A few days ago I watched a movie about the life of Cesar Chavez. Many people may hardly even know who he was and yet this one single life literally changed the world.
People today often refer to California as the "Left Coast" - a place where liberal and socially conscious Democrats live. But back in the 1960's, Mexican farm workers were virtually the slaves of the rich and largely "White" farm owners and growers in California - the farms of California looked much like the plantations of the "Deep South." Cesar Chavez decided to do something about it.
He began with a a handful of people, a seed that blossomed into a massive grassroots movement - assertive but always non-violent marches, strikes, prayer vigils, hunger strikes - and farm-worker slaves became human beings worthy of respect. Chavez died in 1993, but to this very day he is held up as an iconic "folk Saint" especially among Mexican Americans.
When I watched the movie about Chavez' life, I was struck by how bold he had to be and how much sacrifice it took for this movement to have any effect on a society held hostage by a greedy, powerful majority culture. Chavez boldly stood in opposition to the "powers that be." He had to take constant risks, was often abused and even physically assaulted, but in the end the world took notice of the grave injustices suffered by the farm workers here in California, and conditions vastly improved and the cause of justice and peace took one step forward.
A question comes to my mind. Where are the trailblazers in the cause of justice in our own day? Where in the world of the 21st century can I find another Cesar Chavez, a Martin Luther King, a Mahatma Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela? And as I ask the question, I don't actually come up with any answers.
I have this image of "road signs"posted along the path of life today that read: "Proceed with Caution." Politicians and leaders wait to see "which way the wind is blowing" before taking a position, getting elected and being liked by others seem to be the only goals - maintain the status quo and "don't rock the boat."
But it's not just the leaders and the politicians who obey those "Proceed with Caution" signs. Many people nowadays live as if they are trying to get elected. They lead their everyday lives with one primary goal in mind - to be "liked" by others.
Lots of people today lead timid careful lives. The economy is shrinking, the world is a nasty place racked with war and threats of terror, so we "circle the wagons," lock the doors, preserve what we have and hope that the bad things happening to other people won't happen to us.
Meanwhile wars rage on, the strong dominate the weak, people on the margins are left standing on the outside looking in and we spiral down a slippery slope that leads to an abyss.
As I see it, we need many more people like Cesar Chavez to take a stand today. In fact, perhaps we all need to become something of a Cesar Chavez in the way we lead our lives. The"Proceed with Caution" road sign always points us to a dead end.
I have a compass on my desk, and on it, a little plaque containing the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path,
and leave a trail