NEW HAVEN, Conn. - "You gave voice to what I have been feeling for so long," exclaimed several participants in response to a speech by Raglan George, Executive Director of AFSCME District Council 1707.
The occasion was the 38th annual African American History Month celebration in Connecticut, hosted by the People's World.
Speaking to a packed hall, George decried the disrespect and racism expressed against President Barack Obama by the Republican leadership. "This has never been done to any president before," he said.
He also criticized Democrats who have not challenged the attacks on the country's first African American president and the racist atmosphere they create.
"The struggle for freedom, for jobs and for restructuring the way America works in 2012 is developing a popular front against some of the most sinister forces of capital and big business," said George.
"From the tea party that has been financed by the billionaire Koch brothers to the ugliest bunch of Republican candidates to ever hit the campaign trail, we will have to fight hard to keep them out of office. They repeatedly demonstrate a brutal arrogance toward working people. Without hesitation, they spew racist diatribes against African Americans and our Latino brothers and sisters," he said.
George recounted how his union is calling meetings with all members who are not registered to vote to discuss how their votes can make the difference in whether a candidate who wants to curtail union and civil rights is elected, or if someone who can be held accountable gets into office.
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest - Reclaiming the Struggle in 2012" was the theme of the events in Hartford and New Haven, which attracted diverse turnouts of 150 people.
Special tribute was paid to Henry Winston on the 100th anniversary of his birth. George, the son of immigrants from the Caribbean, began his working life in the Fur and Leather Workers Union. He interwove his own story with that of Winston, who organized African American youth in the south in the 1930s and became National Chair of the Communist Party USA in 1966.
Blind due to racist denial of health care while imprisoned for his ideas in the 1950s, Winston famously proclaimed, "They have taken my sight but they can never take my vision."
"If Winston were here today he would bring it all together with his concise insight and wit," said George. "His passion was to help young people find new paths to help working families," he said. "But Henry Winston is here today. We remember him and we must promote his legacy to the next generation so that the 200th celebration of his birth will even be more significant in a better society."
Both events included cultural presentations by area youth. The Hartford audience enjoyed performances by Union Cartel and New Elm City Dream.
In New Haven, prizes were awarded for the high school arts and writing competition sponsored annually by the People's World, as parents, sisters, brothers and teachers looked on.
All entries were published in a booklet and all participants received recognition certificates. The students submitted work on the theme "What is your vision for the future? How can being involved in the struggle for freedom and equality bring positive change to your life and the larger community?"
The Hispanic Heritage Dancers from Fair Haven School performed at the New Haven event along with songs by Scotticesa Marks, drumming by Brian Jarawa Gray and a performance by New Elm City Dream.
These events opened the Connecticut 2012 fund drive for the People's World. Contributions can be sent to:
37 Howe Street
New Haven, Conn. 06511
Photo: Hispanic Heritage Dancers perform "The Dream Personified" at African American History Month celebration in New Haven. Art Perlo/PW