Working Together for Justice
By Bob Roman
"Working Together for Justice"
was the theme of the 51st Annual Eugene V. Debs Norman Thomas
Michael Harrington Dinner. In keeping with the tradition of these
events, it brought together a broad cross-section of Chicago's
left to honor two individuals, Timuel Black and Jane Ramsey,
who have spent their lives working for social justice and building
coalitions as a means of doing so. The Dinner was held on Friday
evening, May 1st, the international Workers' Day, at the Crowne
Plaza Chicago Metro hotel in Chicago's Greektown.
The Dinner Committee had been talking
about Timuel Black for the past several years. Apart from being
a member of DSA, he's an interesting person, having been involved,
one way or another, in what seems like every other fight for
justice in Chicago for the past 70 years or so. Often enough
these were not particularly public roles, such as when he organized
Chicago's participation in the 1963 March on Washington: some
3000 people on two "Freedom Trains". Though sometimes
they were specifically public, as when he ran for alderman against
Claude Holman. The cumulative effect is that if you are on the
left in Chicago and involved in politics in any serious way,
you know the name Tim Black if not the person. The award was
presented to Tim Black by Clarice Durham, a chum from high school
and every bit as much a political activist as he.
Jane Ramsey was the perfect compliment
to Timuel Black, or perhaps Tim Black was to Jane Ramsey. Jane
Ramsey is the Executive Director of the
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), a position she's
occupied for some 30 years, apart from a tour of duty as Mayor
Harold Washington's Director of Community Relations. More than
many other similar organizations, JCUA has been active in building
coalitions for social justice. For JCUA, it's not so much a mode
of operation or strategy or tactic as part of the organization's
genetics. It's what they do. And they've applied this to issues
as diverse as housing (including gentrification and homelessness),
civil liberties, opposition to racism, labor rights, and immigrant
rights. Most notably, JCUA has been involved in defending immigrant
rights in the notorious Postville, Iowa, immigration raid, and
they've been active in supporting the Congress Hotel strike.
The award was presented to Jane Ramsey by Sidney Hollander: DSA
member, past President and current board member of JCUA.
As an aside, note that one of the founders
of JCUA and its earliest Executive Director was the late Milt
Cohen. Milt Cohen was also a Co-Chair of Chicago DSA in the late
1980s and early 1990s. He was an honoree at the 1989
Thomas Debs Dinner, and that award was presented to him by
Our Master of Ceremonies this year was
DSA National Director, Frank Llewellyn. We felt it was especially
important that he have that role this year as the DSA National
Convention will be in Evanston, Illinois, in November. In addition
to pitching the National Convention to the Dinner attendees,
he provided them with a summary of what DSA has been doing on
the national level.
Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of
Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ),
was to be our featured speaker. Due to a family emergency, she
had to cancel all her appearances that week, including the Dinner.
But she nominated, and we accepted, the Reverend C.J. Hawking
as her replacement. C.J. Hawking is the Director of the local
affiliate of IWJ, Arise Chicago.
Some of you with longer memories will remember the role she played
in support of the striking workers at A.E. Staley in Decatur.
Indeed, she has co-authored (with Steven Ashby, her husband,
who she met through the strike) a book on the strike, Staley:
the Fight for a New American Labor Movement. (See http://www.staleybook.org
C.J. Hawking spoke mostly about the
work of Arise Chicago. In particular, she focused on the efforts
of Arise Chicago, in conjunction with workers centers, to expose
and recover wages stolen from workers by their employers. These
are not just employers with their thumb on the scale. It's frequently
quite blatant: hours worked off the books, sub-minimum wages,
etc. Like all robberies, sometimes it's an act of desperation
by a marginal enterprise. But often enough it's done simply because
it can be done with no consequences. There is effectively no
wages and hours enforcement, until and unless a group like Arise
Chicago intervenes. C.J. Hawking provided examples of victories
that often resulted in workers collecting considerable sums of
The tradition of doing a "Debs
Day Dinner" started very much as a fundraising exercise
in the days of the old Socialist Party of America. It was very
much like the Jackson Day dinners held by Democratic Party organizations
or Lincoln Day dinners held by Republicans. This Dinner, today,
still accounts for a large majority of Chicago DSA's income.
But its purpose has long since ceased to be just money. If it
were just money, the ticket prices would be about double what
they are. The Dinner is also an educational event, through speakers
such as C.J. Hawking. The Dinner is a networking event, where
people can trade ideas and make connections. It's an outreach
event for those with left politics but unfamiliar with democratic
And it's also a social event where people
are reminded that they are not alone in the struggle for justice.
We hope that message, and our appreciation, is heard by those
that we honor.
51st Annual Debs - Thomas - Harrington
Working Together for
Friday, May 1, 6 PM - 9:30 PM
Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, Halsted
& Madison, Chicago
of Social Sciences at the City Colleges of Chicago, Educator,
Activist, Community Leader, Historian, Author: "Bridges
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; Co-Chair, Justice Coalition
of Greater Chicago; Director of Community Relations under Mayor
Our featured speaker:
Interfaith Worker Justice; Author: "Wage Theft in America,"
"Lives Matter," and "Organizing for Social Change"
Tickets are $60 each and must be
reserved by Tuesday, April 28.
To order tickets online, click
For a printable (PDF) flyer with
more information, click here or email.
Contributions are not tax deductible.
Due to a family emergency,
Kim Bobo has been called out of town and is not able to be our
speaker at the Dinner. She has nominated as a replacement, and
we have accepted, Reverend C.J. Hawking.
Reverend C. J. Hawking is the executive
director of the faith-based workers' rights group, Arise
Chicago, formerly known as Chicago Interfaith Committee on
Worker Issues. Hawking has a 15-year history in faith-labor organizing,
including janitor union organizing campaigns in Miami, Ohio,
and Indiana with the national group, Interfaith Worker Justice. Hawking
coauthored, with Steven Ashby, the book Staley:
The Fight for a New American Labor Movement which details
the lock out of 760 Staley workers in Decatur, Illinois.
You are invited to participate in the
51st Annual Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner. It will be held
on Friday evening, May 1st, at the Crowne Plaza Metro Chicago
hotel, 733 W. Madison in Chicago. As always, it is a union hotel.
Wealthy conservatives think too much
of themselves when they cry "class envy!" We do not
envy them. We do not want their toys. We want justice. This year's
Dinner will be a celebration: not of victory, but of conservatism's
defeat; not of victory, but of the opportunity for justice. It
will be a celebration of how we can achieve victory: by working
together for justice. Our honorees exemplify this principle.
This year we are honoring Timuel
D. Black, Jr. If you are at all familiar with Chicago
politics, I'm sure your reaction will be, "It's about time!"
Indeed: Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at the City Colleges
of Chicago; an activist in civil rights, electoral politics,
peace, education, and community affairs; an educator; an historian;
the author of Bridges of Memory (Volume
1 and Volume
2)- if you examine any of the major struggles for justice
in Chicago over the past century, you're likely to find that
Timuel Black had a hand in it. While it is true that the primary
focus of his work has been the African-American community, his
work has been done with the need for allies in mind; what was
called, in the 1960s and 1970s, "coalition politics".
This year we are honoring Jane
Ramsey, the Executive Director of the Jewish
Council on Urban Affairs. Justice has been the goal of the
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and "coalition politics"
has been the means since its founding over three decades ago.
Whether it's civil rights or civil
liberties or affordable
housing or immigrant
rights or labor
rights, Jane Ramsey and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
have been there as an ally or as a leader.
Our featured speaker is Kim
Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith
Worker Justice, another organization deeply involved in building
coalitions. Kim Bobo is one of the best public speakers on the
left in Chicago. She's also an author, having written two books
on organizing. We expect to have copies of her latest book, Wage Theft in America,
available for purchase at the Dinner.
Please accept our invitation to participate
in the 51st Annual Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner. For information
regarding individual tickets or reserved tables click
If you cannot attend, or even if you
can, please consider participating in the Dinner Program Book
with a message from you or your organization (congratulating
the honorees, for example). For information about the Program
Book click here.
If you have any questions or comments,
please do not hesitate to contact