Celebrating The Work Of Progressive Champions

Terrance Heath

On Tuesday night, progressive leaders and activists celebrated champions whose work shows that progressive leadership and governance improve the lives of hard-working Americans. Campaign For America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey opened the Celebrating America’s Future Gala, and set the tone for an evening celebrating the work of progressive champions dedicated to fighting for “good jobs, livable wages, and better lives” for millions of hard-working Americans.

Hickey introduced, CNN contributor and columnist for The Daily Beast Sally Kohn as emcee for the evening. Hickey noted that not only is Kohn no. 35 on The Advocate’s list of “The 50 Most Influential LGBT People In Media,” but she “somehow survived” a year as a Fox News contributor.

“I am not the 35th most gay person in the media,” Kohn clarified. “I think I rate higher.” “I don’t have any jokes about economic inequality,” Kohn said. “It’s not funny.” However, she came up with one near the end of her remarks. Kohn quipped, “Guys, I got paid 78% less than the male emcees. So the jokes are about 22% less horrible.”

Washington Post columnist and The Nation magazine editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel presented the America’s Future Progressive Champion Award to New York City mayor Bill De Blasio. “The mayor is forcing change,” vanden Heuvel said, as she cataloged De Blasio’s accomplishments; including the “unprecedented expansion of universal pre-K” to more than 50,000 children, increasing living wages, and extending paid sick leave to millions of workers.

As he accepted his award, Mayor Bill De Blasio credited the progressive movement for his success as New York City Mayor.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, honored at Campaign for America's Future 2014 awards gala at Arena Stage on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, honored at Campaign for America’s Future 2014 awards gala at Arena Stage on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

“I’m only here because we built a movement of people, and we put forward a vision of what progressive change looked like. And we asked folks to come along and organize and build it, against the odds. To build it because they believed it was right; because they believed they could actually take power in their own city, by reaching out to their neighbors and co-workers, and spreading a message of what, yes, economic populism looks like in a city, and how it can change people’s lives for the better.”

Mayor De Blasio touted his administration as an example of successful progressive governance. “If anyone says progressives can’t lead and can’t govern, you can tell them where to go. They can go to New York City. It is happening.”

Rep. Donna Edwards (D, Maryland) presented the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United co-founder and co-director Saru Jayaraman. Edwards praised Jayaraman’s work on behalf of America’s 10 million restaurant workers. “Paul Wellstone would be proud to have someone like Saru receive an award in his name,” Edwards said.

Jayaraman kept the focus on the workers she serves in her work with ROC United as she accepted her award. “I see it not as an honoring of me, but of the 10 million restaurant workers in America, and their movement for change.” Jayaraman related her organization’s growth from a relief center for restaurant workers devastated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the growth of the restaurant industry. “It’s the second largest and fastest growing sector of the US economy, and yet it happens to be the lowest paying employer in the United States,” she said.

Co-director Robert Borosage recounted the growth of a new populist movement, and reminded the audience that the majority of Americans stand with progressives on issues ranging from Citizens United, to livable wages, Wall Street reform, and protecting Social Security and Medicaid.

“The first simple truth that we want Americans to understand is that most of them stand with us. On issue after issue, the majority of Americans are in support of the populist argument. Our Populist Majority Project issues reports to update this reality, inform Americans of it, and to challenge the myth in this city — the conventional wisdom that this is a center-right-nation.”

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia presented the America’s Future Progressive Champion Award to AFSCME president Lee Saunders. Eskelsen spoke of the affinity between her organization and AFSCME. “We represent millions of hard working middle class families who contribute to our economies,” she said. “We stand between a profiteer and his profits. It’s a dangerous place to stand. I have seen Lee stand there with courage and conviction.”

Saunders accepted his award on behalf of the 1.6 million public service workers he serves as president of AFSCME. “I receive this award for them, the every day heroes who keep public services running. They perform jobs that many of you aren’t even aware of, but if they stopped being done you would see the effect.”

Saunders urged progressives to continue to fight for “the 99.5 percent” in this election year and beyond. “It’s up to the progressive community to raise our voices and fight like hell every day for what we believe in, to fight for working families, to fight for our country. We’ve got a job to do, and that job is to motivate, and educate, and organize, our communities to get out the vote on November 4th.”

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