CHN’s Human Needs Hero Reception: ‘It is indeed dark days, but it is the work we signed up for’
Almost within the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, supporters of the Coalition on Human Needs gathered Tuesday evening for the 14th annual Human Needs Hero Reception. This year’s honorees were UnidosUS (formerly known as the National Council of La Raza) and the National Immigration Law Center, both pillars in the defense of our country’s immigrant community.
The event featured not just food, drink and festivities. It also focused on intersectionality. Even as immigrant rights took center stage, none in the audience could forget that health care – and the threat that millions of Americans could lose coverage – was the subject of intense debate on the Senate floor, just blocks away from Bread for the World headquarters, the host of Tuesday’s event.
“We know it’s been a rough slog this year,” said Ellen Teller, Chairwoman of CHN’s Board of Directors and Director of Government Relations for the Food Research & Action Center. “Never in my history with CHN have we needed to come together more.”
CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein, who moderated the event, agreed.
“We’ve learned at the Coalition on Human Needs that standing together to defend the rights and aspirations of low-income and vulnerable people is not just something altruistic to do – it is essential for our progress as a nation,” she said. “That’s why it is so important to stand together to celebrate the fight for justice and opportunity being waged by UnidosUS and the National Immigration Law Center. Because their fight – and ours – is for the very welcoming values that really do make America great.”
Accepting CHN’s Human Needs Hero Award on behalf of UnidosUS was the group’s Deputy Vice President, Clarissa Martinez de Castro. She thanked CHN for its work toward coalition-building and noted that even though nearly four of every five Latinos in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, attacks on immigrants are felt by everyone in the community.
“When something attacks the immigrant community, it reverberates throughout the whole immigrant community, regardless of immigrant status,” she said. “It is indeed dark days (we face) but it is the work we signed up for.”
Accepting CHN’s Human Needs Award on behalf of the National Immigration Law Center was Kamal Essaheb, the group’s Director of Public Policy. Essaheb, a member of CHN’s Board of Directors, also discussed the importance of coalition-building – and intersectionality.
“Our mission at NILC is to defend and advocate for the rights of low-income immigrants,” he said. “We see our mission, our work, as fundamentally about getting economic justice. And we see our fight as being intrinsically tied to you (at CHN). Our fights couldn’t be more tied as they are at this moment. The only way we survive these moments, whether it is this week, whether it’s next month, whether it’s the rest of this year, whether it’s the next four years, is if we have each other’s backs.”
There was a bit of theater accompanying Tuesday’s program. As Weinstein introduced the honorees and discussed the importance of the work of UnidosUS and the National Immigration Law Center, two 10-foot inflatable replicas of the Statue of Liberty suddenly manifested themselves at the front of the room. And then, as Weinstein discussed current attacks on immigrants, the two Statues of Liberty deflated, their crowns and extended torch-bearing arms suddenly collapsing. But they triumphantly revived as Weinstein celebrated the work of the two groups in mobilizing widespread action and defending the rule of law.
Meanwhile, blocks away on the floor of the U.S. Senate, debate droned on, with nothing at stake except access to health coverage for millions of Americans. The Senate showed clearly just how important coalition work is. Those who attended the Human Needs Hero reception know we’re fighting against powerful forces that want to shrink the capacity of government to respond to need. But, as the first vote to damage the Affordable Care Act failed 43-57, we also see that if enough of us come together, we can beat back harmful proposals – and keep Lady Liberty standing tall.