Solidarity Forever: NY reunion carries the torch forward

June 11, 2014

Josh White, Jr. Photo Len Tsou.

Solidarity Forever—the commitment to social justice that inspired the volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade stood as a passionate rallying cry at this year’s 78th reunion ceremonies in New York on April 27. (For a 17-minute video summary, click here; photo gallery here.)

Highlighting the event was a musical homage to the late troubadour of the left, Pete Seeger, and the bestowal of the fourth ALBA/Puffin Human Rights Activist Award to the charismatic Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that provides legal support for indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied their legal rights.

Three sets of songs—performed by Josh White, Jr.; Jennifer Glass and Brian Koehler; and the quartet of Peter Blood, Annie Patterson, Matt Emmer, and David Bernz—linked Pete’s ballads of protest with the Spanish Civil War songs he immortalized on vinyl, tape, and CDs. A brief video, rescued from the ALBA archives, showed Pete performing for the Lincoln veterans in the early 1970s. A sign saying Free Angela Davis appeared above Pete’s banjo. He was, as the day’s MC Sebastiaan Faber remarked, the most frequent and most loved singer at the annual Lincoln Brigade events.

Between the musical sets, Tony Geist spoke about the Lincoln veterans’ strong ties to equal rights both during the Spanish Civil War and in numerous civil rights struggles after they returned to America.

ALBA_Puffin_Prize_insertGeist’s remarks segued smoothly to the Human Rights Award ceremony. Introduced by actor Mike Farrell, who heads the anti-capital punishment group Death Penalty Focus, and by Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, Bryan Stevenson represents an important link that ties America’s current legal injustices to a history of racial discrimination and prejudicial jurisprudence.

ALBA Chair Sebastiaan Faber and the Puffin Foundation’s Neal Rosenstein presented Stevenson with a plaque that accompanies the $100,000 award, one of the largest human rights prizes given by any organization.

All of the above, however, was prologue to Stevenson’s riveting address (video here), explaining how and why he works on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders treated as adults, people wrongly convicted, poor people without proper counsel, and various trials marked by racial prejudice and judicial misconduct.

He spoke softly, intensely, drawing on his personal experience with victims of injustice, people broken by systematic violence and deliberate mistreatment. He pleaded, in the end, for hope, insisting that even in the worst situations, he has found inspiration from the people he serves, who offer remarkable examples of resilience, resistance, and self-affirmation. “I am here,” said one distraught woman, determined to be present at a murder trial to support a wrongly accused African-American defendant, despite the court’s open hostility to the members of her community. “I am here.” And Stevenson reminded the audience that all of us are here, continuing to demand equal justice for all.

Some said afterward that Stevenson had brought a spirit of “soul” to the annual event. Some said it was the most moving reunion in the last decade. Some said it carried the Lincoln veterans, of whom only one survives, into the good fight of 21st century. (For a 17-minute video summary of the event, click here; photo gallery here.)


ALBA Annual Celebration 2014 from Sebastiaan Faber on Vimeo.

Bryan Stevenson wins 2014 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism from Sebastiaan Faber on Vimeo.