Ah, Delores Huerta was given the Freedom Medal by Obama! How fitting. She is a Marxist socialist, is Head of the Democratic Socialist Party of America, and helped Caesar Chavez organize the United Farm Workers in the 60’s. Chavez had formerly been associated with labor movements of Saul Alinsky, but Alinsky saw no reason to organize farm workers. The union made gains under the Chavez-Huerta alliance in the 60’s and 70’s but was muscled out of the way by Teamsters for the usual reason. UFW was communist. It lost most members and has recently tried to organize under the AFL-CIO but got kicked out in 2006. Add Huerta to Van Jones, Anita Dunn, Carole Browner, Mark Lloyd as a list of most-favored communists by our Prez.
Communist unions in the San Joaquin Valley remind me of how America came to believe a fiction about the dust bowl that has become as American as Apple Pie, the Okies in California myth. The Oklahoma panhandle, Texas panhandle and SW Kansas was hit by a drought from 1931 to 1938. No one has proven the cause of this and other droughts that plague the Great Plains, but for 8 years the average temperature shot up 10 degrees over normal and annual rainfall for the area fell from 18 inches to 8 per year. 15 inches constitutes desert, so the land devegetated and the dirt started to blow. In the panhandle area, this is particularly easy since during the winters it often freezes every night and thaws every day. Average January temperature in Guymon is 37F. Moreover, the venerated farming practice of fall plowing exacerbates this in the area’s already friable soils. Since the 30’s, farmers of the great plains have learned to not fall plow, use chisel-type tillage and minimum tillage. This keeps a top layer of stubble on the soil and prevents the blowing. And in the 30’s it was a common practice for absentee wheat farmers to live in places like Denver but to show up at their farm in the panhandle for a few months to harvest and sow next year’s wheat.
But blow it did. In March 1935, one dust storm kicked up and blew all the way across the eastern United States, leaving a film of dust on FDR’s desk, and noted by ships 3000 miles out into the Atlantic. This is not a new phenom. The Sahara does the same sort of dust bowl every year. Drive west of Ponca City and you will notice small hillocks west of Tonkawa, then more prevalently as you go west. These knolls, 20 feet tall and no consistent drainage pattern are extremely sandy. They are ancient sand dunes now covered by scant vegetation. And near rivers, as at Waynoka, there are active dune fields.
Unemployment in 1932 was 25%. As the dust blew out of Oklahoma it went east and seemed to symbolize the Depression’s disaster. Yet in Oklahoma unemployment was not quite as bad—22%. Farmers are extraordinarily self-sufficient and small communities took care of each other. The deep south was another matter. Unemployment in Mississippi was 52%. That’s because FDR designed the AAA farm program to pay the owners of farms for leaving land idle. In the South, poor sharecroppers did the actual work. When rich owners got their checks, they often simply laid off half the sharecroppers who hit the road looking for a living. Folks from Arkansas to Alabama often migrated to California which had not been affected by the drought-- that not only affected the great plains but the entire Southeast as well as the northern plains in the Dakotas. As farm workers, they settled in the Valley.
Postal records show 440,000 Oklahomans left the state from 1930 to 1940. (gross not net) 225,000 went to the Pacific NW where there were big dam projects. Okies from the oil patch knew welding, erecting steel gridwork, pouring concrete. 70,000 went to California, 2/3 of those went to the Los Angeles Basin. Very few went to San Joaquin Valley. Yet today, the residents of Fresno and Bakersfield are known as “okies” and people in California swear the Valley is filled with Oklahomans. Why? It is because the accent of Arkansans and Mississippians was close to that of the Oklahomans already in the Valley who were working the oil fields. They got labelled by what Californians knew.
And at this time, Woody Guthrie popularized his protest songs about the plight of displaced farmers in Oklahoma going west to California. Guthrie, a communist, was trying to widen the revolution beyond city workers. Sandberg (Wait! I mean Steinbeck. I've been listening to Joe Biden too much! He thinks Steinbeck wrote about Lincoln.) took up the notion, and wrote Grapes of Wrath in which a hapless Joad family is forced to flee the dust bowl and then were mistreated by land owners in California only to find true happiness by the benevolence of the government intervention. People believed this made-up tale because they saw stories of California union farm worker violence in the papers all around the country. But the violence was caused by Marxists who were (unsuccessfully) organizing Mexican farm workers. The “Joads” were a rare type. Meade county, Kansas, at the very center of the dust bowl actually gained 2% population from 1930 to 1940. The governors of Oklahoma protested the Steinbeck myth, but to no avail. People in the heavily depressed cities were keen to believe that the dust had wiped out everything. FDR called for the forced de-population of the area to make it a national grassland, but the states and Congress defeated him. People wanted to believe in government and FDR as a savior. And so the myth has been propagated to this very day in much the same way that Huerta and the UFW have been hailed as a great movement, when really they were a failed one.