Photo: A group of United Farm Workers members and supporters march down French Camp Road on their way from Manteca at Stockton. The march is to support an effort to get Gov. Newsom to sign a bill supporting farmworkers’ voting rights. (JOSHUA BREWER.CONTRIBUTOR)
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Asuncion Ponce, a farmworker for 34 years, knows the physical and emotional toll of working in the Central Valley’s agricultural fields.
So, despite the punishing heat and blistered feet, the 66-year-old wakes up each morning ready to again join a group of 25 marchers on a pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento to demand that Gov. Gavin Newsom sign Assembly Bill 2183.
If passed, AB 2183 would protect farmworkers from intimidation by allowing them to vote in person or use mail-in ballots for union elections, according to the United Farm Workers, which organized the effort. Today, farmworkers must nearly always vote on grower property.
“I’m so tired and delirious when we arrive (at a stop) that I don’t know anything,” Ponce said. “The desire to keep the fight going and support farmworkers” powers him in the morning.
The 24-day, 335-mile “March for the Governor’s Signature” protest started on Aug. 3 and arrived in Stockton on Saturday. The 25 marchers, along with dozens of supporters who have joined at various stops along the route, arrived to the beat of drums, cheers and “Si, se puede” chants at Constitution Park in south Stockton.
Labor rights and civil activist Dolores Huerta, 92, was among the hundreds of people gathered at the park to welcome the marchers.
Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association, told Stocktonia it was beautiful to see the community come out in great force and that she was happy to return to her hometown. Huerta attended Stockton High School and Stockton College (now Delta College).
“It was my duty,” she said. “It’s the least I could do — since I couldn’t march with them — to be here when they arrived.”
The sacrifice the marchers have made is extreme, Huerta said. They are walking in the dead heat of summer, and they are not doing it for themselves but for justice for farmworkers.
On Saturday, the group was on day 18 of the march and had walked 17 miles from Manteca—one of the two dozen Central Valley towns where the group scheduled stops. Martin Luther King III, son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., joined the marchers as they left Manteca and walked alongside them for the beginning of the grueling trek to Stockton. California labor movement leader Lorena Gonzalez also marched from Manteca to Stockton.
The group will gather at 7 a.m. today at Constitution Park for a blessing before the march continues to Lodi. The march is scheduled to end at the state Capitol on August 26, which Newsom proclaimed as “Farm Worker Appreciation Day.”
Marchers who started in Delano had walked 269 miles as of Saturday, and there are still 66 more miles to go before they arrive in Sacramento, said Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, who is also marching.
“The ‘peregrinos’ (pilgrims) are tired, have blisters, their knees hurt, their ankles are twisted, and are (walking) in the heat, but they have a spirit that motivates all of us,” she said.
Maria De Lourdes Carrillo of Wasco, a city near Delano, has joined the group at eight different locations along the route. She is unable to complete the full trek because of work.
“I admire all the people who work in the fields,” she said. “They work in harsh climates, but farmworkers stand firm. I am sincerely grateful to all the people who work on the land and are helping feed not just California, but the United States.”
Despite the festive mood, this is not a party, she said. It’s a protest so farmworkers can have dignity. “Vamos por la firma (Let’s go get the signature),” Carrillo said.