Linda Valdez: Civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez ended a hunger strike in Phoenix 45 years ago with words we should repeat today.
The mimeograph-blue words on yellowing paper are as fresh as a pre-dawn breeze.
“It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice in we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on this earth.
“It is an awesome opportunity.”
Forty-five years ago this month, Cesar Chavez ended his hunger strike in Phoenix with a statement that included those words.
Arizona has deep liberal roots
It reflects the deep faith and liberal traditions on which so much of Arizona’s progress toward justice is founded.
Arizona is called a conservative state. For now.
But like saguaros rising above a harsh and unwelcoming desert, those who work for the people are the sentinels of social justice.
I was recently reminded of this at a celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of Dr. Augusto Ortiz, who was Chavez’s physician during the labor leader’s 1972 hunger strike.
Dr. Ortiz’s widow Martha Ortiz, who is my friend, is a 90-something dynamo who still walks the long road for equality, access to medical care, education, living wages.
The work, she says, is not done.
A message for today's weary
Many people who are younger and stronger than this tiny woman see only monumental obstacles. The Republican stranglehold on our state and our nation makes it hard to catch your breath.
Chavez’s 1972 message speaks to that:
“Our opponents in the agriculture industry are very powerful . . . but we have another kind of power that comes from the justice of our cause. So long as we are willing to sacrifice for that cause, so long as we persist in non-violence and work to spread the message of our struggle . . . in the end we will overcome. It can be done. We know it can be done.”
They outlawed a tool of 'torture'
Martha Ortiz brought a short-handled hoe to the celebration of her husband’s birthday.
She also brought some X-rays of people whose spines were damaged from stooping over that tool all day in the fields. Dr. Ortiz used used those X-rays to argue for banning the short-handled hoe, which Chavez called “torture.” Eventually, they were banned.
For many years, Martha and her husband served the medically underserved in a mobile medical unit operated out of the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health.
The rural health office was founded by the late state Sen. Andy Nichols, whose use of the Arizona’s initiative process led to a significant expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which serves the poor and the working poor in Arizona.
His widow, Ann Nichols, was at the party for Dr. Ortiz.
Our struggle now is nothing new
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild gave a proclamation. Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik gave a speech. So did Tucson attorney Barry Kirschner, who brought the yellowed paper with Chavez’s words.
The event was a celebration of Arizona’s long history of liberal resistance.
It’s important to remember that history in these discouraging times.
It’s important to remember that the struggle is not new.
Chavez’s 1972 hunger strike was in response to a ban on farmworker strikes that was signed into law by Republican Gov. Jack Williams.
At the end of his fast, Chavez said, "I am weak in my body, but I feel very strong in my spirit." He cautioned against one of the hazards facing those who bang their heads against the walls of power:
“God give us the strength and patience to do it without bitterness so that we can win both our friends and opponents to the cause of justice.”
Without bitterness. And without rest. That's the legacy and the lesson.