Behind Resolute, the huge desk that presides over the Oval Office in the White House, is a bronze bust. The sculpture is perched on another desk and surrounded by photographs of President Joe Biden’s family. Among these images, his head tilted slightly to the right, is the likeness of Cesar Chavez, the trade unionist who led a national strike in the 1960s and became one of the country’s best-known Latino activists. Chavez’s influential legacy will now form a crucial part of the Biden’s bid to remain in office after the Democratic candidate named Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of the labor leader, as his campaign manager for the 2024 presidential elections.
Biden formally announced Tuesday that he will seek reelection next year, instantly making Chavez Rodriguez, 45, one of the most powerful women in Washington. The strategist had been serving as director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs since January 2021 — a position that allowed her to serve as a bridge between state, local and tribal administrations and the U.S. government. In June 2022, she was appointed a senior advisor to the president. Following Biden’s announcement, Chavez Rodriguez becomes the second Hispanic woman to coordinate a presidential campaign since Patti Solis Doyle, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, ran Hillary Clinton’s failed 2007 bid when the former First Lady finished third in the Democratic Party primaries.
Chavez Rodriguez is a well-known figure in Washington. She was part of Barack Obama’s team during his presidency, although she maintained a low profile during her early years in the White House. In October 2012, when the then-president traveled to California to inaugurate a national monument in memory of her father, Chavez Rodriguez remained in the background and refused to pose with her family despite the insistence of some officials. “No, I’m staff today,” she replied at the event in Keene, Kern County, where Cesar Chavez lived and worked for the last 25 years of his life. In the end, she was convinced by Dolores Huerta, another influential figure in Hispanic activism, and Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, to edge into a photo.
Chavez Rodriguez, who has never run a campaign, made her way into politics by knocking on doors. During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, she traveled to Colorado as a volunteer to organize communities in a state where the future president beat Republican nominee John McCain by almost 9% of the vote. The Democratic activist, who read Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Obama administration shortly afterward, in 2009, as deputy press secretary to then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In 2011, she was named deputy director of public engagement and she later acted as a special assistant to Obama.
By the end of the Obama administration, Chavez Rodriguez had become one of the main interlocutors with the Latino population. It was not an easy task, requiring her to maintain contact with a key support base despite serving in an administration that had deported three million people. The Obama administration eventually proposed immigration reform that included a temporary moratorium on deportations of undocumented immigrants, although it met with Republican resistance in Congress.
Biden, Harris and Chavez Rodriguez
“My grandfather taught me that the job of a community organizer was to help ordinary people do extraordinary things,” Chavez Rodriguez said in 2014 at a White House event honoring the man she calls simply “Tata Cesar.” “One of my favorite quotes of his is: ‘Once social change starts, there’s no turning back. You can’t take away education from someone who has learned to read. You can’t humiliate someone who feels pride. You can’t oppress people who are no longer afraid.’”
Biden’s presidential campaign manager was born in Delano, California, a community that appears in the history books for being the epicenter of a strike staged by 1,000 farm workers, mostly of Filipino origin, who stopped picking grapes in 1965 to demand better working conditions. Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta were among the leaders of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union at the time. Julie Chavez Rodriguez is the daughter of Linda Chávez Rodriguez and Arturo Rodriguez, who later succeeded the iconic labor leader as head of the UFW.
Activism and the struggle for social equality imbued Chavez Rodriguez’s life from an early age — she was arrested aged nine after attending a protest. “She was a very mature girl, she knew how to talk to older folks and kids her age,” her uncle Paul Chávez, who presides over the Cesar Chavez Foundation, an NGO founded in 1993 and where the strategist worked for nine years before joining the Obama campaign, told the Associated Press.
Observers in Washington have also highlighted Chavez Rodriguez’s experience with Vice President Kamala Harris. After her first stint in the White House, Chavez Rodriguez returned to her native California in 2017 and was hired by then-Senator Harris for her 2020 presidential campaign. Harris later dropped out of contention to join Biden’s ticket, which took Chavez Rodriguez on board as senior advisor overseeing Latino outreach. Now, Chavez Rodriguez has been tasked with guiding Biden and Harris to a second term in the White House.
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