I’ve Got Something to Say

The Sixth Annual Clara Lemlich Awards were held in May, 2016, honoring 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.

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

“I want to be able to look my children in the eye some day and say I tried to stop that” said Debra Bernhardt at a demonstration against military expenditures in the early 1980s—capturing the sentiment of Lemlich honorees from 2011 through today.

  • title Bea Klier at the reception
  • title Reception
  • title Edgar Romney, Bea Klier, Etta Dixon, Teresa Chan, Eva Kollisch, Naomi Replansky
  • title NYC Labor Chours members
  • title Etta Dixon, Virginia Baron, Eva Kollisch and Naomi Replansky
  • title Students from J. Taylor Finley Middle School, Huntington, Long Island
  • title Eva Kollisch and Naomi Replansky
  • title Teresa Chan

Video of the event shot and edited by Kuji Banks. Photos by Kuji Banks, Peter Odabashian, Steven Chan and Gary Schoichet. See many more on the LaborArts Facebook page.


The 2016 Honorees

Click each to learn more

Teresa Chan

Teresa Chan

Etta Dixon

Etta Dixon

Bea Klier

Bea Klier

Naomi Replansky and Eva Kollisch

Naomi Replansky and Eva Kollisch




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


2016 Event Program

* Welcome *
Whitney W. Donhauser, MCNY Director

* Welcome *
Esther Cohen and Rachel Bernstein

* Welcome *
Edgar Romney, Secretary-Treasurer, Workers United

* Jazz Poem *
Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg

Honoree Teresa Chan
Introduced by May Chen

Honoree Etta Dixon
Introduced by Patch Schwadron
Accompanied by dance partner Bernard Dove

* Clara Lemlich *
Michael Miller (great grandson)

Honoree Bea Klier
Introduced by Tamara Milton

Honorees Naomi Replansky
and Eva Kollisch
Introduced by Kathy Chamberlain

* Greetings *
Robert Jackson

* Proclamation from
Mayor De Blasio *
Katie Unger

* LaborArts *
Donald Rubin, The Rubin Museum

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

Whitney W. Donhauser, the President and Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York since January 2016, has had a successful 23 year career in museum management and fundraising. As Senior Advisor to the President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donhauser worked with the Trustees, Director, and President on major capital and exhibitions projects, museum policy and government relations, and served as the primary contact with the White House for events hosted by President Obama and others.

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 co-founder 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.

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.

Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg co-founded the jazz poetry ensemble UpSurge. Turner is a NYC activist poet whose appearances have included the Monterey Jazz Festival, Panafest in Ghana, West Africa, and with James Baldwin, CA Congresswoman Barbara Lee following her lone vote against attacking Afghanistan, and many others. Lowenberg has appeared at music festivals, rallies, clubs, bookstores and universities from NYC to New Orleans to San Francisco. Her acting credits include The Lysistrata Project, the Stein-Toklas Project, and John Brown’s Truth, an improvised musical.

May Y. Chen devoted a career of more than 25 years to the garment workers’ union in New York, as Manager of Local 23-25 and Vice President of UNITE HERE and Workers United. Chen worked at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, teaching and coordinating international projects. She is a founder of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. Now retired, Chen is an activist volunteer with the causes of workers, women, and Asian American communities and serves as Board President of the NYS Immigrant Action Fund.

Margaret Chin, NY City Council representative for lower Manhattan since 2010, is a member of the Progressive Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, and has twice been elected as an executive member of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus. She currently chairs the City Council’s Committee on Aging. For more than 30 years she has dedicated herself to public service to help immigrants, low income and working families.

Patch Schwadron, a former dancer, has worked as a career counselor to performing artists at The Actors Fund for over 16 years. Since January, she has been focusing primarily on assisting the dance community as Senior Career Counselor for Career Transition For Dancers, now a program of the Actors Fund.

Bernard Dove is a choreographer, a dance instructor, a master of swing dance, and a longtime member of the Harlem Swing Dance Society.

Michael Miller is Clara Lemlich’s great-grandson. A sophomore at the Bronx High School of Science, he is a Novice Director on the Speech and Debate team, will be a co-captain of the Congressional Debate team next year, and has been a Student Senate representative for two years. With an interest in social science, he conducted research this year on the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods in New York City. He also plays center field for his school’s Junior Varsity Baseball team.

Tamara Milton served as an Environmental Conservation Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, 2012-2014, and contributed to climate change research in the Michigan dune system upon return. She currently works for the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at American Museum of Natural History and will begin a graduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan in the fall.

Perry and Gladys Rosenstein are co-founders 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; find out more about their programs at

Kathy Chamberlain chaired the Women Writing Women’s Lives biography seminar, affiliated with the CUNY Graduate Center, for ten years and remains on their board. She is the author of Jane Welsh Carlyle and her Victorian World, forthcoming from Overlook Press.

Robert Jackson represented District 7 (including Harlem and Washington Heights) in the New York City Council until term limits ended his service. As Community School Board 6 President, together with Mike Rebell, he founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in 1991. He was a candidate for Borough President of Manhattan in 2013.

Katie Unger is an independent strategic consultant for labor and social justice organizations and a fourth-generation New York labor activist. She has developed organizing campaigns in the fast-food, laundry and other industries, and recently worked with communities on progressive policies as a Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. She is writing an op-ed series about Uber, work, organizing and the new economy in City Limits. @KungerNYC

Evelyn Jones Rich has been a public school teacher and principal as well as an Associate Dean at Hunter College/CUNY, and an historian of African history. In retirement she served as Executive Director of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. She is a co-founder of Labor Arts and a lifelong trouble maker and activist in the fight for civil rights, effective education, and for the rights of senior citizens.

Donald Rubin is co-founder with his wife Shelley Rubin of the Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin's large collection of Himalayan art provides the core of holdings in the Rubin Museum of Art. Rubin was the founder of MultiPlan, Inc., a major general service PPO health provider. He serves on the board of The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and is a member of the Global Philanthropists Circle.

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 sixth 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 Raul Nunez and Brad Segal of Corks on Columbus, and to Anne Newman Bacal, Kuji Lezama-Banks, Anuska Corbin, Veronica Garcia, Elena Palankerina, Kimberly Schiller and her Huntington, Long Island middle school students, Ruth Sergel, Anna Shelkin, Laura Talkow, Stephanie Thompson, the NY Labor History Association, and Jewish Currents. We are grateful for the continued expert support of MCNY staff, particularly Jerry Gallagher, Sarah Seidman, Samantha Fleck and Francesca Bertolini.

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.


To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy
From To Be of Use (Doubleday, 1973)