This Brave Nation
Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt
Musician, Activist

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 and justice.

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 l971.

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 Rainforest Action Network as well as continuing work for the rights of women and Native Americans.

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 BonnieRaitt.com.

Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta
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 Joaquin Valley.

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 grape industry.

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.