Update: A more complete video has emerged of the incident, with both sides appearing to be not-quite-right about it. See here for the latest.
With primary season in full swing, political news has begun to settle into some expected patterns. The assumption is that most of the big surprises that remain will come from voters, delegate counts and perhaps some unforeseeable candidate scandal.
To that end, there are plenty of stories that put Republican Donald Trump's supporters on record as raucous types who are not ashamed to use their fists, spit and do other not-so-nice things to their political opponents.
The most vehement supporters of Democratic Party contender Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are often similarly characterized, even if they insist that they are too progressive for Trump supporter-style antics.
Well, something just happened in Las Vegas that might actually put that claim to rest. Dolores Huerta, a longtime civil rights and farm-labor activist, as well as a confidante of the late Cesar Chavez, tweeted this Saturday night from a Nevada caucus location:
— Dolores Huerta (@DoloresHuerta) February 20, 2016
And unfortunately for Sanders's supporters, there's video that at the very least backs up Huerta's assertion that there was a lot of shouting and hissing while she was on stage at a Nevada caucus location. A caucus organizer had called for an interpreter willing to explain the process and latest updates to Spanish-speaking caucus-goers. Huerta, clad in a Clinton campaign T-shirt, volunteered.
The Washington Post's Abby Phillip caught up with Huerta to find out what happened next.
"The person who was running the caucus ... people were saying we need a translator, so he said the first person that comes to the stage can be the translator," Huerta said. "So I went up to the front to be the translator."
The video above shows that her appearance onstage wasn't so well received. Some Sanders supporters may have been disturbed by the idea of a Clinton supporter interpreting events for the entire crowd. But that doesn't explain everything Huerta said she heard from the crowd.
"It was mostly the organizers," Huerta continued. "The Bernie organizers were shouting, 'No, no, no.' Then a Bernie person stood up and said said, 'No, we need to have it, I can also do translation' or whatever. The person who ran the caucus said, 'Well, we won’t have a translator.' The sad thing about this is that some of the organizers were shouting, 'English only! English only!' The Bernie organizers."
Again, this is what Huerta says happened when she tried to interpret from English to Spanish at a Nevada caucus site. The crowd apparently included a large number of Bernie Sanders supporters. And given that much of the Las Vegas strip's workforce is made up of Latino Americans and Latino immigrants, one would expect that some people in the crowd might have wanted to hear Huerta.
Instead, Huerta and actress America Ferrera, an on-the-record Hillary Clinton supporter, both tweeted that Huerta was shouted down with chants of, "English only!"
Harrah's casino site- Bernie supporters chant "English-only" to stop civil rights leader @DoloresHuerta from providing Spanish translation.
— America Ferrera (@AmericaFerrera) February 20, 2016
Now, Huerta is a woman in her mid-80s. So any kind of shouting or hissing took a certain temerity to begin with. But for those who don't know, Huerta is about as close to a living legend in Latino civil rights circles and labor activism as they come.
In the 1950s, Huerta, a former elementary school teacher, left the relative comfort of the classroom to begin organizing migrant farm workers often paid by the piece or by the pound for produce they gathered. At the time, these workers were subject to almost no labor law protections and were frequently injured or abused without redress and haphazardly exposed to all manner of agricultural chemicals. Avoiding medical costs or expensive payouts to the families of workers killed on the job was routine for farm-related enterprises when Huerta first became involved in farm-worker labor issues.
In the 1960s, Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez. The organization would later change its name to the United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, then the United Farm Workers, eventually becoming arguably the most culturally and legally influential farm-labor union in U.S. history.
The group negotiated the nation's first farm labor contract with a California winery and later enlisted millions of American consumers in a strike against California grape growers over working conditions. Grape growers eventually sat down and negotiated with the workers. The strike not only altered certain aspects of the conditions under which farm workers labored, but it also seeded growing consumer consciousness about food production and the rights of the faceless workers who help supply the food the average American simply purchases in a grocery store.
It was hard, dangerous and, yes, seriously progressive work. In the decades since, Huerta has been involved in fights to make driver's license exams and ballots available in Spanish, efforts to organize hotel industry workers and a successful initiative to repeal a federal temporary agricultural worker program riddled with human rights abuses.
Huerta also published a piece on Medium this past week critiquing Sanders's voting record on immigration matters. So perhaps the crowd or some members of the crowd were aware of Huerta's position outside the Sanders camp.
But the particular content of the shout-down — "English only!" — would seem far uglier than genuine political differences. At the very least, efforts to identify English as the country's official language, barring the use of Spanish in public spaces or Spanish-language translations of official documents, has generally been a cause championed by conservatives.
And not surprisingly, the irony of the crowd's response to an effort to make the caucus a more inclusive gathering and, for that matter, compliant with U.S. law, was not lost on Huerta.
"We have fought for may many decades so we have have bilingual translations and to have people’s rights respect[ed]," she said. "When you have a critical issue like an election and you have many of the casino workers that are citizen workers and don’t speak the English language, it just seems to be about respect."
But Huerta wasn't done talking about what happened on that stage. This wasn't just some kind of personal affront. She views it as a reflection of the way that Sanders's supporters are opting to engage in the primary process.
"It’s kind of a crash-and-burn strategy. If we can’t have it our way, then we can’t have it at all," Huerta said. "I think that definitely Mr. Sanders should talk to his people. They are very aggressive, they are very belligerent in all our encounters that we’ve had with them. I think he needs to talk to his people and say you’ve got to show some respect. Its not about attacking the other side, it’s about getting our message out to people. Even when we go against Republicans, we need to be respectful."
Some of Sanders's supporters, full of undeniable passion and drive, have been accused of disrespect and condescension as the campaign attempts to sell Sanders to black and Latino voters. It's an assessment that has now come up more than once. But gaining ground with more voters of color is, at this point, essential to any successful Democratic campaign. And Sanders, like anyone else seeking the Democratic nomination, cannot win without them.