Human Rights, Animal Rights, and Nonviolence: César Chávez’s Lasting Legacy

Written by Jessika Lauren

“Kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. … Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.” César Chávez

César Chávez Day (March 31) marks the annual celebration of the civil rights leader’s birth and his tireless efforts in leading the historic nonviolent movement for farmworkers’ rights, while motivating campesinos and supporters alike to commit themselves to social, economic, and civil rights activism. Chávez’s legacy continues to educate, inspire, and empower people from all walks of life.

Inspired by the principles of nonviolence practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Chávez succeeded through peaceful tactics such as boycotts, pickets, strikes, and fasting. In early 1968, in an effort to rededicate the farmworker movement to nonviolence, Chávez embarked on his famous 25-day fast, subsequently becoming a strict vegetarian and remaining one for the rest of his life.

Although it’s less widely known, Chávez was passionate about animal rights and vegetarianism. Marc Grossman, Chávez ‘s longtime press secretary, speechwriter, and personal aide, told PETA Latino, “César was a devoted proselytizer; I think he took almost as much personal satisfaction from converting people to vegetarianism as trade unionism.”

On César Chávez Day, many people pay tribute to his legacy with a day of service to the community. There are countless opportunities to be of service in your community as well as to be a voice for animals. You can help bring about a more just and compassionate world by volunteering at an animal shelter, starting a community garden, or educating people by sharing leaflets and other materials on animal and human rights issues.

© Cathy Murphy

© Cathy Murphy

“I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do. I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.”
— César Chávez

Most importantly, consider choosing a vegan diet, which honors Chávez’s commitment to nonviolence to all beings. If you’re already vegan, cook a plant-based meal for coworkers, friends, or family and discuss with them the benefits of going vegan. And pause to think about where your food comes from and to appreciate the fruits of the labor of farmworkers, who make possible the abundance of fresh produce that nourishes us.

Chávez’s nonviolent approach to activism is as relevant today as it was during his lifetime. We can pay tribute to him on this day and every day by working to protect the rights of all beings, including animals. Whenever we speak up against the oppression of animals who are suffering on factory farms, in laboratories, at the end of a chain, or in a circus or rodeo, we honor his commitment to social justice, welfare, and compassion.

The underlying principle behind Chávez’s motto—”¡Sí, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”)—in response to injustice is never to give up. If we truly want to honor his inspirational life, we need to carry on his values by continuing to educate the public about the unjust ways in which animals are exploited, while remaining active in the struggle to protect their rights. Together, we can make a difference for all animals.

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  • Helena

    Posted March 27, 2013

    What an inspiration piece for existing and new fans of PETA and PETA LATINA who may not have known who Cesar Chavez was and what he stood for, and for the realization that any person at any given moment can stand up and make a difference in the pursuit of humane rights for all animals. The simplest first step can begin at deciding to say no to any idea that leads to the slaughter or exploitation of animals. Never stop believing that YOU can make a difference in this world!

    • rsaldana

      Posted March 27, 2013

      Great words of advice! Thank you for sharing!

  • Lettie

    Posted March 28, 2013

    Although I was in my early teens and aware of Cesar Chavez and his movement I didn’t give him or his cause the importance and the respect that I should have. Now that I’m older and more mature I understand his legacy. When I stop and reflect on others that have inspired me to become a better human being such as Mahatma Gandhi, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King I believe that Cesar Chavez deserves the same respect and admiration.

    • rsaldana

      Posted April 1, 2013

      Great words about a great man! Thanks for sharing!

  • S. Earlene Baty

    Posted April 2, 2013

    I am to a Vegan and I was born on March 31st, 1968…I wish I could have met him even once in person to say Thank-You and wish him Happy Birthday, Your Legacy lives on……

  • Helen Esparza

    Posted March 31, 2014

    Jessika, what a great article you wrote about a civil rights icon and friend to animals. This article is motivating and uplifting. Compassion is the word of the day!

  • Jerunda Wiley

    Posted April 24, 2014

    My dog reently died on April 22,2014. She was a maltipoo weighing around 9lbs. I dont know if this site has anything to do with this or can help me but she was having difficulty breathing so i took he to the vet that night on April 21, 2014. The vet doc told me she had bronchitus and gave her a steriod shot and antibiotic shot along with some allergy pills once daily an cold meds taking 3times a day. He said if she wasnt feeling better bring her back. She got worse the next morning wouldnt move or anything. I took her back and he told me to make her eat n reduce her meds thats all he can say to do at this point. He never looked at her so i got a second opinion that same day at another vet. I brought her in he took xrays n it showed she had swelling in her throat and some stuck in her throat. He gave her two shots to try to get the swelling down n sent her home n told me to bring her back in the morning. He said he didnt have a trach small enough for her but he will figure sum out the next morning when i bring her and there was no need to keep her there overnight cause no one would b in the ofice. My dog suffered pretty much suffocated cause she couldnt get any air to breath. She was missd diagnosed the first time and sent home the second is there anything i can do or can be done about this at all? My dog has died her name was “Sky”and i feel like she could have still been with us had she gotten the proper medical attention

    • Kimberly Gonzalez

      Posted April 28, 2014

      Hello Jerunda, I’m sorry about your loss. If you feel that your dog passed away because of neglect from the veterinarian, then you may e-mail and make a claim against the veterinarian.

  • gail

    Posted March 31, 2015

    I too am so very passionate about animals..I strive to make everyone around me to see things as I do.To end animal cruelty, rescue instead of purchase,give up eating meat as know one realizes what goes on in slaughter houses unnecessarily!! They love and hurt just as we humans do and yet the Loyalty and forgiveness they show.. well its something we can all learn from animals.