A Partido Conference and Convention are held in San Jose and Los Angeles
On April 8-9th of 1972, a statewide Partido Conference was held in San Jose that had been organized by the chapters of the Northern California Steering Committee and coordinated by Vicente Gonzalez from the Newark Chapter. Workshops on issues such as immigration, education, organizing methods and a clear criteria for becoming a valid LRUP chapter were discussed and voted upon at this event. Delegates at this conference also voted and reaffirmed the principle that Raza Unida members could not belong to other political parties and vice versa. This was in response to repeated instances where members from other political parties and organizations had posed as representatives and spokespersons of the Partido for their own benefit. This San Jose conference was followed up by the second California La Raza Unida Convention which was held on July 1-2, 1972 at at East Los Angeles College. Close to 500 people attended as elected chapter delegates from all
Dr. Carlos Munoz provided leadership in a workshop discussion at the LRUP convention in East L.A. photo: Jesus Trevino
over the state came together to reinforce the Partido’s political and organizational unity and coordinate the work statewide. This was in preparation for the national convention that was to be held in El Paso in September of 1972. In addition, efforts were made at this convention to strengthen the Partido’s organizational structure in order to prevent other groups from continuing to disrupt the work of LRUP and using its name. The chairperson of the Organization Workshop was Antonio Abarca from the Hayward-Union City Chapter. He presented a workshop resolution to the body which was voted on and adopted that reaffirmed the LRUP criteria which clearly determined the requirements for becoming a valid and active chapter. There was a vibrant discussion during the convention and a unanimous vote to support and maintain the Partido’s political independence from the Democrats and Republicans. Both parties in California, but especially the Democrats, had created numerous political roadblocks and pressure on the LRUP in order to prevent party candidates from being placed on the ballot. A healthy debate also took place on the issue of immigration and a draft position was eventually submitted to the elected Executive Committee of the convention for further discussion and ratification. One negative and unfortunate aspect of this convention was an unprincipled attempt by members of the then Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA) chapters from San Bernardino and Riverside counties who were affiliated with the Democratic Party to fraudulently register as Partido chapters and vote as delegates. Led by a professor from that area, this small group of individuals had created a number of phony and unknown LRUP chapters in their counties just prior to the convention in an attempt to vote and take control of the state Partido. These bogus chapters didn’t meet the state Partido’s criteria of actually having real members, a chapter office and had been using non-existent mailing addresses. This was verified in a report presented by David Rivera who was the elected secretary of the Southern California Central Committee. After a heated discussion by the officially-elected convention delegates, the overwhelming majority of the state’s chapters voted to reject these pro-Democrat MAPA members and their non-existent chapters as voting delegates. They ultimately resorted to yelling and disrupting the proceedings and another vote was taken by the convention delegates to expel them. Adding to this divisive and shameful behavior by these Mapa members was their unprincipled red-baiting of Casa and Bert Corona. In addition, a vote was also taken to ask a Trotskyite group, the Social Workers Party to leave. They had repeatedly been notified verbally and in written form by LRUP representatives to not represent the Partido and use its name together with that of their party. These SWP members refused to accept this position of the state Partido and continued to violate the convention’s rules by insisting on selling their newspapers during the workshops which effectively disrupted the proceedings. The hundreds of elected LRUP delegates from chapters throughout the state had united in a unanimous and democratic vote to repel the joint efforts of these unprincipled Mapa and SWP elements to use LRUP for their own personal gain and subvert the organizing work of the convention. An even more united state Partido emerged from this convention as it had fought off the wrecking activities of these outside provocateurs and strengthened its political and organizational unity. In an interview with the L.A. Times at the close of the convention, Partido representative Reggie Ruiz from the East L.A. Chapter stated that, “the final LRUP platform had been formulated by close to 500 delegates who participated in the convention”, and “its (the platform) final form was hammered out by 32 elected delegates in an executive session on Sunday” (L.A.Times, July 4, 1972). As the members of the state’s chapters departed for home, this strengthened sense of unity would motivate them to continue their community organizing in preparation for the much anticipated national convention that was to be held in El Paso. Gilberto Blanco of the East L.A. Chapter stated in an interview held with La Raza Magazine shortly after the convention that, “There was an opportunity for everyone to participate. People bent over backwards to be fair. We realized the importance of state unity.”
A strong political momentum leads to the first National LRUP Convention
The Partido’s National Convention drew members and other interested individuals from numerous states and those in attendance totaled close to 3000 persons. This convention was held within the historical context of President Richard Nixon waging his Counter Intelligence Programs to undermine minority organizations while unleashing a violent carpet bombing of Vietnam as the death toll from the war rose even higher. An unfortunate and tragic loss occurred before the convention as Colorado LRUP organizer Ricardo Falcon was killed on the way to to El Paso by a racist gas station owner. As the convention convened, the expectations of those in attendance were high
Jose Angel Gutierrez welcomes delegates to the national convention with a statement of his position on endorsing presidential candidates
and people were in an enthusiastic mood as they sensed that politically our time had finally arrived. The political momentum for the Chicano Movement was cresting with the possibility of a united national movement and political consensus under the leadership of an independent Chicano party. Leaders such as Reies Tjerina, Jose Angel Gutierrez and Rodolpho Corky Gonzalez appeared together at the podium and embraced in a show of unity. However, this was a fragile unity and existed merely on the surface as competing strategies would soon divide them and those in attendance. It soon became apparent that two opposing political tendencies were emerging at the convention that posed two different directions for the Raza Unida party. Jose Angel Gutierrez and Corky Gonzalez were candidates for the post of National Chairperson of the Partido and each presented a different strategic position as to the type of party LRUP would become and in which direction it would proceed. Corky presented his position on the two-party system by using the analogy about “the two-headed monster that eats out of the same trough” and reaffirmed that the stance of the Partido should be that of an independent community-based Chicano Party that does not collaborate nor endorse any of the two major parties. This position was principally supported by the Colorado Delegation led by the Crusade for Justice and supported by other states such as California. The counter position was presented by Jose Angel Gutierrez who was the head of the Texas Partido. He stated that, “We will be the balance of power in the 1972 presidential elections” and he proposed that the national Raza Unida Party “endorse the presidential candidate that endorses our people and our program for action”. In essence, to leverage the best
J. A.Gutierrez, Reies Tjerina and R. Corky Gonzalez in a display of unity: two opposing strategies for the LRUP soon divided the convention, photo:Oscar Castillo
deal from either the Republicans or Democratic Party and its candidate in return for the political support of the national Partido. This election for chairperson and the two distinct positions that were presented to the delegates quickly split the convention in half. Many attendees refused to again support the Republicans or Democrats and allow the Partido to be used as a pressure group to endorse the best offer dangled before us. Meanwhile, those who supported Jose Angel Gutierrez and his position felt that LRUP members had to be realistic and get the best deal and financial benefits that we could for raza by supporting and endorsing one of the two presidential candidates. The Republican presidential incumbent and candidate in 1972 would again be Richard Nixon but he would soon be removed from office the following year for civil rights violations and criminal activities. This election for National Chairperson between the two opposing candidates and their respective positions created a heated debate that forced the convention’s delegates to take sides. The California delegation met to discuss the pending election and voted to support Corky Gonzalez for chairperson primarily based upon his position of not endorsing another political party and maintaining the Partido’s independence. Raul Ruiz, who was a member of the City Terrace Chapter in East L.A. and a Chicano Studies professor at CSU Northridge, was elected by the California Delegation to present its position. A vote was also taken by state delegates that the same divisive pro-Democrat Mapa elements from Riverside who had shown up at the convention did not represent the California LRUP. The final convention vote was tallied and Jose Angel Gutierrez emerged as the winner and new National Chairperson. This also meant that his position to endorse other political parties was victorious as many state delegates from the Mid-West and East voted in favor of this strategy. One controversial issue that was raised during the debate was a criticism of Jose Gutierrez by certain delegates for having accepted funding from Mexican President Luis Echeverria who had played a crucial role in the massacre of over 500 students in 1968 at Tlatelolco in Mexico City. Another issue that was brought up was
4000 workers who were mostly Chicanas organized a strike of Farah plants in El Paso and San Antonio to demand justice
the Farah strike that was occurring in El Paso where over 4,000 mostly female garment workers had walked out to protest their substandard working conditions. There was an active national boycott of Farah garments in effect and the California Partido had been active in boycotting Farah and supporting the fight for union recognition by these workers. Unfortunately, the new Chairperson declared the strike to be “an outside activity” and not pertinent to the proceedings. By the end of the convention, delegates had been polarized as strong feelings filled the air with some people jubilant at having their candidate triumph while others departed for home in anger and frustration. The discouraged California delegation departed with a unified determination to preserve the state Partido’s political independence from the two dominant political parties. Soon after, a National Congreso de Aztlan was created along with newly-elected officers and was directed by the National Chairperson Jose Angel Gutierrez. However, the Congreso was supposed to meet twice a year in Albuquerque but only met once in November of 1972 as conflicts quickly arose between Gutierrez and the positions taken by the other Congreso officers. The following summer, La Raza Unida Party of Colorado held a Congreso de Aztlan Junta on August 16-19 of 1973 in Denver which was to be an alternative to the National Congreso and Chairperson Jose Angel Gutierrez. The resolutions adopted at this conference declared the Partido to be a revolutionary Chicano Party which was quite different from the LRUP that emerged out of the El Paso convention. A workshop proposal at this Junta stated that, “We see two alternatives to the problems of the La Raza Unida Party, break away and form a new one” or “take over the Party through progressive elements within our community”. The California Partido which did not attend this Denver Junta, sent a letter to the Colorado Partido which stated that, “The announced meeting in Denver, August 17,18,19, cannot be recognized within the existing established procedure for La Raza Unida National Congreso meetings” and “we ask other states to join us in instructing La Raza Unida National Congreso to meet no later than Thanksgiving weekend in Albuquerque”. No other National Congreso meetings were ever held by Chairman Gutierrez and the majority of the state Partido organizations continued to carry out their work independently without any national direction or cohesion. The momentum and prospect for a unified Chicano National Movement and mass political party at its head had been left in shatters.
A wounded Partido continued organizing and paved the way for progress
The numerous state meetings, conferences and conventions that were held from 1971-1972 had allowed the members of the California Partido to develop and strengthen their organization and state platform which upheld the principles of organizing to achieve community control, to maintain the independence of LRUP from the Democrats and Republicans, and the long-range objective of self-determination. These principles and ideological stance were still firmly defended by the California state LRUP after the 1972 national convention that had left the national Partido wounded, deeply divided and leaderless over which political direction to proceed in. The organizational structure of the California Partido during 1972-73 continued to function efficiently and democratically with an elected Northern Califonia Steering Committee and a Southern California Central Committee. State representatives from these regional groups met regularly and made decisions pertaining to the state Partido in a democratic and collective manner. The continuing political work that was carried out by LRUP members in many cities and small towns dealt with local issues such as inferior education, discrimination, a lack of jobs and political
La Raza Unida members in Oakland organize a demonstration in the community
representation. Other issues that were taken up by the Partido were the campaigns to elect to political office community leader and activist Dr Jose Hernandez of the San Fernando Chapter and Tito Lucero in Union City, to free Ricardo Chavez Ortiz, the statewide boycott committees in support of the Farah workers in Texas, and the strike by the furniture workers of Local 500 in Los Angeles. This strike was organized and led by the Congreso Obrero which was affiliated with the Partido and given strong leadership by former Brown Beret and LRUP member Cruz Olmeda. Female leadership in the Partido was key as individuals such as Patricia Borjon, Jennie Estrada and Margie Sanchez played a pivotal role in the organizing efforts as did the predominantly female leadership in the San Jose Chapter. Many of these statewide organizing efforts were carried out in an organized and newly assertive manner that were to pave the way for future progress. On the negative side, the Partido consistently tried to get involved in electoral politics and carried out numerous campaigns to register voters. However, the LRUP was never able to get on the official state ballot in order to run candidates statewide due to the large amount of signatures required by regulations. Even if the Partido had been able to get on the state ballot, there were never enough LRUP candidates to run for office and all of this unfortunately ended up becoming a discouraging catch-22 situation for the membership. In addition, Hispanic members of the Democratic Party continued their campaign to subvert the Partido’s organizing efforts. During these years, two distinct and simultaneous tactics for organizing were utilized and eventually became contradictory to one another. One consisted of organizing around grassroots issues to build a community base, while the other focused on continually registering voters and attempting to participate in electoral politics. One of these had to become the dominant form of organizing, otherwise, the hard work and energy of Partido members became splintered with neither tactic carried out successfully. Unfortunately, there were not enough LRUP members in the state chapters to simultaneously engage in both of these types of political activities in a qualitative and effective way. Some chapters proposed that the work involving electoral politics be dropped and that the organizing should primarily focus on community issues and the building of a political base. Meanwhile, others disagreed and continued the huge task of attempting to register voters for the Partido. With the passage of 1973-74, the earlier enthusiasm possessed by members began to decline due to fatigue and a lack of any concrete electoral victories. The expected support and endorsements from the United Farm Workers under Cesar Chavez and mainstream Latino civil rights organizations never materialized as all of these groups were pressured to stay loyal to the Democrats due to political and financial ties that existed between them. With the passage of time, many students who had been working with LRUP began to leave and move on which resulted in the growth of an unstable base of membership. In addition, many people who had registered to vote as Partido members eventually had their registrations eliminated as they had no candidates to vote for. A period of growing pessimism and disaffection among many members began to set in and a further decline in activist momentum continued into the mid-1970′s. BY 1975, the number of chapters in Southern California had decreased from about fifteen to four. Some chapters left in order to focus only on community work while others slowly dissipated as people went in different directions.
Eventually, a second Raza Unida convention was held in 1980 and a new and reconstituted party became the Partido Nacional La Raza Unida. This present Partido carries out community work in New Mexico, Arizona, California and other states, but does not focus on electoral politics. It is based upon the ideology of revolutionary nationalism and upholding the principle of self-determination.
Learn from the experiences of the past to assist the present struggle
During the period of 1968 to 1972, Chicano activists in California had utilized different and creative tactics in order to make needed changes in their communities. School boycotts and walkouts were organized to improve the level of education and this was met by the use of criminal indictments in Los Angeles. Supposedly legal Chicano Moratorium marches against the war and for social justice were attempted in a peaceful manner and were met with police violence and the killing of innocent people. Finally, the strategy of independently participating in electoral politics was tried, but was obstructed by rigid voter and party registration rules that had been created by the two dominant parties whose verbal attacks against the Partido also obstructed the work and progress of this fledgling organization. In the six short years from 1968 to 1974, Chicano movement activists had utilized various types of tactics to fight for their rights and achieve social justice, and all were rebuffed by the Democratic and Republican political establishment and the thuggery of their police. Yet, people did not give up and
Northern California LRUP chapters organized events in support of Ricardo Chavez Ortiz, poster:Rich Favela
courageously kept on organizing and struggling for change. Presently, most of the people who were once Partido members in California have now moved on into the middle class and in most likelihood have gravitated back to the Democratic party and the once reviled system of the two-headed monster. Despite this, many remain active and still try and make a difference within their professions and communities. The previous organizing efforts by these Partido members combined with their strong belief in social justice for Chicanos have given the younger generation a strong example to build upon. All of these numerous organizing tactics that were developed and used from 1968 to 1972 are theoretical lessons from the Chicano Movement that need to be applied in a creative way to today’s conditions and struggles.
One step back, two steps forward: we need to forge ahead in a new direction
Viewing the present situation in California, there are now many elected Mexican-American politicians in Sacramento who participate in the same compromised system that was never fundamentally changed and which has even more lobbyists and corporate control than ever. Some of these Mexican-American politicians speak up and take a principled stand on issues pertinent to Chicanos while the majority listen primarily to the lobbyists and campaign donors who swarm around Sacramento and local government offices. Many raza-majority towns in Southern California such as Cudahy, Bell, South Gate and others have been governed recently by “Hispanic” politicians whose corrupt behavior and theft from their own communities has been worse than that of their white predecessors. Simply exchanging brown wolves for white ones without fundamentally changing the corrupted structure of the hen house does not solve the problem. Meanwhile, in the growing working-class barrios throughout the state, the problems of inferior education, serious unemployment, gangs, police abuse and immigration issues continue to worsen for raza. Despite these problems, and the lack of success in achieving the objectives of the original California La Raza Unida
A theoretical and political foundation was laid by LRUP, we need to build on it and move forward
Party that were embodied in its platform with the intention improving the lives of Chicanos, there has been some quantitative progress made. Many of the original Partido objectives such as the right to self-determination are still valid today especially with the change in demographics and the growth of a large and young Latino population. Looking over the present national political landscape, there is still a need for a viable third political force to counter the two dominant political parties. These are parties that are increasingly controlled by monopoly-sized banks and corporations whose economic interests and promotion of militarism are detrimental to the majority of Raza and other working people. This third force and political counter-weight need to be comprised of alliances between all civil rights and progressive organizations who organize behind a platform for fundamental change and peace. Separate fingers become much stronger and possess more force and direction when formed into a united fist. Tactically, there are certain election issues that can particularly benefit or harm our communities and we should become involved in these campaigns. The extreme right-wing agenda across the country has as its objective not only the take-over of the federal government, but also the domination of every state government in order to impose their backward views and reactionary policies upon national minorities and the rest of the working majority. We have learned much from our past experience, we now need to apply these theoretical lessons to our present conditions and push back these regressive forces who want to turn back the clock and erode our gains and progress. We must stand firm. No pasaron!
* An in-depth work on the politics of the California LRUP titled: “Chicano Politics: La Raza Unida” and other works have been written by Richard Santillan: Chicano Studies professor and former member of the Partido’s East L.A. Chapter
In memory of ex-Mechistas and Labor Committee Chapter organizers from the Partido: Danny Estrada, Rolando Menjivar, David Rivera and “El Poeta” Moreti.
Colorado organizer and activist Ricardo Falcon: presente!