The Greatest Generation, then and now
Filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose Untold History of the United States excited TV audiences last winter, added a chapter to his narrative in a moving encomium to the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in his keynote speech at the 77th annual reunion held at Pace University in New York on May 5 (video | pictures).
The men and women who went to Spain to stop Hitler and Mussolini, he said, more than most Americans of that era, deserve the honor to be called “the greatest generation.” (See the video of his speech.)
Only two Lincoln vets survive and neither could attend the Sunday event that included Spanish Civil War songs performed by musical group Barbez. But their spirit lives on in ALBA’s teaching programs and particularly in the expansion of ALBA’s human rights agenda. “ALBA focuses on education and human rights,” ALBA Chair Emeritus Peter Carroll said. “But what sets us apart is that we do a third thing: human rights education.”
And human rights was the dominant theme of the day’s program as ALBA joined the Puffin Foundation in bestowing the third ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism to United We Dream (UWD), the largest network of youth-led immigrant activist organizations pushing for reform of immigration policy in the United States. The award includes a $100,000 contribution to encourage the group’s activities to educate the public about the issues.
Michael Ratner, emeritus head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who nominated UWD for the award, spoke about the urgency of their efforts and stressed the remarkable courage of the young activists who put their own status at risk to come out as undocumented Americans. (See the video of his speech.)
Accepting the award on behalf of UWD, Cristina Jiménez and Antonio Alarcón described the problems facing undocumented immigrants that led them, despite great personal risks, to join the movement for change. Both stressed the importance of maximum public participation as the U.S. Congress approaches new legislation to address the issues related to immigration reforms.
A musical quintet, led by Bernardo Palombo, performed three songs, including Woody Guthrie’s “Deportados,” as homage to the young people now in the vanguard of asserting the need for change in immigration policies. Palombo’s connection to the vets goes back decades; he performed the sound track for the documentary, The Good Fight.
One noted absence—last year’s award winner Kate Doyle—only underscored the fact that the struggle for human rights continues on many fronts. Hoping to greet the UWD activists, she was called back to Guatemala to provide testimony in the trial of military leaders accused of the massacre of innocents.
As several speakers mentioned, ALBA’s support of human rights activism continues the tradition of the Lincoln Brigade volunteers, many of whom were immigrants and children of immigrants, who stood up to defend democratic values in the face of their own government’s indifference.