On Radcliffe Day 2019, Friday, May 31, we will award the Radcliffe Medal to Dolores Huerta.
Dolores Huerta has spent the past 60 years fighting to secure the rights of marginalized people and communities. She is a living civil rights icon who, despite the obstacles she has faced, has held fast to her belief that political organizing and engagement can produce meaningful change.
In 1962, Huerta cofounded what would become the United Farm Workers of America. Although her name is not as recognizable as that of her partner in that endeavor, Cesar Chavez, her contributions are no less significant. She worked tirelessly to build a nationwide coalition that fought for the rights of farmworkers.
Huerta played a critical role in California’s legendary grape strike, which began in Delano in September of 1965, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields to protest years of poor pay and desperate working conditions. They were joined by Mexican workers two weeks later. The strike continued for five years, until California table-grape growers signed their first labor contracts in 1970, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections.
As David Bacon wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle on the 50th anniversary of the strike, it “was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color.”
President Barack Obama awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, saying, “Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farmworker contracts. And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table. ‘Don’t wait to be invited,’ she says. ‘Step in there.’”
Our program has been designed to honor Huerta’s critical work to secure the rights of marginalized people by examining the issue that first sparked her activism: the intersection of food and social justice.
On Radcliffe Day 2019 we will explore the shortcomings and challenges of the US food system through social, ecological, and health policy lenses. These issues are far from new, but they have received considerable attention in recent years and they remain vitally important to our nation’s well-being.
In many affluent communities, healthful, ethically produced food is increasingly available to those who seek it. Meanwhile—in our era of growing income disparity—many other Americans lack access to such food. And food production and policy in the United States continue to enable inhumane working conditions, environmental degradation, and products that undermine our health.
To repair what is broken in the US food system, it is crucial to understand and address systemic issues rather than focus exclusively on consumer behavior. Our choices are important: As consumers, we may assume that the healthful foods we buy are also sustainably and ethically produced with reasonable social protections for laborers. But all too often that is not the case. Ultimately, we must address the structural failures in the system that affect social, ecological, and health issues on a societal scale. The key question is how we can create a system that ensures just labor practices and equitable access to ethical, sustainable, and healthful food.
Our audience will have an opportunity to hear from Huerta herself as well as a panel of experts. The panel discussion, "Nourishing America: Exploring the Intersection of Food and Justice,” moderated by the renowned journalist Soledad O’Brien ’88, will feature leading activists and scholars with diverse and important perspectives on food, food production, and policy. In reflecting on their own work at the intersection of food and justice, they will challenge and broaden our understanding of these critical issues. The panelists will include:
- health policy expert and Harvard public health professor Sara Bleich PhD ’07 RI ’19
- immigration and employment activist, lawyer, and professor of law Jennifer Gordon ’87 JD ’92
- writer, activist, and Food First cofounder Frances Moore Lappé
- expert in agricultural and economic policy Daniel A. Sumner
- renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters
Soledad O'Brien ’88 is an award-winning journalist, author, philanthropist, and founder and CEO of Starfish Media Group. She anchors and produces Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien and has anchored or reported for ABC, Al Jazeera, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC, among others. In 2006, Newsweek named her one of the “15 People Who Make America Great." Follow her on Twitter: @soledadobrien
Sara Bleich PhD ’07, RI ’19 is a professor of public health policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe. Her research informs policies to prevent obesity and diet-related diseases, particularly among vulnerable populations. A White House fellow in 2015–2016, Bleich served as a senior policy advisor to the Department of Agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.
Jennifer Gordon ’87, JD ’92 is a professor at Fordham University School of Law. Earlier in her career, she founded the Workplace Project, a pioneering immigrant workers’ center. Gordon has received a MacArthur Fellowship and was named an “outstanding woman
Frances Moore Lappé is the author of 19 books, including the landmark Diet for a Small Planet. She cofounded the Small Planet Institute and is the recipient of 18 honorary degrees and the Right Livelihood Award, often described as the “alternative Nobel.”
Daniel A. Sumner is the director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center and the Frank H. Buck Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Davis. Sumner studies economic impacts of food sustainability trends and policy. He was raised on a fruit farm in Suisun Valley, California.
Alice Waters is a chef, the author of 16 books, a food activist, and the founder and owner of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2015 for celebrating eating as a political act and the table as a powerful means to pursue social justice.
Marketplace of Ideas
As part of the day’s celebration of the power of civic action and engagement, we will host the Marketplace of Ideas, which will highlight the work of a handful of local organizations that grapple—through service, advocacy, and research—with injustices in our food system.
Conceived as a riff on the familiar farmers market, where individuals share the literal fruits of their labor, Radcliffe’s Marketplace of Ideas convenes people that are interested in sharing their approaches to tackling the inequities in our current food system: Boston Area Gleaners, the Food Project, Fresh Truck, the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and the Small Planet Institute.
The Marketplace will also include several organizations from outside the Boston area: the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Edible Schoolyard Project, Equitable Food Initiative, and Rural & Migrant Ministry.