LESSON

Allies for Justice: A Lesson from Viva La Causa

Students will understand the power of allies in civil and human rights movements.
Grade Level

Objectives

Activites will help students:

  • Understand the power of allies in civil and human rights movements.
  • Understand the importance of working well across ethnic groups, religious orientations and cultures.
  • Draw on a primary source to write a poem about the importance of allies.
Essential Questions
  • What does it mean to be an ally?
  • How do you act as an ally for others at your school?
  • How can our behaviors lead to both justice and injustice?
  • If you are concerned about an issue but do nothing to change it, how do you become part of the problem?
  • What is one personal behavior that led to either justice or injustice that you wish you would have handled differently?
  • Have you ever seen an injustice and done nothing to stop it? If so, how did it make you feel?
Materials

This lesson is part of the Viva la Causa teaching kit.

 

Framework

The farmworkers purposefully sought people outside their immediate group to help them. First, the Filipino and Mexican farmworkers reached out to each other. Then, knowing that they needed public support in order for the strike to succeed, the farmworkers reached out to religious groups, clergy, other labor groups, students and civil rights workers. And like the movements of all good and ethical people, their call for allies caused a wave of support to roll over them, and it was, many believe, one of the main reasons the strike succeeded.

 

Suggested Procedures

Ask students to define "ally," and try to draw out the following points:

  • An ally supports other people and groups against discrimination and oppression.
  • We are all potential allies. Most of us interact regularly with people who experience some form of oppression.
  • To be an ally, you have to take action. Those who are concerned, but do nothing, are part of the problem.

Draw three circles on the board:


 

As a class, reflect on Viva La Causa and brainstorm a list of who should be in each circle, and how their actions or behaviors sought to advance injustice or justice. Write responses on the board. Some answers include:

  • The growers supported injustice by harassing strikers.
  • Some law enforcement officers supported injustice by arresting strikers.
  • Some Americans supported injustice by continuing to buy grapes.
  • Farmworkers worked for justice by marching to Sacramento.
  • Cesar Chavez worked for justice by fasting to remind everyone about the importance of nonviolence.
  • Students worked for justice by helping to picket grocery stores.
  • Priests worked for justice by offering mass when Cesar broke his fast.

Encourage students to consider how behavior can move a person or a group from one category to another. The Catholic Church, for example, at first stood on the sidelines, pulled in two directions by its affiliations with both the farmworkers and owners, most of whom were practicing Catholics. Priests and the Church ultimately lent their support to the farmworkers' cause through actions like publicmass and the appointment of a Bishop's Committee on farmworker issues.

 

Closing the Lesson

Give students the Proclamation Handout written by union co-founder Dolores Huerta in 1969. Let students read it silently and tell them to highlight or underline phrases that speak to them. Emphasize that they are looking for phrases, not full sentences. Once they have phrases chosen, students should arrange them in poetic form, creating an aesthetic reminder of why it's important to be an ally.

 

Example

We have been farmworkers for hundreds of years
And strikers for four
We threw down our plowshares
We mean to have our peace
To win it without violence
Equals

We called our fellow men and were answered
As all men of conscience must

We marched alone
But today we count men of all
Creeds,
Nationalities,
And occupations
In our number

The time is ripe
For our liberation

 

Extension Activity

Students have opportunities every single day to be an ally to someone in their school. Name-calling, exclusion, harassment and bullying are common occurrences on school campuses.

Ask students about their daily lives on campus. What do they do when they hear an oppressive joke? What do they do when they hear oppressive language? Or see harassment? Do they participate in these behaviors, are they passive and silent, or do they act as an ally? Ask students to share scenarios or, if they are more comfortable, write them anonymously on paper.

Next, ask them to brainstorm actions they can take to be an ally to victims of injustice in those situations. Allow time for students to role-play their responses, so that the next time they face a real situation of oppression, they have a planned response.