Over 60 people attended a meeting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in Chicago Jan. 26 and to discuss building the April 21-May 5 May Day International Volunteer Work Brigade in Solidarity with Cuba. Six people signed up to go on the brigade and over $700 was collected to help fund their trip.
The meeting was held at the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois headquarters. Participants were welcomed by Faith Arnold, the state union vice president. Arnold talked about her experiences on last year’s brigade, where she joined with 290 others from 31 countries, including 74 from the United States. “I just loved seeing all the union contingents marching on May Day in Revolution Square,” said Arnold. “For me it was the highlight of the brigade.”
Jabari Tidmore, of the Chicago Cuba Coalition, and Dan Fein, a coalition member and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in Chicago, co-chaired the meeting. Fein described how Cuba’s workers and farmers, led by Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement, took power on Jan. 1, 1959 and began to transform the country to meet their needs. He explained how they’ve extended the hand of solidarity to workers’ struggles worldwide and stood up against six decades of the U.S. rulers’ economic and political attacks.
Tidmore urged those at the meeting to sign up for the brigade, as it had been a “life-changing experience” for him.
Sheila McNary, who had been a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party, gave greetings and described how Cuba had offered asylum for party members during the Black rights struggle. The African-American music and dance youth group Kuumba Lynx performed.
A similar event drew 80 people Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the DC Metro Coalition in Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. It featured Miguel Fraga, first secretary of the Embassy of Cuba. He invited participants to come see Cuba and its revolution for themselves and to bring what they learn back to people in the U.S.
Excited about the brigade
“I am excited to travel to Cuba to see what a government that is built to truly care for its people looks like. Because from this vantage point, living in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine,” Kaitlin Estill told the Militant about her plans to go on the May Day brigade.
Estill, a middle school special education teacher in San Francisco, discussed the brigade with Socialist Workers Party member Samir Hazboun, from Louisville, Kentucky, who is also going on the trip. “I’m excited to go to Cuba as a teacher, to see an education system built to really encourage and facilitate learning,” Estill said. “I can barely picture what my job would look like if, instead of helping kids swim upstream all day, I was given the time and resources to facilitate curiosity, creativity and true learning.”
As brigade participants meet Cuban workers and farmers, and representatives of their mass organizations, they will learn about the history of the Cuban Revolution and its impact on the lives of working people on the island and around the world. Brigadistas can share their experiences in the struggles and political developments they have been part of in their own countries.
On May 1, brigade participants will join hundreds of thousands of Cubans at the annual International Workers Day march and rally in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) is sponsoring the brigade. Its call for the brigade explains that 2019 also marks the 80th anniversary of the Central Organization of Cuban Trade Unions (CTC). As part of their itinerary, participants will meet with CTC members and leaders to discuss the history and current efforts of the union movement there.
Brigadistas will be based at the Julio Antonio Mella camp 25 miles outside Havana and do volunteer labor at nearby farms. They’ll visit the provinces of Havana, Artemisa, Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus, visit museums commemorating key events in Cuban history, and meet with Cuban groups in each city.
A $650 fee covers all expenses in Cuba, including accommodation, meals and transportation. The round-trip airfare to Cuba is extra.
The U.S. contingent is being organized by the National Network on Cuba. Applications are open until March 15 — six weeks from now — and are available along with more information at www.nnoc.info. The complete itinerary and program of the 14-day brigade can be seen there.
Dan Fein from Chicago and James Harris from Washington, D.C. contributed to this article.