CHICAGO — Hundreds gathered May 12 at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum here to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization (IPO) and to rejoice in the continued fighting spirit of political independence.

The IPO, the direct outcome of Black, white and Brown unity for progressive change, forged an independent democratic voice that culminated in the election of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983.

“This is not just a walk down memory lane,” emcee and IPO co-founder Ronelle Mustin declared. “We need to be prepared for the future. The ’07 and ’08 elections are coming and we have a lot of fighting to do.”

Co-founder Lupe Lozano read the organization’s mission: to “unite our communities and bring our people together in singleness of purpose for our mutual needs. And in the interest of the working people, elect accountable, democratic, and meaningful political representatives in a responsive and effective government.”

“Viva IPO,” she cried out, “Viva!”

Linda Coronado, another co-founder and emcee, paid tribute to Rudy Lozano, pioneer labor organizer, community activist and founding president of the IPO, who was murdered in the summer of 1983.

Shortly before his death Lozano, a key voice in mobilizing Latino voters to elect Washington, lost a race for 22nd Ward alderman by a small margin, during a time when there were very few Latino city councilmembers.

“We needed to build coalitions, white, Black, Latino and others,” said Coronado, “We needed to run someone, to get elected and organize, and it was Rudy’s vision, his collective struggle. He was not someone who wanted to move alone.”

Coronado added, “Education, immigration and housing were the essence of the IPO, built on the unity and respect needed to make significant change.” Many speakers greeted the immigrant rights upsurge and emphasized unity, especially African American and Latino unity, based on the communities’ common interests.

Illinois AFL-CIO Vice President Elwood Flowers stressed the IPO’s historic solidarity with the city’s labor movement. There continues to be an “attempt to pit the poor on the poor and we cannot permit that,” he said, asking, “Where is the plan to save the American people, on a national scale?” Flowers slammed the Iraq war as “unnecessary,” saying “We should not be there.”

Former state senator and IPO leader Jesus “Chuy” Garcia highlighted the IPO’s leadership in building multiracial working-class unity and fighting racist ideology, especially anti-African American racism.

He called Washington’s 1983 mayoral victory a leading “example that remains an important blueprint for all America” — a true reform movement based on equity and on electing more Latinos, African Americans and women to political office.

22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz said he believes Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won election last year because he was backed by a “new majority” Black, Brown and white labor-led coalition. Chicago’s way forward “must be based on unity, equality and community empowerment,” he added. “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

“The IPO started out as a youth group,” said youth organizer Samuel Garcia, “and the struggle has to have the nutrients in the roots to grow the grass.”

He then urged everyone to help bring one young person into the IPO movement.

“There ain’t no stopping us now!” he shouted. “Si se puede!”