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59th Annual Debs -- Thomas -- Harrington Dinner

by Leonard Pierce
The annual Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner is one of Chicago DSA’s oldest and most honored traditions, and it closed out its sixth decade in high style on Friday, May 19th, 2017.
2017 Debs Thomas Harrington Dinner
All photos by John Scott
Considering Chicago DSA’s rapid growth over the last year, the dinner was expected to be well-attended, and did not disappoint: the Crowne Plaza Chicago West Loop’s ballroom was filled up with previous attendees and newcomers, all eager to lend their support to our efforts in the coming year. In fact, “A Way Forward” was the theme of the 59th annual dinner, and our speakers and honorees all focused on the road ahead as food and drinks were served by the hotel’s union staff.

Introduction by Patrick Winegar (3:28)
CJ Hawking and Adriana Alvarez
C.J. Hawking and Adriana Alvarez
As should be expected from an event commemorating the life of labor titan Eugene V. Debs, labor was one of the most crucial themes of the evening. After dinner, the DSA’s first honoree, Adriana Alvarez, was introduced by C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist pastor, executive director of Arise Chicago, and one of Oak Park’s most prominent faith-based labor organizers. The Rev. Hawking talked about Ms. Alvarez’s vital work organizing McDonald’s workers in the Fight for $15 movement and how she represents a critical new path in labor agitation for the new millennium.


Adriana Alvarez – with 5-year-old son Manny in tow! – then took the stage to accept her plaque, on behalf of and accompanied by a number of her McDonald’s co-workers. She spoke of her astonishment at being so honored and her surprise at finding herself traveling all over the world to represent some of society’s most marginalized workers, people often taken for granted in the new economy. Ms. Alvarez noted that the work was often degrading, dangerous, and subject to few protections, but focused on the many victories Fight for $15 has won since its inception and emphasized the vital role of solidarity in winning those victories.

Adriana Alvarez and friends
Adriana Alvarez and friends


Clem Balanoff was the next up at the podium, introducing the DSA’s next honoree. Balanoff, a lifelong activist from a storied family of radical Chicagoans, described Larry Cohen as a man “bad at retirement”, who stepped away from a leadership position with the Communication Workers of America only to find himself chairing Bernie Sander’s campaign for Labor. Cohen accepted his plaque with verve and enthusiasm, reminding the audience that the CWA is still fighting battles every day (several attendees at the dinner had come directly from standing on CWA picket lines as they engaged in a three-day strike against AT&T). He stressed the importance of building movements, and of keeping the momentum of the Sanders movement going forward to build more just and democratic institutions in the Age of Trump.

Larry Cohen and Clem Balanoff
Larry Cohen and Clem Balanoff

Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen
Carlos Ramirez Rosa
Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa

The evening’s final speaker was Carlos Ramirez Rosa, the young alderman of Chicago’s 35th ward and a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He charismatically addressed the room with a story of the opportunities afforded him by his immigrant parents, and how he was radicalized as a teenager by the migrant march in 2006 to protest the unfair deportation policies proposed by Republicans in Congress. Though he seemed like an unlikely candidate for government office, he challenged the Democratic machine and won an overwhelming victory to become the alderman of his native Logan Square. He reminded the crowd that while every action may seem like a tiny trickle of effort, they can combine into an unstoppable flood of justice.
Ron Baiman and Brandon Payton Carrillo
Ron Baiman and Brandon Payton Carrillo
South Side DSA member Brandon Payton-Carrillo closed out the evening with a great rendition of “Solidarity Forever”. Many attendees stuck around afterwards to socialize, plan future actions and events, and consider the theme of the evening. DSA plans on being an integral part of the Way Forward to a post-Trump, post-capitalism America. See you all next year at the 60th annual Debs-Thomas-Harrington dinner!

2017 Dinner Group Photo
C.J. Hawking, Clem Balanoff, Larry Cohen, Adriana Alvarez and son, Patrick Winegar, Carlos Ramirez Rosa
2017 Dinner Program Book
59th Debs Thomas Harrington Dinner
Beyond Resistance - A Way Forward

Our Keynote Speaker:

Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa

35th Ward, Chicago City Council

Please Join Us in Honoring:

Larry Cohen

  • Board Chair, Our Revolution
  • Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future
  • Chair, Democracy Initiative
  • President (retired), Communication Workers of America
Larry Cohen

Adriana Alvarez

  • Activist and International Spokesperson, Fight for 15
Adriana Alvarez

Friday, May 19, 2017

Crowne Plaza Chicago West Loop, Madison & Halsted, Chicago

Cash bar at 6 PM -- Dinner at 7 PM -- Tickets @ $90

Tickets must be reserved no later than Tuesday, May 16, although a limited number of tickets may be available at the door at $100. Make sure you and your organization  appear in the program book. For more details, call 773.384.0327 or CLICK HERE (PDF, 2.3 Mbytes) for a flyer that you can also use for ordering tickets by mail.

Auspices: Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation with 501c4 IRS status; contributions are not tax deductible as charitable contributions.

If you can't attend, please consider donating:

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A Way Forward

The 2017 Eugene V. Debs – Norman Thomas – Michael Harrington Dinner will be held Friday, May 19, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago West Loop, Madison & Halsted, on Chicago’s near west side. This will be the 59th annual dinner. We have a great evening lined up, and you are invited to attend!

For those of you new to the movement, the Dinner is something of a Chicago institution that predates DSA. It began in 1958 under the auspices of the newly merged Socialist Party – Social Democratic Federation (SP-SDF) as Chicago’s Debs Day Dinner, much as Republicans had (and often still have) Lincoln dinners and Democrats likewise Jefferson – Jackson dinners. It quickly gained some success as a platform for notable speakers such as Sid Lens, Bayard Rustin, Chicago’s Leon Despres, James Farmer, Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington. After Norman Thomas died, the event became the Norman Thomas – Eugene V. Debs Dinner. In 1971, it became an awards dinner as well as a speaker’s platform. The SP-SDF fell apart and the event was taken over by Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. When they merged with the New American Movement, it was taken over by the resulting Democratic Socialists of America. You can find more the history at HERE.

That was then. The theme for this year’s Dinner is, A Way Forward! There’s no doubt that most of what is decent about our country is in peril. But Trump’s failure to win the popular vote is a clear indication we can go beyond resistance, beyond stalemate to where democracy is victorious and we are on the path to social and economic justice. Our honorees, each in their own way, have made significant contributions to this fight for equality.

Larry Cohen may be familiar to you as being the recently “retired” President of the Communication Workers of America. CWA members have been willing to confront some truly gargantuan corporations, but Cohen’s contributions have not stopped there. He correctly judged the mood of insurgency in our country and was a leader in Labor for Bernie and he’s continued that struggle as Board Chair of Our Revolution. Cohen is the Chair of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of national organizations confronting the corruption of our democracy by corporate money. And he’s a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. He’s also been serving as a rabble-rouser about town, grabbing the bullhorn by the mic in protest of the latest Trumpian outrage.

Adriana Alvarez may be less familiar to you. She is a rank-and-file leader in Fight for 15, a worker at McDonald’s who has been willing to be arrested in support of her fellow workers, opens her home for meetings and, in between raising a son, does what needs to be done in the grand left tradition of a “Janie Higgins”. Alvarez also serves as one of the public faces of the campaign for a $15 / hour minimum wage (and a union), representing that movement on the web, across the nation, and in countries as various as Canada, Brazil and the Vatican. In honoring Alvarez, we are also honoring a movement that, while in the process of exploring alternative organizing strategies, has already made a huge difference in the lives of those at the bottom of our economy.

Our featured speaker is Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa from Chicago’s 35th Ward. Rosa is one of Chicago’s crop of outstanding new leaders in the City Council. Rosa has confronted the problem of governing head on. He has not complacently waited for a movement to begin in his ward around election time. He has taken leadership in making one happen.

Please join us in honoring these two outstanding activists for they deserve your recognition as well as ours. We hope to see you there on Friday evening, May 19.

If you cannot attend or if money for politics is scarce, please consider getting a greeting or an ad in the Dinner Program Book. This is the truly cost-effective way of participating while publicly recognizing the work our honorees have done on behalf of the movement.

The favor of your reply is requested.