This Saturday, Aug. 29, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium. The Moratorium was a call to end the war in Vietnam and say “Basta!” to the disproportionate numbers of Chicanos who were sent off to fight, and who died in a senseless war.
Thousands of young Chicanos came home in coffins.
A march and a car caravan have been organized in recognition of the anniversary of this important day in our civil rights history. The march will start at Atlantic Park, and the car caravan will begin at Whittier Boulevard and Gregg Road, both traveling down Whittier Boulevard at separate times and ending at Rubén F. Salazar Park, following the same route as was walked 50 years ago.
Though the large 1970 protest was peaceful, it was deemed an unlawful assembly by police and shattered into violence. Police tear gassed, beat, and arrested 150 protesters. Hundreds were injured. Four people were killed: Gustav Montag, Lyn Ward, Angel Gilbert Diaz, and journalist Rubén Salazar.
To point out the similarities between now and 50 years ago would invoke a conversation about gains made and lost, a movement forward and back again.
Currently, this country has been in a state of continued protest for four months straight, with people fighting for many of the same things as before — an end to racism, equality, social justice, to stop exploitation and to finally stop police from freely brutalizing and murdering people of color.
Latina mothers who’ve lost their sons to police violence will be at the front of this Saturday’s march.
Just last Tuesday night at LA City Hall, many protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake were met with mace, tear gas, and rubber bullets. It’s an all too familiar scene that has been repeated in this country historically as a means to mar and stop peaceful protests.
As we approach this important anniversary, I find it important to channel the feelings of the present into reflecting on the events of the past.
My father, Andres Chavez, believed in protesting as did his father, who late in his life formally became a community organizer.
My father was involved in several first time efforts. He was among the first wave of Chicanos who attended UCLA and helped to provide a pathway for others. He was involved in the start ups of needed programs and non-profits and was a trailblazer in television and media. For many years he worked for various media outlets and the producer of the first television public affairs show, “Reflexiones.” and the Film Director at KABC-TV. He was a founder of the California Chicano News Media Association. The fight for equality continued for Chicanos in the workplace, in every profession.
Growing up, I had the benefit of learning much from him — about film, patience, respect, kindness, having a life of purpose, and our history. He shared his experience of growing up in East Los Angeles and seeing the disparities as a member of his Garfield High School debate team when they traveled to schools in white communities in Los Angeles.
He talked about his experiences during the early days of The Movement and would take issue with some accounts. But he clearly described the day of The Moratorium in great detail, and shared his deep pain in seeing firsthand the police turn on the crowd.
My father had tremendous quiet strength. Always stoic and reassuring to others even during his fierce battle with cancer that far surpassed doctor’s predictions.
But, that memory in 1970, moved him to tears as he recalled how positive the day was — the pride and strength of thousands marching together in a community, how good it felt to be there, to see families joining at the park to enjoy the day. And then, how the day became horrid as police in riot gear turned on the crowd, taking their swings at those same families and anyone they could.
While so many other young people of my father’s generation continued on -- making strides -- they built on their knowledge to strategize, to organize and took that onto college campuses and into the workplace. They knew that while headway is made through protests, marches, sit-ins, the fight continues to fight against all those who move to turn back the clock on our civil rights.
There are countless individual stories of resistance and perseverance against injustice in this country, and as we see them all together we draw strength and inspiration for the continued fight today.
We celebrate the critical victories. We mourn the many defeats. We look to the past to learn how to continue the fight today, and adapt to oppose the forces that would keep us oppressed. Until the systems of oppression are dismantled and the voice of the people is heard, the fight must continue on. There are problems unique to our time, and to not keep our minds in the present will only step on the voices that are finally getting a chance to be heard.
But these times are not as “Unprecedented” as everyone says. This is not just Trump. This is Bush, this is Reagan, this is Andrew Jackson. It should be painfully obvious by now that this country is working exactly as it was intended, built atop stolen, bloodied land, carried on the backs of slaves and the labor of our poorest immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
Be it through eternal conflicts on foreign soil or by bleeding dry its own people financially, it sustains its insatiable appetite for wealth and power by feeding on the lives of the most vulnerable.
The fight against a power that has been in place for so long cannot be won in a single moment and does not end with a single victory. We owe it those who fought before us to continue to fight today.
To see the torch and understand why it was passed to us. To light our path towards progress. To reignite what we feared was extinguished
To add its fire to the fire burning in us now.
This Saturday, I will carry my father with me, documenting the day, remarking that pathway toward justice, retracing his steps with purpose and pride.
The 50th Chicano Moratorium March meets at 10 a.m. at Atlantic Park. The Car Caravan meets at 9 a.m. on the corner of Gregg Road and Whittier Boulevard and departs at 11 a.m. The March will travel down Whittier Boulevard ending at Ruben J. Salazar Park. For more information visit http://www.chicano-moratorium.com/