Fighting for the Rights of Migrant Workers

The Women's Liberation Movement

The Gay Rights Movement

The Rights of Native Americans

1. Fighting for the Rights of Migrant Workers
Movement ripples reached the far corners of the country. Its impact could even be found on the isolated agricultural fields of the west and southwest, where migrant (seasonal) workers labored long hours for very little pay.  

These workers were among the most intensely exploited in the country.  From 1942 to 1964, the US government maintained the "Bracero program."  Through this agreement with Mexico , up to 350,000 agricultural laborers (braceros) each year were imported to do seasonal farm work. They were frequently housed in miserable huts and worked up to 16 hours a day picking cotton, fruit and vegetables, for which they received as little as $30 per week.  The low wages paid the braceros by growers reduced the wages of all farm workers.

Cesar Chavez knew about the terrible conditions facing agricultural workers.  Born in Arizona , he grew up on a farm, and spent long hours in the fields.  At an early age learned about the discrimination faced by Mexican-Americans, and dropped out of his school which was segregated and where the Spanish language was not permitted.

Chavez educated himself, and embraced the nonviolent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. In the 1950s he worked with the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights organization, to educate Mexican-American workers about their rights and get them registered to vote.  In 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with New Mexican-born Dolores Huerta, who also had worked with the CSO on voter registration.

It was not easy to build the union.  Farm workers feared they would lose their jobs if they joined the NFWA or went on strike.  But Chavez and Huerta were dedicated and persistent.  They knew that farm workers had to join together if they were to win concessions from the powerful growers.  When the NFWA decided to back a striking Filipino farm workers who worked in a vineyard near Delano , California , some two thousand Mexican- American farm workers joined their picket line. 

Civil rights movement activists came to lend a hand with the strike, as Chavez and Huerta called on consumers to boycott grapes picked by non-union workers.  The strike was eventually victorious because of their success in persuading other unions, church groups, students, and consumers across the country not to buy California table grapes.  Chavez and Huerta led striking farm workers on a 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in California , and organized rallies demanding that the growers negotiate a contract with the union. According to one poll, in the early 1970s some 17 million Americans were honoring the grape boycott.  After the strike lasted for five years, strikers won a contract for farm workers that included higher pay, health and other benefits. The United Farm Workers of America emerged from the grape boycott.

Chavez and Huerta wanted the struggle to go on until all workers could live in dignity.  In the words of Cesar Chavez, "We shall strike. We shall organize boycotts. We shall demonstrate and have political campaigns. We shall pursue the revolution we have proposed. We are sons and daughters of the farm workers' revolution, a revolution of the poor seeking bread and justice."

Learn more about Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers, and the grape boycott:

Learn more about Dolores Huerta:

2. The Women's Liberation Movement
We have seen that women fought a long battle for the vote, beginning in the late 18th century. It was finally victorious in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution. 

But obtaining the suffrage did not put an end to their second-class status in a society in which patriarchy (male dominance) and sexism were all-pervasive.   While low income women had no choice but to work in low-paid, menial jobs, middle income women were generally expected to stay at home and look after their husbands and children.

Women who had been doing the jobs of men during World War II were not happy being pushed back into the kitchen after the war was over.   Many felt isolated, lonely and trapped in the new suburbs which expanded rapidly in the 1950s. 

The Movement for civil rights of the 1950s and 60s put change on the agenda. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination in employment on the basis not just of race, but also religion, national origin and sex.  Eventually women would be the main beneficiaries of affirmative action programs.

The Movement inspired women to look at their lives, their position in society, and demand fundamental change.  Many were stirred into action by The Feminist Mystique, a book written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, who went on to become the president of the new National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1966.  NOW's mission was  the achievement of "full equality for women in a truly equal partnership with men." 

Women who got involved in one of the many groups which sprang up in the late 60s and 70s developed new ways of organizing based on small "consciousness-raising" meetings at which they would share personal attitudes and concerns, examine issues of identity, race, class and sexuality, and explore new opportunities for expression and fulfillment.  Taking the slogan "the personal is the political" as their guide, they spread the word through demonstrations and forums, and the formation of women's centers, health clinics, battered women's shelters, day care centers and bookstores.  

A generation after Simone de Beauvoir first used the phrase "women's liberation" in her 1949  book, The Second Sex, women were on the move.

Read more about the Women's Liberation Movement in the United States and England :

Read women's stories:

3. Gay Rights Movement
The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City are popularly remembered as the birth of the modern US gay liberation movement (gay lib) for gay rights, a term that broadly includes lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and transsexual people (LBGT).

In the late 1960's the NYPD routinely conducted gay raids that usually met with little resistance. However, on June 27, 1969, the patrons of The Stonewall Inn fought back when a police tactical force raided the popular Greenwich Village gay bar. The struggle erupted into violent protests in the streets. The backlash and aftermath of several nights of resistance in the streets came to be known as the Stonewall riots.  In was a watershed in the gay rights movement.

The gay lib movement is rooted in the post World War Two homophile movement, as well as the in other social movements of the 1950's and 60's, such as the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. During the 1950's, local homophile organizations began working for gay rights through organized protests, lawsuits and local politics. Considered "politically conservative" by today’s standards, the homophiles managed to move beyond the fringe of the dominant cultural values of the day to call for social acceptance of same-sex love and transsexuality.

Four years before Stonewall, the homophile organization, the Mattachine Society, advocated direct action, which resulted in the first public homosexual demonstrations and picket lines in the 1960's.   Decades after Stonewall, the homophile movement passed the torch of direct action to such activist organizations as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and Queer Nation.

The overarching protections of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment frame many of the court battles to secure gay rights. Liberty , privacy, due process, equal protection and free exercise are among the fundamental legal issues involved in court actions.

A very good example of a gay rights Constitutional issue is the 2003 US Supreme Court landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas, involving two gay men engaged in consensual anal sex (sodomy). The court struck down sodomy laws based on the liberty and privacy protections under the due process of the  Fourteenth Amendment.  In other words, before Lawrence it was against the law in many states for LBGT people to have sex with same-sex partners. Now all consenting adults have a constitutional right to engage in private consensual sexual activity.

Additionally, the Supreme Court in Lawrence overruled a previous sodomy decision, Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld sodomy laws.   In its Bowers ruling, the court held that sodomy laws were okay against gays because there was no specific mention of sexual orientation protections in the Constitution - no mention, no protection.

With Bowers overturned by the court's Lawrence decision, the Constitution is conceived as a living, expansive document whose protections grow as society changes. The Constitutional right to privacy prohibits the government from imposing a single moral viewpoint on all Americans.  Lawrence is the legacy of a long history of efforts to fix the US Constitution’s fatal flaw, slavery.

Following the Civil War, Congress passed and the states ratified the anti slavery 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Most notably for Lawrence , the 14th Amendment includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. It requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons (not only to citizens) within their jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, there still is no federal employment protection based on sexual orientation. The Congress has to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act  (ENDA), which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

However, 14 states -- California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin as well as the District of Columbia - have passed laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Most of these laws are broader in scope than ENDA.  They cover discrimination not only in employment, but also in housing and public accommodations.

In 1994, the late Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., joined Congressional sponsors of ENDA at a press conference to introduce the legislation. Mrs. King said that ENDA was "a step forward for freedom and human rights in our country and a logical extension of the Bill of Rights and the civil rights reforms of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The great promise of American democracy is that no group of people will be forced to suffer discrimination and injustice. I believe that this legislation will provide protection to a large group of working people, who have suffered persecution and discrimination for many years. To this endeavor, I pledge my wholehearted support."

Today, equality marriage for same-sex couples is a big issue. Only in Massachusetts is there equality marriage. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, and other legal recognitions of same-sex couples which offer varying amounts of benefits attached to marriage exist in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, D.C..

The issues of importance to LBGT people are: protecting LBGT families, marriage, workplace discrimination, immigration, privacy issues, health and HIV/AIDS, hate crimes, safe schools, transgender issues (the new frontier), and the military. The hallmarks of today’s movement are coming out, acceptance and pride.