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Cesar Chavez Day: Spartans Embrace Activism

Cesar Chavez Day: Spartans Embrace Activism

The César E. Chávez Monument: Arch of Dignity, Equality and Justice on the grounds of San Jose State (Bruce Cramer photo).

In a world with more than eight billion people, just one can make a difference when a life is used to better someone else’s. “I have a button that says ‘one person can do so much’,” said Leila McCabe ’12 Sociology . “I feel like it’s my duty to help improve people’s lives, but I love doing that.” McCabe, and others such as Elisha St. Laurent, ’13 Behavioral Science and Sociology, were among some of the students who campaigned to raise the minimum wage in San Jose starting in 2011. Though the campaign recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, they have not stopped fighting for the rights of others.

Workers rights and activism flowing throughout the nation

Workers rights has been a debated topic for decades with advocates such as Cesar Chavez, in the 1950s and 1960s, marching and working to see employees given proper wages and working conditions. Chavez is honored with a holiday that falls during SJSU’s Spring Break, and Maribel Martinez, department manager of the Cesar Chavez Community Action Center, said Cesar Chavez Day is an opportunity for people to honor his legacy and serve. “We host a service day,” she said. “We encourage people to come out and volunteer.”

Maribel said the CCCAC and volunteers will work with Veggielution to reconnect with the land and harvest as a way to celebrate the impact that Cesar Chavez made in the San Jose community.

McCabe said as an SJSU alumna, its part of her “lineage” to be inspired by those such as Chavez, who sacrificed time and strength for workers rights. She, as an activist, does not sit down when she sees a moment to serve. Now part of the Raise the Wage East Bay campaign, McCabe said “the fact that I’m still able to do this work is kind of amazing. It’s probably best thing I’ve done in my life.” McCabe explained that some doubted that she and her peers could make a difference in a complicated issue such as workers rights and the raising of minimum wage but looking back, they were in some ways pioneers for a now national discussion. “People literally told us we were crazy that it was not the right time to do it.”

Serving: A way of life

McCabe said though generation X can be a generation that works for self interest, she has begun to see a shift in her group of friends, as people look to be part of  social justice issues and campaigns.

St. Laurent, who also worked on the Measure D campaign, said though people such as Chavez are highlighted when talking about people who make a difference in social justice issues, there are others who selflessly serve. “We’re all tired … The idea of actually getting up and wanting to empower [your] community or wanting to be a part of [your] community  just on [Cesar Chavez day] or one week is great, but you should wake up every day like that, wanting to help people because every day people wake up homeless,” St. Laurent said. She said time is precious and she has often sacrificed time for herself for others because any day can be a chance to change someone’s life. “I make time because God made time for me … It took me realizing that my life should be of servitude to others,” she said.

McCabe said it’s her passion to help others, and she feels empowered to see change in her community. “I can’t not try to make a difference when I know that we have the power to make change,” she said.