CHICAGO - They came to celebrate election victories in Ohio and across the country, the surging recall campaign in Wisconsin and the spreading Occupy movement.
Labor and community activists, elected officials, readers and supporters of the PeoplesWorld.org and MundoPopular.org gathered here Nov. 20th, for the annual banquet bash at the Parthenon Restaurant. They feasted on sumptuous Greek food and honored heroes of the growing labor and people's movement.
Keynote speaker Ed Sadlowski, Jr., a leader of Wisconsin AFSCME and Madison capitol occupation described the exploding movement to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and restore democracy and worker's rights to the state. He said the right-wing assault predictably has brought massive labor unrest.
He told how the labor movement was making life unbearable for Walker by following him wherever he went including to Kansas City.
"He's made our lives miserable and we're making his miserable," said Sadlowski.
The roots of the labor movement run deep, he said. Sadlowski credited his own "class struggle" education to his steelworker family and many of those present he had worked with over the years.
"Something's terribly wrong when 1% of the population controls 40% of the nation's wealth," said Congressman Danny Davis, D-Ill., who appeared on behalf of his longtime friend Brenetta Howell Barrett.
Barrett was one of those receiving the Rudy Lozano-Chris Hani Social Justice award.
Davis said it was the steadfastness of fighters like Barrett, who had been in every fight he could recount, that the movement for justice and equality would be successful.
Barrett, who among other things is a leader of Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, a former commissioner in Mayor Harold Washington's administration and trailblazing fighter for political independence, said it was critical to reelect Pres. Barack Obama in 2012 and blasted the racist attacks on him.
"Everyone needs to be involved in that fight if we are to have any meaningful change," said Barrett, who it was noted was a master of combining street heat with political and electoral action.
"One. We are the people. Two. We are the united. Three. We are not leaving," chanted Occupy Chicago activists as they came forward to address the crowd. Using the "human mic" they described the growing fight against corporate greed. Each of the 8 young people, all of whom had been arrested demonstrating for freedom of speech and assembly, explained why they had become involved and couldn't sit on the sidelines while Wall Street ran rampant over people's lives.
Enlace, a community group in the Little Village neighborhood was another group honored. Director Michael Rodriguez said he was proud of the role the group played in getting Cook County to stop cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in detaining undocumented workers for potential deportation. Enlace was also a leader of the fight for passage of the Illinois DREAM Act.
Also honored was Mark Clements, a Chicago Police torture victim who spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He urged those present to continue working with him and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to exonerate all the wrongfully committed and bring full justice to those tortured.
Janet Edburg and Gregory McLaughlin, activists with the South Halsted Unemployed Action Center, urged guests to contact Sen. Mark Kirk and demand he support extension of unemployment benefits and the Obama Jobs for America Act.
In between the food and speeches, some marvelous musical performers entertained guests. Emcee and co-editor of the People's World Terrie Albano noted there was a folk music revival taking place as part of the growing anti-corporate movements.
Visiting from Los Angeles, Laura Cambron performed Son Jarocho, a traditional musical style from Vera Cruz. Also rocking the house were the Hardwood Boys complete with banjo, guitar, washboard and a washtub base. The group performed "If I Had a Hammer" and other folk and labor classics.
Participants donated generously to help make sure the PeoplesWorld.org continues its mission to give voice to labor and community grassroots struggles rising across the land. Everyone left exuberant after a closing rendition of "Solidarity Forever."
Photo: Brenetta Howell Barrett, left, accepts the Rudy Lozano-Chris Hani Social Justice award presented by PeoplesWorld.org co-editor Teresa Albano. (Gregory A. Vlahos)