Banquet honors struggle for peace, equality

CHICAGO — More than 130 people came to celebrate the People’s Weekly World’s “80 years of struggle” and to hear Military Families Speak Out co-founder Fernando Suarez del Solar on Jan. 16 here. The PWW honored organizations that contributed outstanding work in the fight to defeat Bush and the ultraright during the 2004 elections. The life, legacy and birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also celebrated.

Keynote speaker Suarez del Solar lost his only son, Marine Lance Corporal Jesus A. Suarez del Solar Navarro, the first week of the Iraq war. He was killed when he stepped on an unexploded illegal cluster bomb dropped by the U.S. military.

Fernando, who started Proyecto Guerrero Azteca (Aztec Warrior Project) in memory of his son and “so many others,” gave powerful testimony about his son’s experience in the military and the family’s struggle to find out the truth about his death. Suarez del Solar blasted the lies of the Bush administration and military recruiters. His story hits home for many immigrant youth, who fight for equal opportunities in higher education and the right to employment, and often join the military for those opportunities.

While Suarez del Solar was in Chicago he also spoke to high school students at the Progressive Latino Institute and to hundreds of thousands of people during an hour-long interview on Telemundo, a Spanish language TV station, and in interviews on Chicago Public Radio and other mass media. He also spoke at a community meeting at St. Pius Church in the Mexican American community of Pilsen, organized by the Committee Against Militarization of Youth. The audience included a number of Latino military families. On Sunday he returned to speak at the morning and evening masses.

The banquet guests enjoyed chatting with one another over soft salsa music played by a DJ during dinner. Susan Webb, PWW opinion page editor, emceed the event. Dee Myles, a leader of the Communist Party of Illinois, spoke about the importance of remembering the civil rights movement for equality and the fight to fulfill the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King declared to the world.

Educator Sijisfredo Aviles, who was a draft resister during the Vietnam War and served time in prison for that courageous stance, sang two touching songs about the movement for change where, in the end, “we shall overcome.” The banquet also highlighted the energetic and inspiring youth ensemble Kuumba Lynx, featuring 12 youth who presented poetry, music and dance that spoke to the courage displayed by a growing number of youth fighting for a better world.

The Chris Hani/Rudy Lozano Award was presented to Suarez del Solar and to organizations that did outstanding work during the 2004 elections. They included the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Peace and Justice Voters/Chicagoans Against War and Injustice, Electrical Workers Minority Caucus of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Cook County Women Vote and the National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

As people arrived the banquet room was chilly. It was one of Chicago’s coldest winter days with frigid temperatures. But as one guest said, there is the warmth of the people here, who are commited to the struggle for peace and justice. The room eventually warmed up.

The banquet raised $13,500 for the People’s Weekly World, benefiting greatly by a $10,000 gift from a reader.