Kathy Black's Award Acceptance Speech, Bread & Roses Community Fund Tribute to Change
Paul Robeson Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech
Bread & Roses Community Fund Tribute to ChangeJune 28, 2012
Thank you so much. Thank you Barbara, Kati, all the planning committee members, everyone who nominated me (Ben & Carol), Casey, Ray, Maura, Simba, and everyone at B&R for putting together this wonderful tribute and for giving me this prestigious honor. More importantly, hank you B&R, for the financial nourishment you’ve provided to countless social change groups in our area. There’s nobody like you; it is so difficult to get this work funded; and it’s safe to say that many critically important campaigns would not have succeeded, and many activist groups would be gone if it weren’t for your investment in their work.
I want to thank my family and my dearest loved ones for coming tonight and for all your love and support. This is a just a fraction of my gigantic family up front here, and they are my rocks –especially my wonderful parents, Joe and Marianne Black, who share this award with me because it was from them I learned all my economic and social justice values. I love you all.
There’s no way I’d ever be a candidate for this award or any other award, if I hadn’t spent the past 15 years working at AFSCME DC47. For decades, our Council has enjoyed a deserved reputation as one of the most progressive unions around, under the leadership of Presidents Tom Cronin and Cathy Scott. They built a position for me and gave me a union home where I could do the health and safety work I love. And they gave me the space and license to do all this coalition work that got me here tonight. So thank you, Tom & Cathy, and all my sisters and brothers at DC47 for the trust you invested in me, and for always saying “yes” to my incessant appeals for donations and dues, institutional support, affiliations, resolutions, and for just generally putting up with me, especially during my long menopausal, bitch on wheels years. (Ray Murphy made me say that. And now he has to buy me a drink.)
I can hardly believe these words are about to come out of my mouth, but thank you also Chief Justice John Roberts, for not raining on our parade! Health care for all, baby. Health care for all.
Is CLUW in the house? Thank God for the sisterhood.
Over the years male labor leaders have periodically told me we don’t need a women’s constituency group– that we’re all one, fighting for the same things.
If it weren’t for CLUW, there would be no mention ever of domestic violence, contraceptive equity, or reproductive health on labor’s agenda, even though every one of those issues is directly connected to advancing women’s rights on the job. Pushing for action on these issues hasn’t always been easy, though it has been great fun watching male labor leaders squirm every time we bring up birth control.
There’s still plenty we need to win, and some rights we now need to win again. Happily, a fabulous new generation of smart, confident, skilled women is rising to these challenges. CLUW’s Young Women’s Committee is the envy of the local labor movement, and its future. (Where are you, amazing young women? There they are – my retirement plan, personified.) They’re doing great things, learning everything they can, preparing themselves to be the leaders of this movement we love. They give me confidence that what we’ve built over the last hundred years is going to survive and grow.
Congratulations to tonight’s other terrific honorees. It’s a particular pleasure to be honored with two other CLUW members, my dear sister/girlfriend/partner in crime, Janet Ryder, who has taught me so much; I MISS YOU!; and my brother and dear friend, Jim Savage, the most kick ass, truth-talking, fun and funny labor leader I’ve ever met. Congratulations to you, Jim, Dennis, Nancy, John and everyone who worked so hard to save those refineries and all those good union jobs. We need more victories like this one.
I see so many friends and allies out in the audience tonight. I know you to all be fantastic activists and organizers, and so I’m going to take advantage of my privilege of the moment and ask you to do two things, because that’s what we organizers do .
Please join the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces and help us make Philadelphia the next great city to pass an earned sick leave bill. Call City Council members, ask them to support Bill Greenlee’s bill, and remind them they’re Democrats! They were elected by the people, to represent the interests of the people of our working class city, not Comcast. You can assure them that the Chicken Little Chamber of Commerce’s hysterical rantings are utter nonsense. Capitalism will not collapse if we pass this modest protection so workers can stay home when they or their kids get sick, without risking a paycheck or their job. This is a rare chance in our current ugly political climate to actually advance rights for workers, and we can make it happen if you all help – and there’s lots of ways you can help. BTW, another group of savvy, fabulous young women lead this campaign.
Second, Please join US Labor Against the War. Our government continues to spend trillions on unnecessary wars, weapons, and overseas bases, while our schools, infrastructure and social safety net are on the brink of collapse. It’s obscene; it’s immoral; it must change. Getting Congress to significantly cut military spending and fund human needs is USLAW’s current priority. As a start, we’re passing City Council resolutions around the country, including the one we passed here in Philly a week ago. We are the only organized voice in the history of our labor movement to challenge American foreign policy and do this work. We need your dollars and your energy to amplify that voice and start shifting American policy away from waging war toward waging peace. Uslaboragainstwar.org – please check it out. (Membership forms for CLUW and USLAW available up front after the show.)
“We ask for nothing that is not right, and herein lies the great power of our demand.” Paul Robeson said that. He wasn’t talking about the labor movement specifically, but it’s just as true for us.
We have the privilege of working on those issues that most drive our passions, and that contribute to positive change in the world – plus we get paid union wages and benefits to do it. I am so proud and thrilled and overwhelmed to get this award. But the truth is, the work has been its own reward, and I am grateful every day that I have been able to spend my working life doing what I believe in down to my core.
Movements and union work are not about individual achievements, and I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing by myself. I thank every one of you for all the amazing work you do, and for being my sisters and brothers in the cause. When we fight together we win.
Thanks one last time to B&R for this wonderful night. I’ve always loved the name of this community fund. The Bread & Roses strike is iconic in labor history, especially for women workers. Those immigrant women were so abused and deprived, yet their strike demands were not just for better wages and working conditions, but for a full, meaningful life, enriched by the art, love and beauty all our spirits need. I’ve tried to incorporate those elements into my work and my life too – with special emphasis recently on Art and love – because after all, as my favorite old union adage goes, “nothing’s too good for the working class.”
Thank you so very, very much.Kathy Black, June 28, 2012