Celebrating with CHN: The Human Needs Hero gala
The Coalition on Human Needs Thursday night marked its 40th anniversary with a Human Needs Hero gala that recognized decades of victories, clambering back from defeats, amazing organizing accomplishments, and more than a few heroes of the progressive movement.
The timing of the event was a little off, and so deserves explanation. CHN actually was founded 41 years ago, as part of a broad effort to combat proposals by then-President Reagan to block-grant certain social services spending programs – block grants being code for “budget cuts.”
But pandemics tend to interfere with the best-laid plans, so the 40th anniversary gala was put off to this year. That did not hinder the atmosphere of merriment and celebration that attended the virtual event.
Throughout the evening, CHN Board Chairwoman Ellen Teller, who served as moderator, recognized a number of CHN member groups that have garnered CHN’s annual Human Needs Hero award over the years. These groups included the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and the National Education Association (NEA).
NWLC Executive Director Fatima Goss Graves praised CHN for its work in organizing Capitol Hill lobby visits and adhering to the concept of coalition – a concept that requires inclusion and diversity. “I know my team has been on countless and endless Hill visits together and strategy sessions together and really always sharing, uplifting the stories of who’s most at need along the way – and who’s most directly affected by poverty and inequality,” she said. “And leading alongside us with a perspective that includes gender and race together. And that is the sort of work that can only be done when done together, when done in coalition.”
NILC Executive Director Marielena Hincapie noted efforts by the Trump Administration to use the pandemic as an excuse for stigmatizing the immigrant community and preventing legal immigration to the U.S. “We know that COVID has disproportionately impacted communities and devastated communities of color,” she said. “And then when we have that coupled with racial animus, with anti-immigrant sentiments, with public charge, for example, which was one of Trump’s and Stephen MIller’s top priorities, a racial wealth test, that is when CHN showed up as not only a strong ally but a partner in our fight.”
Laura Peralta-Schulte, NETWORK’s Senior Director for Public Policy and Government Relations, recalled being a teenager living in San Francisco in the early 1980s, wondering how once-Governor Ronald Reagan had become President of the United States, an event that would precipitate CHN’s launch. “In many ways we have been living in the desert created by the Reagan Administration for 40 years and we are only now hopefully beginning to turn the tide,” she said.
And Christin Driscoll, federal lobbyist, NEA Government Relations, recalled working with CHN since she was in her 20s and working for a small nonprofit. She urged those following in her footsteps to maintain the level of organizing that has driven CHN for four decades. “So those of you who are the twenty-somethings of today – we need you to stay in these fights and in these organizations and to keep pushing the envelopes,” she said.
Also participating in the remote event were nine leaders in Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rep. John Yarmouth (D-KY), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
“You are the human needs heroes that the American people deserve,” Speaker Pelosi told the gathering. She spoke of our common values, “Driven by a shared commitment to fighting for the children, to strengthen families’ health and financial security.”
Rep. Hoyer also congratulated CHN for its 40 years. “From faith groups to labor unions, policy experts to civil rights advocates, the Coalition on Human Needs has brought together a diverse set of partners to stand up for the interests of some of the most vulnerable people in our country,” he said. “Your work supporting key policy priorities such as affordable child care, health care and housing – this is as important today as it has ever been.”
“Over the last four decades, the Coalition on Human Needs has fought for our children, hardworking families, immigrants, people who need affordable health care, housing, child care, and food and job-related services,” said Rep. DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “I am so proud to be your ally in these fights and look forward to continuing our partnership for years to come.”
Rep. Yarmouth, who chairs the House Budget Committee, credited CHN for working to pass the bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which halted years of debilitating cuts to social services programs and put an end to years of chronic disinvestment. “The Coalition was with us every step of the way,” he said. “Now Congress is enacting long-overdue investments that will generate a stronger, more equitable economy and truly meet the needs of our communities. These investments are powering our record-breaking recovery. We’re creating jobs and expanding opportunities for Americans across the country.”
And Sen. Brown offered this advice: “We need you to tell your stories,” he said. “When you love this country, you fight for the people who make it work. That’s what all of you do with your activism.”
CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein closed out the evening’s ceremonies with a reminder. “This year, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we know CHN has lasted this long because of you. So all of us together, all of us together, are the Human Needs Heroes,” she said.