Dolores Huerta

Keynote speech at 21st National Conference on LGBT Equality - Jan. 29, 2009

Dolores Huerta
January 29, 2009— Denver, Colorado
21st National Conference on LGBT Equality
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Huerta delivered the opening plenary keynote speech at the 21st National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Thank you, thank you very much. It's a great honor. Thank you very much [applause].

It's a great honor to be invited to address this organization. I know how hard you've worked over the years to make the changes that we need. And I just have to tell you – it's not even Valentine's Day yet but there is so much love in this room!

And I know that that we have been through some very, very hard times, and I often get asked what's the difference between what was going on, say, back in the sixties and seventies in terms of our various movements and what's the difference today, and my answer is that I think that the right-wing and conservatives, as we saw in the video that was shown earlier, have been so organized that they have really had an impact on our national agenda, because they have been out there promoting their agenda and we have had to kind of be more reactive.

And what they've done, basically, is that by attacking the gay and lesbian transgender movement, by attacking feminists and the right to abortion, the right to choose, by attacking immigrants, basically what they have done is distracted the country because of these so-called cultural wars from the real issues, which are of course the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic meltdown, these people who are ripping off our Treasury, ripping off investors and shareholders. And they've done this very, very successfully.

But now I think we're at the position now we can really start biting back, because some of them are not going to be around anymore. [applause]. We just said good-bye, right, to a lot of them.

And I think that we really have to come together and come around, especially around the common issues that we have. Because there are some issues out there that of course affect all of our different movements.

I'm going to talk specifically about the economic issues which we know are very much in the news right now. And, you know, some of the things we don't think about or sometimes we don't even know about because we don't get this information in the corporate media.

But if we just think about our wages, for instance. You know, if we look back, say, forty years ago, you know, what a chief executive officer of a corporation got compared to a worker was maybe forty times more than a worker. Well today, it's almost closer to five hundred more than a worker – five hundred times more than what a worker gets. And we think about, what should our minimum wage be today. Our minimum wage would be – we think about how gas prices have gone up, rents have gone up, and food – our minimum wage should be over $25 an hour. [applause] Twenty-five dollars an hour, no?

And just this evening on the news, Obama was just having a press conference and he said he was outraged, because he said they found out this last year that so many of these chief executive officers of these corporations actually got 20 billion – with a big B – $20 billion in bonuses. Twenty billion dollars in bonuses. And we know that a lot of the money they got, they were giving themselves bonuses with, was the bailout money that they were receiving.

And when we think of all the people who have lost their homes. And some of these people from Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, some of these CEOs were getting bonuses and salaries of $150 million. A hundred and fifty million.

I was speaking to one of our congress people when they were in the negotiations on the bailout, and they were talking to some of the bankers, talking about, okay we need to put a cap on these salaries, and they were saying, what about 2 million a year? And you know what they were saying? That's not enough. That is not enough.

You know, these are some of the issues that we've all got to come together to be able to fight the progressive fight, all of us and not separately.

The other thing is, we need to educate ourselves about each other's movements, right? Because again, we really don't get… [applause] We don't get the right information unless we go to Democracy Now or Nation magazine or Mother Jones, a progressive, you know, we really don't get information about other people's organizations or moments.

I want to talk about one right now, since we're talking about the economics. It just came out – again, Amy Goodman, I'm going to quote her – but it was just coming out in the news that some of the big organizations like Bank of America, Home Depot, AIG – which is one of the big corporate insurance companies that's got a lot of money, a lot of our tax money from the bailout – they've come out and they're actually spending tons of money to keep some legislation from being passed in the Congress, and that particular legislation is what they called the Free Choice Act for Workers.

Now some of you know what that is, and for those of you that don't know I want to explain it to you. Basically, this is the labor movement's number one priority. What this would do it, would give workers the right to choose a union with their signature. Just by signing card. Now, the employers say, no, they should have elections. But then what they do when they have elections, is the employers put a lot of pressure on the workers. They call them in, one-to-one meetings, they fire a few of the leaders, and they terrify the workers so they won't vote for the union.

Now, when we think about our signature. Our signature's good to get a driver's license, right? You can buy a home. You can get a passport. You can get insurance with your signature. And yes, you can even get married, right? We have the right. We have the right – you can get married with your signature.

Now, your signature is good representation for all of these very, very important transactions that we make in our lives, shouldn't be good enough to say, I want a union to represent me? [applause] Okay!

So, these are some of the issues that we can come together on.

And the other that I want to talk about is immigration, because immigrants have also been scapegoats, right? They have been scapegoats.

And what is it that the Latino community and the immigrant community – because it's bigger than just let the Latinos – what is it that we want? We want legalization for all of the undocumented people that are here in the United States.

Now, why should they be legalized? Because you know what – everybody that's ever come to this country – unless you're Native American – has been legalized at one time or the other. Every single person. So, we have to remind everyone – your family came from somewhere, and if they came through Ellis Island and they could walk, they were legalized. And in the 1920s in the United States of America, we had more people who were not born in this country – more foreign-born than native-born – in the United States in our population.

So what we're asking for all the people that are here now that are really contributing with the sweat of their brow, with the work that they're doing, with their contributions that they're making to our economy and yes, contributions to Social Security.

And then, what does the right wing do? They say, oh, these people, these immigrants – they're identity thieves, they're criminals. Well, all of the money that's going to the Social Security number that they are borrowing, somebody's going to get that money – they're not.

And the amount of money that they're contributing is billions of dollars – billions of dollars to the Social Security system.

So we're saying, legalize these workers that are here right now because they are contributing not only with their work but financially to our system.

So this is another way that our movements here can come together to put the pressure on our congress people and our senators, say vote for legalization for all of our undocumented people that we have in our country right now. [applause].

Now, as I've said before, many of the same people who have fought the LGBT movement – these are the same people, these are the same people that are fighting the immigrants. And you know Ku Klux Klan actually had a press conference and they said our membership has grown by 63 percent in fighting, in going against the immigrants. And now that we're stronger we can continue to go after the blacks and the Jews, right? And also the gay and lesbian movement, because they are part of our enemies.

And if we see who they – did the same people who were fighting Dr. Martin Luther King in the south that they wanted to keep segregation, they wanted to keep Jim Crow – these are the exact same people. But you know what? They're organized. They are organized. And we know that we are so much many more than they are but, they have a lot of impact because of what they do.

So this is what we have to do. We have got to get out there – and I know you're already doing some so I'm preaching to the choir – but I think we have to do more.

You know, we sometimes keep to our own little comfort zones when we talk to each other. But we've really got to get out there and talk to all those people that really kind of don't agree with us.

And I know that that's difficult, because basically, you know, we're going to get some people that are going to argue with us and they're going to maybe insult us or whatever. But Gandhi always said that sometimes conflict is good, because if you don't have conflict you can't make the changes.

So we've got to get out there and we've got to ruffle the waters and make people uncomfortable. But if we don't do that, then it's not going to change. [applause]

In the farm workers movement, what we did – you heard about the grape boycott a few minutes ago – we actually sent farmworkers from Delano, these little towns in the San Joaquin Valley, Earlimart, little towns that had maybe six thousand people in them, you know, six to eight thousand people – and we sent them to New York and we sent them to Chicago and we sent them everywhere. And then they went to meetings, they went to union meetings, they went to community organizations. Everywhere that they could go, they would ask if they could speak about the issue of farm workers.

In New York City, where I was in charge of the boycott, we passed 25,000 leaflets a day – a day – just standing on the corners passing out leaflets, telling people what our cause was about.

And I think that we have enough people now that we can kind of update and upscale our movement to make it a really mass movement, so that we leave no stone unturned, that we are everywhere, the we get on everybody's agenda so that we can carry our message. Because our message is one of justice and they need to hear it. And they need to hear it. [applause]

They need to hear about the personal stories of people who have been discriminated [against] because they are gay or lesbian or transgender. They need to hear the stories so that it can become a very, very personal thing to them.

And, yes, I think we, with our organizations, raise money to have full-time paid organizers. This is what I'm doing with my foundation. With my foundation, I raise money through speaking and grants and whatever, and we actually hire and train organizers to send them into communities to talk about justice and show people how to come together so they can make changes that be need to be done.

Because this moment is too important, right? I know volunteers are important but we if have organizers, then each organizer can then organize, you know, hundreds of volunteers to help us with our movement. And we can have debates and we can have forums. And you know, we don't expect everybody to agree with this us at once, but if we keep talking and talking, eventually we can educate them and remove the ignorance. Because this is what it is, right? It's ignorance, that people don't understand. [applause]

I'm glad that Obama talked about that we need to bring science back, right? We've got to get back to science. And it's kind of interesting that, you know, today when I was on the plane I was picking up the newspaper, and here you have such a big coincidence. You've got the announcements about Harvey Milk's movie, how now it's got all of these nominations, right? The movie about Harvey Milk from San Francisco? By the way, I know him, he was a friend of mine. The farm workers actually walked precincts so that we got him elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, that's how far back we go. [applause]

I'm going to distract just a second because talking about San Francisco, you heard in the introduction where I was beaten up in San Francisco by police when we were doing a rally actually against George Bush the first. He was having a fundraiser in San Francisco, and there was a big demonstration against him. This was when it was Bush-Quayle. And the demonstration was huge – there were a lot of people there from the labor movement, the machinists union, others – and they had signs that said "Bush-Noriega – that's the ticket." Right? That's when Noriega was working for the CIA. And there was a big, huge crowd from the gay community there, and they were decked out, many of them, with red direct tops and blue-and-white stripes, in skirts, and they were carrying signs that said "Bush is a drag." [laughter and applause] It was that that demonstration that I was severely beaten by the police. And I also want to know this – when I was lying on that gurney in the hospital and nobody was paying attention to me because I was bleeding internally, and this one young attendant came up to me, and he was gay, and he said, "Oh my god, you look terrible! I'm going to get you out of here." And he took my gurney, and he said, "I'm going to put you right there in the path where doctors will have to trip over you." And sure enough, he put me in the path and a doctor did trip on my gurney and he said, "What's the matter with this woman?" and he said, "I don't know. She looks terrible." And about that time I started going into convulsions, my body started jumping up and down and then I blacked out. But that person saved my life. He saved my life, so I am very, very grateful to him. [applause]

So going back to the 6:55xx. So here we have that movie about Harvey Milk that's being nominated, and also in the newspaper we have this other movie that's about the Preacher Haggard, right? And they were saying, the Larry King show was saying, that he was a disgraced preacher. And I was just watching the interview that Larry King was having before I came over here, and he's trying to say, "Yes, I still have sexual thoughts," and I thought to myself, This poor guy. Why is he disgraced? Is he disgraced because he had sex with a prostitute, or are they saying he's disgraced because the man has gay, sexual thoughts? I think it's very, very sad for Mr. Haggard. I think we should all pray for him to get the courage to come out, okay? [applause] That is so pathetic. That is so pathetic! That the man has to live a lie, right, to please who? Who knows, right?

So anyway, that's what this movement is about. It's about people having the courage to come out and say, yes, I'm going to fight for my sexuality about who I am, and I don't care who criticizes me about it, right? [applause] This is what this is all about.

It's really talking about truth, but it's also talking about justice. So we've really got to get out there and do the work that we need to do.

One of the sayings that I also use with Latinos – because you know we do have all of these priests that are out there and ministers that are preaching against our movement – and one saying that really clicks with the Latinos is this and I want to share with you. And this is a saying from one of the great presidents of Mexico, indigenous president Benito Juárez – he was the first president after they got the independence from Spain, he was a Oaxacan Indian – and he had a very famous saying in Spanish. It says, "El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz." And in English that says "Respecting other people's rights is peace." This is all that we ask: respect our human rights. Respect our human rights. [applause] This is all that we ask.

And we have a mandate. We have a mandate to go out there and to remove the ignorance from our society. Not only here in our country. We know that if things are bad here, in places like Latin America they're even worse, right? And in other countries it's even worse.

So our mandate is to go out there and to continue to remove the ignorance until people, we can have the human rights that we deserve.

And we need to do it for our children. Not only our children who will be gays and lesbians when they grow up, or transgender if they so choose, but also to educate all those other children, all those other children, so that they will understand and they will not grow up with that hatred in their hearts that is so permeated, so promoted in our society.

So we have our moment now, we have our movements now, and we can go out and we can really come together and make the change. Because we are the majority. We are the majority. [applause]

We came together to elect Obama. We came together to elect Obama. And yes, I know that some other workshops you're having here is how do we get people who are gays, lesbians, transgenders elected to office.

But we also have to get people that may not be transgender, lesbian or gay, but maybe they'll be advocates for us. And if they're not advocates for us, let's take them out, right? Let's take them out. [applause] Let's actually target someone and run against them and take them out, okay?

By the way, in California, when the equality marriage law passed in California, some of our Latino legislators who didn't vote with us, they were taken out by their own constituents. In one particular case, the fellow's name is Joe Baca from San Bernadino, and when his constituents asked him, "Why did you vote against equality in marriage?" he said, "Because of my religion." And they said to him, "Hey, we didn't elect you to vote your religion. We elected you to vote our constituents." [applause] And 22 incumbents in California who voted for equality marriage, they all got reelected. Every single one of them.

So, just one last thing. With the election of Obama, we know that we made a great step forward in terms of ending racism in our society. But we're not there yet, and I just want to share with you one thought that I think will help us in that respect. And that is to remember that we're one human race. We don't have a lot of human races. We have a lot of different ethnic groups, we have a lot of different nationalities, we have a lot of different cultures – but we only have one human race. What's the name of our human race, somebody? Homo sapiens. We have people here who know about science. [laughter]

By the way, I love "Nacho Libre," right, those of you who didn't see that movie. I believe in science, right? [laughing]

So, we have only one human race, and where did our human race begin? Africa. We have a very educated group here. Africa, yes. As our human race went across the planet, they went to the Orient, Asia, got lighter in skin, came down to Bering Strait to the Americas. One of our tribes got lost. They went way up north where it's really cold and they really, really white. [laughter] Now, they have to go to the tanning salon or to the beach to get their color back. [laughter and applause]

So we can say to the KKK, to the Aryan Nation, to the White Citizens Council for Immigration Reform – which has been targeted as a hate group, by the way – the Minutemen, okay – we can tell all those groups: Get over it. You're Africans. [applause]

So if we can remember this, that we're all one human family. We're all related – we're all brothers and sisters. President Obama just got elected to the presidency, right? So we’re Africans of different shades and colors, and I want to share a word with you that I think will help us to remember this, and that we're going to fight for each other and we're going to defend each other and we're going to protect each other, right? That's what we're going to do as a family. [applause]

The word I want to share with you is from South Africa. It's a Zulu word, and it means "we are coming together to fight for justice." The word is wozani. All right. So I'm going to say 1-2-3 and we're all going to shout wozani at the top of our lungs, so all of those bigots, those people that hate us, so that they can hear us out there, okay? So I'm going to say 1-2-3 and we'll all shout wozani at the top of our lungs. One, two, three – WOZANI! That is awesome – whoa!

So now, let's do a couple of "vivas." Viva means "long live," okay. I want to say one for Harvey Milk. I'll say, "Long live Harvey Milk" and we'll all shout, "Viva!" at the top of our lungs and we'll say one for Cesar Chavez, also, whose spirit is still with us, the spirit of non-violence and of serving others. All right? Okay. I'll go first and you just should "viva!" at the top of your lungs. Viva Harvey Milk! ["Viva!"] Viva Cesar Chavez! ["Viva!"] Viva Dr. Martin Luther King! ["Viva!"] Viva this task force! ["Viva!"]

Okay – can we do it? Can we bring our movements together? Can we win our human rights? We say, Yes we can. [audience responds] But, we're going to do it in Spanish.

By the way, for those of you that don't know…wait, wait, wait… for those of you that don't know, I actually invented the term "Si se puede." [applause] Si se puede is yes we can in Spanish, and when I met Obama, he said, "I stole your slogan." [laughter] And I told him, Yes, you did." [laughter]

But we're all together now. We're going to reach out to each other, we're going to come together, we're going to walk the union picket lines, we're going to write letters for legalization, for free choice act, to stop incarcerations of our Latino and African-American youth, okay? More money for education. We're going to come together, to work together, and we're going to say, in Spanish, working together we can make it happen. Bring on human rights for everyone. And so we'll say it together with an organized handclap, in Spanish, "Si se puede." Let's go – [chanting with audience] Si se puede. Si se puede. Si se puede. Si se puede. Si se puede. Si se puede. [clapping as audience continues: "Si se puede. Si se puede. Si se puede…."] [applause]

Thank you very much.

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