NEW HAVEN, CONN. -- From the opening video and drumming to the remarks of the awardees, songs, youth slide show and finale, an atmosphere of unity and optimism inspired the entire multi-racial audience at the 2013 People's World Amistad Awards, held in the auditorium of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School.
Taking off from the event's theme of "Marching On for Jobs, Freedom & Peace," a thread throughout the afternoon was solidarity with nurses and tech caregivers at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London who had been locked out the night before.
In his closing remarks Rev. Scott Marks brought the crowd to its feet as he called for door-to-door organizing that will "move forward" the fight for jobs and other needs. "I will not go back!" he exclaimed passionately.
Marks and all the awardees praised the vision and work of the Communist Party in their communities. The event was held on the occasion of the CPUSA's 94th anniversary.
Former state Senator Ed Gomes, a steelworker, state representative Edwin Vargas, a teacher, and
Laurie Kennington, president of Local 34 clerical and technical workers at Yale all accepted large framed posters of the Amistad statue that stands in front of New Haven City Hall, cheered on by family, friends, co-workers, elected officials and union and community leaders.
"They're trying to turn the working class into the working poor and the only ones who will stop it are people like you in this room," said Gomes, recalling his years working at Carpenter Steel in Local 2216 United Steel Workers in Bridgeport. It was enjoyable to serve in the Senate, he said, but his best experience was union organizing. He urged everyone to keep the pressure on elected officials to meet people's needs.
Stationed at Walter Reed Hospital at the time of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Gomes went to the rally. The experience changed his life. Gomes was among those featured in a video produced by AFT Connecticut shown as the audience arrived.
Rep. Edwin Vargas, who taught in the Hartford public schools for 35 years, serving as union president for part of that time, and in many national, state and local positions in union and Puerto Rican community organizations said that while he has received many awards, this one has special meaning because "this is an award from people who are the hard core of the movement."
Quoting Che Guevara that "the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love," Vargas elaborated on the fact that justice cannot be achieved without peace.
In his first term in the legislature this year, Vargas played a key role as a member of the Commerce Committee to win passage of a Commission on Connecticut's Future. The Commission includes labor, peace and environment representatives along with business, industry and education professionals and is mandated to study how the state's economy can be transitioned to production other than military, the predominant industry in Connecticut for decades.
Laurie Kennington, president of Local 34 Unite Here clerical and technical workers at Yale, likened the attack on L & M workers to actions by Yale and other corporate health centers in Connecticut that are sub-contracting work to non-union firms. "It could be divisive because health care workers are represented by different unions," she said, referring to AFT, 1199, AFSCME and Local 34. "But in this state I know we will come together." she said.
Praising the work of New Elm City Dream and the YCL over the last two years for jobs for youth and jobs for all, Kennington urged a commitment to fight unemployment in New Haven, and explained how everyone is affected. "The great wages that Local 34 members earn now have to cover more family members as husbands lose jobs and children come back home to live."
Local 34 along with sister locals 35 and GESO at Yale have been instrumental in encouraging and helping elect a majority of union members to the New Haven Board of Alders, and in electing Toni Harp as the first woman African American mayor. Harp was an Amistad Award recipient in 2012. The Alders have adopted the priorities of the community for jobs, the needs of youth and safe streets.
Kennington recognized her parents who had traveled from Durham, North Carolina to be present, and expressed her pride at the fact that they had been among the nearly 1,000 arrested during Moral Monday protests of right-wing legislation this summer.
The afternoon was punctuated by a youth rendition of Live Every Voice and Sing directed by Jill Marks, Puerto Rican music by Sonia Castro, Chilean songs by Juan and Rebecca Brito, and a rousing finale by Michael Mills Rhythms of the Heart drumming which involved the entire audience.
A highlight of the event was a slide show presented by the Young Communist League and New Elm City Dream with photos of the work and organizing for jobs they have carried out over the last two years.
The Amistad Awards are presented annually by the People's World on the occasion of the anniversary of the Communist Party USA.
"The People's World Amistad Awards lift up those who are marching on to inspire our movement to think bigger together and reach higher together," said Joelle Fishman, chair of the Connecticut CPUSA, in opening the program. She led a crowd chant of "People before Profits."
Caption: Fatima Rojas, UniteHere Local 215 organizer and former Amistad recipient, presents awards to Ed Gomes, Edwin Vargas and Laurie Kennington, while John Olsen, president emeritas Conn. AFL-CIO, looks on from back row. PW/Henry Lowendorf