Roots and Fruit
No. 6 Winter 2000
The Early UFW Years: A Personal PerspectiveSandy Sample
I had never met a farmworker or even driven past a crew of farmworkers in the fields when I decided to spend the summer of 1962 in ministry among them in California. I was a first-year student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City when Chris Hartmire, director of the California Migrant Ministry (CMM), came through recruiting seminarians to lead teams of college student volunteers for the CMM summer service program in farm labor camps and communities throughout the San Joaquin and Santa Clara Valleys.
I had grown up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, attended college in central Ohio and was enthralled by living in New York city. I had chosen not to go back to my hometown over summer break and was ripe for a meaningful adventure I could see as ministry. I was eager and enthusiastic and once I said "Yes" to the invitation to spend my summer with farm workers, I headed west with a full, open but quite naive heart. I had read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and seen Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame over a Thanksgiving break, but I knew very little about what life was like for farm workers and nothing about how tenderly I would come to hold them in my heart.
A week of training for the summer teams, held in Modesto and hosted by the Modesto Council of Churches and Church Women United, trimmed away some of my naiveté but not my enthusiasm. As I learned more about the injustice, indignity, inhumane working conditions and oppressive racism farm workers had to contend with daily, I knew this was important work, perhaps even part of my "calling."
The first summer I found myself "falling in love" with the farm worker families we met in the public labor camps in Westley and Patterson and becoming impassioned about the injustice I saw. I’m sure I delivered fiery sermons on the subject to mostly unhearing ears whenever our team was invited to lead worship in congregations for whom farm workers were invisible, forgotten on the edge of town.
Our summer teams did whatever their members had skill and knowledge and energy to do. We provided unlicensed on-site child care for children too young to work in the fields with minimal materials and inadequate space but with great youthful energy and enthusiasm. In the evenings we taught sewing classes or handcrafts, showed movies on the side of the washhouse, taught English if anyone on our team had even minimal Spanish skills. We tried to enlist volunteers from local churches to help us but only a few brave souls, mostly high school students and retired folk, were willing to take that huge, risky step across the vast gulf that separated the predominant culture from the farm labor community.
At that time, CMM had a long history of service to migrant farm worker families, but was beginning to realize the inadequacy of "serving" farm workers instead of working to change the unjust economic conditions of their lives. At a mid-summer gathering of all the volunteer teams, we met Cesar Chavez and began to glimpse another possibility that instead of our earnest volunteers continuing to apply bandaids on an ugly, gaping wound, farmworkers themselves might become empowered to demand their right to dignity. It was exhilarating to hear Cesar share his vision for nonviolent social change and exciting to dream of being part of a powerful new movement for justice among farmworkers themselves.
I trekked from New York City to Stanislaus County for two more summers and each year found myself with a brand new crew of student volunteers trying to connect with farm workers in meaningful, non-patronizing ways. One summer I spent many mornings transporting pregnant women from the camps into Modesto for the county maternity clinic while my team continued its good work with migrant children. Countless farm worker families graciously welcomed us into their lives and I made deep connections of the heart with families I still know as dear friends 35 years later, many others I’ve lost track of but still remember with fondness.
It was powerful work that demanded a deep level of energy and commitment and I found it difficult to shift gears at the end of each summer and return to academic pursuits. It was painful that although local church folk were often very generous in supporting our training and inviting us to lead worship during their minister’s vacation, only a few lay people and no clergy ever visited the camps; congregations opened their doors or hearts to farm workers and few church leaders in the valley were willing to openly advocate for justice for farm workers.
As I went back East the second time to complete my studies, I was able to acknowledge a deep longing to be with farm workers in their struggle and follow the work Cesar Chavez was doing to build a movement for justice among farm workers. So when I returned for the third summer, I hoped to be able to stay on permanently, Chris Hartmire began to work with denominational leaders through the California Council of Churches to create a year-round position for me. The one denomination that responded to the challenge was the Church of the Brethren, which had for many years supported a small, struggling mission church in south Modesto.
Despite reluctance on the part of some of the church’s members to accept a woman as pastor and to expand their job description to "pastor/community worker," considerable naiveté on the part of the Church of the Brethren Conference and even more naiveté on my part, I was called to serve the south Modesto Community Church of the Brethren and moved into parsonage adjoining the church.
I served there for 2 years, during which time we came to see that this was indeed not a match made in heaven. I was too radical for them, unsure about how to approach such a poorly-defined ministry and unprepared for resistance to my style of ministry. They did not want to go where I hoped to lead them and though neighborhood families responded to my community work, the congregation was mostly threatened by it, especially when I became involved in some grass-roots organizing efforts that led to two controversial organizations, the Welfare rights Organization and Community Poverty Council. With some pain and disappointment for all concerned, the inevitable parting of the ways occurred.¿ I left, the church was closed and the property was sold to a Spanish Pentecostal congregation which soon became a thriving enterprise on that corner.
By then, CMM had developed an even closer relationship with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and was beginning its own transformation from a service-to-farmworkers model to a servanthood model. An experimental program similar to the French worker-priest ministry was being developed with the goals of identifying leaders in the farm worker community and supporting them in gaining organizing skills among their peers. I became one of several seminary-trained minister-types teamed with a farmworker partner, both working in the fields and doing preliminary organizing work among the farmworkers we worked alongside. I spent a glorious year working on a tomato harvester, pruning grapes and peaches (Sam Tyson's trees have never been the same!), trying but failing to get hired at the Gallo vineyards near Livingston, picking boysenberries, trying to learn Spanish and "passing" as a farm worker.
After almost a year in which I tried to balance working in the fields and deepening a relationship with Frank Sample, the man I had come to love, we decided to throw caution aside and marry. For me, that meant giving up radical ministry and independence and taking on a ready-made family with 3 teenage stepdaughters and in-laws down the street. It was an abrupt change, but a glorious one. Even though I was less involved with farm workers on a daily basis, a big piece of my heart still responded to the injustice that kept them powerless and marginalized. I still made many trips to Delano for strike meetings at the UFW’s 40 acres and participated in some local picket lines supporting the grape boycott, where I encountered more than one dear little ol’ church lady who had affirmed my work as "their missionary" to the migrant camps but was outraged to see me on a picket line at the Safeway store urging customers to not buy table grapes.
During the UFW boycott of Gallo wines, planning began for the historic-for-Modesto March on Gallo in 1975. I felt privileged to help with some of the local logistical planning along with others from the Peace-Life Center. It was an amazing event and watch helping it grow was an amazing experience. As UFW organizers worked with local folk, some tricky difference in organizing styles became apparent and all was not smooth and seamless. The event itself, however, was phenomenal. Many thousand of people marches jubilantly and nonviolently from MJC’s west campus past the Gallo home on Carpenter and down through town to the winery and then back to Graceada Park. At the rally, Cesar spoke, Joan Baez and others sang, the Teatro Campesino performed and there was an incredible outpouring of energy and support for la causa, the likes of which has not been seen in Modesto before or since.
For our son, Stephen, who was 4 at the time, the Gallo March meant that his mom and dad slept on the floor of his bedroom because of a soft-spoken man named Cesar who had blisters in his feet was sleeping in their bed and he got to play with 2 wonderful big dogs names Boycott and Huelga and walk all over town carrying his homemade sign, "Don’t Let Your Hamster Drink Gallo Wine." For Frank, it was indeed an honor to tend the blisters of this man who was giving his life to empower farm workers in a nonviolent movement for justice. For me, it was a grand opportunity to take the risk of blending my past activism with my newer family commitment, I have sometimes wondered if I should install a sign over my bed "Cesar Chavez slept here."
Though my involvement through the years with Cesar Chavez and UFW was a meaningful one, it was not without pain, Along the way I lost a friend or two who supported Gallo believed the vicious Farm Bureau propaganda about Cesar. And I sometimes unexpectedly bumped into racism and classism among my friends and in my faith, community when the subject of the strike or boycott came up. Later on I came to recognize that Cesar had feet of clay and should not be granted automatic hero status just because he was a remarkable leader of a powerful movement. I did finally take Cesar Chavez off the pedestal I had placed him on. I now see him as a human being, not a saint or hero, humanly capable of the kind of thoughtless, short-sighted and sometimes hurtful actions we may excuse in ourselves but criticize in others. But the work he did to empower farmworkers and his example of non-violent direct action was life-changing for millions of farmworkers and supporters and for me as well.
I still do not buy iceberg lettuce or drink Gallo wine or buy table grapes unless they’re from Farmers’ Market. I am proud to wear my UFW buttons and display my UFW flag. I still treasure friendships from those long-ago days, with farmworkers and former CMM staff and UFW folk. And when being on the Peace/Life Center Board or presenting at the Day of Respect or standing at the gate at Livermore Lab in lonely vigil is the most radical thing I get around to doing, I sometimes wish I still had the passion and energy that connect my heart so deeply to those farmworkers who let me into their lives and their cause.
As I learn more about the powerful nonviolent legacy of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmer Workers, as I read the occasional Peace Essay Contest entry naming Cesar as a model peacemaker, as I catch an occasional glimpse of what he means to the Latino community, the more I come to value and honor their gentle, spirit-centered man who nonviolently led a generation of farmworkers in an amazing movement toward the justice, equality and power they were entitled to all along. And whenever I read Gathering the Sun to my Migrant Head Start intensive Teacher Training students, tears well up as I read
Your steps no longer cross the dusty fields
where your strong voice once shone
yet your example
and your words
sprout anew in the field rows
as seedlings of quiet hope.
Again I feel the joy, hope and commitment I once felt in response to the vision Cesar Chavez articulated and poured out his life to create. I rejoice that I was privileged to be part of the United Farm Workers’ historic nonviolent struggle for justice in our valley’s fields.
Civil Rights Samuel R. Tyson
Digging back in memory brings to the surface a little local Civil Rights history. Everything started from the monthly Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) which in the 1940s met at the Church of the Brethren behind Modesto High School.
It was the time of the Committee of Racial Equality (CORE) which arose out of the National Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1940s. CORE began the sit ins and Freedom Rides which became central to Desegregation north and south.
The Civil Rights focus was part and parcel of the peace efforts of the FOR. It seemed logical to see what was what in Modesto. The local small black community had for its leader an ex military chaplain who wanted nothing to do with Conscientious Objectors. Some young blacks were however willing to try. First the skating rink was tested, no problem except falling over. Next Howard TenBrink and group tested Blewitts on Ninth St. the place to go complete with on skates service. Again there was no problem.
The Ninth St. area was where things were. Lucky Grocery, Angelo’s Market and B&T Market were around Ninth and "I" St. The Southern Pacific Railroad and Ninth St. were the dividing line until the Freeway (99) cut through and made a new divide.
The Nutson's, TenBrinks, Potochnik's and McAlpine's all lived across the tracks. I was at 215 H St., somewhat more general than FOR group including the above as well as Del Berg, Jim Enochs and the Beaver's and a black family took an interest in things. Problems in Highway Village. When Montgomery Wards moved from downtown an attempt was made at black employment. In this case there were few people available and it all broke down for fear of scapegoating, if something went wrong.
When the freeway came it chopped up the low income community and displaced a black church. Wolverine--Grover, Nutson's, Potochnik, TenBrink helped the largest church relocate and in much better situation. It was of course still on the other side of the tracks.
After the Peace/Life Center was formed there was a racial eruption in Keyes. Things calmed down after several meetings there to talk things over.
In the 1980s the local Klan decided to have a march in Modesto. Furor, protests they can’t be allowed to do this. The Peace/Life Center board decided that the right of free speech was paramount. Jim Higgs was adamant. The position was of course made public bringing a good deal of displeasure.
So what does one do. Hold a protest unity rally or ignore the whole thing as less than consequential. A protest rally in effect gives more purpose to the Klan which needs to be noticed. Or is it more useful to restrain our spleen and hope the effort will die from its own lack of substance. The Klan has not bothered for a repeat march.
San Luis Obispo 1978
The decade of the 1970’s brought nuclear power to the public eye. Vallecitos, Ca. had the first ribbon cutting ceremony for atomic energy for electricity, Nov. 1957 just down the road a bit from the Livermore Radiation Lab. Pacific Gas and Electric had the first commercial reactor in the west in Mendocino County albeit a small one (Humboldt).
"Electricity too cheap to meter" became the early catch phrase of the industry. Proliferation was to be the means. There was, early on, talk of 22 reactors in the Central Valley because seismic problems were too great along California’s coastal areas. Sacramento utility district got SMUD-1 on line. San Onofre in Southern California got on line. The attempt near Wasco Kern County was defeated by vote. Modesto Irrigation District’s attempt to buy into an out-of-state nuclear facility was defeated by vote in June, 1982. SMUD# 2 did not get past the drawing board and SMUD#1 later was closed.
Throughout all this period of nuclear activity Diablo Canyon was in the process of construction. It was slowed down by protests, changing regulations and sloppy work as well as being in a fault line area. Mothers for Peace (San Luis Obispo) gave way to the Abalone Alliance (AA), a coalition of groups within California. Education work and picketing naturally moved into direct action demonstrations-- blocking/fence climbing with the usual attendant focus on the media. One modest action with arrests led to a larger action in 1978. By then the American Friends Service Committee-SF was working on Diablo Canyon through David Hartsough. The Abalone Alliance made decisions by what was called consensus but with a time line. True consensus cannot have time constraints. A mass action was planned for the summer of 1978 (Aug. 6).It seemed an appropriate time to be involved. There had been any number of time consuming AA meetings to work on strategy, media and people.
Somewhere along the way it was decided to have a show trial and the media was supposed to come on strong. It was hoped PG &E would back off though they had spent years on Diablo Canyon. The show trial for the many gave way to the trial of only a few out of the hundreds arrested.
After a big rally on the beach, affinity groups began their roles. Our affinity group (Valley Oaks) was a mixed batch from Central Valley and San Luis Obispo so probably had less cohesion than others--few knew each other. Our job was to outflank Diablo Canyon from the North crossing over private property in the process. Many others were fence climbers at the main entrance using ladder assistance. Ahead of us in the flanking group were folks from Sonoma County. Our groups did not see eye to eye about what to do. Soon enough the law came at us using pickup trucks. Ordered to get up when sitting brought plastic cuffs on me and a toss into the back of a pickup. We were "arrested." After a bumpy ride we joined hundred of others on PG&E property. A protester asked if I wanted the cuffs off. I said "sure". The plastic went on the ground. In the glare of flood lights we were offered the chance to leave. Refusal brought arrest again for real and transportation to the Men’s Colony. There we were lodged in the gym with about enough room to lie down.
Oh Boy, come democracy in action. Each affinity group had a spokesperson. In time I passed that on to someone else, it was all so futile. Should the whole group support Fred Moore though his action was his own and not group decided. That was a tough one I never did find out what his separate action was. He was prone to do his own thing - no problem - but to force all to accept what we had no part in? I think not.
Off to court after a day or so for arraignment. Normal procedure for me is no bail, no own recognizance, no probation, nolo contendre (no contest). Playing the legal game is of no interest. This put me in conflict with the show trial concept. Also it was known I opposed probation for me and said so.
August 11 back in court cases are heard in alphabetical order. When Peter-Klotz Chamberlin said he would not accept probation the storm broke. What had been a ten day plus fine sentence turned into 6 months plus $500.00, maximum for that misdemeanor. My, I did not want that time, could I deny knowing Jesus. Ugh, not at all, protestation needed follow through. Peter got six months, I got six months. Fred Moore got six months later as did Bob Schneider.
Off to jail you must go. What a hellish first day or two. The roar of toilet was unbelievable, the general noise level numbing. Then into general population, an 8 person call, 4 double bunks. Peter was lodged where I was as was Fred from Santa Cruz who was doing his 10 days right off. That gave us 3 of 8 in that cell - it’s own protection. Not being "home bodies" brought some resentment at taking space in San Luis Obispo jail. In theory you were allowed ministerial visits but the chaplain there said Friends was not a religion so no such visitors.
Over time the noise level dropped in our area, noise feeds on itself. Part of the cell was a common room with table, toilet, shower, all in the open. Privacy is not part of the venue here, space is at a premium. Time is spent yakking or before TV in common room. Weekends were bad from the influx of weekenders who played cards, made noise much of the night. Their space was the cement floor wherever they could stretch out. Weekenders only came in after work week Friday night, stayed over Saturday night.
Food was delivered at a slot in the bars. Seniority decided who passed out the trays. Almost had a little clash when our seniority surfaced. A Hispanic wanted to take over as food server but I refused to be pushed aside. The food server has some small decision over who gets what tray. Peter was a vegetarian, I ate his meat, he got my vegetables. There was one very jumpy Hispanic who one day really wanted my pineapple upside down cake. So I traded for a candy bar to keep things in balance. Mr. jumpy tried to get out on the farm for space but was denied. The farm was privilege. On our way to release we saw "Jumpy" in the kitchen area out of cell, much relaxed. He waved.
Exercise was every other day or so outside on what was used as a handball court. Having played handball in college on an all enclosed court circa 1939 this was duck soup. One does not forget the moves, using side walls. These inmates though must have learned with a single wall and did not adjust well to adding side walls. Peter had to play with me as "crime partner," house rules. He did not know much to begin with but we soon became King of the mountain. Singles were more exacting and as the oldest there I should not have been much competition. Fred M. said I changed stance on the court. One young Hispanic tried and thought he could just stand in the way to block the return shot. He got a crack on the tail two or three times and so learned to move out of the way. Later he declined to play me. Or as one older lag said, "They should be in as good a shape when at my age." Had to take a hot shower for sore knee after every outing but there was no other exercise.
A handball in college meant leather padded palm gloves to take the beating from hitting the hard back ball. Swollen hands were part of the price of this exercise.
The handball expertise gave us sanction. What an odd side benefit of college that turned out to be.
Visitors we had in part. Peter had people down from Santa Cruz and I had Julia Brown and Rachel Coe up from Santa Barbara. Friends Meeting, they were both very senior Friends.
We were pariah for local Friends. Nor did folks from Abalone Alliance come either. The Santa Barbara people brought books, homemade bread and fresh tomatoes. The books got in, the food did not.
The greatest leverage was the U.S. mail. Letters started coming in from non U.S. sources. By the time of release I was in the production mode doing five letters a day, not notes, real letters. Since everything was censored someone had to keep track. When we were leaving they joked they could let someone go now.
The court stoutly maintained that all the mail in and out was not why we were released early; it was just that we had been such good prisoners. Whether realistic or not there was talk of Amnesty International and perhaps press visitors. Glenn Scott of the Modesto Bee and/or someone from the San Jose Mercury. Whether fact or fiction the rumors could have been a factor in the earlier release. Too, it did help the courts off the hook for the harsh sentence.
Without our overt intention, the San Luis Obispo Jail became much calmer. Inmates may not have understood our staying in when all we had to do was agree to be good and get out. After the end of the year others began their 10 days and there were some internal hassles. As long as Peter and I were in and through Fred Moore’s time things remained quiet. Normal people do not trade food in jail. Food, property and sleep are areas to be left alone. Even more off base was the sharing of some letters when Fred came on our aisle. It takes a while for a new inmate to open lines of communication but letters are personal, not for sharing. Besides people inside normally get little mail and few visitors. Sharing is not a high priority.
During our visit, the baseball world series featured the N.Y. Yankees and LA Dodgers I believe. The Dodgers were going like a blitz. Therefore, I spoke up for the underdog Yankees, though there I had no love of them. I’ll be switched if the Yankees did not turn around and win. As one cell mate commented "at least he had conviction". Yes, indeed time in a Washington State pen. Peter, too, was less than pleased with my position.
Fred Moore came along after Peter and I had been in a while. First he was in the cell to the left but there was some hassle and he was moved in the cell to our right. Fred was a pacer, perhaps from his year and a half federal time for draft refusal. Or maybe he was generally so energized he had to move about. When our aisle had recreation time on handball court he was pacing again to the objection of an inmate on his way up to a state joint. I butt in and said he did not like pacing in the cell and this was our exercise time - end of discussion. Well, Fred who knew zero about handball, became King of the Mountain so to speak, with the same guy who objected to the pacing, according to Fred’s letter of December, 1978.
Sandy Sample had brought Indira over for a visit. No, no visit. Tossed out early; they took Peter’s wedding ring for part of his fine. In 1995 they came after us for the rest of that $500.00 fine. Option we could be hit with another $250.00.We paid, after over 15 years, rather good use of the money.
So what happened to the farm while "vacationing" at SLO jail. Dozens came from N. Calif. Friends, friends and Peace Center people got in the walnuts over several work community session. The almond crop had been rained out in the Spring.
Part of the letter writing spoke to the need for a location for the Peace/Life Center since the 15th and G St. had been sold and the phone was lodged at the Eneros’ home. Several hundred dollars sent during jail time was the beginning of fund raising for what turned out to be 926 -6th St.
The "show trial" dragged on. Money for lawyers and paper motions, a problem. Those part of the trial were locked into the come and go of court whims. It was no call to action rather a miring in procedure. The media lost interest with no action photos. The trial prolonged the comings and goings of the defendants and was a large economic drain. The trial served no useful purpose beyond not doing it again.
Later the Abalone Alliance managed a truly large action with over 1,000 arrested. That exhausted impetus; there was no show trial. People were encouraged to do the "no contest" route. The whole Abalone Alliance collapsed , the AFSC and others took on other issues. Most affinity groups went out of existence with no action focus. Some individuals continued efforts in others areas.
The mass arrest scene was later transported to Livermore and its Radiation Lab. Another mass arrest scene left people in custody for a bit, coping with that many arrests at one time left the forces of law and order no place to lodge for long such a large group. As at San Luis Obispo the large action broke the back of the organizers and action tapered off. The cause appeared at an end. It was no longer a galvanizing of peoples’ energies. The 1970s period was played out. The doldrums of the 1980s and 1990s settled in.
from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee
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