Tuesday, May 29, 2012

President Obama Honors Dolores Huerta With Presidential Medal of Freedom

Activist and farm labor leader receives highest civilian accolade...
At a White House ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, President Obama awarded farm labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, author Toni Morrison, musician Bob Dylan, and astronaut John Glenn were among the twelve other honorees receiving the Medal during a packed East Room ceremony. (Above: The President places the medal around Huerta's neck)

"Many of these people are my heroes individually. I know how they impacted my life," President Obama said. "Every one of today’s honorees is blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent."

Huerta, now 82, joined Cesar Chavez in 1962 as co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which eventually became the United Farmworkers Union. The President told her story before he presented Huerta with the medal. She was a single mother of seven, the President said, and thought Chavez was joking when he suggested they start a farm labor union in California.

"But Dolores had been an elementary school teacher and remembered seeing children come to school hungry and without shoes. So in the end, she agreed--and workers everywhere are glad that she did," President Obama said.

"Without any negotiating experience, Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farm worker contracts. And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table. 'Don’t wait to be invited,” she says, “Step in there.”'

The President also thanked Huerta for his 2008 campaign slogan, 'Yes we can,' which was the UFW's call to action.

"Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, “Si, se puede.” Yes, we can," President Obama said to laughter. "Knowing her, I’m pleased that she let me off easy--because Dolores does not play."

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded for "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Update, June 1: A White House video of Huerta speaking about her work and the Medal:

Huerta's bio from the White House:

"Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California. In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights."

The website for the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

*Reuters photo; White House video