Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators

Cesar Chavez, Nomination Address for Governor Jerry Brown, Democratic National Convention (14 July 1976)

High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Nicole Kennerly,Independent Educator.

Click here for the VOD unit corresponding to this lesson plan.

Value for Teachers

1) Throughout his career, Chavez considered public speaking important, both for organizing and mobilizing the poor and downtrodden and for giving them a voice. This speech, although delivered at a major political convention, includes many of the themes of Chavez’s advocacy as a leader of the farms workers’ movement, including the need for the government to protect and provide opportunities for working Americans.

2) This speech provides an avenue for exploring the themes and goals of nomination addresses. Chavez violated many of the expectations for that type of speech, using this opportunity to present his message about the plight of the poor rather than sing the praises of the man he was nominating for president, Jerry Brown.

Relevant Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • The central idea of this speech is that government’s role is to open doors for all people by providing opportunities that allow them to use their talents, make their own decisions, and be positive forces in society.
  • Chavez believed he had a moral obligation to fight against injustice. His speeches invoked spiritual and moral ideals in support of the argument that every human being had the right to realize their full potential.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

  • In his speech, Chavez addressed all Americans, not just the political activists attending the Democratic National Convention of 1976. His background as an organizer for farm workers and migrants informs his speech in its language and content. His purpose is not only to promote Jerry Brown’s nomination but primarily to further the cause of the poor and downtrodden.
  • Chavez violated many expectations for a convention nomination address. He used the address at the Democratic National Convention as a stage to present his social justice agenda to a national audience. His language also broke the norm by employing simple words in place of the typically extravagant and bombastic verbiage often found in nominating speeches intended to extoll the virtues of a candidate.

Ideas for Pre-Reading & Discussion

  • Students will want to understand Chavez’s personal history in order to grasp his point of view. What were his childhood and education like? How did he become involved in social movements? A short biography can be found here: http://www.chavezfoundation.org/
  • Have students consider the nature of nomination speeches at major national party conventions. What is their purpose? Who is the audience for these speeches? Have students read a recent nomination speech of their choice. What themes do they notice, and what is distinctive or noteworthy about the content and language of the speech?
  • Have students explore the “Farm Worker Images” collection found here: http://hrmediaarchive.estuarypress.com. Ask students to write down the titles of the various collections (e.g., “Mechanized Poison: Chemicals in California Agriculture” and “Child Labor in the Fields of California”). Students can generate a list of words or phrases they associate with the images and the people they see in them. How does this list relate to the larger civil rights movement happening in the U.S. at this time?
  • Students can visit the website for the Cesar E. Chavez Institute in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University here: http://cci.sfsu.edu/ourwork. Have them read the section on “Self-Determination” (bottom right). How do they think this description of self-determination ties into Chavez’s speech?

Important Vocabulary/Figures/Translation

  • “Buenos Noches. A todos mis hermanos de la habla Espanol.” [para 1]: Chavez opened his speech in Spanish, saying, “Good evening to all my brothers [and sisters] who speak Spanish.” From the first words, he set the tone that his speech is for everybody, regardless of skin color, social status, language, and political position. (Note that “hermanos” in this context addresses both male and female siblings.)
  • California [para 2]: The speech was delivered in Madison Square Garden at the Democratic National Convention. It is fitting Chavez would deliver the speech on Brown’s behalf, since he organized and led the United Farm Workers (UFW) in California and Brown was the governor of that state. Chavez mentioned California throughout the speech as a model for government actions that help people.
  • Patriotism [para 17]: This speech provides an example of how Chavez viewed patriotism from a perspective of social justice and civil rights activism. To him, patriotism meant not blindly accepting the traditions of the country, the government, or the status quo, but instead looking out for the well-being of future generations.
  • “But we know that only…deal with those problems [all of para 18]: This passage invokes the lyrics of one of the most famous folk songs in American history, Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”       The song had long been associated with the labor movement and progressive politics in the U.S. It would have been familiar both to the convention delegates and to ordinary workers listening to Chavez’s speech.
  • Collective Bargaining [para 21]: Chavez worked as the lead organizer of the United Farm Workers. Historically farm workers had been a disenfranchised group with few rights. They were overpowered by a large and powerful agricultural industry. Chavez credits Brown with giving them the “instrument” they needed to “deal with their own problems”: collective bargaining. Only then were they able to “start making headway” toward improving the problems facing migrant farm workers.
  • Governor Edmund “Jerry” G. Brown Jr. [para 24]: Jerry Brown was the governor of California at this time (and is again currently, in 2016). He was a Democratic candidate for president in 1976, but lost in the primaries to Jimmy Carter. It is noteworthy that Chavez talks about Brown late in the speech, prioritizing his mission as an activist for the poor and downtrodden.

Suggested Timeline/Objectives

Day 1: Pre-reading & Introduction of Important Vocabulary/Figures

  • Students will complete pre-reading of teacher’s or student’s choice.
  • Teacher will introduce key terms of the speech.

Day 2: People Must Be Provided with Opportunities to Fulfill Their Purpose

  • [Read paragraphs 1-25]
  • Use the discussion questions provided to guide student thinking.

Day 3: Post-Reading & Assessment

  • Students will complete post-reading of their own or their teacher’s choice.

Key During Reading Passages and Discussion Questions

  • Paragraphs 1-7: Discuss with students the opening of the speech, referencing the key terms section. Note that Chavez first uses the word “purpose” in paragraph 3. Providing people purpose is a main subject of the speech and this word appears many times throughout. His major point in the speech is his belief that the role of government is to make available resources (education, health care, fair salary, and work) so that people can fulfill their purpose and contribute to humanity. Have students consider why Chavez started his speech the way he did. Who is his audience? Drawing off his biography, how might Chavez have seen this speech as an opportunity to further his own purpose as an activist?
  • Paragraphs 8-16: In these passages, Chavez emphasized the solution to current problems: not technology, not handouts, but the opportunity to work. Note that Chavez referred to “human dignity” and “the individual’s spirit.” Why did Chavez couch his argument in these terms?
  • Paragraphs 17-20: Here Chavez more explicitly addressed how people obtained the opportunities discussed in the previous paragraphs. How did he frame patriotism? What did Chavez suggest was the best solution to the problems facing the country?   According to Chavez, who had the power to make real change and solve the problems facing not just farm workers but all Americans?
  • Paragraphs 21-24: The concluding passages provide an endorsement of Brown by holding out California as an example of government functioning to serve its people. He suggests that Jerry Brown did the right thing by providing collective bargaining rights to the farm workers, who then were able to solve their own problems. He ended by praising the nominee and reiterating the need for a leader who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment

  • Have students research and consider the current situation of farm workers in the U.S.? Are most farm workers U.S. citizens? Are they receiving good educations and health care? What has and has not changed since this speech forty years ago? What might be the barriers to further progress for migrant farm workers and others in the agricultural industry (social, economic, legal, etc.)?
  • Discuss whether or not it was appropriate for Chavez to violate the norms of nomination speeches by talking more about farm workers and the issues of social justice he was concerned with than about Jerry Brown’s nomination for the presidency.
  • Discuss how Chavez’s speech does and does not meet the expectations and norms of the typical presidential nomination speech. Then identify ways the speech might be rewritten to better conform to those expectations. Do the students feel the rewrites actually improved the speech? Why or why not?
  • Chavez gave up an important position in the Community Services Organization (CSO) to face an overwhelming task in organizing farm workers.  As a CSO leader he was already making significant contributions to poor people in registering voters, helping individuals achieve citizenship, and in challenging unjust laws.  You might consider how and why a person is willing to give up a relatively secure style of life to undertake a task that most individuals felt was impossible.  What kind of courage and commitment must one have to undertake a difficult task like creating a union among poor and downtrodden workers? Can you think of more recent examples where individuals have demonstrated such a strong commitment?