PWW events salute peoples leaders

Dec. 3 was a day the People’s Weekly World can be proud of. Still celebrating the results of the Nov. 7 elections, readers held banquets and dinners in various places across the country, attracting elected officials, leaders of people’s movements and rank-and-file fighters for justice and democracy.

A highlight of the Northern California banquet in Oakland was hearing former Daily Worker sports editor Lester Rodney, now an energetic 95. He told the multigenerational, multiracial audience about the years-long struggle to integrate Major League Baseball, leading up to Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947.

Calling Robinson “a great American hero,” Rodney, who anchored the Worker’s sports desk from 1936 to 1958, told how Robinson, despite abuse including from opposing players, led his team to the pennant — a feat Rodney called “the most amazing and courageous feat in the history of American sports.”

“Jackie Robinson changed baseball, and when you’ve changed baseball in this country, you’ve changed this country!” said Rodney.

Other honored guests included anti-nuclear-weapons leader Jackie Cabasso, the Blue Diamond Workers Organizing Committee and two Sacramento-based immigrant rights coalitions. All received certificates from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee as well as from Friends of the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo.

In Connecticut, guests packed the New Haven People’s Center to “Carry the People’s Election Victories Forward” and honor three activist leaders.

Merrilee Milstein, one of the original organizers of the dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) in 1973 and former Northeast deputy regional director of the AFL-CIO, was presented with the “Amistad” award by John Olsen, president of the state AFL-CIO, and Mamie Evans, a longtime dietary worker at YNHH. Milstein called for support of 1,800 additional YNHH workers in their unionization vote Dec. 20-21.

Roger Vann, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and former state president of the NAACP, was presented with an award by Emanuel Gomez, a retired Winchester worker, and John Jairo Lugo of Unidad Latina en Acción, for his courageous efforts for all working people, including immigrant workers.

Also honored was the Rev. Emilio Hernandez, of Knowing God Ministries and the Connecticut Center for a New Economy. Hernandez has organized Hispanic, African American and white clergy in support of workers at YNHH.

Michael Bayer, treasurer of the Vermont Progressive Party, spoke about left Independent Bernie Sanders’ election to the U.S. Senate as a fighter for working-class people. Bayer also stressed the continuing need to pressure Congress for universal health care, minimum wage increases, the right to belong to a union and the return of U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Events were held in other cities as well, including Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. In New York, Rep. Major Owens and Betty Smith, president of International Publishers, were honored.

Long-established PWW friends groups were not the only ones to hold successful events. On Dec. 11, PWW business manager and UN correspondent Dan Margolis spoke at the kickoff meeting of the Washington, D.C., Friends of the PWW. Community members, including a group of progressive Salvadorans, joined with labor activists to hold the kickoff event.

Jeff Elkner and Arturo Griffiths, who organized the kickoff, said that they were looking forward to having their group become an established force in the D.C. community.

Marilyn Bechtel and Dorothy Johnson contributed to this story.