Dolores Huerta compares Trump to Alabama's racist governor in civil rights era

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Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta is not a fan of Donald Trump.

Over the last few months, as she has traveled the nation stumping for Hillary Clinton, has been taken aback at the Republican frontrunner's declarations against Mexicans and Muslims as he makes his way down the list of minorities.

"He's attacked everyone," Huerta, 85, said during a recent interview in Miami, where she stopped before Tuesday's primary. "The main thing we want to get across to people—especially Latinos—is that he is the face of the Republican Party. But guess what? The other ones pretty much have the same values as he does."

Fellow Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich share many of the same policy points as Trump, she argues. They just put it in a more digestible, less abrasive way.


But there's a value in Trump, she suggests—such a loud, apparently overt bigot at the head of the pack has awakened a large part of the population to a problem that urgently needs to be addressed. Latino pushback against Trump has already been credited with a spike in immigrants completing the naturalization procsess, motivating citizens to vote for the first time.

The 2016 election has an uncanny resemblance to the beginning of the civil rights movement, she told me. "Not at its peak, but in the beginning stages," she said.

George Wallace, then governor of the state of Alabama, was the most vocal of politicians in his opposition to desegregation in the early 1960s. In his inaugural speech, written by Ku Klux Klan leader Asa Carter, Wallace famously proclaimed to cheers: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”


It was horrible. But with such a prominent, charismatic leader at the helm of such a strategic state in the fight for racial equality, it gave the people something to rally against. Had he been less abrasive, Huerta argued, the victories of the civil rights movement might not have been seen as urgently needed, the reality of living under Jim Crow that much more normalized. The same ol' same ol'.

Now, Huerta suggests, Trump might be occupying the same historical space.

"It all makes me remember George Wallace, and these horrible killings of people—when they killed young people trying to do voter registration—and it got really really ugly," she said. "Sometimes I think it's like, things have to fester and they have to get ugly so that they can be visible."


Huerta has long been a labor leaders and civil rights activist, doing most of her work on behalf of the Latino community. She was an early member of the group that would later become United Farm Workers, one of the nation's largest unions. In 1965, at the height of the Southern civil rights Era, Huerta and her colleague Cesar Chavez directed a successful national grape boycott, which led to California's entire table grape picking industry being unionized.


She is credited as coining the phrase. "Si, se puede," which President Obama famously co-opted, in English, for his 2008 campaign: "Yes, we can." (When she finally met Obama, she told me the first words out of his mouth were: "I stole your slogan from you.")

Part of the success of the civil rights movement was that so many different stakeholders got involved in the fight, said Huerta. There was the African-Americans working with Jewish organizations, working with white Americans. Today, she sees a similar intersectionality happening because of the kind of language that is becoming normalized in current politics.


"We see the immigrant rights movement working with the people fighting for minimum wage, who are working with Black Lives Matter, it's almost like an awakening of the public," she said. "People are becoming active like we haven't seen in years."

"Sometimes if things aren't visible, we can't cure them," Huerta said of the rise of Trump. "There's gotta be a healing that we can all work towards here."


Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.