On June 20, 2018, José Ángel Gutíerrez, longtime Chicano activist and co-founder and leader of yesterday’s La Raza Unida Party, spoke at MSU on “Chicano Leadership at the Poor People’s Campaign: May 12 - June 24, 1968.” Gutíerrez, who was a Visiting Summer Scholar at JSRI, highlighted the importance of coalition building in the struggle for social and political change in America. Gutíerrez emphasized the roles Reies López Tijerina, founder of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes Libres, and Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales, founder of the Crusade for Justice, played in representing Chicanos at the Poor People’s Campaign. This year was the 50th anniversary of the Campaign, which included thousands of participants from across the country at Resurrection City near the National Mall’s Reflecting Pool. The City consisted of tents and trailers, and existed for approximately six weeks.
Gutíerrez provided a historical overview of the mechanisms used by White Americans to subordinate Mexican Americans.  These included anti-miscegenation laws, poll taxes, and other anti-voting practices. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, he argued, opened the door to coalition politics, although they were not sustained. In San Antonio, Texas, Alberto Peña, and G. J. Sutton, minority delegates to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in 1960, worked together to integrate the lunch counter at Joske’s Department Store. This temporary alliance was one of many that would occur among Mexican Americans and Blacks. Tijerina and Gonzales also had much needed alliances with Native Americans, primarily through the American Indian Movement.
At the national level, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. made attempts to broaden a coalition for social justice. He invited Mexican American leaders to join the March on Washington in 1963. Three years later, on September 22, 1966, he communicated to César Chávez by telegram that their “separate struggles are really one—a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.” In 1968, Andrew Young personally invited Chávez to the Minority Group Conference held in March of that year by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Although Chávez did not attend, Tijerina and Gonzales were both present. The Conference was part of King’s multi-racial, poor people’s strategy to transform America. Reverend King invited a representative to the Committee of 100, which was to lobby for the Poor People’s Campaign, and Tijerina was selected to represent Chicanos.
That month, social frustration among Chicanos spread to high schools and college campuses as the L.A. Blowouts took place.  This consisted of thousands of Mexican American students walking out of high schools in East Los Angeles to protest the quality of education they were receiving. The walkouts began at seven high schools in East Los Angeles (Garfield, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Belmont, Venice and Jefferson) and quickly spread to other local high schools. A key leader was Sal Castro, a teacher at Lincoln High School. Castro rose as a key leader of the walkouts in East Los Angeles which ultimately involved 22,000 students. The Walkouts spread throughout the Southwest, including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.
On April 4, 1968, Reverend King was assassinated, and although other leaders continued to organize the Poor People’s Campaign, the event was not as inclusive as it would have been had he lived. Tensions between Black and Chicano leaders and other participants diminished the potential of the event envisioned by Reverend King. Gutíerrez concluded his presentation by speaking to the possibilities of intergroup coalitions in the struggles for social, political, and economic progress for peoples of color.