By CARL GREEN
St. Louis – Jobs with Justice Missouri members celebrated another year of speaking up for working people and braced themselves for tough battles to come at their first St. Louis awards night last recently.
Kristian Blackman, the group’s St. Louis organizer, reminded attendees at Maggie O’Brien’s restaurant that Jobs with Justice is a coalition with sections among the community, faith, Labor and student activists at the event.
So an awards night was needed to bring them together to acknowledge what they’ve done, she said.
“We don’t just do this work as staff. Volunteers are what help us do this work,” Blackman said. “We’re always working, we’re always in meetings, we’re always strategizing, we’re always organizing.
“A lot of times, we don’t take time to just sit and enjoy each other. Sometimes we don’t take the time to just fellowship. Sometimes we don’t take the time to celebrate the work that we do because we’re so busy being in the midst of it.”
The group created six awards – Be There, Voice of Values, Community Builder, Lifesaver, Bullhorn and Workers Voice, and found 11 deserving people to honor at the event.
“We just want to celebrate you all and thank you,” Blackman said. “We decided that we wanted to be able to highlight particular people, but we would love to give awards to everybody. We were looking for people who have gone above and beyond to do a lot of work.
“It’s showing our appreciation for you and all of you in this room.”
DUFFY: DON’T FORGET MONEY
Shannon Duffy, United Media Guild business representative and organizing co-chair for Jobs with Justice, reminded the group that as great as their organizing efforts are, they also have to make time to raise the money they need.
“All too often in the movement, we think, ‘Well, the other side has organized money and we’re about organized people.’ Let me tell you something, we’re also about organized money.
Jobs with Justice, he noted, has a great ability to move quickly to support good ideas or oppose bad ones with its many activists.
“We’re an army. We’re marching. Jobs with Justice can turn on a dime,” he said. “It is agile, it is quick to act and can go into direct action on, literally, almost a moment’s notice. I always tell people that Jobs with Justice can put 100 people on a street corner in an hour and a half. Jobs with Justice has eyes and ears and supporters throughout St. Louis and the state of Missouri.”
As an example, he recalled the successful D2S (Decline to Sign) campaign in 2008 to prevent millionaire Ward Connerly from placing a measure on the state ballot to do away with affirmative action. After Jobs with Justice warned potential petition signers about the ill effects such a measure would have, it never made the ballot.
“These signature gatherers were getting so frustrated,” Duffy said. “In the end, they were paying $3 a signature and they still could not get enough signatures to put it on the ballot in this state – and that’s because Jobs with Justice can turn its army on a dime.
“But you cannot do that without money,” he added. “It takes staff to have these resources.”
Be There – Kevin FitzGerald, a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1, was presented this award for his astonishing record of attendance and support at all sorts of Jobs with Justice events. It was presented by the group’s mobilization co-chair, Joe Thomas.
“We take a pledge to be there five times a year for somebody else’s fight as well as our own,” Thomas said. “Because when we stand together, we start winning, and there will be a lot of attacks coming our way.
“The people attacking us don’t have a schedule like, ‘On Monday, we hate immigrants, on Tuesday, we hate blacks and on Wednesday, we hate union members.’ They actually come at all of us all the time, and they are very unified about how they do that, so we’ve got to be unified at how we fight back.”
Voice of Values – John Antonich, Rev. Sherrie Saunders and Rev. Emmett Baker all were presented this award by Father John Stratton, the group’s other mobilization chair, for speaking out in public and to the Missouri Legislature.
Antonich is a Meatcutters Local 88 retiree from Pevely, Saunders is associate pastor of Washington Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and Baker is pastor of Beth-El Baptist Church and a legislative activist.
Stratton gave a holiday-themed message about another community activist. “During Advent, we often hear and talk about John the Baptist, whose nickname was, ‘The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.’ The way the world was was not the way he believed the world should be, and he was not going to stand silent when he believed that a better world was possible.
“We are honored to have strong leaders in this room who have been that voice. When you’re working for justice, when you’re working for a better world, it often feels like you’re a voice crying in the wilderness. In the next four years, that wilderness might get a little more rough as well.”
Community Builder – The Rev. Audrey Hollis, presented this award to Rev. Rodney Bozeman, Shelley Hoffman and Chris Gunther for their organizing efforts in building the Tri-County Faith Labor Alliance. Bozeman is senior pastor of Hopewell M.B. Church in Wentzville and a member of IBEW Local 1439.
Hollis is co-chair of the St. Louis Workers’ Rights Board. “This is a passion of mine,” Hollis said. “I’m a minister, but my work is in the streets. My work is around justice. I’m out organizing people for things they are passionate about – the educational system, police brutality, not enough food.”
“This is a great award for recognizing people who get out in the streets and do some of the hard work.”
“He’s always been a leader, and he has grown through this organization to become a better union leader, a better person and a great activist,” Willey said of Bielecke.
Life Saver – St. Louis labor attorney Chris Grant, a partner at Schucat, Cook and Werner, was presented this award for his volunteer legal work.
“He’s done a lot of great legal work on a lot of different things for Jobs with Justice, from our minimum wage work to a number of campaigns,” Blackman said in presenting the award.
Workers’ Voice – Betty Douglas and Frances Holmes, both McDonald’s workers, were presented the award for their work in the Fight for $15 campaign to raise wages.
“McDonald’s has got some problems, because these ladies are there fighting – speaking in public, out on the streets, telling stories and leading,” said presenter Ashli Bolden, state organizer for Jobs with Justice. “These women are great.”