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June 18, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe


 
Jesus Christ, Caitlin Flanagan is insufferable. Is the whole article going to be about how she resents her lefty parents? Because if so, I'm going to stop reading now.
posted by craichead at 3:01 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh good, Caitlin Flanagan's found a new target for her incoherent right-wing drivel. Soon America will be safe from the tyranny of the UFW as well as the evils of feminism!
posted by RogerB at 3:07 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a strange article. It's impossible to tell where it's coming from. Does it respect Chavez, or loathe him? Does it support unions, or despise them? Does it have affinity for the plight of migrant workers, or think they're too demanding?

Seems oddly ignorant of the real issues behind a lot of the problems, too. Points out the failure of California as a supportive government, but never once mentions the capping of property tax as the reason why the state is bankrupt.

Interesting article, but I'm still not sure why I've read it. Twice. Once to read it, and a second time to figure out what I might have missed. And I don't think I missed anything.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on June 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I read that whole thing ( I admit I was skimming by the end because it seemed to have no information at all, unless you count her describing forwarding emails as activism of some sort) and I have no idea what its point was. Can someone enlighten me because I'm not up to reading that turgid fap again.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:08 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what its point was.

As best I can tell: That Chavez turned into a cult leader and accomplished nothing.
posted by Trurl at 3:15 PM on June 18, 2011


Why does he look like Cesar Romero in this article?
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:16 PM on June 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


The author fails to mention one consquence of the strikes, the increase in farm machines to replace human labor. Between 1960 to 1969 the numbers of migrant workers dropped from 400, 000 to 250,000. Interesting that the military bought alot of grapes to offset the sales loss from the boycott.
posted by clavdivs at 3:16 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


UFW responds to Pawel's articles.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:16 PM on June 18, 2011


I think the point is Flanagan's usual schtick: that things were better in the good old days when housewives respected their Japanese gardeners and cleaning ladies weren't really exploited because they were black rather than Latino and only came once a week. The '60s, with all its messy radicalism that made her mommy and daddy care about something other than her happiness, screwed everything up. And now everyone who subscribes to any of those post-'60s social justice ideologies should feel really guilty about doing things that Flanagan herself does, but that's different, because she's Caitlin Flanagan and her rules don't apply to herself.
posted by craichead at 3:19 PM on June 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


Why does he look like Cesar Romero in this article?

Well, don't look at the Virgin of Guadalupe.
posted by clavdivs at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2011


I read up to the "By Caitlin Flanagan" part and stopped. I think I can pretty much outline the article myself.
posted by dw at 3:30 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It sounds like today we need a Chavez more than ever. I don't really care if he went a bit crazy or if the UFW isn't a good union any more -- if the union is bad, start a new one. But we need unions, especially for farm-workers.

The dearth of unions is why the poor are getting poorer.
posted by jb at 3:31 PM on June 18, 2011 [19 favorites]


The author fails to mention one consquence of the strikes, the increase in farm machines to replace human labor. Between 1960 to 1969 the numbers of migrant workers dropped from 400, 000 to 250,000.

Well, the powerful are gonna act powerful, of course. Is it better to have 400,000 slaves or 250,000 better-paid workers? It's not an indictment of the union, it's an indictment of profit over everything else, isn't it? It takes two equal sides to have reasonably equal outcomes - something most of this country still doesn't understand.

And I agree the article is a fuzzy mess.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:31 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why does he look like Cesar Romero in this article?

Because you don't know what Cesar Chavez looks like.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:57 PM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


The dearth of unions is why the poor are getting poorer.

Not to mention why the working and middle classes in general are getting poorer.
posted by scody at 4:09 PM on June 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


The dearth of unions is why the poor are getting poorer.

Not to mention why the working and middle classes in general are getting poorer.


Come on guys, look on the bright side; the rich are getting richer.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:10 PM on June 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Like most ’60s radicals—of whatever stripe—he vastly overestimated the appeal of hard times and simple living; he was not the only Californian of the time to promote the idea of a Poor People’s Union, but as everyone from the Symbionese Liberation Army to the Black Panthers would discover, nobody actually wants to be poor.

Holy shit, does she have any understanding of what unions are FOR? Of course nobody actually wants to be poor... which is why they unite to fight for better wages and conditions. The UFW wasn't just a club of poor people hanging out for the simple pleasure of being poor together, trying not to "sell out" by not being poor anymore
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 4:24 PM on June 18, 2011 [31 favorites]


I have no idea who Caitlin Flanagan is and from the above comments it doesn't sound like someone I need to look up. But her gloss on another author's biography of Cesar Chavez is just fine even if the rest of her essay then careens into a dead end.

I've known for some time that Chavez and/or the UFW had a, well, complicated position vis a vis Mexicans – i.e., migrants workers from Mexico versus Mexican Americans farmworkers. His values don't exactly fit the contemporary dilemma.

That he lapsed into hardcore Catholicism doesn't surprise me. There is a strong link between a certain kind of fatalism or masochism and the Mexican approach to Catholicism. It's to Chavez and his colleagues and supporters' credit that the UFW managed to get so much done. (Meanwhile, what has come of the immigration marches of 2006?)

Democratic societies should question idols and heroes. It's process and organizations not pulpits and personalities that make (or maintain) a lasting change.
posted by noway at 4:37 PM on June 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


does she have any understanding of what unions are FOR? [...] The UFW wasn't just a club of poor people hanging out

Of course she doesn't understand what unions are for. She's Caitlin Flanagan, poster-child for the narcissism of privilege, Alex P. Keaton come to life. She only understands politics as adopting an attitude, not as struggling for an aim — she lives in the world of what Adolph Reed called "posing as politics." To her, a Poor People's Union sounds like a bad idea because it means people admitting they're poor, which is a bummer.
posted by RogerB at 4:42 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of hers, but I think her article is being read extremely uncharitably. She isn't saying that the 1960s were wonderful because professors had black maids -- she is saying that modern California has many more desperately poor residents now than it did then, and that the state is doing much less to improve their lives now.

That the UFW and Chavez have a complicated history is not news, nor is the fact that the movement had few lasting impacts on the lives of farmworkers. Whether it failed for the reasons she mentions, or for others (such as brutal pushback from growers, say) is a different question; the UFW is not the first movement in US history to struggle to find an ongoing basis of support.

tl;dr: there's plenty to dislike about Flanagan, but this article in particular isn't worth the bile.
posted by Forktine at 4:46 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


If that was her point, Forktine, then I think she could have made it clearer by centering her article around the experiences of some actual poor people, rather than around the history of herself and her very privileged family.
posted by craichead at 4:54 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The article is a sloppy, sentimental mess. She's a writer, by profession? hmmph. Yeah, let's tear down the heroes of the poor, cause the heroes of the rich are soooo great.
posted by theora55 at 4:56 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure it's the editors at The Atlantic, and not Flanagan herself, who came up with the subtitle "Cesar Chavez’s story shows that saints should be judged guilty until proven innocent."

But I'm going to go with the spirit of it and judge Caitlin Flanagan to be a blinkered fudger-of-facts and misser of what's important, until it is proven otherwise.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:02 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


She's right about at least one thing: The central valley is utterly stunning during blossom time. The almond orchards are my favorite.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:03 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]



Holy shit, does she have any understanding of what unions are FOR? Of course nobody actually wants to be poor... which is why they unite to fight for better wages and conditions. The UFW wasn't just a club of poor people hanging out for the simple pleasure of being poor together, trying not to "sell out" by not being poor anymore


The problem with the union is that not only did farmworkers not want to be poor. They also did not want to be farmworkers for any longer than they had to. I think the real question here is whether the union's mission was ever all that sustainable. It was not, considering the way it was run.

The fundamental truth is that Cesar Chavez really is not terribly relevant today, and hasn't been for a long time for a variety of reasons, some of which can be laid on his feet, some not.

Farmworkers who benefited from the union eventually moved on to better things. Their children almost certainly did. Unionization gave farmers incentive to automate more and more. And the new immigrants, who might have benefited from and added solidarity to a strong labor movement, were sometimes treated by the union in a shameful way not that different from how "Minuteman Patriots" treat them now. In addition, the union's mismanagement and Chavez's icon status, even before he was dead, made him less of a hero of the poor than one might think.

Those dismissing the article outright, or trying to shoehorn Flanagan's (or Chavez's) politics into your own left vs right narrative, would do well to take a more objective view of Chavez and his legacy.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:06 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


but never once mentions the capping of property tax as the reason why the state is bankrupt.

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!
posted by hal_c_on at 5:36 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


God, that was a lot of drivel all in the one place. Never heard of Flanagan before but a quick bit of Googling gave me a good idea of where she was coming from; though I kind of guessed after the dismissal of union organising as "so small a cause" to which Chavez dedicated his charisma and talent. Only someone who's never had a need of what unions and their members fought and actually died for to provide could be so patronising and condescending about them. It's barely one step removed from that Leona Helmsley quote about taxes being for little people.

I think my favourite part, though, was where she pretty strongly implied that Bobby Kennedy got himself shot in the kitchen of an LA hotel just because it would make for a great photo of himself with a Mexican American:
Kennedy—his mind, like Chavez’s, always on the political promise of a great photograph—flew up to Delano in March 1968, [description of RFK and Chavez photo op]. Three months later, RFK was shot in Los Angeles, and a second hagiographic photograph was taken of the leader with a Mexican American. A young busboy named Juan Romero cradled the dying senator in his arms, his white kitchen jacket and dark, pleading eyes lending the picture an urgency at once tragic and political.
posted by Len at 5:54 PM on June 18, 2011


>WHAT?!?!?!?!?!

I think hippybear is referencing California's infamous voter initiative, Proposition 13. Perhaps an unnecessary oversimplificaton of the situation.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:00 PM on June 18, 2011


This is what happens when society makes enough progress that right-wing morons aren't comfortable talking shit about MLK anymore.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:08 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]




Perhaps an unnecessary essentially accurate oversimplificaton of the situation.

FTFY.

posted by feckless at 7:30 PM on June 18, 2011


I didn't know who Caitlin Flanagan is (still don't, and from what I am picking up here won't be googling either) but that article was well-worded pointlessness.

Glad to know the writer is not someone I need to know about. But Chavez on the other hand, just hearing someone that close to Chavez and the UFW at that point...I get chills!

Oh yes, and unions? Yes.
posted by humannaire at 7:59 PM on June 18, 2011


Is there truth to this whole "Obama took 'Yes we can' from Chavez" meme? I mean, it's certainly possible, but "Yes we can" seems like the sort of thing that multiple people could have come up with independently. And of course Chavez was actually saying "Sí se puede", of which "Yes we can" is only one possible translation.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:06 PM on June 18, 2011


I'm sure it's the editors at The Atlantic, and not Flanagan herself, who came up with the subtitle "Cesar Chavez’s story shows that saints should be judged guilty until proven innocent."

For the love of god, do NOT inform Andrew Sullivan of that by-line. His precious little brain might explode. Or not. But either way he will come around too late and refuse to apologize.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:37 PM on June 18, 2011


I also had trouble figuring out what the point of the article was. Never heard of Caitlin Flanagan and never heard of Cesar Chavez before (non-USian here), from the title & subtitle I was epxecting a story of crazy scandals/crime/corruption, something like that, you know, "mad" and "guilty", but skimming through the article I couldn't really find the big revelation. I had to google and go on wikipedia and still, I'm not sure what was this man's madness according to the author - his devout Catholicism? his harsh approach towards strikebreakers who also happened to be illegals? there's a mention of "nepotism" but examples?

And I did have to skim, I started reading and found the style a little offputting. Ok, I see, this is one of those articles that take a long, long way around to get to their topic and that way passes through the personal memories of the author's childhoold. Thing is, I didn't find them particularly englightening in relation to the topic. If not being able to go to the movies the most inconvenience her parents had to suffer during a strike, well, I don't know how relevant to the history of unions her personal experience can be.

The bit where she talks about Chavez's religiousness is much more interesting, but it sounds so peppered with judgement even before giving information, it just makes me want to read more elsewhere to get the facts, context and history first. Because even a sentence like this: "His desire was not to lift workers into the middle class, but to bind them to one another in the decency of sacrificial poverty" tells me less about the subject of the story and more about the political leaning of the person writing it, and I'd be more interested in the story really, since this is all new to me...
posted by bitteschoen at 2:37 AM on June 19, 2011


For the love of god, do NOT inform Andrew Sullivan of that by-line. His precious little brain might explode. Or not. But either way he will come around too late and refuse to apologize.

Andrew Sullivan left The Atlantic Monthly, erm, months ago.
posted by hippybear at 4:00 AM on June 19, 2011


I enjoyed reading the article, but it's true that more facts could have vastly improved it. I know little to nothing about Chavez and liked her writing style - here was the perfect opportunity to educate me about Chavez, the UFW, California's loss of it's glossy sheen, whatever she liked. It is too bad that she missed it.
posted by maryr at 8:36 AM on June 19, 2011


BTW, the "messiah complex" tag seems a stretch.
posted by maryr at 8:36 AM on June 19, 2011


I agree with 2n2222 except that is EXACTLY why Cesar Chavez is relevant today. (The Saint part is a red herring, like conservatives who love to emphasize Martin Luther King Jr.'s adultery as if that justifies their opposition to civil rights.)

450,000 people were trapped in a horrible life as migrant farm workers, living on the farms in miserable shacks, beaten by farmers and their foremen, no legal rights, working desperately hard for piecework pay way below minimum wage, children beginning work before age 10, exposed to insane amounts of pesticides, raped, etc. etc. etc. Not one bit of exaggeration -- look it up. In the Northwest, that was the life of the vast majority of Latinos before the UFW.

Hell yeah the number went down, because a lot of these practices were revealed and stopped due to the work of the union (led by Chavez). Conditions improved, the worst jobs were replaced by machines, and American Latinos are advancing rapidly in society in jobs from construction (now the most common unskilled job among Latinos) to professors and Congressmen.

THAT's why the guy has streets named after him. Not because he was a "saint" (who said that?) And Caitlin's parents had to wait to see a movie? Boo fuckin hoo.
posted by msalt at 11:56 AM on June 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


If The Atlantic would can Mrs. Flanigan, I would subscribe again.
posted by RakDaddy at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2011


Calling Chavez a "saint" goes back a long way, both seriously and as a criticism.

Here is a longer, better written, and more informed article by Richard Rodriguez. If you are only going to read one of these articles, skip Flanagan's and read Rodriguez's.
posted by Forktine at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugh, Flanagan is always so casually dismissive of anything she doesn't agree with/subscribe to. She never makes a real argument against anything and assumes everyone is as shallow as she is. Her parents only actively supported the UFW because it was fun and romantic. Bobby Kennedy was only interested in meeting Latinos for the photo op. People only boycotted grapes because Kennedy was shot. Cesar Chavez is irrelevant to the California of today because there are so many more poor migrant workers than there were a few decades ago. Yeah, it's all superficial, and yet somehow it is Chavez' failing that the situation of migrant workers today is as bad as it is.

I'm also really getting tired of the pervasive BS that flawed people's achievements don't mean shit because they aren't saints. I don't have to like people to be aware that things they've done have had a positive impact on some tiny part of the world.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:43 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Rodriguez piece is definitely a better critique than Flanagan's, but this "saint" thing is still a weird form of backhanded ad-hominem attack.

Rodriguez mentions one Dominican monk who painted a picture of Chavez with a halo. OK. But I see few mentions of Chavez anywhere, and none of them say anything about him being saintly. No doubt this comes up in some very Catholic homes -- my grandma though John F. Kennedy was a saint, too -- but it's a straw man to attack Chavez for NOT being one.

No one is saying that Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or any other white political icon has to be a saint. So why do MLK and Chavez take flak for not being one?
posted by msalt at 1:49 PM on June 19, 2011


So why do MLK and Chavez take flak for not being one?

In both cases because they deliberately used the iconography of sainthood, though in quite different ways, and were held up (rightly or wrongly) as saint-like figures by their supporters. MLK was martyred; Chavez came close to martyring himself with his hunger strikes. Chavez's protests in particular used the language and imagery of Catholic sainthood at every step, and his public image centered on an almost ostentatious asceticism and humbleness. Again, none of this is new, and was much commented on during his life.

Mandela is another figure who is spoken about in similar ways, though with a different basket of imperfections.

It's a double-edged weapon -- the moral high-ground from the saintly iconography and symbolism is really powerful, but if you are caught transgressing (perhaps literally with your pants down, or through a multitude of small missteps) then it is something that can turn back around on you. Look at the glee many of us have taken when the conservative politicians and religious figures have been caught in scandals of moral turpitude for a perhaps analogous situation.
posted by Forktine at 2:05 PM on June 19, 2011


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