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“Art uplifts us”: Redmond and Bryant honored

Chris Garlock | Published on 5/3/2024

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler emphasized the “deep connection between the arts and activism” at the Labor Heritage Foundation’s annual Solidarity Forever award last night in the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Room. “In these times where it's so challenging and difficult, art uplifts us,” said Shuler. “It's a reminder that our creativity, our passion and our song literally provide hope for people. I think that's what we do in the labor movement,” said Shuler. “When times are hard, we tell our stories to help people understand the aspirations, the challenges, the dreams of working people.  We help people understand the history of this country, the struggles that our communities, especially people of color in this country, have endured. And we help people understand that this concept of together, we can overcome.  And I can't think of two people who represent that idea better than our two award recipients, Elise Bryant and Fred Redmond.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond – this year’s LHF Solidarity Forever Award recipient -- “personifies  a value that I think all of us in the labor movement hold dear,” said LHF Board Chair Saul Schniderman, “and that is the concept of heritage.” Redmond, accepting the 2024 LHF Solidarity Forever Award from Schniderman and LHF President Ashley See, began his remarks with a nod of appreciation to the DC Labor Chorus, which had opened the evening with a performance of “Common Thread.” Said Redmond, “We need to keep singing those songs.  We need to keep telling those stories. We need to keep developing those images that stick with people that engages people in a different way in the way that only art and music can.”

“You know,” Redmond continued, “some of us were more blessed than others,  when it comes to artistic gifts.  But that doesn't mean that we can't share our enthusiasm as a movement about a film about Bayard Rustin, or musicals about Joe Hill or Mother Jones  and the many plays and popular songs that address work  and class issues. We need to keep encouraging and supporting these efforts and the musicians and artists who champion labor and the working class because first and foremost, they're workers, as the world saw last year, when the writers and actors stood up to the motion picture industry and took to the streets and they won good contracts. They can lend their talents and influence to strikes and bargaining campaigns and other fights.

“Our movement is built on solidarity,” Redmond said. “Solidarity can take many forms, and we need to continue to foster a movement that leverages our creativity and encourages creative ideas in order to bring people together.  And we need to continue to build those relationships and find opportunities for all of our unions to work together. That's how we keep our momentum, by picking each other up, by supporting each other, by standing together and marching together and fighting together.  That's what the labor movement is all about.  That's what it meant to me.  It's been my life's work.”

“We do a lot of thinking through what we need to do on the picket lines,” said LHF Treasurer Kimmon Williams as she and See presented LHF’s Joe Hill Award to Elise Bryant. “But caring about preserving that through the art and the history of this movement, and making sure it lasts beyond the people in this room is central to how Elise lives.”
Accepting the “Joey,” – handcrafted by BAC member Matt Redabaugh, who also makes the Solidarity Forever Award -- Elise, who retired this year as LHF’s Executive Director after leading the arts organization since 2008, began by singing “I am a union woman, just as strong as I can be. I do not like the bosses, and the bosses don't like me,” going on to say that “Retirement comes from the French, which means to pull back or retreat. But y'all know this, I cannot retreat or pull back when there are people who are trying to ban the truth of slavery in this country. I cannot retreat or pull back when there are people who are trying to stop a democratic election, and we have an election coming up that will challenge the very foundation of our democracy. I cannot retreat when there are people trying to take the rights of women for reproductive freedom. I cannot retreat as long as they forget what it says on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to be free. Not your billionaires, your liars, your cheats.” Elise concluded by singing, to the tune of New York, New York, “Start spreading the news, I'm redeploying today, I'm gonna write some plays and sing some songs,  I'm going to the picket line to get what's yours and mine.”

Bricklayers president Tim Driscoll once again served as the Master of Ceremonies, noting that “since 1983, Labor Heritage has celebrated the role that music, drama, arts, and literature bring to the fight for workers’ rights, equality, and a just society,” and Schniderman thanked him and the union for their longtime support for LHF. In addition to the DC Labor Chorus, which closed out the evening with rousing renditions of “People Have the Power” and “Solidarity Forever,” the Steve Jones Trio -- comprised of Steve Jones on Piano, Dave Marsh on bass and Francis Thompson on drums – filled the Solidarity Room with music as attendees mingled and caught up over drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

Special thanks to the set-up crew: Paulette Saunders, Jenn Schwartz, Kimmon MacGyver Williams. Larry Smoot, Hetty Scofield and Chris Garlock provided back-up support.

Top photo (l-r): Kimmon Williams, Saul Schniderman, Fred Redmond, Liz Shuler, Chris Garlock, Ashley See, Tim Driscoll, Elise Bryant. Photo by Mike Leslie.
Report/photos by Chris Garlock

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