LaborArts


I’ve got something to say!

The Clara Lemlich awards for social activism celebrate the lives of incredible women in their 80s and 90s and 100s whose brilliant activism has made real and lasting change in the world. They’ve been held every year since 2011, and since 2013 have been celebrated at the Museum of the City of New York.

The 2018 honorees

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  • 2017 Honorees
  • 2016 Honorees
  • 2015 Honorees
  • 2014 Honorees
  • 2013 Honorees
  • 2012 Honorees
  • 2011 Honorees

Who was Clara Lemlich?

Clara Lemlich

“I’ve got something to say!” shouted the 23-year old Clara Lemlich in her native Yiddish during a tense, crowded meeting of garment workers in Cooper Union’s Great Hall in 1909. Rising from the audience, she interrupted Samuel Gompers and the other union leaders on stage. Her speech inspired the crowd, leading to an unexpected vote to strike, and to what would become known as the Uprising of 20,000.

Born to a Jewish family in the Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), Lemlich migrated to the U.S. in 1903, found work in the garment industry, and soon became active in the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. The 1909 strike led to reforms, but the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a hold-out, and refused to implement safety improvements.

The fire that took 146 lives on March 25, 1911 was seen across the country as a tragedy that could have been avoided, and it sparked a movement that pushed politicians to accept a new notion about the responsibilities of government. Lemlich continued to be active in the labor movement until she was pushed out for her leftist politics. She continued to work for women’s suffrage, led a boycott of butcher shops to protest meat prices, campaigned for unemployment relief, and fought for tenants’ rights.

One hundred and seven years later we are proud to honor her legacy and to honor those who follow proudly in her footsteps.

Praise Song for the Day

Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

. . .

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

. . .

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

. . .

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

2018 program

  • Welcome
  • Sarah Henry, MCNY Deputy Director
  • Welcome
  • Esther Cohen and Rachel Bernstein
  • Poem
  • Chesray Dolpha
  • Puffin Gallery for Social Activism
  • Perry and Gladys Rosenstein and Neal Rosenstein
  • Honoree Doreen Wohl
  • introduced by Sasha Matthews
  • Mayoral Proclamation
  • Julia Gruberg
  • Honoree Alix Kates Shulman
  • introduced by Tanya Beltram
  • Clara Lemlich
  • Michael Miller, her great grandson
  • Honoree Evelyn Jones Rich
  • introduced by Natatia Griffith
  • Honoree Mirene Ghossein
  • introduced by Kayhan Irani
  • A Triangle Fire Story
  • Sonia Goldstein
  • Honoree Anne Cunningham
  • introduced by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
  • Triangle Fire Memorial
  • Rose Imperato
  • Bread and Roses and Solidarity Forever
  • New York City Labor Chorus and audience

Honorees, past & present

  • 2018 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Doreen Wohl fighting against hunger
  • Alix Kates Shulman feminism / literature / civil rights
  • Anne Cunningham women’s rights / affordable housing
  • Evelyn Jones Rich social advocacy & justice
  • Mirene Ghossein Arab-American culture & poetry
  •  
  • 2017 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Aisha al-Adawiya strengthening the voice of women in Islam
  • Vinie Burrows actor working for civil rights and peace
  • Lidia Correa community activist and garment union organizer
  • Mary Douglas hospital and hospice volunteer
  • Ingrid Frank human rights and peace organizer
  • Lubow Wolynetz preserving Ukrainian cultural traditions
  •  
  • 2016 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Teresa Chan Chinatown community organizer
  • Etta Dixon Brooklyn community organizer, dancer, wellness guru
  • Bea Klier climatologist, science educator, women’s leadership
  • Naomi Replansky and Eva Kollisch literary and cultural creators
  •  
  • 2015 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Winifred Armstrong environmental and economic policy activist
  • Julie Azuma advocate for Japanese Americans and autistic children
  • Sylvia Gutierrez Grant hospital workers 1199 union organizer
  • Lillian Lifflander peace activist
  • L. Ann Rocker environmentalist
  • Gloria Sukenick feminist and tenants’ rights organizer
  • Mimi Stern-Wolfe organizing with music
  •  
  • 2014 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Barbara Bailey NYC Labor Chorus co-founder
  • Marilyn Frankenstein social justice through mathematics
  • Jane Kalmus voter registration
  • Judy Lerner peace and women's rights activist
  • Joan Levine and Sarah Martin environmental community organizing in West Harlem
  • Agnes Wong garment worker organizer and Chinatown community activist
  •  
  • 2013 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Molly Klopot lifelong activist for peace and justice
  • Natalie Gordon social worker, NORC advocate
  • Lois Gray labor scholar, educator and activist
  • Glendora Folsom Buell philosopher, judicial activist
  • Julia Rosario Jorge labor activist
  • Marian Thom labor activist, bilingual paraprofessional
  •  
  • 2012 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Judy West jazz singer, tenant organizer
  • Jackie Steiner musician, anti-fascist activist
  • Betty Reardon feminist peace educator
  • Juanita Nelson war tax resistor
  • Connie Ling garment worker organizer
  • Connie Hogarth agitator for civil rights and the environment
  •  
  • 2011 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Kathy Andrade pioneer immigrant activist
  • Virginia Baron still fighting for peace and for women
  • Dorothy Burnham grass roots civic leader
  • Monnie Callan lifelong union organizer
  • Dorothy DeVouse defender of parents
  • Frances Goldin tireless literary agent
  • Kathy Goldman empowering the poor, feeding the hungry
  • Shui Mak Ka Chinatown garment worker organizer
  • Elaine Katz keeping Yiddishkeit alive
  • Lillian Kimura advocate for WWII internees
  • Rebecca Lepkoff humanitarian photographer
  • Rita Margules Clara Lemlich’s daughter, housing organizer
  • Annie B. Martin pioneer chemist, unionist, and activist
  • Louise Meriwether dedicated peacenik, powerful writer
  • Charlene Mitchell peace movement agitator
  • Shirley Novick centenarian troublemaker
  • Ethel Paley created patient advocacy organization
  • Lillian Pollak novelist of radical politics
  • Suki Terada Ports professional AIDS agitator
  • Lillie Pope educator and activist
  • Maria Portalatin educator/activist for Latin American rights
  • Wendy Rodriguez parishioner activist
  • Marie Runyon intrepid tenant leader
  • Mary Sansone lifelong activist and community organizer
  • Maddy Simon music and culture orchestrator
  • Jessie Taft Smith union campaigner
  • Sylvia Thompson community rabble rouser
  • Eleanor Tilson feminist healthcare expert
  • Ida Torres labor stalwart
  • Joan Wile songwriter and granny militant
  •  
  • Deceased

Speakers

  • Lemlich Family—Clara Lemlich’s daughter Rita Margules received a Lemlich Award in 2011, and she and other family members have enriched the “I’ve Got Something to Say” ceremony in each year since.
  • Sarah Henry is the Museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator. She works closely with the Puffin Foundation and the development of the Activist Gallery as well as the Beyond Suffrage gallery.
  • Esther Cohen writes, teaches, raises money, curates, art directs, and works hard to secure roses for every struggle. She is the former executive director of Bread and Roses 1199/SEIU, a co-founder of Labor Arts, and author of five books. She writes a poem a day at esthercohen.com.
  • Rachel Bernstein, a founder of LaborArts, taught in the graduate program in public history at NYU for decades, and works on public history projects with the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at NYU and the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in lower Manhattan. She is author, with the late Debra E. Bernhardt, of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: A Pictorial History of Working People in NYC.
  • Chesray Dolpha Theatre Artist. Oprah Fellow Winner. Teacher. Mother. Black Lives Matter Protester. Passionate Being and co-creator of Those African Chicks podcast. She’s an AfriGen from Cape Town.
  • Perry and Gladys Rosenstein are directors of the Puffin Foundation, dedicated to “… continuing the dialogue between art and lives of ordinary people.” The Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at MCNY hosts the Lemlich Awards tonight.
  • Neal Rosenstein is the Vice President of the Puffin Foundation; find out more about their programs at puffinfoundation.org.
  • Now attending 9th grade at a New York City public school, Sasha Matthews started selling her first self-published comic at local bookstores when she was in 5th grade. She launched the “Everyday Superheroes Project” after the 2016 election, to raise both her spirits and money for the American Civil Liberties Union. See more at her website RumbleComics.com.
  • Julia Gruberg is Community Coordinator at the Mayor’s Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, part of the Community Affairs Unit, working with houses of worship and community-based organizations on City programs and initiatives.
  • Tanya Beltram, writer and activist born and raised in the Bronx, Tanya holds masters degrees in Fiction and in Poetry. She has recently returned to her beloved city to continue advocating for writers’ rights, and to work on her new book: RAW.
  • Michael Miller is Clara Lemlich’s great-grandson. He is President of the Debate team and of the Senior Council at Bronx High School of Science, and will pursue Political Science, International Affairs and Social Justice in college in the fall. He plays center field for his school’s Varsity Baseball team.
  • Natatia Griffith is Deputy Director of Budgets for the MTA, and a longtime member of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, which she served as president from 2004–2007; she served on the NYC Commission on Women’s issues 2007–2013.
  • Kayhan Irani is a writer, producer, and educator who creates art, media and live events to build community and engage audiences in social justice issues. She was one of ten U.S. artists named as a 2016 White House Champion of Change for her art and storytelling work.
  • Sonia Goldstein is a lifelong activist. She’s an artist, writer, mother, and grandmother and still gets arrested, though she recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday.
  • Gale Brewer is the 27th Borough President of Manhattan, elected in November 2013. She represented the Upper West Side in the NY City council for over a decade, working to pass legislation helping domestic workers, requiring NYC publications to be made available via the Internet, and much more.
  • Rose Imperato has been a guiding light and driving force with the Triangle Fire Coalition since its founding in anticipation of the 2011 centennial. She currently works as an administrator at CUNY’s Murphy Institute.
  • The New York City Labor Chorus, with 75 members representing over 20 labor unions and District Councils, was founded in 1991. The Chorus promotes union solidarity by expressing through song the history and ongoing struggles of workers for economic and social justice. Its dynamic repertoire combines the power and culture of union music with the great gospel, jazz, classical and folk traditions.