Washington, DC “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! It is our duty to win!” The staid, carpeted interior of the venerable National Press Club rang with the shouts of activist women from around the country on the night of November 12, as #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Cullors ended her Edna Award acceptance speech with a call-and-response rallying cry.
The rousing cheers for Cullors capped off the Berger-Marks Foundation’s annual event, where Foundation Trustees Linda Foley, Carolyn Jacobson, Gladys Cisneros, Louise Walsh, Yvette Herrera, and Kitty Peddicord honored a group of young activist women with the Edna Award for Social Justice, the Edna Awards of Distinction, and the Kate Mullany Courageous Young Worker Awards. The Kate Mullany Awards and Edna Awards of Distinction come with checks for $1,000, while the Edna Award comes with a $10,000 prize. The winners traveled from as far away as Los Angeles and Florida to accept their awards. The judges for this year’s Edna Award were prominent labor movement women including: Jennifer Epps-Addison, former executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and senior program officer at the Liberty Hill Foundation; Valerie Ervin, executive director of the Participatory Democracy Project at the Working Families Organization; SEIU President Mary Kay Henry; Terry O’Neill, President of NOW; and CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens.
The three Kate Mullany Award winners were chosen by the Berger-Marks Foundation Trustees for their bravery, strength, and organizing skill in the face of often overwhelming odds. Stephanie Alejandro, a restaurant worker from Los Angeles, caught her employer in the act of committing wage theft and organized her coworkers to fight back. She faced retaliation and ultimately became a full-time organizer with Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC-LA). Anggie Godoy, a young McDonalds employee, joined the Fight for 15 movement and has traveled as far as New Zealand in her quest for better wages and working conditions for McDonalds workers. Sarina Santos, a baggage handler at the Philadelphia Airport, fought the airlines, the contractors, and City Hall to get a living wage for herself and her coworkers. Though she lost her job because of her organizing work, she won a pay increase for other airport workers to $12 and now says “it was 100% worth it.”
Edna Awards of Distinction went to AFL-CIO Director of Worker Centers and Deputy Director of Community Change, Neidi Dominguez for her tireless advocacy on behalf of immigrant workers; and to Rise Up Georgia’s Nelini Stamp for her anti-racism and civil rights work.
But it was Cullors whose remarks struck at the heart of what the Berger-Marks Foundation seeks to lift up in its annual awards ceremony: “I feel grateful, I feel excited; I am also exhausted,” she said. “We must love each other and support each other! We have nothing to lose but our chains.”