People’s World Amistad Awards rally inspires unity for 2020
Joelle Fishman, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party, receives special recognition on the 100th anniversary CPUSA. | Ross Miller

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—There was electricity in the air at New Haven City Hall on Dec. 14 as seats throughout the long Atrium filled up for the People’s World Amistad Awards hosted on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party USA. African drums and dancers led a procession with the awardees in a rousing open to the rally program.

Standing ovations, applause, and singing punctuated speakers and performers as they addressed the theme “Rise Up—Unite 2020.: People and Planet Before Profits.”

“To effectively repel this multi-faceted affront on the ideals that unite us, we must, simply, rise up and unite,” said Mayor Toni Harp who set the tone in welcoming everyone to City Hall.

“We must restore people to their proper place before profits, we must prioritize our common good ahead of personal gain, and we must convince others to join us in this collective effort for the good of the planet—and for the good of all that depends upon it.”

Mayor Toni Harp welcomes everyone to City Hall. | Ross Miller

The historic location, beautifully decorated, was the site where the Amistad captives of 1839 were held before their trial, and where the Amistad statue is now placed, symbolizing solidarity and courage in the ongoing freedom struggle.

Emcees Lisa Bergmann and Ben McManus recognized those who are in the midst of the big struggles of today, including climate justice protesters and students at Wilbur Cross High School who are rallying behind their classmate, Mario Aguilar, who is being held by ICE. Cosobi Mendoza, age 13, wowed the audience with several guitar selections, leading into the presentation of the awards.

Awardees inspired the crowd as they spoke passionately about their work and vision. Each awardee was presented with the large framed award picturing the Amistad statue. After each made their remarks, Mayor Harp presented a citation.

Rochelle Palache, political director of 32 BJ SEIU, declaring the rights of all workers to decent wages and benefits, called for support of building cleaners across the state who had voted unanimously that morning to strike if they don’t get a contract by Jan. 1. One week later, the workers won a contract that includes a fair wage increase and protects health benefits.

Rochelle Palache (center) receives award presented by former awardees Shellye Davis and Ciro Gutierrez

John Humphries, director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, issued a grim warning about the science of climate change and climate disaster. He called for an urgent, collective response emphasizing the importance of a program that prioritizes jobs and social justice and includes unions at the table.

Ken Suzuki, secretary treasurer of Local 34 UNITE HERE unions at Yale, was key in shaping the pipeline from Black and Latino neighborhoods to permanent jobs at Yale, recently won after years of organizing. He spoke of important influences in his life that moved him to become active in forming, and then leading, the clerical and technical workers union.

After Jill Marks and the Movement Band got everyone singing “Rise Up,” a special recognition was given to Joelle Fishman for 50 years of leadership on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party USA.

A slideshow of Fishman’s candidacies and solidarity presence at rallies, picket lines, and hearings over decades was followed with presentation of a citation of appreciation and a plaque from the New Haven Board of Alders. In addition to her citation, several days later Mayor Harp presented Fishman, along with nine others, with a Key to the City.

Awardee John Humphries received citation from Mayor Toni Harp. | Ross Miller

Surrounded by a diverse group of members, Fishman mentioned campaigns and victories won over the Communist Party’s 100 years and focused her recollections on her own past 50 years of organizing, unity building, and solidarity to improve the lives of the diverse working class people of Connecticut.

She concluded her remarks with a call to action, greeted with a standing ovation:

“Today, we are challenged to stand up together as never before to stop the dangerous anti-democratic attacks at home and abroad led by the Trumpites and demand basic human rights,” she said. “We have many voices, one struggle.”

Speaking of the long term struggle, she continued, “As we build a growing resistance to defeat cruel and vicious Trumpism, the “triple evils” of capitalism described by Martin Luther King, Jr.—greed, racism, and militarism—are in clear view for everyone to see. It’s time for something better. People around the world are rising up for their own destiny.

Awardee Ken Suzuki displays picket sign from 1984 recognition strike of Local 34 Unite Here. | Ross Miller

“Impeach Now or Dump Trump in 2020 is our immediate mission, but it is just the beginning,” she said. “Our society needs to be restructured with a Green New Deal to address climate change with public works jobs, guaranteed income, healthcare, and investment in front line communities instead of war.

“Yes, the Communist Party agrees that socialism’s time has come. Those who create the wealth should decide the priorities,” she said to loud applause, concluding with a few lines from poet Langston Hughes: “I been starvin’ too long. Ain’t you?  Let’s go Revolution.”

The audience joined in a chant of “People, Peace, and Planet Before Profits.”

As everyone filed out to enjoy refreshments, Brian Jarawa Gray and Friends completed their drum and dance performance in the lobby.

The People’s World Amistad Awards event brought together diverse grassroots community and union members and leaders, elected officials, and former awardees. Participation was reflected in an 84-page greeting book that raised funds for the People’s World fund drive.

Brian Jarawa Gray and Friends open the program with African drumming and dance. | Ross Miller

Over the last 18 years, the Awards have become an institution in the state’s progressive community. The success is a result of a collective teamwork effort with many volunteers and former awardees devoting time and energy to create an event that raises the level of struggle to higher ground for the coming year.

The People’s World Amistad Awards are presented annually to three allies who, as a group and as individuals, personify courage, vision, and unity for a better world. The 2019 Awards were presented in the spirit of building a renewed, united grassroots movement to put people and planet before profits. The Awards embody solidarity against the politics of hate, bigotry, and division, while inspiring the possibility to win bold solutions to transform our country on behalf of working people for a sustainable, equal, and peaceful future.

Photos from the event are available at the Facebook event page “People’s World Amistad Awards 2019.” Remarks are being posted at ctpeoplebeforeprofits.blogspot.com. A full video of the event will be made available before the end of the year.

Joelle Fishman receives special recognition surrounded by comrades. | Ross Miller

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CONTRIBUTOR

Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.

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