COMMENTARY: “FROM THE JAWS” BY KATHY MURGUIA
By Kathy Murguia
“From the Jaws of Victory” by Matt Garcia
Having read Matt Garcia’s book and also having been a volunteer from 1965-1983, I have some disagreements and downright confusion over some characterizations and historical emphasis in Garcia’s book. I admired Jerry and Juanita Brown immensely, and their work especially on tracking DiGiorgio workers for the election in 1966. However the success of the boycott, as Doug Adair points out, rests at the feet of so many.
I was on the boycott in the Bay Area in 1965 working with NFWA and AWOC leadership. Jim Drake gave me my marching orders presumably after consulting with Cesar Chavez and others. After working with Marshall Ganz on La Peregrinacion in the Spring of 1966, I worked in the Delano office and helped out on the DiGiorgio election campaign. In the Spring of 1967, I was assigned to the Oxnard area to work on the Mayfair Market boycott campaign. Later it was off to Texas to the strike at La Casita Ranch in the Rio Grande Valley, and returning to Lamont to work on the Guimarra election campaign. Then off to the Bay Area to boycott ARRA grapes, Guimarra’s prime label. This soon turned into a boycott of all California grapes as a result of the success of the boycott of the ARRA label and Guimarra’s grape grower friends letting him use their labels to market his grapes.
(Contrary to what Garcia states that Guimarra was using the union label, maybe this was true in some areas, but it was not true in the Bay Area)
In 1968, after Lupe and I married, we went to San Francisco to coordinate, along with Brother Velasco, the Bay Area boycott. We worked in the Bay until the Spring of 1969 when Lupe was reassigned to the Coachella Valley. If you have stayed with me on this litany of assignments, I hope the fluidity of the assignments for most of us becomes clear, and the mobility of moving from strike support to organizing on the boycott to office work allowed for the development of what Marshall Ganz called staff mobility in support of strategic capacity.
I chronicle these events, because I was confused when Matt Garcia talked about Jerry Brown being the coordinator of the Grape Boycott. I also admit I was annoyed that he barely mentioned one of the cradles of the boycott, the Bay Area. In the years from 1965-1970 as far as I recall, each boycott city was mainly on its own. Lupe and I were accountable for raising enough money to meet our budget and Jim Drake was our task master on this. Decisions on tactics like shop-ins, fasts, pray-ins, targeting chains and local markets were left to the local organizers. During those years it followed Cesar Chavez’s style of organizing. Turn us loose and we’ll figure it out. No one organizational strategy fits all. In my opinion, this approach made for the success of the first Grape Boycott and bringing the Delano growers to the table in 1970.
After the 1973 strike, and the resumption of the boycott, Cesar continued this style of non-interventional leadership, at times to the deep frustration of some. When I was director of Boycott Information in La Paz, he repeatedly said, give them information on what was happening in the fields and in other boycott cities. They’ll figure it out. I was directed to keep track of the consignment shipping and sales reports. Also I’d cut and paste news articles about boycott successes in each city, along with articles from local newspapers and grower journals. I also included articles and reports regarding the workers, their conditions and such. The following year we knew the boycott had placed a strangle hold on the growers, and grapes were spoiling as they rolled East with nowhere to go. The boycott was a mighty tool, and all the workers and volunteers poured their hearts into it. That’s why it worked. Marshall, Jessica, Eliseo, Marcos, LeRoy, Bonnie, Gilbert, Dolores, Richard, Jim, Chris, Pete, Nick, Mac, Maria, Elaine and on and on . . . hundreds of us.
There are other factual issues in Garcia’s book, which he is open to clarifying I believe. Hopefully some of this will be corrected. It is painful to read the Board minutes of 1977. La Paz should have remained an educational retreat. Instead it became an experiment.
Viva La Causa