Cesar Chavez Day, Alton Sterling, and Racial Justice

Merf Ehman, Columbia Legal Services Executive Director

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” - Cesar Chavez

We Celebrate.

I have been thinking about Cesar Chavez, Alton Sterling, and the concept of racial justice. Part of Cesar Chavez’s health issues and death were related to his hunger strikes to bring justice to farm workers. He risked his life for his vision of justice. He and Dolores Huerta and the millions of people who worked in the fields and the people all over the world made significant changes in the lives of farm workers. We continue that fight. We stand with workers who are speaking truth to power with all the risk that involves for them. We celebrate that fight, that sacrifice, and the commitment to end human suffering in the fields.

We Mourn.

We also mourn. We mourn the setbacks when our government does not value black lives. I am saddened by the news that no charges will be brought against the police officers that killed Alton Sterling. We cannot bring back the lives taken by the police and other state actors. We hear cries that our justice system is broken, but I think it works how it was set up to work – to protect those with power and to lock up and remove from society people of color. We continue this fight – by standing by the community in Seattle to protest the building of a new youth jail, by stopping the county from placing kids in solitary confinement, and by stopping children from being treated as adults in the criminal justice system. We remember those who have died at the hands of police, and at the hands of the state for lack of medical care in prisons and jails. We remember. We believe. We fight for all people.

We Hope. We Fight. We Persist.

We must hold hope and pain together. Hope for the future and the pain of the present. The pain of bringing back the citizenship question to the census that has not been there since 1950. The hope for a better future as children continue to rise up. The hope that the new laws we make, that the harmful practices we stop in all areas of our work, will change lives. And we hope, as Martin Luther King Jr. says, the arc of the universe really does bend toward justice. Thank you all for your courage, for your belief that change is possible, and for all the sacrifices you make to move the universe forward.


Note: All of our offices statewide are closed on Cesar Chavez Day to honor his legacy and farm workers everywhere.