Celebrating unity, struggle and vision

This is abridged from an April 15 speech accepting the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from the Connecticut National Organization for Women.

Thank you, Connecticut NOW, for standing up, standing strong and standing firm. There is no choice but to stand up and be counted at a time when all we have fought for and won is in danger of being hijacked. How wonderful to receive an award named for Eleanor Roosevelt. She stepped forward to oppose lynchings and racism. She supported the right of workers to form unions. She developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stood up for every person’s human right to food, health care, housing and public education. She was an ambassador for peace and justice in the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt represents the best of our nation’s history and struggles. She was a catalyst, but she did not create victories on her own. She responded to the great mass movements that arose from the pain and suffering of her generation. It is up to us to organize the mass movements of today that can turn the tide.

In that spirit, I am proud to accept the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, not just for myself. This recognition is for passionate grass roots freedom fighters — long distance runners — who won’t give up, and won’t give in — a working class movement, propelled by a commitment to justice and a vision of equality, that I have had the privilege to be part of and to represent.

In choosing to recognize a leader of the Communist Party, NOW strikes a mighty blow against red-baiting — as well as a blow against race-baiting, gay-baiting, immigrant-baiting, union-baiting and all fear-mongering and bigotry. That is a blow against the extreme right-wing Bush agenda.

The Bush administration is doing all it can to drag our country backward against the will of the people. But we will not be dragged backward. Protest and organization is in the air. NOW and other women’s groups are in the mix, with labor playing its key role, alongside African American and Latino organizations. That core alliance is the winning recipe from which to reach out widely and bring in everybody who is being hurt.

From the administration’s use of wedge issues to local attempts to buy off people and organizations, unity doesn’t come easy. But it is with unity that the people can win!

In New Haven, a new groundbreaking kind of unity has been forged around the slogan “all for one and one for all.” The community as a whole, Black, Latino and

white, is standing up for its many needs, and demanding a Community Benefits Agreement with Yale New Haven Hospital. It was thrilling to attend the meeting in my ward. Neighborhood residents, including several hospital workers, shared their concerns about housing, traffic, jobs and the right to organize a union. The new leaders who conducted the meeting, African American women, told elected officials sharply that the hospital’s attempts to divide the community from the union would fail because the community and union demands are one and the same.

These courageous women and men are organizing for their human right to choose a union, to raise their living standards and raise up the community as a whole.

We all need each other to defeat the right-wing agenda. There are a lot of survival issues, none more important for women than Social Security. After Bush’s big lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, many people do not believe his second big lie that Social Security is in crisis.

Privatization of Social Security can be a turning point issue. The fight to save Social Security exposes Bush’s “ownership society.” The fundamental problems facing us, including public education, health care and retirement, as well as the deep inequalities, cannot be solved individually. They must be addressed socially.

Over a quarter of all children have unmet needs in Connecticut, the richest state. The Bush cuts in programs and tax gifts to the wealthy make the crisis worse. The proposal for an End Child Poverty Social Investment Fund financed with a 2 percent tax on the portion of income over $200,000 would change that situation and benefit whole communities. This bill, SB 1244, speaks to our hopes and dreams and sense of justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a champion of Social Security and entitlements for children. In her spirit, following the original intent of the program, we should not only save, but extend Social Security to include comprehensive, universal health care.

Out of organizing to defend what we have, comes a vision of a society without exploitation based on peace and equality. The connection between our immediate struggle and our vision for the future was beautifully expressed a century ago in the song from the Bread and Roses strike of women textile workers in Lawrence, Mass.:

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall. The rising of the women means the rising of us all. No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes, But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses. Yes the people can win!





Joelle Fishman (joelle.fishman@pobox.com) is chair of the Connecticut Communist Party USA.