I’ve Got Something to Say 2017

On May Day 2017 we held the Seventh Annual Clara Lemlich Awards at the  Puffin Gallery for Social Activism. The Awards honor women who have been working for the larger good their entire lives, in the tradition of those who sparked so many reforms in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire over one hundred years ago. In the words of the poet Marge Piercy, we honor those who

jump into work head first
without dallying in the shadows…
who do what has to be done,
again and again

Watch the video below, and learn more about the inspiring lives of our honorees by clicking on the images to the right.

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  • title Rita Margules, Clara Lemlich’s daughter, and Jane Margules, Lemlich’s granddaughter

Video by Kuji Banks. Photos by Stephen Harmon, Scott Matthews, Peter Odabashian and Kuji Banks—we are grateful to all of them. See many more photos on the LaborArts Facebook page, and visit our Youtube channel for video of the NYC Labor Chorus and more.




The 2017 Honorees

Click each to learn more

Aisha al-Adawiya

Aisha al-Adawiya

Ingrid Frank

Ingrid Frank

Lidia Correa

Lidia Correa

Vinie Burrows

Vinie Burrows

Mary Albritton Douglas

Mary Albritton Douglas

Lubow Wolynetz

Lubow Wolynetz




View honorees from other years here





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


2017 Event Program

* Welcome *
Whitney W. Donhauser, MCNY Director

* Welcome *
Esther Cohen and Rachel Bernstein

* Poem *
Breena Clarke

* Song *
Annie DiRusso

Honoree Aisha al-Adawiya
Introduced by Sarah Sayeed

Honoree Ingrid Frank
Introduced by Sasha Matthews

Honoree Lidia Correa
Introduced by Edgar Romney

* Greetings *
Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President

Honoree Vinie Burrows
Introduced by Kalie Kamara

Honoree Mary Douglas
Introduced by Arlene Allende

Honoree Lubow Wolynetz
Introduced by Amanda Dargan

* Puffin Gallery for Social Activism *
Perry and Gladys Rosenstein

* Triangle Fire *
Rose Imperato

Bread and Roses and Solidarity Forever
New York City Labor Chorus and audience

Whitney W. Donhauser joined the Museum of the City of New York as President and Ronay Menschel Director in January 2016 following a 23-year career in museum management at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At MCNY Donhauser has overseen the final phases of New York at Its Core, a permanent exhibition, that opened in November, on the four-century history of New York City with a Future City Lab that explores the city’s ongoing challenges. Historic highs in museum and education program attendance and online followers were recorded in 2016, and the first ever multi-lingual advertising campaign aims to draw even more and more diverse visitors.

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.

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

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.

Breena Clarke is an author and activist whose prize winning fiction and dramas about the experiences of African American women include the novel River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah Book Club selection in 1999. She is an advisor to the board of A Room Of Her Own Foundation, co-organizer of the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers and on the faculty of Stonecoast MFA University of Southern Maine.

Annie DiRusso is a seventeen year old singer songwriter from the Hudson Valley.  She has been singing her whole life but she taught herself the guitar at the age of twelve and has been writing songs ever since. She has played shows at The Bitter End, The Towne Crier, The Iguana Club, The Purple Crayon and other venues around the Hudson Valley and Manhattan. See more here.

Sarah Sayeed is a Community Affairs Senior Advisor to Mayor de Blasio, working with the Muslim community in New York. She previously fostered interfaith dialogue, and civic engagement with the Interfaith Center of New York, and taught communications and cultural competency in health care at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College.

Sasha Matthews is a 12-year-old cartoonist who attends 7th grade at a New York City public school. Local bookstores started selling her first self-published comic when she was in 5th grade. After the recent presidential election she launched the “Everyday Superheroes Project” to raise both her spirits and money for the American Civil Liberties Union. The latest superhero: Clara Lemlich [right]. See more of her work here.

Edgar Romney is an organizer and activist with a distinguished career in the ILGWU, its successor organizations UNITE and UNITE/HERE and now Workers United/SEIU. He was the longtime manager of Local 23-25, and now serves as the Secretary-Treasurer of Workers United and as a Board member of the Amalgamated Bank.

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.

Kalie Kamara is a Queens-based rapper, half of the rap duo Exiled Dynamic, who is reading the dictionary to improve his rap. A 2013 graduate of Marlboro College in Vermont, he is featured in the documentary film In Search of Finah Misa Kule. Kamara is currently the director of volunteer services and outreach at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Arlene Allende (or Arlene Ortiz-Allende) is the Senior Vice President – Community & Government Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at St. Barnabas Hospital and Health System in the Bronx.

Amanda Dargan education program director at City Lore for 25 years, manages national outreach education programs and New York City arts, science, and history programs, coordinates professional development program for teachers and teaching artists, and co-edits the CARTS magazine. She co-authored the book, City Play, and teaches courses in folklore at many universities.

Perry and Gladys Rosenstein are co-founders of the Puffin Foundation, dedicated to “&hellp;continuing the dialogue between art and lives of ordinary people.” The Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at MCNY hosts the Lemlich Awards tonight; find out more about their programs at

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.


The seventh annual Clara Lemlich Awards are generously funded by The Puffin Foundation and The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. They are hosted by LaborArts, the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York, and the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, and were organized by Rachel Bernstein, Esther Cohen, Evelyn Jones Rich, Sherry Kane, Rose Imperato and May Chen. Many thanks to Neal Rosenstein, Anne Newman Bacal, Kuji Lezama-Banks, Larry Bush, Kathleen Horan, Rachel Horowitz, Deanna Reeves, Terry Schwadron, Ruth Sergel, Laura Tolkow, Rachel Yood, the NY Labor History Association, and Jewish Currents. We are grateful for the continued expert support of MCNY staff, particularly Sarah Seidman, Samantha Fleck, Francesca Bertolini and Jacob Tugendrajch.

Prints of Clara Lemlich as an Everyday Superhero—drawn by twelve year old cartoonist Sasha Matthews—were presented to this year’s Lemlich Award honorees.

We invite you to visit the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism, and to visit for video of previous honorees and online exhibits, including “Play it Again, Sam,” Songs of the Labor and Progressive Movements of the 1940s.



The World Has Need Of You
by Ellen Bass

everything here
seems to need us
— Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.