07/11/2008

Viva la Causa in Production

New Teaching Tolerance Film Set for September Release

Cesar ChavezIn September, SPLC's Teaching Tolerance program will unveil a new documentary film and teaching kit, Viva la Causa, that focuses on one of the seminal events in the march for human rights — the grape strike and boycott led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s. Viva la Causa will show how thousands of people from across the nation joined in a battle for justice for the most exploited people in our country — the workers who put food on our tables.

Like all of our Teaching Tolerance products, the film and kit will be distributed free to classrooms across the nation and will inspire millions of children for years to come.

The film could not be timelier.

Today, as in the 1960s, employers routinely exploit migrant laborers and immigrants of color, underpaying them and leaving them to toil in often unsafe and unsanitary work environments. The nation's debate over immigration has been polluted by racism, distortions and propaganda. The ranks of hate groups are swelling with an anti-immigrant tide, and hate crimes against Latinos are increasing.

"Viva la Causa will help counter this burgeoning anti-Latino sentiment by sharing one of the nation's great movements for social justice with millions of schoolchildren across the U.S., reminding them that they, too, can choose respect over bigotry," said SPLC President Richard Cohen.

The new documentary film will chronicle how Chavez, Huerta and their colleagues, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., created a mass movement to improve the lives of some of the most exploited people in the country — farmworkers who labored for meager wages under appalling conditions in the fields of California. Chavez and Huerta guided a non-violent strike for fair wages that became a movement for social justice.

In an effort to bring attention to the movement and show his dedication to nonviolence, Chavez starved himself for 25 days in 1968. Thousands of farmworkers came to see him every day. Robert Kennedy, the junior senator from New York, arrived to celebrate the end of the fast with Chavez and show his support for workers' rights. Huerta shared the stage with Kennedy the night he won California's presidential primary. Later that night, he was shot and killed in a California hotel.

Kennedy's support sent a message to the nation. People from all walks of life encountered — and some became — organizers at grocery stores, asking shoppers to join in a national boycott of California grapes so that those who harvested them might not live in dire poverty, subject to raw exploitation.

Families, rich and poor, joined in la causa and heeded its call. En masse, they stopped buying California grapes. And on a hot summer day in 1970, farmworkers won a hard-fought, historic victory. On July 29, 1970, California's growers recognized the workers' union and increased wages to $1.80 an hour.

The film, offered in English and Spanish, will feature interviews with Chavez's family and Dolores Huerta, as well as farmworker families, students and others who served as "foot soldiers," breathing life into the movement. It will remind today's students that they are inheritors of la causa, and that they, too, possess the power to change the world.

The new film is the sixth produced by the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance project. Four of our past documentaries have been nominated for Academy Awards®. Two have won Oscars®, another won an Emmy®. We plan to distribute 50,000 copies of the new film within two years of its release.