Organizing cartoons have short fuses. UFW organizing cartoonist, Alberto Escalante, has written, “I did a time study on just how many seconds workers had before they decided if they wanted to keep the leaflet they'd just been handed for further perusal. A worker is handed a leaflet, he quickly scans it, within three seconds he must decide if it’s worth keeping! That's why a cartoon that's easy to decipher, one with an obvious message is the best attention grabber. After the worker is away from the glaring eye of the boss, the foreman or other company spy, he/she can read the leaflet further. But, lose the attention or interest of the worker in those initial three seconds, and you've lost a chance at getting your message to the worker - whether it's about the upcoming union election, a general meeting, or newly enacted legislation that needs to be reviewed - you only have that initial three second window of opportunity.”
Organizing cartoons were created in the midst of union campaigns to prepare workers for union representation secret ballot elections. The cartoonist would be made aware of an issue important to the workers, i.e., unsafe working conditions, a crew foreman harassing workers, grower threats about firing union sympathizers, etc. and be expected to exploit that issue in a cartoon printed on a flyer for distribution the next morning by 4:00 AM. Drawing, writing the text and translating it into at least two languages, and printing the flyer took all night. These were the days before computers, digital graphics, and even copy machines were available in the farmworker field offices. Instead these were the days of the Gestetner stencil duplicators.
The two most prolific UFW organizing cartoonists were Alberto Escalante and Mark Sharwood. Thirty years later, the Documentation Project is pleased to include some of their cartoons but by no means all of them. Organizing campaigns were waged non-stop for months at a time, and covered entire seasonal growing sections of California. These cartoonists were on a war footing, and they were fortunate to preserve anything from their transitory and throw-a-way overnight art work. (Nori Davis, originally from Chicago, was a graphic artist who also worked to create organizing cartoons during these heady UFW election campaign years, but much too young, she passed away in 1990, and the Documentation Project has not received examples of her work.)
In 1975, prior to the union representation campaigns of the late 1970’s, artist Jerry Lopez, from the Royal Chicano Air Force art collective in Sacramento, joined the farmworker movement and was assigned to the Taller Grafico department at La Paz. He created topical farmworker-issue oriented cartoons from a central location and sent them to the various UFW field offices for general organizational and educational use. Some of his cartoons are included in this section.
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