activist. And, as in the case of many of my other community organizer friends here today or out there in the trenches, we don’t often hold any high positions and we don’t have a lot of funds –( hence, we can’t donate in large amounts to campaigns). We are critical thinkers – and our thoughts are often put into practice – in trying to create a more just and equal society. We do a lot of acts that no one knows about – but the persons who are the recipients of those acts – know – and our reputations come to be based on our principles and values. Because we are troublemakers with a lot in spiritual value but with little in material capital – we are not often honored or recognized.

That is why this award is especially meaningful for me today. As community organizers, we usually are climbing many hills everyday – and we face obstacles that try our resilience. I have had many of my students ask – what is it that keeps you going? How does work for social change become a life time commitment?

You know, yesterday, we took a caravan of vans and cars to La Paz (Keene, CA) to be a part of President Obama declaring the place where Cesar Chavez is buried (La Paz in Keene, CA) as a National Monument. This is historic and unheard of – a President of the United States taking such a strong and open stance in supporting the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the union movement – a movement that took on the power of the agricultural corporate power structure .

We took students, community people, parents and their children. Arturo and Monica took their children – a true example of community organizers — educating those who will create our future.

You know, there was a period of time when Obama was no more than a community organizer – and he too was faced with the challenge of building long-term commitments and training new leadership. As he read about the sacrifices ordinary people made during the civil rights movement, he imagined himself in their place, as a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worker “convincing a family of sharecroppers to register to vote,” or as an organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott (Obama 2004, 134). In doing so, he formed a commitment beyond himself to figure out how to develop new leaders with a strong consciousness.

When his fellow community organizers became tired, Obama had them look out of their office windows while asking, “What do you suppose is going to happen to those boys out there?….You say you’re tired, the same way most folks out here are tired….Who’s going to make sure [those boys] get a fair shot?” (Obama 2004, 171-72). He challenged the organizers to think about why they were organizing – to look at some of the structural foundations of the problems those young people were facing. This led to the development of a long-term commitment among some of these organizers to create social change that went beyond the challenges that they were facing in the immediate world around them.

In our everyday work, I know that we are facing those same issues today. A number of us are now what we call “veteranos” and we are having to figure out how to share the lessons among younger – and new emerging leaders. This is where I am today – and I have consciously backed away from some areas of organizing to let new leaders emerge.

I am heartened, and everyone here should be also, for those new leaders who are running for political offices with new visions about how to run a city. I am heartened by those new leaders who are questioning how we take care of the environment, how we deal with the trash problem, and who want to ensure that these problems aren’t placed in the living spaces of people of color and working people. I am heartened by the rise of emerging leaders who are out there getting the vote out to save our libraries, to save collective bargaining by voting against Proposition 32, and to support those propositions that invest in our toddlers/our children, and in our schools – to stop the cycle of having to put so much of our tax dollars in prisons later on. I am heartened by the spirit and tenacity of the Dream Students who did not give up when the Dream Act was voted down in Congress but continued to organize until a deferred action policy was implemented.

As all of you know, we need a lot of good leadership right now – and we need to find common ground among ourselves like never before. Even where we might differ slightly on some issues – we need to respect each other – and seek unity.

In this election, there are two trends developing. One that is about the future as it is emerging and one that wants to take us back to a time before the civil rights movement. On the one hand, there is a trend that has been seeking to build unity among this society’s diverse groups in building the types of alliances and partnerships that are necessary to meet the challenges of a global economy. The other trend is one that is thriving on creating fear and divisions among working people and using their genuine concerns to blame immigrants, to blame unions — for the economic problems in this country.

I am here with you today – because I know that this club – the leaders that are here – are about reminding our neighbors as to the role that labor and community-based coalitions played in winning the eight hour-day, the civil rights act, social security, medicare, the deferred action policy, and so on – the very programs that the Republicans are dead set in cutting.

I accept this award and the legacy behind it. Brothers and Sisters, let’s redefine the “GNP” and the meaning of “growth” to be gauged, not on whether the multinationals are making more profit, but on whether the wealth that is being created – is serving to create more jobs –improve the health, the education, the environment, and the quality of life – of all of us – our communities – of those who are doing the producing.

— The question before us is – which trend are we going to allow to dominate –

I ask you – Are you going to allow the Koch’s and the Walton’s to have their way? Are you going to let them divide us? Let us make the meaning of this award a reality and unite all that can be united – get out the vote – and make sure that, in this next election – we unite all that can be united in advancing the kind of equal and just world that we all have the right – to live in! Si Se Puede? Si Se Puede!


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