Viva la causa!

Civil-rights leader and labor organizer Dolores Huerta may be in her 70s, but she can still fire up a crowd. By the end of her nearly one-hour speech at Chico State’s BMU auditorium Tuesday, audience members were thrusting their fists in the air and shouting “Viva!”

Huerta, who along with legendary labor organizer Càsar Chávez helped found the United Farm Workers union, urged the approximately 1,000 audience members Tuesday to stand up and fight for justice for the poor, women, minorities and workers.

“We are in a crisis today,” she said. “This [Bush] administration is doing everything they can to take back all the progress we have made over the years.”

Huerta, still showing the good humor and determination that have been her hallmark through 30 years of struggle, blasted the Bush administration for its record on labor, the environment, human rights and the war in Iraq.

“The first thing he did when he got into office was remove thousands of union jobs,” she said. “They want to privatize everything.”

Huerta said she hoped Chico State students would get involved in politics, noting that presently about 75 percent of young people don’t even vote. She said she hoped that would change during the next election, but that it would take more than just voting to create real change in this country.

“You need to do more than vote. You need to bring people with you and get them to vote. I hope some of you will also run for office. We have graduates of Yale and Harvard that, when they get of school, all they want to do is go out and exploit the poor. I know none of you in Chico would do that.”

Huerta’s lecture was preceded by a spoken-word performance given by Pablo Rodriguez, whose use of humor, poetry and free candy put the audience in a festive mood. In a piece called “Building Bridges to Pendejo Heaven,” Rodriguez combined metaphors of breaking piñatas and making tamales to show how leaders and movements are created. His Spanglish poem, “Love Letter,” about the trials of workers, migrants and minorities, brought smiles and applause from the packed theater.

After the event, a few dozen people, many from the student and faculty groups that sponsored the event, lit candles and marched downtown to honor the memory of Càsar Chávez.