The Annual Gala Dinner at the Take back the American Dream conference honored several people at the front lines of the progressive movement's most critical battles.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America was designated this year's "Progressive Champion" for its courageous push-back against conservative efforts to strip government funding for its women's health clinics. The organization was able to mobilize over a million new people to the cause of defending women's access to reproductive health services and rebutting a smear campaign against the organization. Kate Michelman, former head president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, presented the award to Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president.
Gaby Pacheco of United We Dream accepted the first-ever American Dream Award on behalf of the Dream Act activists, the immigrants rights movement mobilized to fight for the legislation that would allow for an orderly naturalization of immigrant youth. Pacheco is herself undocumented, and she told the audience of her own fear that when she was driving through North Carolina on her way to Washington to the event and she was stopped by a police officer, her undocumented status would be discovered and she would be arrested and eventually deported.
Drummond Pike received the America's Future Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as the founder of the Tides Foundation, a group that has given at least a billion dollars over the years to progressive causes. In addition to his philanthropy, Pike has worked with organizations to help them improve their operational capacity and effectiveness.
The last gala dinner award, the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award, was to the leaders of the We Are Wisconsin protest movement against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attack on public worker rights and benefits. Accepting on behalf of the movement was Peter Rickman of the University of Wisconsin Teaching Assistants' Association, who was accompanied by several labor activists and State Sen. Mike Miller, who led the Democratic Party opposition to Walker and the Republican legislature.
One of the leaders, Mahlon Mitchell, the leader of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, had the gala dinner standing and chanting slogans. "Tell me what democracy looks like!" he yelled. "This is what democracy looks like!" the audience responded. For a moment, the ballroom of the Washington Hilton felt like the inside of the Wisconsin state capital in the heat of the battle against the attack on workers' rights.