Labor Leader Dolores Huerta Opens Creating Change Conference
January 31 2009 1:00 AM ET
The 21st Creating
Change conference got off to a rousing start Thursday
night in Denver when labor legend Dolores Huerta concluded
the opening speech by repeating "si se puede" along
with some 2,000 people in the audience, everyone
clapping hands in time to the chant. The annual
activist gathering put on by the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force -- its slogans: "Power is sexy," "Action is
hot" -- makes its debut in the Mountain West this
year, and, organizers say, despite the hard economic
times, attendance is expected to be on par, if not
exceed, last year's turnout in Detroit.
As the passage of
Proposition 8 rallied the grassroots of the gay-rights
movement in the form of Join the Impact protests and other
demonstrations, so it has the hardcore activists at Creating
Change, whose mission is to help its attendees,
yes, create change. The schedule for the
conference, which closes Sunday, includes everything
anyone would need to start a personal revolution: organizing
trainings; information sessions dispensing useful data
and research; roundtables on HIV/AIDS, youth and sex,
Islam and homosexuality, the transgender agenda, and
more; and panels galore, from "Getting Heard on the Hill" to
"Whose Body is It? Asserting the Queer Disabled Body." Even
the Join the Impact founders, Amy Balliett and Willow
Witte, are on hand, offering advice on how to harness
online media for mass actions.
And, of course,
there's inspiration from veteran activists like Huerta,
who cofounded the pioneering United Farm Workers in 1962
with Cesar Chavez and has supported gay rights for a
long time. Her efforts stretch from campaigning for
Harvey Milk to recording a bilingual anti-Prop. 8 ad
this fall; she also makes a point of referencing gays in her
speeches, like President Obama did on the stump.
Huerta began her
address by talking about economic justice, castigating
the Wall Street fat cats who took in more than $18 billion
in bonuses last year, but then moved into the
challenges the gay community faces now. While she
recognized that people are highly motivated in the
aftermath of last fall's stinging defeats at the ballot box,
she also encouraged the attendees to break out of
their comfort zones and really get in people's faces.
She recalled the efforts involved in the UFW's wildly
successful boycott of California table grapes in the late
1960s, which got 14 million Americans to stop buying
the fruit and forced major concessions from the grape
growers. "We were handing out 25,000 leaflets a day in
New York City!" she said of the boycott, which
involved organizers all over the country and made the labor
dispute a national issue.
"We have to do
more," Huerta said. "We've got to get out there and
talk to people who really don't agree with us," adding that
Gandhi often said that conflict is good, "because if you
don't have conflict, you can't make the changes."
She also took a
jab at fallen pastor Ted Haggard, whose interview on
Larry King Live aired Thursday night. "Mr.
Haggard is so sad," she said. "I think we should all pray
for him to get the courage to come out. It's so
Then she led a
series of "vivas" (as in "long live") for Milk,
Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Task Force, before
turning to her incantation of "si se puede," a phrase
Huerta invented and that the new president
"When I met
Obama, he said, 'I stole your slogan,' " she said with
a laugh. "I told him, 'Yes you did!' "
By the end of her
speech, everyone was standing and shouting, as if it
were a rally for migrant workers as much as one for gays.
But as Huerta would say, the fight's the same: We all
deserve our human rights. (Sean Kennedy, Advocate.com)
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