#4 Social Justice and Leadership

“It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.” This iconic quote paints a vibrant picture of the harsh realities of life faced every day by the migrant farmworkers living in our country. César Chávez knew exactly what he was talking about when he said this as he had been facing these issues for years after dropping out of 7th grade to become a full-time migrant farm worker. He worked as a farm worker for 4 years until he joined the United States Navy where he served for 2 years. Later in his life, César Chávez would become the symbolic face heading the revolution for migrant workers’ rights.

Chávez was not only a farm worker but also someone who led. As Simon Sinek said, “…there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.” Although Chávez didn’t hold a high-ranking government position, didn’t have lots of money and didn’t have lots of power, what he did have was influence. People were so inspired by his ideas that they found themselves believing in the same principles and willingly fought alongside him.

After watching Simon Sinek’s second talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”, I was able to further expand my understanding of what makes a good leader. Simon states, “Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the senior most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.” As I reflected back on this concept of what it means to be a good leader, I realized that my own opinion has been completely altered. To lead is to be empathetic towards those around you and to take action to improve social justice.

With my new definition of the word “leader” by my side, I searched through stories of migrant workers centered around change and social justice. One was a story revolving around Vermont’s advocacy group, Migrant Justice, and a worker named Victor Diaz.Victor Diaz was arrested outside a restaurant by plainclothes agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement who placed him in an unmarked vehicle, according to people who were with Diaz at the time.”  The Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had Diaz marked as an enforcement priority because of a November conviction of driving under the influence. Soon after his arrest, a petition was created that would eventually be signed by over 2,000 people across the nation, leading to his release. This event caused a change in people’s opinions about the Mexican population not only here in Vermont, but also across the country. People began to realize how the Mexican workers truly are the backbone of our multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.

I strongly believe that those who work hard day in and day out, support our economy and enrich our culture and diversity should be treated with fairness, regardless of ethnicity. The migrant workers that work 6 days a week only to make an average salary of $10,000 – $12,500 (the poverty line is $11,880 for an individual) deserve to be part of our community and not have to live their lives in the shadows for fear of deportation. If you believe in social justice the way I do, join me in the fight for equality and civility for the Mexican migrant workers.

Featured Image by John Lester

@true_morgan. “Migrant Justice: Bail Granted for Activist Facing Deportation | VTDigger.” VTDigger. N.p., 2016. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

Justin Holmes

3 Responses to “#4 Social Justice and Leadership

  • Hi Justin, thanks for this incredibly thoughtful post. I appreciated your deep dive into the evolution of your perspective on what it takes to make change and how leaders can help move the needle on issues such as these. I’m reminded of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian activist and, eventually, Secretary of Education for a major metropolitan city in Brazil. In his seminal book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire expresses the importance of liberation coming from the oppressed, as they are the only ones who truly understand the oppression they experience. It can be difficult for people who want to help but who are not themselves oppressed to understand the workings of an oppressive system. This is what we mean when we say that “white privilege” can be an impediment to social movements. Freire says “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building…” Freire’s words have been such an awakening for me throughout my career. This is what I think of when I think about leadership for social change. My question to you, then, is how might we ensure that we are helping people for whom change is intended to have an active and reflective voice in that change?

    • Amy,

      That’s a really interesting point. I just recently learned a new word, heropreneurship, which is essentially an entrepreneur who wants to change the world but has no deep understanding of the issue he is trying to tackle. Unfortunately, this is all too common in our society today. He does what he thinks is best, but doesn’t have experience in the problem and thus likely to not create the best possible solution. There is an article that came out earlier this year which goes into a deeper explanation which you might enjoy. Here is the link: Tackling Heropreneurship. Regarding my specific topic, I think the best approach is to talk directly with the Mexicans and farm owners to ensure that their voices are heard.

      All the best,

  • Dear Jus,

    “There are leaders and those who lead.” Yikes.

    First, I love the kind of sentence, this kind, that hides itself. Leaders? Those who lead? What’s the difference? Then it unfolds itself, and as you so aptly examined, there is a world of difference. Two separate paradigms masquerading as twins.

    I used to think that everyone was like me: resenting authoritarians whom I had to follow, or else. But now I’m not so sure. You see these North Koreans who uncontrollably weep if they should find themselves near their beloved dictator. How can this be? Perhaps I shouldn’t get political here, but… Yesterday, I saw a woman on the news who said that the two most important persons in her life were Jesus and Donald Trump. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein (that must be misspelled), I feel as if I am a stranger in a strange land.

    Oh dear! Look what I’ve done. My post was supposed to be all about you, and I steered it right to me.

    So back to you: Carry on!


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