Public Interest

Labor activist Dolores Huerta urges attorneys to 'get involved in civic life'

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“I want everybody to become an activist, and this is why I do spend my time talking to different groups and people—to make them understand they have the power,” Dolores Huerta said during her ABA Presidential Speaker Series discussion.

Labor rights icon Dolores Huerta has simple but sage advice for attorneys: Get engaged in your community.

“We need more attorneys to get involved in civic life and be out there with the rest of us, doing the work that we need to get people elected and to change the laws, do the advocacy that we need,” Huerta said during a fireside chat Thursday with the Rev. Miguel Bustos, the Episcopal Church’s manager for racial reconciliation and justice for the United States and Latin America.

“I’m sure with all the brain power and the experience that attorneys have, that we can come up with some real—you might say permanent—solutions to move our country forward.”

Huerta was first a teacher and then an activist. She worked with César Chávez to organize farm workers and establish the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. Her exclusive conversation with Bustos is the latest installment in the ABA Presidential Speaker Series, a collection of discussions exploring the personal and professional journeys of world leaders, philanthropists and other change-making guests.

The conversation also celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The full video can be viewed here.

The Rev. Miguel Bustos led the fireside chat with Dolores Huerta.

In addition to encouraging attorneys to become more engaged, Huerta invited them to step into leadership roles in their community. Her son and granddaughter are attorneys, she added, so she understands that it’s challenging to commit to attending local school board meetings or taking up a local cause.

But Huerta said they should try to do it anyway.

“The most important resource that all of us have is our time,” she said. “I know a lot of attorneys do pro bono work. We have a lot of public interest attorneys that are doing great things in terms of challenging some of the policies that we have right now in our country and in our state.

“If all attorneys could do that—because you have so much leadership and if you could lend that leadership you have to the community—I think that would be really awesome.”

Huerta shared her story of becoming a leader in the labor movement. While teaching in the 1950s, she witnessed the terrible conditions that families of the farm children who came to school were living in and working under at the time. She wanted to do something to help and was amazed to learn that she could inspire change by bringing people together.

“That, to me, was like finding the pot at the end of the rainbow,” Huerta said. “This is how you do it, with people just coming together and taking direct action? And getting people to vote and to elect good representatives in our legislature and city councils? This is like democracy 101, but I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is so simple but yet so hard.’”

Huerta, as the founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, has traveled around the country to engage in campaigns and influence legislation that supports equality and defends civil rights. She said being an activist, and asking other people to join in her work, keeps her going.

“I want everybody to become an activist, and this is why I do spend my time talking to different groups and people—to make them understand they have the power,” she said. “If all of us can become activists, if all of us can hit the streets, if all of us can make sure that we get people to vote, we know this is the way we make policy changes that we need in our country.”

For more information about Huerta and this discussion, visit the ABA Presidential Speaker Series website.

The next conversation in the series will be available Oct. 19. Martin Scorsese, director of the new film Killers of the Flower Moon, and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation will be interviewed by ABA President Mary Smith and American Bar Foundation President Jimmy K. Goodman.

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