Celebrating Social Justice

Editor's Note: On April 29, 2004 the Los Angeles-based Liberty Hill Foundation honored activist and political strategist Tom Hayden with its Upton Sinclair Award. National immigration rights activist Angelica Salas was honored with the Change Maker Award. Below, find Howard Dean's introduction of Hayden, and acceptance speeches from Hayden and Salas.

Howard Dean, introducing Tom Hayden In many ways, what we did last fall had a lot to do with the roots of the ideas that Tom Hayden brought to this country when I was a sophomore in college. He is an extraordinary human being.

Let me first read a letter from somebody who wishes he were here, but is not able to be and I, frankly, would be happy to switch places with him.
Dear friends,
I would like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to you in recognition of all your efforts. On behalf of social justice and community development in the Los Angeles area, you are investing and building up the grassroots leadership that's been so vital in energizing American democracy.
It's also my pleasure to extend personal congratulations to your former senator, my old friend Tom Hayden. He's truly deserving of your Upton Sinclair award for his enduring role in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Unfortunately, Theresa and I cannot join you tonight but we want you to know that we share your foundation's commitment to enriching our lives sincerely.
With warmest regards,

John F. Kerry
This is a time where social justice again is the issue in this country as it was when I was 19 and 20 years old. I can't think of anybody who has done more in a wide-ranging career than Tom Hayden to set that path. I often thought while we were running a campaign how fantastic it was to be able to impart to all those thousands and thousands of young people who were drawn into politics again for the first time how generational it was and how I'd experienced the same thing when I, 35 years ago when I was 20 years old, because of people like Tom Hayden. Tom really set the stage for an extraordinary career a long time ago. Standing up at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention when the Democratic Party as it is now was in need of a fundamental change and Tom Hayden and the Chicago Seven and others made it possible for the Democratic Party to open itself up so that ordinary people could speak to the process again. In my generation, the so-called Vietnam generation, whoever would've thought that after the terrible mistakes in Vietnam that another president would take us in to make the same terrible mistake in Iraq. We can do better than that.

And Tom Hayden led the way to show us how to do the grassroots organizing, spoke of community and meant real community, inclusive community, including all of America, people of color, people who were poor, not just white, middle class, college students. He understood how critical it was that we bridge the world of grassroots politics and street protest with the halls of power.

It was an extraordinary thing when Tom was elected to the California State Senate and began to use the political process to put his ideas into place. Californians, because of Tom Hayden, have a cleaner environment, a better public education system, stronger labor laws.

In 1960, Tom, who was then a young college journalist, met Dr. Martin Luther King at the Democratic Party Convention. Dr. King encouraged him to take a stand with his life and there were no words of advice that were ever taken more deeply to heart. Forty years, Tom Hayden, a true American son, has stood for and stood with a democracy built from the grassroots up.

Tom Hayden
I have to tell you this enthusiasm tonight and these accolades and applause are making me consider entering politics as a candidate one more time. There, I've considered it and I've decided not to. That doesn't mean that I'm ready to retire but politics does something to your thinking and I've only learned that as a recovering politician. I'm not ready to retire, I know that these awards are often kind of a gentle subliminal push off the stage of life but I'm not ready to go. I might be ready to cut my speech but what I started to feel in the past couple of years is a desire, a need to return to my radical roots. And that's because I saw these huge demonstrations in the global justice movement that started in Seattle. I saw this huge anti-war movement against Iraq that developed -- millions of people before there was even a war. I saw the independent media flourishing again. I saw what you've seen all around us. We're in a time in which movements are alive, a million people marching for women's rights just a week ago in Washington D.C. I think that from my experience, movements arise in a mysterious commitment of people to their own dignity and they rise at the margins out of that mystery. And they march from the margins into the mainstream until they become a majority and then people fight over the meaning.

Everything that we love as American citizens about our country comes from radicals in their time who fought for independence, for social justice, for women's suffrage. There'd be no abolition of slavery without John Brown and no justice without Sojourner Truth. There'd be all of these movements instigated from the outside and I feel like we are in a similar time.

Here in Los Angeles there's really no better place. The big issues like global justice have local battlefronts in this continuing fight and I hope you'll support Councilman Garcetti. We have been trying for 16 months to get the city of Los Angeles to stop using tax dollars to subsidize sweatshops. Los Angeles should not be the sweatshop capital of North America but they're at it again and we have to stop it. The city is not only the sweatshop capital, but 12,000 young men have died in street wars in the last 20 years in Los Angeles. We are the capital of gang violence in the country and perhaps the world and we have spent in this county $50 billion in the last 10 years on the criminal justice system, the revolving door system. Fifty billion dollars with a B.

By contrast, the city's major program for kids, keep 'em out of trouble, keep 'em doing things in the afternoons, a great program, L.A. Bridges, its budget is one million dollars. That is 1/2000th of the budget for the LAPD. We have to change that. We can do that.

Liberty Hill's great genius is to find ways to bring these issues in our backyard into focus. And we need to support people like Alex Sanchez from Homies Unidos and the others in the audience who are trying to save lives by turning their lives around on the streets. It's not so easy because if a gangbanger turns their life around and becomes a peacemaker, like Alex or like "Tookie" Stanley Williams, a founder of the Crips, the system still wants to execute them. What message that sends, I don't know. Once a gangmember, always a gangmember. But I think together if we focus on Governor Schwarzenegger, the Ninth Circuit has said "Tookie" deserves clemency for his good work. Fox Network made a movie about him called Redemption. We ought to be able to get Governor Schwarzenegger to provide clemency for "Tookie" Williams this year and redemption in the real world for real people will take place.

I want to also say the most unique thing about Liberty Hill's city, LA, is that it's the storytelling capital of the world. There are so many people here -- a lot of them, the best and brightest are forced to wallow and muddle around in entertainment or commercials and then come to these dinners and make a contribution. There's a secretive entertainment-military complex actually financed by the Pentagon to condition the public for permanent war through Hollywood. But out of those same depths of creativity, all of us know such good friends have come like our fallen idealist Patrick Lippert in Rock the Vote. Gentle warriors in this room I know are here like Marge Tabankin who stood against the intervention in Central America. Sharon Gellman who with Alfre Woodard, and Roderick Spencer formed Artists for a New South Africa. Countless people in this room fought against AIDS and pollution of the air and so many people know the good work of Mike Farrell and Robert Greenwald who united as artists against this crazy war in Iraq. So it all can happen here.

Liberty Hill is I think in many ways a living expression of the generation that I come out of, that awakened in the '60s, that took risks for radical change and which now looks uncomfortably at the power and confusion that comes with successful middle age. We have achieved great change, no doubt about it. But is anybody in this room satisfied with our legacy yet? I doubt it. With what we've become? I doubt it. With the example we've set for the next generation? I doubt it.

I've struggled with these questions, with the temptations of power, the seductiveness of power, the responsibilities of family. We've all struggled with these questions. And I wonder is anyone out there tonight asking what I've been asking myself lately. Is this all there is? One hotel dinner after another? One more celebration of ourselves? A collection of tax-deductible contributions? Night after night until the candles all burn out? When one of our generation's greatest poets is doing commercials for Victoria's Secret. Is that okay with us because that's just the way the world goes?

A long time ago when I was a young civil rights worker in Mississippi, scared for my life, I read a novel called Bread and Wine by Ignacio Silone about an organizer in the 1930's named Don Paulo. I have the book and I underlined this passage on the yellow page. "What would happen if we remained loyal to the ideals of our youth? Don Paulo asked. And Don Luigi raised his arms to high heaven as if to say, it would be the end of the world."

That was 1936. An ominous time like today. Well, what would happen if we committed to remain loyal to the ideals of our youth? What I'm learning at this point in my life is that while it's harder when the innocence is gone, no one is ever too compromised or too old to return to their youthful ideals. Together the people in this room have proven themselves to be a mighty force for change. I did a quick calculation in this room. If you went back to the ideals of your youth and started spending down your collective wealth, your principal, on behalf of your principles, you could put together more money in one night than George Bush has amassed for his entire presidential campaign. It's all possible. Are you up for it? I don't know. Am I? I don't know.

Our creative potential, it's like a never-ending breeder reactor. There is this thing that I've seen when movements take off and when they hit critical mass. It's like a breeder reactor and you could change Los Angeles into a showcase of justice and you can change this country if we don't... if we don't, what's the option? Our kids will be bothering us with questions, our grandchildren will ask what did you do during the Iraq War, Daddy? What did you do during the War in the Middle East, Mommy? What did you do during the war in Colombia? What did you do during the war on drugs?

I am already troubled by these questions because I asked them of my father and I want never to be asked them by my children. So before we take back America as the saying goes, and it's a worthy project, maybe we need to take back our roots, our time, our spirit, and our original priorities from the institutions that we belong to that give us so much status, but leave us wanting to do so much more.

I thank you. And I accept this award in the spirit of Upton Sinclair, a truly wild person, and when I first entered California politics, I read his book, I, Governor of California and it was a big influence on me. He was a person that built a movement, not simply a candidacy. He was stopped. He was ganged up on actually by The Los Angeles Times, the Democratic Party establishment and the Republicans. But what he worked for, what he fought for was accepted in the New Deal. And when he was famously arrested, The Times called for ridding Los Angeles of what it called "all loafers and radicals."

Well, some of us are still here. You know which you are. And I'm honored to be in your ranks and the ranks of such radicals who always make history for future generations. Thank you, Liberty Hill. You do great work. I'm honored with this award.

Angelica Salas
Good evening, I want to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Liberty Hill Foundation for this recognition. It is truly an honor to be recognized by an institution that for so many years has dedicated itself to the transformation of Los Angeles from a city for the privileged and few to one that works for everyone, especially the poor and sometimes hopeless. Without the financial support of Liberty Hill Foundation, the work that you are honoring me for this evening would have been constricted at best. The work of CHIRLA is also enhanced and made stronger because of the many partners and leaders of organizations and unions that accompany our struggle. So, I sincerely thank you for this award and for the support that you provide to so many organizations, that like CHIRLA, are endeavoring to construct equity and justice in communities.

The construction of equity and justice is a difficult venture during these times of mass confusion and wanton greed. Everywhere we turn, we see those who have the least paying the highest price (losing their jobs, their dignity, their families, or their lives) for the greed of the few and powerful.

The situation for immigrants falls in this category. The dirty little secret of this city and this country is that it is taking advantage of a whole population of people, paying them miserable wages without benefits and denying any type of recognition and protection under the law. Immigrants, especially the undocumented, are treated as chattel that work the fields, factories, homes and business towers of this country. For this work and sacrifice, the reward for immigrants is a mass categorization as criminals and potential terrorists, and as individuals who cannot be trusted with a simple driver's license or identification card. Their children, if undocumented, are denied access to an education beyond high school and forced to live in poverty and obscurity like their parents. This reality puts to shame this country's ideals of equity and fairness. It destroys the notion of an American dream certainly for those immigrants that are so marginalized, but also for each one of us who believe that a different world is possible.

Poor and invisible is how immigrants will continue to live if changes are not made to our immigration laws and to our local and state laws where applicable, but most importantly if changes are not made in our hearts and minds. Poor and invisible is how immigrants will live if we do not commit to challenging immigration laws and the whole notion of barring a whole category of immigrants from ever remedying their situation and keeping families separated for years. Change means ensuring that the close to 9 million undocumented immigrants be given an opportunity to legalize their status in this country and if they earn it have access to citizenship. Change means allowing their children the opportunity that they have earned to go to college and give back to this country. Change means denouncing those who paint immigrants with the brush of criminality simply for having the courage to uproot themselves and their families from devastating poverty and political turmoil and migrate to this land. Change means enforcing labor laws to protect workers from abusive employers. Change means stopping the trafficking of human beings that result in hundreds of immigrants locked and chained in homes right in our backyard. Change means supporting mass organization today to construct a future of hope, a future of justice for all.

Once again I thank you for this honor and am humbled to be in your company and in the company of my fellow awardees, Tom Hayden, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and Antonio Manning. Most importantly, I thank you for being part of a community for social change and for recognizing through this award the inherent humanity of the immigrant community to whom I owe and work for.

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