If you're having trouble understanding the headline of this article, then chances are you are also not following one of the biggest stories of the 2008 Democratic primary season.
Yesterday (Jan 22) in a packed college gymnasium in Salinas, California, the United Farm Workers endorsed Hillary Clinton for President (Spanish as listed on the UFW web site: "La Union de Campesinos Respaldan [sic] a Clinton"). With more than 27,000 members, the UFW will be a welcome addition to the Clinton ground team as they compete for The Golden State--the biggest prize of all on Tsunami Tuesday (Feb 5). Chances are good that whoever wins California will also win the Democratic nomination. In recent polling, Clinton holds double digit leads on Obama and Edwards, her two top rivals in the Democratic field.
More important to Clinton than the number of UFW members, however, is the iconic value of the UFW in U.S. politics. The UFW is, quite simply, the historic symbol of the Latino civil rights movement in America.
Started in California's central valley by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s, the UFW was the Latino counterpart to Martin Luther King, Jr.s civil rights movement in the south. With its predominantly Latino membership the UFW continues to be as much an anchor of Latino identity in America as it is a driving force for the rights of farmworkers.
In an election where the Obama and Clinton campaigns have raised equal amounts of money, the UFW endorsement signifies Clinton's considerable advantage over Obama and Edwards amongst Latino voters in California and elsewhere.
With few exceptions, the English-speaking media has not really picked up on this story.
Writing for Salon.com, Joan Walsh recently shed light on the difference way that Latino voters think about Clinton and Obama. Following an Obama campaign Spanish-language ad critical of Clinton in Nevada, Walsh quoted the following observation about the two candidates as offered by Dolores Huerta:
[Huerta] argued that Clinton has a "cultural, political and social
relationship with the Latino community, which Senator Obama does not
have." Latinos call Clinton "Hilaria," Huerta said, adding derisively
that they call Sen. Obama "Como se llama?" (as in "What's his name?")
(read the full post, here)
Given how inaccurate polling has been thus far, whether or not a candidate has an affectionate nickname in the Latino community might just be one of the better indicators of how well Clinton is doing in California. And in a week where Barack Obama has already showed himself to be more than a little annoyed by the tone of the debate, the moniker "What's his name" is likely to throw even more cold water on his campaign.
As for John Edwards, the UFW endorsement of Clinton will likely put him in a very difficult position. Having framed his campaign as a movement for the rights of working middle class and poor Americans, Edwards must now be very careful in how he criticizes Clinton. If ever there was a union that lived the principles Edwards is espousing, it is the union that just endorsed Clinton.
In a Democratic primary season already marked by heightened emotions, the UFW endorsement of Clinton will likely result is some activist soul searching amongst a fair number of Edwards and Obama supporters. Or maybe not.
Whatever happens, Americans can expect to hear an iconic phrase return to American politics, but this time with a whole new meaning. When Cesar Chavez and his followers shouted 'Si se puede!' ('Yes, we can!') in the 1960s, it meant 'yes, we can organize!' My guess is that 'Si se puede' will become a rallying cry at Clinton campaign events in California and more than a few newspaper headlines.
'Can we win the nomination for Hilaria?!'
'Si se puede!'
(cross posted from Frameshop)
Follow Jeffrey Feldman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffreyFeldman