Honoring Ruth, Wade, and the Politics of Change
Visitors who stand on the sidewalk in front of the AFL-CIO’s Washington, D.C. building and look left capture a magnificent view of the White House, perhaps three-quarters of a mile away. This was the backdrop Tuesday night for the Coalition on Human Needs’ 13th annual Human Needs Hero Reception.
CHN was proud to honor Ruth Flower, a long-time leader at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The event celebrated decades of activism and leadership on the part of these two leaders, but also the convergence of human needs issues and civil and human rights concerns.
Leading things off was Ellen Teller, Chair of the CHN Board of Directors and Director of Government Affairs for the Food Research and Action Center. “Months ago, when the CHN Board voted on tonight’s honorees, little did we know just how poignant and just how appropriate our choice would be at this particular time,” Ellen said. “Ruth Flower and Wade Henderson have faced violence, division, and bigotry and answered with peaceful action, unity, and justice.”
Ruth was introduced by a former intern of hers who is now one of the best-known figures when it comes to budget and tax policy issues in Congress: Ellen Nissenbaum, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ellen recalled her time in Ruth’s tutelage, describing her as a “phenomenal teacher, incredible role model.”
“The mentoring role…is something we don’t acknowledge, we don’t talk about, but it is incredibly important,” Ellen said.
Ruth said that for activists who advocate on behalf of human needs issues, an important part of their work is simply showing up for the challenge.
“There aren’t that many people working on these issues,” she acknowledged. “Showing up matters. Showing up in meetings. Showing up on the Hill. Showing up in the media. Showing up in social media. Showing up, especially with each other.”
Wade was introduced by two honored guests – Peter Edelman, law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and Faculty Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, and Paul Monteiro, Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service.
Peter cited a Washington Post profile published last December, a story which addressed Wade’s level of energy and diverse issue portfolio. The story read in part:
“A recent Wednesday started with a speech defending affirmative action in front of the Supreme Court. He talked to a strategist about the role of EB-5 visas in an upcoming job creation plan. He looked for someone to attend a protest against anti-Semitism in Budapest. He agreed to attend an education-bill signing at the White House. And throughout the day, he corralled other civil rights leaders to join a media call denouncing Islamophobia in the presidential race.
“And that was all before his organization’s annual membership meeting, where he moved slowly to greet activists packing the hall.”
In his remarks, Wade talked about the importance of coalition-building today – and tomorrow. “The Leadership Conference and the Coalition on Human Needs share one thing in common,” he said. “Our big link together is we’re both coalitions. And if you’re not practicing coalition politics, you’re not practicing the politics of change in the 21st century.”
CHN expressed its gratitude to the AFL-CIO for allowing the event to be held in the group’s Samuel Gompers Room. Samuel was an early leader of the AFL, and his words adorn the room’s wall:
“We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures…”
Because of Ruth, Wade, and the more than 150 activist-leaders who turned out for a special Tuesday evening, perhaps these goals are within our reach.