Chicago: People’s Thanksgiving a big success
Chicago, IL – 125 activists gathered in Chicago, December 2. for the 2023 People’s Thanksgiving, honoring the major achievements of our movement over the past year. The annual event, organized by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, serves as a people's alternative to the colonial holiday of Thanksgiving.
This year’s celebration was held at Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church, the congregational home of journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, located in the heart of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. After sharing a meal and lively discussions inside the social hall, attendees moved into the church for the main event.
Kicking off the evening’s awards ceremony, the audience gave a standing ovation to representatives from Chicago's newly created police-district councils, the culmination of a decades-long struggle for community control over the city’s police. The district councilors in attendance, belonging to the pro-accountability majority elected last February, accepted the Josephine Wyatt Award for Community Control of the Police. The award is named in honor of Josephine Wyatt, a co-founder and early leader of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR).
Next, organizers presented the Harold Washington/Rudy Lozano Award for Black/Latino Unity to the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which has led local efforts to build support and solidarity around the issues of migrant refugees. The award is named in honor of beloved former mayor Harold Washington, as well as Rudy Lozano, an important Washington ally, community leader and labor organizer who was murdered in 1983. Lozano and Washington consciously built the first Black/Latino coalition in Chicago to advance the movement for political empowerment in the face of the white, racist Democratic Party.
After chants of “All power to the people!” from the audience, NAARPR Executive Director Frank Chapman gave a keynote address, reflecting on important moments for the movement over the past year. Chapman’s speech focused in particular on the ongoing events in Palestine, tracing the imperialist roots of the state of Israel back to the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1948 Nakba. “The massacre we are witnessing today in Palestine is not unprecedented. The Israelis have been doing this since 1948.” Noting the commonalities with past liberation struggles, Chapman added, “Let us not forget apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow in the U.S.”
Following a moving performance by local musician Ifeanyi Elswith, Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Christel Williams Hayes presented the Pete Camarata Award for Class-Struggle Trade Unionism to United Auto Workers Local 551, in recognition of the local union's role in the historic strikes against Ford and the Big Three automakers this year. Camarata was a founder of the rank-and-file Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
Named for trans-rights trailblazer Leslie Feinberg, the Leslie Feinberg Award went to Howard Brown Health Workers United (HBHWU), who are fighting for recognition and better working conditions at Chicago’s leading LGBTQ healthcare provider. Lillie Elling and Russell Dahlman, on behalf of past awardees, Starbucks Workers United, presented this year's award to HBHWU, noting the importance of connecting the struggles of labor and LGBTQ liberation.
After a protest march of several thousand along State Street earlier in the afternoon, organizers with the Coalition for Justice in Palestine (CJP) also joined the People's Thanksgiving festivities. US Palestinian Community Network activist and poet Rania Salem gave a powerful spoken-word performance, after which People's Thanksgiving organizers presented the Poet of Palestine: Fadwa Tuqan Award to the CJP. Cook County has the largest Palestinian community in the country, and this mass movement is threatening the support for Zionism in the U.S. Because of CJP, Chicago is among the most important centers of this new anti-war movement.
Capping off the ceremony was the Professor Jose Maria C. Sison Award, named for the visionary revolutionary theorist and founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who passed away at the end of 2022. Diana Balitaan of the Filipino youth group Anakbayan Chicago presented the Sison Award to the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS). ILPS led the organizing against the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Bay Area, and brought thousands of marchers to the streets there, making it the biggest protest against corporate globalization in decades.
People's Thanksgiving organizers also held a fundraiser for Fight Back! News, with those in attendance raising over $10,000 to support Fight Back! and Freedom Road’s mission to deliver “news and views from the people's struggle.” As Joe Iosbaker, district organizer for FRSO said in his fundraising pitch, “Fight Back! reports on the struggles waged by working people, Black, Chicano, and Palestinian liberation movements, and other social movements because we believe that real learning comes by fighting!”
Addressing the ways our movement advanced in 2023, Frank Chapman said in his keynote speech: “Given the recent revolutionary developments in Palestine, I think it is incumbent upon us as revolutionaries to consider how the Palestinian struggle is opening up a new, critical era in the struggle against imperialism. In fact, the Palestinian struggle is mobilizing the nationally oppressed and workers of the world against imperialist domination. We are hearing oppressed nations and workers from South Africa to all of Africa, from Indonesia to the Philippines, Bolivia, North America and Europe demand an end to Israeli-genocidal aggression. In solidarity with Palestine the world is rising up against the U.S. empire and its lackeys.”
With the Republican National Convention coming to Milwaukee in July, and the Democratic National Convention coming to Chicago in August, 2024 promises to be no less momentous than the past year.