Dolores Huerta, Doctor of Human Letters
Dolores Huerta, there is a story you tell about the strong political conscience you have instilled in your children. Once when you were in jail, arrested for one of your many acts of civil disobedience, a group of college students came to meet you outside the jail and handed you a note from your then 15-year-old daughter, Angela. The note read, “Mom, sorry I can’t meet you when you come out of jail, but I’m knocking on doors to register people to vote.” Organizing has been a family affair widened into an ever-larger community, and you have inspired not just your children, but whole generations of changemakers.
When, alongside Cesar Chavez, you founded the National Farm Workers Association and later the United Farm Workers of America, you galvanized support and led consumer boycotts, supported voter registration, organized civil disobedience events to draw attention to unfair labor practices, and lobbied for legislation to improve conditions for Latinos and Latinas, farm workers, women, and children. You went into the fields and into people’s homes to tell them that a better life was possible, and you gave them the tools to make it so.
And you have made it so. Despite the obstacles of ethnic and gender bias, you helped organize the 1965 Delano strike of thousands of grape workers that lasted five years, and you became the lead negotiator for the workers’ contract that followed. You pressed to eliminate the use of harmful pesticides even when that advocacy came at great personal cost, when you were attacked and beaten by police while protesting. Still you continued — and continue — this vital work.
During the last three decades, you have worked to elect more Latinos and women to political office, and championed women’s issues, developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women, and children. With your foundation you continue to pursue social justice through systemic and structural transformation.
For this incredible work, you have been recognized by many organizations and with numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. President Obama, an organizer himself, bestowed the award in 2012. That day you reminded us, “The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights.”
When asked what you hope your legacy will be, you said it is to be known as an organizer who has “passed on the miracles that can be accomplished when people come together.”
For your passionate belief in the power of organizing and nonviolence, and for your long and productive work to improve the lives of vulnerable workers and create a generation of Latina leaders, Mount Holyoke College is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.