CHICAGO — Amid exclamations of “Opa!” over flaming Greek saganaki, Puerto Rican ballads and “Solidarity Forever,” a packed Parthenon Restaurant hall rocked at the 18th Annual People’s Weekly World Banquet here, Dec. 4.

The multiracial, inter-generational audience included trade unionists, retirees, peace activists from several neighborhood peace groups, activists from civil rights organizations, the religious community and youth and students.

Judith Le Blanc, national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, keynoted the event. She noted the dramatic shift in public opinion against the war and the possibility to deliver a knockout blow to the ultra-right in the 2006 elections. She described the dramatic growth of the peace movement and especially the role of the military families and Iraq war veterans.

“The legislative arena has become the key arena of the battle to end the occupation,” said Le Blanc. She called for greater unity of labor and its allies in the African American, Latino and other minority communities with peace and religious forces in all the battles ahead.

“Too many people are engaged in far too many good things for the status quo to remain,” declared James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. Thindwa was one of four recipients of the Chris Hani/Rudi Lozano Award for exemplary leadership in the fight for democracy, peace and justice.

The others were Juan Torres of Gold Star Families for Peace, the Southwest Youth Collaborative and the Congress Hotel strikers, members of Unite Here, who have been on strike for over two years.

Torres, who had joined Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey in August and over the Thanksgiving weekend, said he was proud to have been arrested in Washington, D.C., at the White House twice and would happily do it again.

“Bush took my son. I have a new life now to help end this war,” said Torres. Sheehan was scheduled to join in honoring her close friend Torres, but was unable to make it.

Linda Sabo, an organizer for Unite Here, praised the coverage of the strike by the PWW and the actions of workers in struggle everywhere. The strikers, who were presented with flowers, also accepted a $100 check from the PWW for their strike fund.

The lively group attending from the Southwest Youth Collaborative reflected the diverse population around their community center, made up of African Americans, Latinos and Arab Americans. SWYC sent a large group of teenagers to Caracas, Venezuela, for the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students, several of whom accepted the award.

In other holiday PWW events, New York City held a pre-Thanksgiving luncheon honoring a people’s fighter, Frank Barbaro, whose history spans working and organizing on the Brooklyn waterfront, to marching against racist violence in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst section, to running for and holding political office, to becoming a state Supreme Court justice.

Optimism and faith in the future permeated the event. The keynote speaker was CPUSA Chair Sam Webb, who spoke on the subject “A Better World is Necessary: The Communist Party on Socialism Today.”

In Dallas, supporters of the PWW gathered at a local coffee shop Nov. 30. Listening to musician Sweet Lee Morrow and two speakers, the nearly 30 people at the event raised over $1,400.

In addition to Chicago’s banquet, Dec. 4 events were held in Connecticut and Philadelphia.

All told, holiday events so far have raised some $20,000 towards the goal of $150,000.

Jennifer Barnett and Dan Margolis contributed to this story.