Over 400 labor and human rights leaders and activists gathered at The Fez in Beaver County’s Hopewell Township Oct. 8 to honor John Conyers, the Congressman from Detroit Michigan, now serving his 23rd term as a long-time champion of labor, civil rights and civil liberties.
Sponsored by the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council, the annual human rights banquet drew local labor unions, the NAACP and African American churches, and activist groups such as the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America. The elected officials present included County Commissioners Joe Spanik and Tony Amadio, row officers Carol Fiorucci and Nancy Werme, as well as Dwan Walker and his ‘One Aliquippa’ organization. Walker’s recent primary victory has position him to be the town’s next mayor. The event was also honored by the attendance of several youth ambassadors from Aliquippa’s Council of Men and Fathers.
"There’s a high level of energy here," said Tina Shannon, PDA’s president and a member of the dinner’s organizing team. "Many of us have already worked together for years on Medicare for All, and in the recent ‘One Nation’ mobilization in Washington, DC. We’ve built a strong unity by working together, and it’s reflected in the turnout here tonight. It’ll continue as we fight for jobs"
Conyers was an excellent choice for the labor council’s award. Not only is he known worldwide for his leadership in the House Judiciary Committee as a staunch defender of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he is also responsible for introducing some of the most progressive Bills in Congress. HR 676 ‘Improved and Expanded Medicare for All’ has been widely promoted here in Beaver County by Unions and Progressive Democrats, including the first Citizen’s Hearing on the Bill conducted in Aliquippa featuring Dennis Kucinich as convener. The Beaver County Commissioners and the Beaver/Lawrence Labor Council have both passed resolutions endorsing the Bill. Conyers has also recently drafted another groundbreaking bill, HR 870 Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, to be funded by a financial transaction tax on Wall Street speculators.
Rep Conyers arrived at the hall early. He spent his time chatting with the various folks from Beaver County and having his picture taken with them. He was warm and friendly and seemed genuinely engaged. As people sat down and started their meal, anticipation to hear Conyers’ remarks had been also engaged. Two younger union leaders led off the program remarks, Rick Galiano, President of USW District 10 and Eric Hoover, President of IBEW Local 201.
"John Conyers has consistently stood up for labor against the Republicans," declared Hoover. "They’re opposing everything positive now for only one reason. They want to drive Obama out of the White House, and they don’t care how much they hurt the country in doing it. We’ve got to turn it around, re-elect Obama and defeat as many of them as we can.’ Fred Redmond, International Vice-President of the United Steel Workers, in his introduction, added the urgency of grassroots mobilization, and pointed to the USW’s support of the new wave of direct actions across the country in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement.
"As a member of Congress who was on Richard Nixon’s enemy list, it was nice to get an introduction like that, "Conyers quipped as he took the podium. He went on to stress three points. First, continue to improve health care, keep working to get HR 676 passed. Second, pass HR 870, which aims to create a full employment society. Third, make our education system affordable. "I don’t want anybody in this country to say I wanted to go to school, but I couldn’t afford it, I couldn’t pay the tuition. That’s not what America is all about."
But Conyers’ final remarks brought the room to its feet in a standing ovation. "I close on this observation. We are in too damn many wars. We have got to get out of Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya. And some other places that I don’t even know about, and you don’t either. The accumulated costs of these wars are somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 trillion dollars. And they keep coming back to working people and saying you got to give up some more. You got to cut back on this, you got to cut back on that. And so I say to you, Martin Luther King had it right – Jobs, justice, and when we say justice we’re talking about economic justice and political justice, and then we will come to peace. Peace not only in this country… but in this world."
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