I saw the movie this afternoon at a downtown West Palm Beach Theater. I was the ONLY one in the audience. Granted this is a Tuesday and the middle of the day, but still, it brought home to me the fact that there is only a very small part of the population that will have enough interest to even watch this film, let alone pay money to see it. One man came in wanting to know if “Noah” was showing in the theater I was in. Nope. So I saw the movie alone.
Before the movie started, I sat through at least 30 minutes of trailers for other films – a Marvel comics film, a science fiction about someone dying (physically) but living on in some kind of spiritual/technological state that could be accessed via computer screens, a child who went to heaven and came back to his family to tell them all about it. Of course the child became quite the media phenomena. I felt like I was in an alternative universe inviting me outside of the reality that I know (and love). The only thing that sort of interested me was a Disney-nature film about bears.
And then Cesar started. I was drawn immediately into the characters, the graphics, the filming. Yes, Chavez’ character is opaque, and the ongoing story of the Farmworkers’ struggle is greatly simplified and watered down. But I was captured by the mysterious beauty of the movement — seeing the people marching down the California roads reminded me of the Israelites leaving Egypt. And the leadership, prophetic vision, and courage of Chavez. Where did his insights into nonviolence come from? It’s not like he studied for years and years like Gandhi. Or sat in prison for 27 years like Nelson Mandela. He seems to me to have been formed by the very experience of injustice, having worked himself in the fields since he was a child, and the discovery, within himself, of the way to respond. The power of truth itself.
The privilege (and accompanying arrogant blindness and stupidity) of not only the landowners, but the sheriff and “white” townspeople is on full display. (Why are we so afraid of losing that “privilege”?) In today’s highly polarized political climate, I’m not sure that Republicans would appreciate the clear division between Bobby Kennedy’s efforts for the Farmworkers and the Nixon/Reagan efforts against them. That might be just enough for those who want to, to discount the historical (and moral) significance of how farmworkers were able to organize and obtain more just wages and living conditions. In fact, Chavez was able to win over people of all political persuasions to the rightness of the farmworkers’ cause. Even the Europeans joined him in a Tea-Party-like emptying of boxes of exported grapes into the river.
The struggle of the farmworkers IS a religious-political movement. There’s really no way to separate it into one or the other. One of the funny lines that I remember is when Chavez was accused of being affiliated with a Communist organization (probably the most evil accusation of all in that era). He laughed and said, “we can’t be Communists, we’re Catholic”! I laughed out loud.
That this happened in my country and in my lifetime gives me a great deal of hope. I was also convinced that the more well versed you are in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the more leverage you will have in arguing for human rights.
Here are some photos from downtown (WPB) today. (Practicing for the Easter in Roma trip.)