CHICAGO - Not even the bitter cold weather could stop more than 100 labor, community, religious, environmental and equal rights activists from celebrating the People's World 23rd Annual Banquet here Dec. 5.
Despite the frigid temperatures outside supporters turned up the heat for justice inside as they wined and dined at the Lee Wing Wah restaurant in Chinatown honoring this year's theme, "Let's put people back to work: Rebuild America."
The event was dedicated to two great women who recently died: Dr. Margaret Burroughs, artist and co-founder of the historic DuSable Museum of African American history; and veteran peace and justice activist Joan Elbert.
Katie Jordan, president of Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women, welcomed all and said of the internationally-celebrated Burroughs that she "was adamant about her legacy and the legacy of African American people. She taught that our roots were not born in slavery, but born in the heart of a land that had kings and queens."
(Burroughs, who regularly attended banquets and once received the Hani-Lozano award, believed art was a vital weapon for social change, often donated her artwork to worthy causes including the People's World.)
Jessica Marshall, a Chicago native and high school teacher, emceed the program. "We might have had some setbacks in the midterm elections but those of us here won't let up. We're not going anywhere when it comes to fighting for justice," she said.
"And during the holiday season there are a lot of people hurting right now. The voice of the unemployed and underemployed must be heard."
Keynote speaker Susan Hurley, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, said the economic crisis was brought on by the greed of Wall Street and big banks, and they should be held accountable for the millions who suffer with no jobs and little recovery.
Hurley said she got started in the fight for workers' rights and social justice through her mom, who comes from the "Evangelical tradition" and the Depression-era where waste of resources was unthinkable.
"Wasting human potential in the richest country of the world is unimaginable and morally outrageous. To think that Republicans in Washington want tax cuts for the nation's most wealthy Americans while millions are left out in the cold is morally outrageous," she said.
Lawmakers ought to be fighting tooth and nail for the needs of hard working families nationwide, including jobs creation and extending unemployment benefits, she said.
"Everyday people are struggling to make ends meet and we at Jobs with Justice and our allies are fighting for what is just and demanding it now," said Hurley.
Special greetings were delivered by Joe Iosbaker, one of 17 peace and justice activists whose homes were raided by the FBI in search of evidence of "material support for terrorism," and were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Iosbaker announced the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald issued three new subpoenas on Dec. 5.
Iosbaker said freedom of speech and association were at stake in this fight. He expressed his admiration for communists, socialists and labor and peace activists who had fought the McCarthy witch hunts.
The People's World honors grassroots organizations and individual leaders every year for their outstanding efforts in the fight for peace, worker's rights and social justice. The award is named in honor of South Africa's Chris Hani and Chicago's Rudy Lozano, two leaders who gave their lives in the fight to advance people's democracy, peace and justice.
Besides Hurley, those honored were Rick Garcia with Equality Illinois, the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, and the Immigrant Youth Justice League, an instrumental network of undocumented youth who have "come out of the shadows" and are fighting for immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
Garcia is recognized as a key leader who fought and won passage of same-sex civil union legislation. Equality Illinois is a statewide group that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people. Garcia said he and the organization's field director both come out of the labor movement. "I was trained by Cesar Chavez," he said.
Garcia said the victory is sweet but "we still have a lot of work ahead of us" on equality for same-sex couples, bullying and outreach to gay and lesbian youth.
Tony Fuller, on behalf of Sierra Club, accepted the award and outlined the grassroots effort by the organization to join with others to fight for green jobs and pass the citywide Clean Power Ordinance, aimed at cleaning up the harmful coal-burning power plants in the city.
The banquet is a mixture of food, speeches and music. Interspersed throughout the program were local artists, Jugo De Mango, and educator Amina Norman-Hawkins of Chicago Hip-Hop Initiative.
CeaseFire's Hardiman spoke about his organization's effort to prevent violence and work directly with young people and gangs. He announced the director of "Hoop Dreams," Steve James, has a new movie called "The Interrupters," which will premier at the Sundance Film Festival next year. The movie tells the story of the work by this Chicago-based group to "interrupt" the cycle of violence before it starts.
While the Chicago awards focus on statewide and local struggles, the publication has a nationwide audience. John Wojcik, People's World labor editor, read a message from a Louisiana labor leader thanking the publication for its coverage of the BP oil spill and the spill's impact on working families of the Gulf Coast.
Photo: Susan Hurley delivers keynote remarks. (Pepe Lozano/PW)