The concept of La Raza Unida as an independent political force had been discussed during the late 1960’s and was developed further at the 1969 National Chicano Youth Conference that was organized by the Crusade for Justice and held in Denver, Colorado. This concept became a reality in 1970 as a Chicano political party was first established in Texas by activists Mario Compean and José Ángel Gutiérrez who had previously worked with the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) and other groups. The Texas Raza Unida Party became active in community organizing and electoral politics statewide until the mid-1970’s.
The newly formed Partido scored some early electoral successes in a number of South Texas towns and RUP candidates also ran for various state offices in 1972 and 1974. While mostly unsuccessful, these statewide RUP campaigns raised important issues and mobilized many Chicanos throughout that state to become involved in political activities that would improve conditions in their local communities.
This concept of a Chicano political party that was ideologically and politically independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and which focused on grassroots issues and the winning of local political power also gained influence in other states. Soon after, the Crusade for Justice organized the Partido in Colorado and other activists also established the Raza Unida Party within their respective states. These included New Mexico, Arizona, some Midwestern states and California.
A new generation in California confronts injustice and demands change
The arrival of the 1960’s witnessed an upsurge in the long history of civil rights battles within the state that were a response to segregation, ongoing police abuse, inferior education and a lack of decent jobs and housing. These struggles had created a strong undercurrent of anger and impatience among young Chicanos in California who began to mobilize and confront these deep-rooted problems that had existed for years within their communities.
Decades of being taken for granted and ignored by the two major political parties coupled with the Vietnam War and the high death rate suffered by Chicano youth and others in that conflict began to raise the political consciousness of a new generation and stir it into political action.
The old conservative pro-Democrat groups such as the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), the Community Service Organization (CSO) and certain Latino labor groups, along with the traditional subservience to the unresponsive political system by the established civil rights groups, were now being challenged and eclipsed during the late 1960’s by new organizations who were more militant and eager for fundamental change.
Some of these were Young Chicanos for Community Action which eventually evolved into the Brown Berets statewide and nationally, La Junta, Catolicos Por La Raza and a surge of UMAS college organizations that soon became MEChAS. El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan and the nationalist demand for self-determination was also developed out of the Crusade for Justice’s Chicano Liberation Youth Conference under the leadership of Rodolfo “Corky“ Gonzales.
In California, members of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) such as Monte Perez and Carlos Munoz assisted in developing Plan de Santa Bárbara in 1969 which motivated the struggle to organize Chicano Studies programs and increase the number of Chicano student organizations in the universities under the new name of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).
These far-sighted plans inspired many young Raza to seek radical change in order to break the bonds of the traditionally conservative two-party politics that locked them into a status of second-class citizenship. New struggles were now being waged throughout the state around many issues such as Los Siete de la Raza in San Francisco, the Free Los Tres campaign in L.A., resistance to police brutality by the Brown Berets of Casa Blanca in Riverside County, Chicano Park in San Diego, strikes and boycotts by the Farm Workers Union, the Barrio Defense Committee and its fight against police abuse, community educational issues and the struggle to establish Chicano Studies programs.
Numerous community newspapers during this period were created such as La Raza, La Causa, El Malcriado, Inside EastSide, El Machete and the Chicano Student Movement in addition to many MEChA newspapers such as La Gente at UCLA, El Machete from L.A. City College and El Popo at what is now known as CSU Northridge.
The Chicano Press Association was organized to assist and unify this growing number of Raza newspapers and magazines that were being created and distributed.
The content of this growing Chicano media exposed the injustices faced by urban workers, farm workers, students and the community in general, and raised the consciousness of the younger generation by promoting the concepts of Chicano Power and community control, Aztlan and the struggle for self-determination and linked all of these with a call to action.
An additional form of political education that was provided to the community was performed by a multitude of new teatros that had been organized. Two of the most widely known were the Teatro Campesino and Gente de Teatro and the efforts of these groups of cultural workers led to the later formation of the national teatro organization called TENAZ (Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan).
The events leading up to the formation of the California Partido
By March of 1968, there was a growing anger and impatience by students and community members with the lack of educational reform that was needed to provide Chicano students with a quality education. This led to the East Los Angeles Blowouts or walkouts by over 15,000 high school students. These protests were organized by the Brown Berets, committees of high school students and supported by community groups such as the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee.
Movement newspapers such as La Causa, La Raza, Inside EastSide and the Chicano Student Movement exposed these educational inequalities and urged both students and adults to take action to resolve them. These mass protests that were organized by students and community members to improve the quality of education for our children were confronted by the reactionary political establishment led by Democrat Mayor Sam Yorty. His police force reacted to the walkouts with violence and the use of criminal indictments against certain community members such as David Sanchez of the Brown Berets and high school teacher Sal Castro.
In total, 13 persons ranging from students, educators, community members and writers, were charged by a grand jury with conspiracy to disrupt the schools and the case became known as the East LA 13. The community fought back with a campaign of protests and sit-ins and with the assistance of the ACLU these anti-democratic indictments were finally dismissed by a higher court.
The realization by many community activists that the Vietnam War was an unjust assault on the Vietnamese people and that Chicano and other working-class youth were being denied their rights here at home and then used as cannon fodder in that conflict, soon gave rise to the slogan of, “The war is here and not in Vietnam.” This led to the organizing efforts by the Brown Berets and other organizations of the first of the Chicano Moratorium marches against the war in Los Angeles in December of 1969 and was followed by another in February 1970. Other anti-war protests were also held in Northern California in cities such as Fresno and San Francisco.
These smaller demonstrations culminated in the August 29, 1970, National Chicano Moratorium march against the Vietnam War which was held in East Los Angeles where over 25,000 people protested against the high death rate of Chicano youth in the war, police abuse and other social injustices.
The peaceful demonstration was attacked by a combined force of L.A. police and sheriffs and resulted in three deaths, Angel Diaz, Brown Beret Lynn Ward and journalist Ruben Salazar. Another march on September 16, was also attacked by the police authorities. This tactical form of struggle which utilized mass demonstrations and legal confrontation continued into 1971 as a January 5, march in Downtown Los Angeles was also assaulted by the police.
The final Chicano Moratorium march of this period was held on January 31, 1971, in East Los Angeles. The demonstration was met and blocked by a massive barricade that was manned by L.A. sheriffs who without warning attacked the protesters with shotguns and pistols which resulted in Gustav Montag being killed and over 23 other people being shot and wounded.
The marchers at all of these events fought back in self-defense but were no match for the massive amount of deadly weapons arrayed against them. The brutal message to the people was clear: the political establishment comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and their mercenary police were denying the community the democratic right to peacefully protest and would use force that was both brutal and lethal to enforce their illegal decision. A new strategy and form of struggle was needed to organize and effect change.
The founding conference of the California’s Raza Unida Party
In early 1971, the founding conference of the state Partido was held at Cal-State, Los Angeles. It was organized by the school’s MEChA, Brown Berets and various community groups who invited all interested individuals to participate. A discussion was held that dealt with the repressive political situation that existed under President Nixon and how it would affect the impending political work. It was clear to all that the supposedly “legal” right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate had continually been denied through the use of violence by the political authorities. In particular, the Chicano Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War had constantly been attacked by the police on the orders of Mayor Yorty and Sheriff Pitchess and had resulted in large numbers of people being hurt and even killed. There was a consensus by those in attendance at this founding conference of La Raza Unida Party that it was time for new tactics that would pursue another path
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