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 2019 honorees

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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.

Mediterranean Blue

Naomi Shihab Nye

If you are the child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can’t swim.
My father couldn’t swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated—a story, a food or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don’t dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love for
a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

2019 program

  • Songs
  • New York City Labor Chorus
  • Welcome
  • Whitney Donhauser, Director, MCNY
  • Welcome
  • Rachel Bernstein and Esther Cohen
  • Song
  • Aiyana Smash, Dorothy Manor Singers
  • Honoree Elba Cabrera
  • introduced by Christina Jiminez
  • Jacqueline Ebanks, Mayor’s Commission on Gender Equity
  • Honoree Philoine Fried
  • introduced by Joe Doyle
  • Poem
  • Isaiah Rivera
  • Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President
  • Honoree Melissa Freeman
  • introduced by Breena Clarke
  • Honoree Doris Deither
  • introduced by Katie Goldstein
  • ILGWU 20th Century Heritage Fund
  • Muzaffar Chishti
  • Honoree Ronnie Eldridge
  • introduced by Sasha Matthews
  • Puffin Gallery for Social Activism
  • Perry and Gladys Rosenstein and Neal Rosenstein
  • Triangle Fire Memorial
  • Rose Imperato
  • Song
  • Aiyana Smash

Honorees, past & present

  • 2021 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Barbara Dane Activist Singer
  • Suelika Cabrera Drinane Advocate for the Elderly
  • Debby King Union Fighter
  • Wilhelmina Perry LGBT Convener
  • Muriel Tillinghast Movement Organizer
  • 2020 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Gloria Miguel Spiderwoman Theater founder
  • Sister Mary Lanning helping community members in need
  • Kitty Weiss Krupat defending immigrants
  • Arlene Goldsmith social worker to the neediest
  • Madeline Anderson pioneer filmmaker
  • 2019 Lemlich Award Honorees
  • Elba Cabrera legendary supporter of latino artists
  • Philoine Fried behind the scenes activist
  • Melissa Freeman Harlem physician & addiction treatment pioneer
  • Doris Diether Greenwich village housing activist
  • Ronnie Eldridge activist and feminist politician
  • 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


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Whitney Donhauser is President and Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. She came to MCNY in 2016 from a 23-year career in museum management at the Metropolitan Museum of Art including policy and Masterplan development, capital projects such as the Fifth Avenue Plaza and MET Breuer, and fundraising.
  • 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, teaches and writes about public history and is author, with the late Debra E. Bernhardt, of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: A Pictorial History of Working People in NYC.
  • Aiyana Smash is a 19 year-old singer, songwriter and musician from Mount Vernon, NY and an alumni of Harlem School of the Arts. She has performed at venues such as the world famous Apollo Theater, Steinway Hall, the Highline Ballroom and the Plaza Hotel.
  • Christina Jimenez is a freshman at New York University’s Tisch School Of Drama—New Studio On Broadway, and the first prize winner of a Mabel Mercer Foundation American Songbook competition in 2018.
  • Jacqueline Ebanks is the director of the NYC Commission on Gender Equity, and previously headed the Women’s City Club of New York, a hundred year old nonprofit activist organization.
  • Joe Doyle teaches history and is the UFT representative at Newtown H.S. in Elmhurst (Queens). He is a long-serving board member of the New York Labor History Association.
  • Gale Brewer has been Borough President of Manhattan since 2013. Previously she represented the Upper West Side in the NY City Council, working on legislation helping domestic workers, requiring NYC publications to be made available via the Internet, and more
  • Breena Clarke is an award winning writer whose latest novel is Angels Make Their Hope Here, and she is co-founder of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.
  • Katie Goldstein is a housing justice organizer who has been working for a more just housing system in New York and nationally for over 10 years at Tenants & Neighbors, and now at the Center for Popular Democracy.
  • Muzzafar Chishti, a lawyer, is Director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law, and executive director of the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund.
  • Sasha Matthews is a cartoonist, activist, and 9th grader. Her Everyday Superheroes fundraiser collected over $11,000 for the ACLU. Her comic about migrant family separation was published by The Nation. For more info, including her conversation with Senator Kamala Harris, see or @rumblecomics.
  • 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
  • Rose Imperato has been a guiding light and driving force with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition since its founding in anticipation of the 2011 centennial. She currently works as an administrator at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.
  • Isaiah Rivera is a Staten Island-based writer, activist, poet, and graduating senior of CUNY/Brooklyn College where he led the school’s Puerto Rican Alliance (est. 1968), dedicated to the advancement, education, and unity of Black and Latinx people across the diaspora; this fall he begins a master’s program at Columbia University.