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Obama screens Cesar Chavez at White House pushes economic opportunity program

After sitting a for a series of interview, President Barack Obama capped the day off on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 hosting an advanced screening of the new movie "Cesar Chavez," the biopic about the founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) at the White House's South Court Auditorium. Chavez whom Obama called "an American hero" was a "Hispanic farm worker" and labor organizer who began his life work in the 1950s, and died in 1993. In his remarks President Obama made parallels to Chavez life's work as a labor leader and his own economic opportunity program.

President Barack Obama hosted a screening of the new movie Cesar Chavez at the White House, March 19, 2014; Obama with Chavez's grandaughter Julie Chavez Rodriguez, who works in the White House
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

President Obama hosted an audience of 125, including the film's director and producer Diego Luna, star Rosario Dawson, who portrays Dolores Huerta, "who co-founded the United Farm Workers along with Cesar" and was also present for the screening. Along with the Arturo Rodriguez, the current president of the United Farm Workers, and the House of Representatives Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-CA. who also attended.

Additionally, members of Chavez family were also in attendance including his son, Paul and as Obama expressed; "Some of his children - some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are here." One of Chavez's grandchildren works for the Obama administration, granddaughter Julie Chavez Rodriguez who serves as the White House deputy director of public engagement, and introduced President Obama at the screening.

The president delivered some brief remarks prior the film's screening in which he compared Chavez's work as a labor leader, to "promote" his economic opportunity program including as USA Today listed "immigration, health care, the minimum wage, and income inequality." President Obama referred to his social and economic programs as causes, saying; "we've got a lot of causes that are worth fighting for." The economic opportunity program has four parts, creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and raising the minimum wage.

President Obama started out however, by discussing the film and Chavez's mission recounting his perseverance; "Cesar himself said that he spent his first 20 years working as an organizer without a single major victory. But he never gave up. He kept on going, and the world is a better place because he did. And that's one of the great lessons of his life. You don't give up the fight no matter how long it takes. No matter how long the odds, you keep going, fueled by a simple creed - sí, se puede."

"Si, se puede" is the Spanish original and the United Farmer Workers slogan, Obama borrowed the English version of which is "yes, we can" for his 2008 presidential campaign slogan. The president used this to transition and answer why the change he promised six years during that campaign has not materialized. Obama explained; "I've tried to remind people change is hard. It doesn't happen easily. It doesn't happen smoothly or painlessly. It happens because you put your shoulder behind the wheel and you keep on pushing. And then, sometimes it's going to roll back a little bit on you. And then, you got to dig in and you've got to push some more."

President Obama discussed his health care law, the Affordable Care Act. As part of the final two sign-up weeks push before penalties will be imposed, Obama urged the public to register for health insurance. The president stated; "We've got to keep fighting to make sure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care."

The president touted that there are now 5 million Americans that have signed-up, but still shy of the 7 million projected number that was supposed to be reached by March 31, the end of the sign-up period. Obama boasted; "And we've got more than 5 million people signed up. But we've got two more weeks to sign them up."

Obama joked again for umpteenth about the Marketplace website working, after a disasterous rollout in October 2013, where the website was riddled with errors that both prevented Americans to register or register correctly for the health insurance plans. Obama joked; "We were very persistent about getting that website fixed. It's fixed now."

Then Obama discussed shortly his economic opportunity program, primarily raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, and equal pay for women workers, stating; "We've got to keep fighting to make sure that our economy rewards the hard work of every American with a fair and living wage and equal pay for equal work."

Although President Obama promised a year of economic action using executive orders to act where Congress fails to do so, the executive orders and presidential memorandum have limits and the president still needs Congress to pass certain legislation. President Obama signed an executive to raise the minimum wage for federal workers, and has urged state governors to raise the minimum wage. However to achieve a universal raise, Obama still needs to convince Congress to pass a bill, and the Republican Congress is reluctant citing an Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) recent report stating jobs will be loss as a result of a raise.

Moving on to one of the most important legislation priorities on his domestic policy agenda, that he hoping to accomplish before the end of his presidency, Obama declared; "We've got to keep working to fix our broken immigration system." Continuing about immigration reform, Obama explained; "today, we've got labor leaders and CEOs and faith leaders and law enforcement, and they've come together and they've said it's time to fix this broken immigration system. We've got Democrats and Republicans who have now passed in the Senate a comprehensive bill. And if we stay united, things will happen, things will get done."

President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed that includes a path to citizenship for over 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. There are clear divides between Obama and the Republican Congress regarding immigration reform; Republicans at most will support a bill that allows illegal immigrants a chance for legal status, but no path to citizenship. The Republican Congress as Speaker Boehner previously indicated would rather pas immigration through "piece meal" bills than one "comprehensive" legislation. Adding to the divide Boehner claims there is trust issues with the President about enforcing border security and other immigration issues that will probably prevent the passage of any immigration bill this year.

Although Obama mentioned Chavez's work for immigration rights linking to his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The president ignored an important part of Chavez legacy on immigration, his opposition to it, especially illegal immigration and his position on border security.

Chavez worked for the rights of immigrants, but he saw the rights of workers threatened by illegal immigrants, who readily worked as strikebreakers during strikes. In 1969 Chavez marched on the "Mexican border protesting illegal immigration" with Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy. He also testified in 1979 to U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee stating; "for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking. I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the immigration service has removed strikebreakers."

Continuing his remarks President Obama tied in his vision with Chavez's saying in the end the fight centers around the people whose lives will bettered most all. Obama pondered; "I do think he would want us to remember that the debates we have are less about policy than they are about people. The president concluded; "They're about our highest hopes and aspirations for this country that we love -- and the country that we leave for future generations. As this film reminds us, that was the cause of Cesar Chavez's life, and I hope this afternoon it's going to inspire all of us in the causes that we have to fight as well."

This week First Lady Michelle Obama, the first couple's two daughters Malia, 15 and Sasha, 12, and the first lady's mother, Marian Robinson all embarked on an official trip to China leaving the president home alone in the White House. The president lamented that "It's very lonely at home, so nothing better than to see an inspiring film."

The president however, was not lonely enough to stay and watch the movie with the invited audience. Instead he obtained a DVD copy, which he was intending to watch over the weekend. That remark however, led to a slip that has caused the internet to catch on to his comment that he is a "little technologically challenged." The president made a slip, saying much tongued tied; "I've been promised by our director that I'm -- or producer or somebody is going to get me the CD." This prompted someone in the audience to correct the president by saying DVD.

The president seemed out of touch with the technological realities of the times. Just last Wednesday, March 12, when he was shopping at a Midtown New York Gap store promoting his push for raising the minimum wage, Obama laughed at a president being out of the loop with the public, now he was that guy. While paying for some tops for the first lady and his daughters, the president feigned surprise at credit card swiping machines, joking, "Oh wow. So you can sign the machine? I'm just teasing, everybody. They had these around the last time I shopped."

Obama was laughing at President George H. W. Bush, who infamously when appearing at a shopping exhibit at the National Grocers Association convention in 1992, marveled at the "electronic pad used to detect check forgeries" when he signed his name and the electronic food scanners. These discoveries prompted Bush to exclaim;"This is for checking out? I just took a tour through the exhibits here. Amazed by some of the technology." Coincidently, like Obama, Bush was selling his economic agenda at that event. This made him look out of touch with the middle class and the economic problems, haunting him through the 1992 presidential campaign and election loss. After 5 years in the White House Obama is beginning to shows signs of presidential disconnect.

President Obama has a soft spot for Chavez, and has repeatedly honored his work, as Obama expressed at the screening; "I'm really looking forward to seeing a chronicled life of one of my heroes and one of the people who inspired me to get into the work that I've gotten into." In the 2008 presidential campaign Obama borrowed the English version on the United Farmer Workers slogan, "Si, se puede" which is "yes, we can" for his own campaign slogan. In 2011, the president named every March 31, Cesar Chavez Day, and then in 2012 he dedicated a national monument in Keene, California to the labor crusader and civil rights worker. The movie "Cesar Chavez" will be released nationwide in theaters on March 28, 2014.


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