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.
“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.