Global Justice, Local Action
The Paul Robeson Social Justice Award
In 1957, Henry Nicholas became a health care worker at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York. Since then he has become one of the most important leaders in the American labor movement and a driving force for civil rights.
From the beginning, Nicholas worked among service workers, a group thought to be the most difficult to organize. In 1959 he organized his co-workers into Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers Union. Over the next decade he worked as a national organizer for the union, spearheading a string of successful organizing campaigns throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States. Working with civil rights activists such as Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young, Nicholas led a 113-day hospital strike in Charleston, South Carolina. Their campaign drew national attention as a landmark in the struggle for civil rights. Nicholas arrived in Philadelphia in 1973 as the first secretary-treasurer of the newly formed 1199C, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. During his presidency 1199C has led the twin struggle for workers’ rights and civil rights, amassing the best organizing record in the AFL-CIO and electing the most diverse national leadership of any American labor union. In recent years Nicholas has lead the fight against healthcare privatization. He has also worked to expand the reach of 1199C’s social justice mission by lending his support to grassroots efforts of the homeless and the working poor, two groups hardest hit by changes in the global economy.
Robin Hood Was Right Award
The First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) has taken Robin Hood’s message about the redistributing of wealth to heart. For nearly three decades this racially diverse congregation has supported the social change activism of individuals and communities across three continents. It currently supports efforts by peasants, workers, and indigenous leaders to address and resist the negative effects of economic globalization. It has built on its role in the Sanctuary movement by providing financial support to communities in Guatemala. Through a partnership with the Peasant Association of Fondwa it funds a peasant self-determination movement in Haiti. And after sending a delegation to observe South Africa’s historic free elections in 1994, it has provided ongoing support for a bi-racial daycare center in Johannesburg. Closer to home, FUMCOG uses the offering plate and philanthropic endowments to raise funds for local organizations throughout the Delaware Valley. It distributes more than $40,000 a year through its Community Needs Program, The Julia Morgan Fund, and the Helen Arthur Fund of United Methodist Women.
Community Empowerment Award
Protests against the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Seattle and Washington, D.C. inspired important new alliances, particularly between environmentalists and organized labor. At the same time, it became clear that much work needed to be done if the leadership and priorities of communities of color were to become integral parts of this emerging movement for global justice. In response, Philadelphia-area activists of color came together with white allies in the spring of 2000 to form the Brown Collective. The group’s main goal was to organize youth in communities of color around the local impact of economic globalization. The Collective trained people to participate in protests during the Republican National Convention, against police brutality, corporate greed, and the increasing use of prisons as warehouses for young people of color. It also initiated a continuing series of educational programs about the criminalization of youth, the prison industry, and the state of our educational system. Barely a year after its foundation, the Brown Collective has rapidly established itself as an important voice for young people of color across the Delaware Valley.
Spiral Q Puppet Theater ingeniously blends the old with the new to help local communities make powerful statements about global inequality. Drawing on a century-old tradition of political pageantry, founder Mattyboy Hart and a team of staff and volunteers use larger-than-life puppets to put on neighborhood pageants, demonstrations, and street performances for social change. Spiral Q works cooperatively with community members and organizations to develop programs, messages and props that respond to their aesthetics, concerns and agendas. As Hart explains, “This type of theater is advantageous to poor people. It’s fairly inexpensive, it’s mobile, and it’s an easy way to tell complex stories by mostly untrained people. It’s the type of theater available to all.” Anyone who has participated in an open studio night, walked past the annual “Peoplehood” parade, or merely seen a giant puppet head bobbing up and down above a crowd of demonstrators, has felt the visceral impact of Spiral Q’s art. More than building puppets, Spiral Q is resisting the culture of uniformity brought on by economic globalization.
The Polly Brinley Outstanding Volunteerism Award
Julie Davids has been engaged in the struggle for justice since her days at Temple University, where she worked on multi-cultural education, reproductive rights, and anti-corporate initiatives. However, AIDS activism has been her full-time focus since then. Since 1989, Julie has been a member of ACT-UP Philadelphia, the nation’s largest and strongest AIDS activist organization, which has thrived on a combination of public education, direct action organizing, and media savvy. Davids’ work has followed the changing demographics of the AIDS epidemic. Working with low-income people, intravenous drug users, and those living with AIDS in Africa, she has helped create access to affordable healthcare while focusing public attention on the role of multinational corporations in putting profit before the needs of people. In 1999, she was a founder of HealthGAP, the international coalition waging a highly successful battle against drug companies for access to affordable HIV medications. Other groups to which she’s given her time include Grassroots Queers, the Fight the Right Network, the Philadelphia Bicycle Action Movement, the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, and Prevention Point Philadelphia. Currently Davids serves as director of Project TEACH and the Critical Path AIDS Project, both housed at Philadelphia FIGHT.
A Special Tribute to Reverend David Gracie
Known as the activist priest who “made headlines and got arrested,” David Gracie has played a key role in every major social justice movement of the last four decades. After leading a racially-integrated Detroit congregation through some of the tensest moments of the civil rights era, in 1967 David came to Philadelphia. He founded the anti-racist organization People for Human Rights and became a leading voice of opposition to the Vietnam War. As a parish priest in Kensington in the 1970s, he helped found the Kensington Joint Action Council. Later, as co-director of Temple University’s Church World Institute, he inspired countless students to become involved in peace and social justice activism. In the 1980s he worked closely with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and other groups to oppose plant closings in neighborhoods throughout the city. He also became active in the Central America solidarity movement. In the 1990s, David served as Peace Education Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee and held several positions with the Episcopal Church. Those who’ve worked with David revere his ability to analyze a problem of injustice thoroughly and to act decisively. He is, in the words of longtime friend Steve Gold, “a personal role model for a radical in the 21st century.”