Jerry Cohen

Dick Meister: Honor a legendary organizer

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Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, is co-author of A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America's Farm Workers (Macmillan)

There's still time, if you hurry, to join a nationwide campaign  to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to legendary organizer Fred Ross. For more than a half-century he was among the most influential, skilled, dedicated and successful of the community organizers who have done so much for the underdogs of American society.

Most people have never heard of Fred Ross, which is exactly how he wanted it. He saw his job as training others to assume leadership and the public recognition that accompanies it.  And train them he did, hundreds of them, including farm worker leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who were previously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Chavez and Huerta were typical Ross trainees ­­ poor, inexperienced members of an oppressed minority who were inspired to mobilize others like them to stand up to their oppressors.

"Fred did such a good job of explaining how poor people could build power I could taste it," Chavez recalled.

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