Overflow crowd at Peoples World celebration in New York

NEW YORK – The Friends of the People’s World hosted its yearly fundraiser Dec. 8, the Better World Awards.

This year was an exceptional one; the Friends of the People’s World hosted the event for an overflow audience at the Henry Winston Auditorium. Our Honorees were exceptional ­­– as they always are — but being a participant at Sunday’s event was truly special, special because one could envision a world without racism.

The diversity of the participants, black, brown and white of various ages, was absolutely wonderful; not only did it show the power of the movement that is changing the politics and economics of America but it showed too the idea that socialism is on the minds of many ordinary citizens.

Estevan Bassett-Nembhard, New York City organizer for the CPUSA, opened the event with the message, “Let it be said that, in the 2013 elections, voters in the five boroughs put the 1 percent on notice. Reaching consensus on jobs not jails, schools not corporate tax breaks. The voters of the city voted to move our city in a new direction.” The audience broke out into chants of “Yes we can.”

Joelle Fishman, host of the event and chair of CPUSA’s Political Action Commission, introduced the honorees. “I am very honored and excited to be here today at the Better World Awards to share your celebration of the great election victory in New York that has captured the attention of the entire country,” said Fishman. “This election is a victory over racism. It is a victory over stop and frisk. It is a victory over 20 years of direct Wall St. rule. But it is only a beginning. To realize the possibilities, everyone here has an important part to play going forward.”

She then proceed to introduce and deliver the awards to Raglan George, Zakiyah Ansari and Lethy Liriano and the lifetime achievement award to Vinie Burrows and Ellen Perlo.

Bettie Smith, president of International Publishers, introduced Vinie Burrows, the accomplished actor who has given over 6,000 performances, on and off-Broadway. Burrows is a member of Dramatists Guild and representative for the Women’s International Democratic Federation to the United Nations. Ms. Burrows paid tribute to Nelson Mandela.

“I object to the sanitizing of Mandela’s militant beginnings in the papers of record,” Burrows said. “Yes, he forgave his oppressors but after he defeated them.”

Ellen Perlo’s son, Art, spoke in loving admiration of his mother’s life’s work; a lifetime member of the Communist Party, working for a more just and peaceful world. While nourishing her passion for justice and equality she assisted her husband Victor — world-renowned economist and author in researching and editing his work. At 98, she continues to produce art and participates in the work of the Party.

Honoree Lethy Liriano, thanked her parents for giving her direction which motivated her to graduate college and fulfill her dream. She is the Founder & Program Director of WHAM, the Washington Heights Artist Movement. WHAM provides the opportunity for children to pursue their dreams in the arts.

From humble beginnings to advocacy director with the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, to member of the new mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio’s transition team. Zakiyah Ansari, BWA honoree, told an extraordinary story of awareness and accomplishment.

Zakiyah was one of two New York City Coalition for Educational Justice parent leaders appointed to the City Council Task Force on Middle Schools. The Task Force led to recommendations adopted by the NYC Department of Education and the Campaign for Middle School Success. As a result, more than $30 million has gone to some of the lowest-performing middle grade schools to support school improvement efforts.

Executive Vice Chair of the CPUSA, Jarvis Tyner, introduced the keynote speaker, Raglan George, Jr., Executive Director of District Council 1707. Rags, as he is known, was born and raised in new York City and has been active in the labor movement for over 40 years.

His union represents childcare workers; those who are expected to give the very young their first or pre-school exposure to a well-rounded education.

He quoted Nelson Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

“We live in New York City.” George said. “Millions of our children are being mis-educated and hundreds of thousands of our children have been unlawfully stopped and frisked and have been made sub-human by the authorities. New York City has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation for young people of color. Under the Bloomberg Administration the homeless rate has risen 13 percent.”

He continued: “We applaud the election of Bill di Blasio, Tish James and Scott Stringer. Di Blasio’s nearly fifty point vote over Republican Joe Lhota gives us a mandate that New Yorkers want safe, affordable and quality child care for our children. And we must do everything in our power to insure that the coming administration succeeds against the naysayers who continually want to diminish the public service sector. Di Blasio will be under tremendous pressure from capital, the right and the commercial press to mitigate his goals, but we must stay focused and support him.”

The Awards given to the recipients read, simply:

We ask for nothing that is not right, and herein lies the great power of our demand.”

-Paul Robeson

Photo: Estevan Bassett-Nembhard opens the day’s event. SmugMug/People’s World


Gabe Falsetta
Gabe Falsetta

Long-time social justice activist Gabe Falsetta writes from New York City.