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Al Bradbury: Art is "how we sustain ourselves"

Chris Garlock | Published on 4/23/2024
“When I first started coming to the Great Labor Arts Exchange, it was like I had found my people,” said Alexandra Bradbury on Saturday night as she accepted LHF’s 2024 Joe Hill Award from Labor Heritage Foundation president Ashley See and LHF Executive Director Chris Garlock. The award honors lifetime achievement for a body of work in the field of labor art, history, education and culture. Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes, a former union researcher and organizer, and a singer-songwriter, especially of parodies applying labor lyrics to popular songs, in classic Joe Hill fashion. 
At GLAE, Bradbury said, she found “The warmth and love and welcomingness of this community and a group of people who recognize the vital importance of the arts and music in our struggles. I think sometimes we think about the arts as an entertainment and a morale booster, and they absolutely could be that. But it's also a lot more. It’s part of how we come together, how we find our unity, how we remind ourselves of our values, how we sustain ourselves through the hard times. You think about the civil rights movement in this country, you think about the labor movement; songs have been essential to that. Songs like We Shall Not Be Moved and We Shall Overcome are part of how our movements come together, and stay together.”
It was Bradbury who first proposed bringing GLAE to the Labor Notes conference in 2022, when the only date available for the first post-pandemic conference was the same weekend as GLAE. “I called up (former LHF Executive Director) Elise Bryant and I was like, ‘We have a scheduling conflict that could be an opportunity. And it was a big leap, I think, for the Arts Exchange to come and be part of a different event, but it's been so wonderful, it's been so gratifying to be able to bring these two organizations together. And I think it really enriches Labor Notes to weave so much arts and culture through the weekend and to tap into this largely untapped creativity and talent that exists in our movements and in all of our unions.”
So in addition to being honored to accept the 2024 Joe Hill award, Bradbury said, “It’s really a delight to be able to bring the Arts Exchange and Labor Notes together, and I'm so glad we decided to do it again this year, and I hope we keep doing it.” She concluded with a stirring a capella rendition – with the enthusiastic participation of the crowd -- of her version of “I Will Survive”, written during long waits for hospital shift changes during her organizing career.
photos by Hetty Scofield and Chris Garlock

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