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Ahead of Documentary Premiere, Civil Rights Icon Dolores Huerta Discusses #MeToo and Social Justice

Dolores Huerta speaking
Dolores Huerta speaks to an audience during a Q&A session and film screening at WKAR studios in February.

A documentary highlighting the life of civil rights icon Dolores Huerta premieres tomorrow on WKAR-TV. During a recent visit to East Lansing, WKAR’s Karel Vega spoke with Huerta about topics including the #MeToo movement, and what comes next in her fight for social justice.

Nearly 50 years after the Delano grape strike cemented Dolores Huerta as a key figure in the fight for civil rights, her heart for activism beats strong. The newest threat, Huerta says, is a case that has made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, which would change the way collective bargaining fees are collected. Along with it, the way unions work.

“Basically this is what it is. Which means workers cannot defend themselves.” Says Huerta. “They can’t defend themselves on the job, they can’t themselves in the state capitals, they can’t defend themselves on The Congress of the United States of America, and this is what’s going on.”

Huerta, now 87 years old, is the subject of the PBS documentary Dolores. The film gives insight into the life of a woman who is not often cited, but has been extremely influential in social justice work. For example, ‘Si Se Puede,’ a phrase coined by Huerta has become a rallying cry for activists worldwide, and was even adopted as a slogan during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Huerta says she feels happy about the slogan being used by Obama.

“It’s kind of a slogan that really strengthens people and also unites because it’s about our individual power, ‘I can.’ And it’s about our collective power, All of us can together. So, ‘Si Se Puede in Spanish connotes both ‘yes we can’ and ‘yes I can.’”

Huerta’s fight often included having to prove herself to her male activist counterparts.Decades after helping progress the role of women in activism, Huerta is energized by the #MeToo  movement.

“Well I think it’s very important. We know that that’s why they call it ‘his’ story not ‘her’ story, when you talk about history.” She says. “So I think time has come and I’m hoping the ‘Me Too’ movement is not just gonna be about sexual harassment. It’s gonna talk about all of the different ways women are denigrated and dismissed, and degraded you might say.”

And, Huerta says, the #MeToo  movement has resonated with women in all work fields.

“People have to understand that nobody is going to do this for you. You’ve got to stand up and you’ve gotta fight for yourself. To me that’s what the ‘Me Too’ movement stands for. And I think that the ‘Me Too’ movement is inspiring women at all walks of life and in all occupations to get out there and stand up for themselves.”

In February, Huerta delivered the keynote address for the Cesar E Chavez Commemorative celebration at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center. Following a screening of her documentary at WKAR studios, Huerta led attendees in a rallying cry.

Like the turbulence of decades past, Huerta says we’re now in a time where much progress will be made.

“If you feel bad ‘cause you missed the Sixties, when there were a lot of cultural changes that were made, guess what, we’re back." Huerta Says.


To learn more about the story of Dolores Huerta, tune in to the Independent Lens and PBS documentary Dolores, premiering tonight at 9 p.m. on WKAR-TV 23.

As managing editor, Karel Vega supervises news reporters and hosts of news programming, and is responsible for the planning and editing of WKAR's news content.
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