A new book, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement, by Matt Garcia, tells the story of a seminal event in the lives of people of a certain age—the California grape boycott of the 1960s. Using original sources, the book describes the brilliant organizational strategies of the volunteers who appealed to consumers, store owners, and dock workers not to buy, sell, or unload grapes. It also tells the untold story of Cesar Chavez’ personal failures and autocratic leadership that ultimately derailed the most successful farm labor movement in U.S. history.
Despite the changes in the tools for creating an effective movement over the more than 40 years since the boycott, the book contains timeless lessons about “how the poor, young, and disenfranchised overcame tremendous odds to win more battles than they lost.”
Two chapters describe the seminal role that long-time Academy Fellow Jerry B. Brown played in the movement. Chapter 2 discusses his role as research director and (with Juanita Brown) co-coordinator of the national boycott. Chapter 3 lays out the strategy he developed to help volunteer Elaine Elinson build an international grape boycott, first among the longshoremen in London and later in Sweden, which stopped the unloading of California grapes at the docks in both countries.
Inspired by Chavez, Jerry has become a “social entrepreneur” and has devoted a good part of his career to public service work on behalf of social justice and energy and environmental issues. Jerry has held executive positions in many public interest organizations, including Floridians United for Safe Energy (FUSE), Business Executives for National Security (BENS), Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), and the Green Labor Journal. He has also served on the Academy’s energy task force.