People’s World Amistad Awards honor Connecticut fighters for justice and solidarity
2023 People's World Amistad Awardees Sen. Gary Winfield; Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, president AFSCME Council 4; and Luis Luna, coalition manager Husky 4 Immigrants.

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Solidarity and joy filled the air, along with a determination to continue the struggle for justice, at the 2023 People’s World Amistad Awards held in New Haven on Dec. 10. Under the theme, “It’s an ‘Enough is Enough’ Moment—Time to Organize,” a diverse crowd of union and community leaders, grassroots activists, elected officials, and youth from across Connecticut came together at the annual event, which also marks the anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding.

The program started on a high note as the Unite Here unions at Yale welcomed the audience in the packed sanctuary of First and Summerfield United Methodist Church to their historic home. Barbara Vereen and Ken Suzuki, leaders of Local 34, announced the 40th anniversary celebration of their union. Paul Seltzer, a leader of Local 33, announced to a standing ovation that the 3,000-member graduate workers union just signed a tentative agreement with the university for its first contract after a 30-year organizing effort.

The Amistad Awards bear the symbolic name of the 50 men who forcefully carved their liberation from the cargo hold of the slave ship Amistad in 1839. While being unwillingly shipped to an apocalypse of forced labor, the 50 men of the Amistad broke their chains, fought their captors, and seized their freedom. Seized and imprisoned in Connecticut where the ship landed, the captives won the support of abolitionists and affirmed their freedom in a legal battle that reached the Supreme Court, a result of the Black and white unity forged in their defense.

2023 People’s World Amistad Awardees Sen. Gary Winfield; Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, president AFSCME Council 4; and Luis Luna, coalition manager Husky 4 Immigrants. | Henry Lowendorf / PW

In this spirit, the awardees are chosen because they embody solidarity against the politics of hate, bigotry, and division while embracing bold solutions to transform our country and put people, peace, and planet before profits.

The three working-class champions honored this year for their achievements and hard-fought struggles for dignity, unity, and solidarity were State Sen. Gary Winfield, Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, President of AFSCME Council 4, and Luis Luna, coalition manager of Husky 4 Immigrants. Each was presented with the large framed Amistad Award by a former awardee along with a proclamation from the Connecticut General Assembly.

Renowned jazz drummer and reggae percussionist Pheeroan akLaff and his band kept the energy upbeat during the event, with lyrics calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and no war. The event included a rendition of “El Colas,” an indigenous Mexican song of solidarity and resistance, performed by Son Chaneques Rebeldes, a project of the Semilla Collective.

The awardees reflected on the struggle to grow the united front, the present threat to democracy, and the work that needs to be done to continue the people’s struggle.

A year of struggle, a year of victories

Luis Luna said the significance of the ongoing struggle for health care as a human right being led by Husky 4 Immigrants is shown by the fact that the victory winning health care coverage regardless of immigration status for children up to age 15 has already expanded eligibility to over 12,000 immigrants in Connecticut’s Medicare program.

Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, whose extraordinary leadership in her union and as an educator broke new barriers with her election as the first African American woman president of AFSCME Council 4 (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), said she is “pulling chairs up to the table” for people of color to join union leadership. As she spoke, her union’s members proudly applauded in support.

Following the awards presentation, event attendees stood in solidarity with members of the Blake Street Tenants Union, who revealed the fantastic results of their organizing, which has forced mega-landlord Ocean Management in New Haven to stop eviction proceedings, recognize the union, and negotiate a contract, now being finalized, that governs rent increases and protections. The Connecticut Tenant Union said they are organizing renters across the state.

Threat of fascism, the fight continues

Each awardee provided warnings from their organizations that the working class is confronting a period of fascist danger. They explained how that danger impacts their specific work, and explained what people’s organizations are doing to push back. The work moving forward revolves around defeating the right wing at the ballot box so the people’s movement in Connecticut can continue to grow and achieve material gains for working-class communities.

Pheeroan akLaff and band kept high energy with their wonderful performance. | Neal Thomassen / PW

Sen. Winfield related the ongoing struggle against the far-right with the historic struggle for the liberation of the African-American community. Sharing his own family history, he noted the African American community is not far removed from slavery, saying the equality struggle is one of people forcibly stolen from Africa, only to be brought to a land that was forcibly stolen from Native Americans. That history created the economic and social conditions that unleash violence on the streets today. Calling for organizing to fight for freedom he said, “We cannot wait.”

Luna warned of far-right organizing around the 2024 election with a step-by-step plan to roll back people’s programs. He warned that the right-wing “Project 2025,” if implemented, would target migrant communities and undermine much of the progress already made in Connecticut by Husky 4 Immigrants.

Speaking in a similar vein, Harris-Byrdsong warned that the far-right is pushing to roll back the hard-fought gains by teachers unions in public schools. Harris-Byrdsong said, “We need a united front to protect our communities and schools” from projects that seek, for example, to prevent teachers from teaching history—“the good, bad, and brutal.”

Calling for equity and justice in education, she said, “It will take every one of us, together, unapologetic for our advocacy, to transform our public schools in Connecticut.”


Over 100 unions, coalitions, and individuals published messages of solidarity in the 2023 Amistad Awards program book celebrating the awardees, with proceeds benefiting People’s World.

The event embodied a clear call for continued efforts to push back against the bosses’ old trick of red-baiting, division, and fear. In honor of the anniversary of the Communist Party, a video, “Communist Party at 104: Labor Tributes,” featured nine union leaders extending congratulations to the Communist Party and appreciation of the solidarity received during organizing drives, strikes, and community struggles over many decades.

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party, gave the call to action along with Jahmal Henderson. | Neal Thomassen / PW

Winfield reflected that many great African American civil rights leaders were either Communists or worked closely with Communists in the freedom struggle, rejecting anti-Communism outright and tying that historic example to today’s struggle.

“Let’s refuse to be divided! Together and organized, we can achieve anything,” said Joelle Fishman and Jahmal Henderson, representing the Communist Party in a call to action that concluded the event.

Congratulating the awardees, they said, “The beauty and power of the People’s World Amistad Awards is the transformational movement we are all building together for the future we need and want. Si Se Puede! Yes We Can!”

The event opened and closed with a call for a ceasefire in the ongoing Israeli war on Palestine, with those in attendance signing postcards to Congress demanding a ceasefire.

WATCH the full event here.

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C.D. Carlson
C.D. Carlson

C.D. Carlson writes from Connecticut.

Jahmal Henderson
Jahmal Henderson

Jahmal Henderson is a community organizer at Newhallville in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also a graphic art designer.