Film: Si Se Puede

‘Dolores’ shines light on brave activist

The film ‘Dolores’ tells the story of Dolores Huerta, a working-class mother who helped create a farmers’ union in the 1950s.

Peter Bratt’s documentary Dolores will make an audience feel braver about the current political situation—it’ll put some steel in their spines. Bratt gives deserved attention to Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW), who fought side-by-side with the more famous Cesar Chavez.

It’s an amazing story. A two-time divorcee from Stockton with 11 children battled the machismo of the UFW, as well as the growers who ran their fiefdoms with a squalor equaled only in the American South.  

Huerta was a shrewd, handsome woman and a commanding speaker. She brought in followers, many of them female: Hard to resist the appeal of an activist job that offers $5 a week and all you can eat. As the organization’s fame spread, 1968 Democratic presidential front-runner Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) arrived in Kern County with a UFW badge on his lapel, to talk tough to the local sheriff who’d been making Minority Report-style arrests of the protestors he thought were likely about to commit a crime.

Given the size of the giants she was fighting, it’s surprising that Huerta could keep her focus. The expansion of the farmworkers’ protest into the larger 1960s movement helped get the message across, as grape and lettuce boycotts led to picket lines around major supermarkets.

Huerta became an all-purpose social justice warrior, seen wherever the action was: Marching for abortion rights, or on the picket line at Standing Rock. In 1988, when she was at an AIDS protest, a San Francisco Police Department riot cop’s baton broke three of her ribs and ruptured her spleen; at age 58 she was hospitalized and left bedridden for months.

Huerta remains mysterious—we hear about her love of music and dance, but there’s no key to her bravery or her unwillingness to succumb to rage or grief. The secret must be hers—a commitment that you only see in one in a million people.

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