The results of the presidential election prompted me to visit my friend, Oscar, at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last weekend. For over two decades, Oscar has directed the day labor hiring site day after day, week after week, year after year. He is a personal friend and hero. I went to see Oscar because I wondered how the day laborers were reacting to the news, but to be candid, Oscar is such a man of peace and wisdom that I anticipated the visit would be good for me, too. I miscalculated the election itself, but at least I got that one right.
Oscar was a Cesar Chavez apprentice back in the day and traveled with Cesar to all sorts of interesting places and situations. It was fascinating to hear him make connections between then and now. As the world remembers, Cesar’s activism was strong yet nonviolent and eternally optimistic. Si, se puede! I think we all need a good helping of strong, nonviolent optimism right now.
As we visited, Oscar recalled times when Cesar was criticized for meeting with government officials who were seen as his direct enemies. Many supporters of the farm workers could not even bring themselves to say the names of those opposition leaders and could hardly stomach witnessing Cesar shake hands, pose for pictures, and sit in conversation with people they believed to be evil. Cesar was willing to talk with them anyway. Oscar explained Cesar’s approach: On behalf of others, he was always willing to talk with anyone to advance the cause regardless of his personal feelings or the reaction it generated.
It is far too easy to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and forego the arduous task of seeking to engage and understand those in opposition, but we will only move forward if we are willing to talk to each other. That, my friends, requires us to put the needs of others ahead of our own and even risk ridicule from our own people.
Thanks to Cesar for living this out. Thanks to Oscar for reminding me.
Si, se puede!
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged activism, cesar chavez, conversation, day laborers, election, farm workers, hope, immigration, labor exchange, malibu, mexico, nonviolence, optimism, oscar mondragon, politics, president, si se puede, trump
“Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy.” – Saadi
Some days when life is particularly challenging I search Monster.com for openings with the circus, but since scooping elephant poop is less attractive than pretty much anything, I rarely finish the cover letter. There is one circus art directly in my wheelhouse—plate spinning. However, it is the constant challenge of keeping plates spinning that makes me consider the circus in the first place.
Life has been particularly full recently, which is one way to describe a plate count. This isn’t the first time, nor do I anticipate it being (or even want it to be) the last, but it does feel different, and that difference eventually came clear: Not only are there many plates spinning, but various life developments have created plate spinning performances in multiple rooms for multiple audiences. It isn’t the plate spinning act that is challenging: It is the running back and forth between acts that is difficult.
You may not believe me when I say that this is neither complaint nor cry for help. But this is neither a complaint nor a cry for help. It really is okay, more than okay, and I find the challenge exhilarating despite some periodic exhaustion. I’m just adjusting to a new understanding that I am a plate spinning artist who is working on a new act and that people will pay good money for a ticket and some cotton candy to enjoy the show. I’m just honored to be on stage.
New circumstances often come with a bonus gift of questioning whether it is worth the effort. As a general rule, it is at least worth the effort to practice patience to see where the new circumstances lead.
I am certain there is no need to join the circus. My life is already a bizarre, traveling show!