(Part one of a two-part series)
The concept of La Raza Unida as an independent political force had been discussed during the late 1960′s and was developed further at the 1969 National Chicano Youth Conference that was organized by the Crusade for Justice and held in Denver, Colorado. This concept became a reality in 1970 as a Chicano political party was first established in Texas by activists Mario Compean and Jose Angel Gutierrez who had previously worked with the Mexican-American Youth Organization (MAYO) and other groups. The Texas Raza Unida Party became active in community organizing and electoral politics statewide until the mid-1970′s.
As an independent party in Texas, La Raza Unida won many early victories through its focus on electoral politics(click to enlarge photos)
The newly formed Partido scored some early electoral successes in a number of South Texas towns and RUP candidates also ran for various state offices in 1972 and 1974. While mostly unsuccessful, these statewide RUP campaigns raised important issues and mobilized many Chicanos throughout that state to become involved in political activities that would improve conditions in their local communities. This concept of a Chicano political party that was ideologically and politically independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and which focused on grassroots issues and the winning of local political power also gained influence in other states. Soon after, the Crusade for Justice organized the Partido in Colorado and other activists also established the Raza Unida Party within their respective states. These included New Mexico, Arizona, some Midwestern states and California.
A new generation in California confronts injustice and demands change
The arrival of the 1960′s witnessed an upsurge in the long history of civil rights battles within the state that were a response to segregation, ongoing police abuse, inferior education and a lack of decent jobs and housing. These struggles had created a strong undercurrent of anger and impatience
The Born Berets built a national organization and organized the Chicano Moratorium marches against the war.
among young Chicanos in California who began to mobilize and confront these deep-rooted problems that had existed for years within their communities. Decades of being taken for granted and ignored by the two major political parties coupled with the Vietnam War and the high death rate suffered by Chicano youth and others in that conflict began to raise the political consciousness of a new generation and stir it into political action. The old conservative pro-Democrat groups such as the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA), the Community Service Organization (CSO) and certain Latino labor groups, along with the traditional subservience to the unresponsive political system by the established civil rights groups, were now being challenged and eclipsed during the late 1960′s by new organizations who were more militant and eager for fundamental change. Some of these were Young Chicanos for Community Action which eventually evolved into the Brown Berets statewide and nationally, La Junta, Catolicos Por La Raza and a surge of UMAS college organizations that soon became MEChAS. El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan and the nationalist demand for self-determination was also developed out of the Crusade for Justice’s Chicano Liberation Youth Conference
UMAS became MEChA and fought for Chicano Studies and the rights of Chicano/Latino students nationwide
under the leadership of Corky Gonzalez. In California, members of the United Mexican-American Students (UMAS) such as Monte Perez and Carlos Munoz assisted in developing El Plan de Santa Barbara in 1969 which motivated the struggle to organize Chicano Studies programs and increase the number of Chicano student organizations in the universities under the new name of MEChA. These far-sighted plans inspired many young Raza to seek radical change in order to break the bonds of the traditionally conservative two-party politics that locked them into a status of second-class citizenship. New struggles were now being waged throughout the state around many issues such as Los Siete de la Raza in San Francisco, the Free Los Tres campaign in L.A., resistance to police brutality by the Brown Berets of Casa Blanca in Riverside County, Chicano Park in San Diego, strikes and boycotts by the Farm Workers Union, the Barrio Defense Committee and its fight against police abuse, community educational issues and the struggle to establish Chicano Studies programs. Numerous community newspapers during this period were created such as La Raza, La Causa, El Malcriado, Inside EastSide, El Machete and the Chicano Student Movement in addition to many MEChA newspapers such as La Gente at UCLA, El Machete from L.A. City College and El Popo at what is now known as CSU Northridge. The Chicano Press Association was organized to assist and unify this growing number of Raza newspapers and magazines that were being created and distributed. The content of this growing Chicano media exposed the injustices faced by urban workers, farm workers, students and the community in general, and raised the consciousness of the younger generation by promoting the concepts of Chicano Power and community control, Aztlan and the struggle for self-determination and linked all of these with a call to action. An additional form of political education that was provided to the community was performed by a multitude of new teatros that had been organized. Two of the most widely known were the Teatro Campesino and Teatro de la Gente and the efforts of these groups of cultural workers led to the later formation of the national teatro organization called TENAZ (Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan).
The events leading up to the formation of the California Partido
By March of 1968, there was a growing anger and impatience by students and community members with the lack of educational reform that was needed to provide Chicano students with a quality education. This led to the East Los Angeles Blowouts or walkouts by over 15,000 high school students. These protests were
The 1968 student blowouts or walkouts were a well-organized and massive protest.
organized by the Brown Berets, committees of high school students and supported by community groups such as the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee. Movement newspapers such as La Causa, La Raza, Inside EastSide and the Chicano Student Movement exposed these educational inequalities and urged both students and adults to take action to resolve them. These mass protests that were organized by students and community members to improve the quality of education for our children were confronted by the reactionary political establishment led by Democrat Mayor Sam Yorty. His police force reacted to the walkouts with violence and the use of criminal indictments against certain community members such as David Sanchez of the Brown Berets and high school teacher Sal Castro. In total, 13 persons ranging from students, educators, community members and writers, were charged by a grand jury with conspiracy to disrupt the schools and the case became known as the East LA 13. The community fought back with a campaign of protests and sit-ins and with the assistance of the ACLU these anti-democratic indictments were finally dismissed by a higher court. The realization by many community activists that the Vietnam War was an unjust assault on the Vietnamese people and that Chicano and other working-class youth were being denied their rights here at home and then used as cannon fodder in that conflict, soon gave rise to the slogan of, “The war is here and not in Vietnam”. This led to the organizing efforts by the Brown Berets and other organizations of the first of the Chicano Moratorium marches against the war in Los Angeles in December of 1969 and was followed by another in February 1970. Other anti-war protests were also held in Northern California in
Local marches were organized to build up to the National Chicano Moratorium march of August 29, 1970 and others followed such as this one
cities such as Fresno and San Francisco. These smaller demonstrations culminated in the August 29, 1970, National Chicano Moratorium march against the Vietnam War which was held in East Los Angeles where over 25,000 people protested against the high death rate of Chicano youth in the war, police abuse and other social injustices. The peaceful demonstration was attacked by a combined force of L.A. police and sheriffs and resulted in three deaths, Angel Diaz, Brown Beret Lynn Ward and journalist Ruben Salazar. Another march on September 16, was also attacked by the police authorities. This tactical form of struggle which utilized mass demonstrations and legal confrontation continued into 1971 as a January 5, march in Downtown Los Angeles was also assaulted by the police. The final Chicano Moratorium march of this period was held on January 31, 1971, in East Los Angeles. The demonstration was met and blocked by a massive barricade that was manned by L.A. sheriffs who without warning attacked the protesters with shotguns and pistols which resulted in Gustav Montag being killed and over 23 other people being shot and wounded. The marchers at all of these events fought back in self-defense but were no match for the massive amount of deadly weapons arrayed against them. The brutal message to the people was clear: the political establishment comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and their mercenary police were denying the community the democratic right to peacefully protest and would use force that was both brutal and lethal to enforce their illegal decision. A new strategy and form of struggle was needed to organize and effect change.
The founding conference of the California’s Raza Unida Party
In early 1971, the founding conference of the state Partido was held at Cal-State, Los Angeles. It was organized by the school’s MEChA, Brown Berets and various community groups who invited all interested individuals to participate. A discussion was held that dealt with the repressive political situation that existed under President Nixon and how it would affect the impending political work. It was clear to all that the supposedly “legal” right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate had continually been denied through the use of violence by the political authorities. In particular, the Chicano Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War had constantly been attacked by the police on the orders of Mayor Yorty and Sheriff Pitchess and had resulted in large numbers of people being hurt and even killed. There was a consensus by those in attendance at this founding conference of La Raza Unida Party that it was time for new tactics that would pursue another path
The California La Raza Unida Party was established in 1971 and began its political work in communities throughout the state
to create change. People decided to try and organize through an independent Chicano party in order to participate in the system of electoral politics and organize a political base within their respective communities throughout the state. A tentative draft statement for this new La Raza Unida Party (LRUP) was presented, discussed and adopted by those in attendance. This statement contained principles of unity, broad strategic goals and an organizational plan for establishing local Raza Unida organizing committees or chapters. A healthy debate took place in regard to the proposed principle of not participating in nor supporting the two-headed monster as the Republican and Democratic parties were referred to. Also discussed, were the tactical questions of what type of political activity was needed to organize a community base and carry out the work to build a political party that served the interests of Chicanos. A position was adopted that the new Partido would maintain its political independence from the two parties within the arena of electoral politics and only support Partido candidates in any elections. For those present at this event, a strong sense of excitement and energy prevailed as they were impatient to begin the Partido’s work in their respective communities and confront the urgent issues facing La Raza.
The newly formed chapters built community ties through direct action
By the middle of 1971, Partido chapters had been established in San Francisco, Oakland, Union City, Newark, San Jose, Fresno, Sacramento, Los Angeles County, the San Joaquin Valley and other areas. A greater Los Angeles Central Committee was formed to coordinate the work and organization of the LRUP chapters in most of Southern California. “This group of representatives from the different organizing committees of La Raza Unida in Southern California will be officially titled, Central Committee of the LRUP.” (from minutes of the C.C. meeting: February 5, 1972). This Central Committee was comprised of chapters such as E.L.A., City Terrace, San Fernando, La Puente, Labor Committee, Rosemead, El Monte and Hawaiian Gardens. The chapters in Northern California had similar organizational forms to coordinate their local chapters and work. All of the members of these Partido chapters were comprised of local organizers who volunteered their time as no state organizers existed. A corresponding La Raza Unida Party state organizational structure and criteria were also set up and met regularly in
Organizing committees of the California Partido were created during 1971-72 and were involved in numerous community issues
order to unify and safeguard the organization by verifying that LRUP chapters and their members actually existed in order to vote, were politically active and to facilitate the political work statewide. Chicanas played a strong and key leadership role within the organization as male-female parity in leadership positions was voted on and implemented statewide and male supremacist tendencies within the organization were strongly discouraged. Strong leadership and development of the essential work on women’s equity issues were provided by Shirley Trevino and other women from the San Jose chapter. These were included in the state platform and training workshops were held to politically educate members and the community in regard to promoting gender parity in leadership. Another principle that was agreed upon was the rejection of a supreme leader or cacique-type personality to dominate the state party as no official state leaders existed. The Partido organization possessed a collective leadership that allowed differing opinions to be resolved through a democratic method of discussion and voting. Numerous tactical forms of political activity were utilized in different parts of California in order to achieve the ideological goals of community control and self-determination that had been agreed upon by the members of the state party. Such local actions by Partido chapters included organizing to oppose a freeway through their community in Hayward-Union City, working with the Farm Workers Union, registering voters and running candidates for political office. Andres Torres from the San Fernando chapter ran for governor while Raul Ruiz from the City Terrace chapter in East L.A. and Antonio Abarca from the East Bay-Oakland chapter also campaigned for local offices. In East L.A., the Partido organized an unsuccessful campaign to incorporate East Los Angeles into an independent Chicano-run city, and while unsuccessful, the campaign galvanized many people to get involved in the political movement to achieve the objective of community control. A campaign of training and organizing Chicano workers to fight union corruption and to wage economic and political strikes to improve their conditions was organized by the Congreso Obrero which was provided leadership by Gilbert Sanchez. The Congreso was a labor group comprised of workers from different unions that had been organized by the Labor Committee chapter of the Partido and was affiliated with it. LRUP chapters organized community news organs such as “La Raza” from the City Terrace chapter, “El Pueblo Obrero” from the Labor Committee chapter and numerous community newsletters by other chapters. Many university professors in the newly founded Chicano Studies programs created classes such as “Field work in the barrio” for students to do community work for the Partido in exchange for class credit. This created a strong bond of support and unity between the Chicano intelligentsia within these fledgling Chicano Studies programs and the concrete struggles occurring within the various communities.
(part two to be continued in the next post)
* Jimmy Franco: one of many who helped found the California Partido, was a member of the Labor Committee chapter, El Congreso Obrero and writer for the Pueblo Obrero newspaper.