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51st Annual Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner

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 Timuel Black.

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 money.

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 socialism.

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 Dinner

Working Together for Justice!

Friday, May 1, 6 PM - 9:30 PM

Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, Halsted & Madison, Chicago


Timuel Black

Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at the City Colleges of Chicago, Educator, Activist, Community Leader, Historian, Author: "Bridges of Memory"

Jane Ramsey

Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; Co-Chair, Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago; Director of Community Relations under Mayor Harold Washington

Our featured speaker:

Kim Bobo*

Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice; Author: "Wage Theft in America," "Lives Matter," and "Organizing for Social Change" (co-author)

Tickets are $60 each and must be reserved by Tuesday, April 28.

To order tickets online, click here.

For a printable (PDF) flyer with more information, click here or email.

Contributions are not tax deductible.

*Program Change

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 here.

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 us.

Dinner Program Book

 Frank Llewellyn

Photo by John Scott

DSA National Director Frank Llewellyn greets the Dinner attendees.

 Timuel Black

Clarice Durham (right) presents the Debs - Thomas - Harrington Award to Timuel Black.

Photo by John Scott


Timuel D. Black, Jr.

For your commitment to and activism for civil rights and civil liberties;

For your dedication to world peace;

For your political activism on behalf of so many progressive candidates, including Harold Washington;

For your work as an educator of students and reformer of education;

For your accomplishments as a historian;

For your lifelong passion for social justice,

The Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner Committee does hereby present you with its annual award this 1st day of May, 2009.

 Jane Ramsey

Jane Ramsey (left) receives the Debs - Thomas - Harrington Award from Sidney Hollander

Photo by John Scott


Jane Ramsey

For your staunch opposition to racism;

For your dedication to civil liberties;

For your work against the causes and consequences of poverty;

For your accomplishments as a builder of coalitions and community;

For a life in pursuit of social justice,

The Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner Committee does hereby present you with its annual award this 1st day of May, 2009.

 C. J. Hawking

Reverend C. J. Hawking addresses the 51st Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner.

Photo by John Scott


 Debs Dinner

Photo by John Scott
From left to right: Timuel Black, Sidney Hollander, Jane Ramsey, C.J. Hawking, Clarice Durham, and Frank Llewellyn.

 Click here for a gallery of photos by John Scott.

Click here for a gallery of photos by Marc Harris.

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