NEW HAVEN, CONN - The Voices for Jobs, Equality & Peace - People's World Amistad Awards Concert held here on Sunday was an extraordinary event, with those who attended saying they were inspired and "fired up and ready to go."
James Hillhouse High School auditorium was filled with the fabulous jazz sounds of Jeff Fuller & Friends, labor songs by Bill Collins of the Rabble Rousers, and poetry by Baub Bidon and Ken Brown.
People's World Amistad awardees John Olsen, president of Connecticut's AFL CIO, Carmen Boudier, president of New England 1199, and Juan Figueroa, president of Universal Health Care Foundation reflected on their years of commitment and called for stepped up unity and struggle in the tough times ahead for working people.
The program opened with a welcome from student members of the Young Communist League who explained that they became involved because they want to make the world more fair and equal.
In her welcome, Joelle Fishman, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party USA, called "holding extension of unemployment benefits for two million people hostage so a handful of billionaires can get even more tax breaks" an indictment of the Republicans and "an indictment of the capitalist system that is based on insatiable greed."
She said to applause, "The way to solve the deficit is put people back to work, repair our communities, open youth centers, invest in public education and health care, strengthen Social Security, pass comprehensive immigration reform, end the wars and redirect those funds to rebuild our nation's infrastructure."
Carmen Boudier was greeted with a standing ovation by a large group of striking Spectrum nursing home workers who have been on the picket lines for eight months. "I accept this award," she said "on behalf of the workers and the struggles that we face."
Juan Figueroa recounted his youth in Cialis, Puerto Rico where his father taught him about social justice. Figueroa was the first Puerto Rican to run for Governor in Connecticut. "If you followed my campaign," he said, "That's where I got those values." He is now leading the effort for a public health care option in Connecticut.
"Anyone who stands with me for workers' rights, I stand with them," said John Olsen to loud applause as he acknowledged the Communist Party and took a strong stand against fear mongering and baiting, including the anti-socialist baiting of President Barack Obama.
In the call to action, Fishman recalled Martin Luther King's statement that "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle," and suggested his birthday on January 15 would be an appropriate time to launch a broad united program for jobs and the 2012 elections.
The AFL CIO and local unions are now developing their legislative agendas. For the first time in 22 years, a Democratic governor was elected in Connecticut. It is widely recognized that union members made the difference in voter turnout.
However, especially with the state budget crisis, grass roots organizing will be needed to forestall cuts and layoffs and to demand expanded revenues by taxing the very rich.
Commenting on the event, one participant wrote on Facebook, "it was politically and musically awesome! The food was excellent as well!"
This was the tenth year that People's World Amistad awards have been presented on the occasion of the anniversary of the Communist Party USA. This concert was the culmination of the 90th anniversary year.
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Photo: YCL members welcome the audience to Hillhouse High School in New Haven. PW