Bonnie Raitt was raised a Quaker, the daughter of Broadway star, John Raitt
and her mother, an accomplished pianist/singer. Less a religious calling,
Raitt was more drawn to the Quaker tradition of social activism for peace
When she began her freshman year at Radcliffe in 67, --the same time Carl
Pope was attending Harvard. (Radcliffe students attended class at Harvard
University until the two schools officially merged ten years later.) She
chose to major in social relations and African Studies, in part because she
wanted to spend time in Tanzania, where Julius Nyerere, the newly
independent country's president, was experimenting with socialist forms of
economic organization." I wanted to help undo the damage that Western
colonialism had done to native cultures around the world.", she recalled in
an interview. "Cambridge was a hotbed of cultural and poltical upheaval and I was thrilled
to be a part of it."
Soon after arriving at Radcliffe, she began to frequent Boston's flourishing
folk and blues club scene. Although an avid folk guitarist since around age
9, music to her was just a hobby. When she fell into a connection with some
of her blues heroes at the clubs, her path diverged. Like Pete Seeger
before her, she eventually dropped out of Harvard; unlike Seeger, she knew
just what she wanted to do. Remarkably soon, she was opening up for
legendary artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and Sippie
Wallace and James Taylor. She released her first album, Bonnie Raitt, in
From her first gigs, Bonnie married her music with her political action,
performing at benefits and rallies for women's, environmental and anti-war
efforts. Around the time of the near nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island
in 1979, Raitt became a leading campaigner against nuclear energy and one of
the co-founders of MUSE, Musicians United for Safe Energy. The five No Nukes
concerts the group organized at Madison Square Garden that year raised
$300,000 for the anti-nuclear movement then reaching its zenith. A feature
film and double album were released from those shows.
In 1988, she was among the co-founders of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation,
which works to improve royalties, financial conditions, and recognition for
a whole generation of R&B pioneers to whom she feels we owe so much. In
1995, she initiated the Bonnie Raitt Guitar Project with the Boys and Girls
Clubs of America, to encourage underprivileged youth to play music as
budgets for music instruction in the schools were being slashed.
In between sessions, she devoted herself to playing benefits and speaking
out in support of an array of progressive causes, campaigning to stop the
wars in Central America; participating in the Sun City anti-apartheid
project; working for environmental protection with groups like the
Action Network as well as continuing work for the rights of women and Native
It wasn't until her tenth studio album, Nick of Time, won four Grammy┬╣s in
1990 that she finally achieved the overwhelming commercial success that had
always seemed her due. Since then Raitt has effectively used her fame to
garner attention for the causes she believes in.
Most recently she helped create a theme song for Greenpeace and covered Fats
Domino's "I'm in Love Again/All By Myself" for a tribute album for
reconstruction efforts in New Orleans in honor of the legendary musician who
rode out Hurricane Katrina at his home in the 9th Ward. In 2007, Bonnie
and fellow MUSE artists Jackson Browne and Graham Nash helped organize
NukeFree.org, an ongoing campaign urging Congress not to pass new loan
guarantees for the nuclear industry. She is currently touring to help raise
funds to elect more Democrats in the Senate, and continue her alternative
energy/No Nukes work. You can find out more about her activism by visting
Organizer, Feminist, Activist
Dolores Huerta was a California teenager when the Second World War ended in
1945. The night the US officially defeated Japan, she planned to meet her
brother at a party. As she and a friend walked to the party, they saw a man,
badly beaten, his clothes torn, crumpled in a doorway. Dolores stopped to
help him up. It was her brother.
The Zoot Suit Riots, in which white mobs assaulted Latinos, had taken place
only two years before, and Latinos were still not safe on the streets of Los
Angeles. Her brother┬╣s beating was just one of too many painful encounters
the young Huerta had with violent racism. A decade later, Dolores became one
of the founding members of a chapter of the Community Service Organization
(CSO) based in her native Stockton. The CSO was a grass roots civil rights
organization formed in response to the prevailing racism Latinos were
subject to in post-war California. With initial support from the Industrial
Areas Foundation (one of the founders, Fred Ross, had been trained as an
organizer by the IAF's legendary Saul Alinsky), the CSO fought segregation
and police brutality, launched citizenship and voter registration drives in
Latino communities throughout the state, and launched the political career
of another founder, Edward Roybal -- the first Mexican-American elected to
the LA City Council.
Dolores' organizing with the CSO convinced her that not only Latinos but the
state┬╣s farm workers were in desperate need of organized political
representation. Since the Second World War, much of the state┬╣s agriculture
had depended on migrant labor imported under the notorious bracero program.
The Mexican braceros received meager wages, and provided a near-captive
labor force the agricultural industry could reliably deploy to break
strikes. The US and Mexican governments even collaborated in deducting 10
percent from every bracero┬╣s paycheck, supposedly to establish a retirement
fund ┬ş but the money ┼ĺvanished┬╣ in the Mexican banking system, and few if
any braceros ever saw a dime.
Building on her earlier organizing experience and outraged by the
exploitation of migrant labor, in 1960 Huerta founded and organized the
Agricultural Workers Association. A year later, at the age of 25, she won
disability insurance from the state for farm workers, and succeeded in
convincing the legislature to remove citizenship requirements from pension
and public assistance programs for legal residents of the US ┬ş requirements
that banned the same braceros the government had imported for their labor
from the services that could allow them to survive in their new country.
In 1962 Huerta spent much of the year lobbying in Washington DC for an end
to the bracero program and the program was finally be terminated in 1964.
Soon thereafter, Huerta and a colleague, Cesar Chavez, founded the National
Farm Workers Association. At the time Huerta was divorced, with seven
children to look after, but she and Chavez persisted with the enormously
difficult task of organizing farm workers throughout California's San
On September 8th, 1965, Filipino members of the Agricultural Workers
Organizing Committee (which has succeeded the AWA) went on strike, demanding
higher wages from the grape growers of Delano. Eight days later, the NFWA
voted to join them in solidarity. More than 5,000 grape workers walked off
the job. The strike would last for five years.
Two years into the strike, the AWA and NFWA merged to form the United Farm
Workers. By this time Dolores had become an experienced negotiator, winning
the NFWA's first contract dispute with the Schenley Wine Company, and she
became the lead negotiator for the UFW. When one company tried to conceal
their products by using other grape company's labels, the UFW undertook a
national boycott of all table grapes.
In her new national role, Dolores directed the UFW's national grape boycott,
and Chavez infused the movement with the practice of nonviolence that had
been so instrumental in civil rights struggles in the South. At the
boycott's height, more than 14 million Americans expressed their solidarity
with the workers by refusing to buy grapes. Eventually, the UFW won a
three-year collective bargaining agreement from the entire California table
During the mid-1980's Huerta continued lobbying against federal guest worker
programs and campaigning for legislation to grant amnesty to farm workers
who had lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States for many years
but were still unable to enjoy the privileges of citizenship. Her work
helped lead to the Immigration Act of 1985 which granted amnesty to
1,400,000 farm workers.
During this time Huerta was still very much present on the front lines,
often at great personal risk. In 1988, while attending a protest against the
exposure of farm workers to pesticides, Huerta was beaten so severely by San
Francisco police that she was rushed into emergency surgery.
Hueerta has continued to be active with the grassroots and inside the halls
of power to this day. In a move recalling Chavez's 1966 march to
Sacramento, Huerta led hundreds of workers on a 165-mile march to the state
Capitol's steps in 2004. Once they arrived, the workers' army settled in for
a weeks-long vigil until former Governor Gray Davis signed into law a
measure that forces growers into mediation when negotiations fail.
Today, the Dolores Huerta Foundation continues to support community
organizing, train new leaders, and fight against the wave of anti-immigrant
hysteria that has swept across the country in recent years.