Cast Your Vote for the 6th Annual Maria Leavey Tribute Award Winner

Voting for the sixth annual Maria Leavey Tribute Award winner is now closed. This award will be presented at the Take Back the American Dream conference to one of these five finalists based on your votes. Each of these finalists have been selected by a panel of Maria’s colleagues and allies from dozens of nominees based on the importance of their behind-the-scenes work for the progressive movement in the past year.

Read the brief nomination statements for each candidate and make your selection now. Balloting closes on May 15, 2012 at 11:59 PM ET. Find out more about the Maria Leavey Award.

Click here to register for the Take Back the American Dream conference.

Samantha Corbin
The Other 98% / Occupy Wall Street

Though there are "no leaders" in Occupy Wall Street, when people start rising up there are always some people ferociously hard at work in the background, even if they never get credit. Sam — currently Actions Director for the Other 98% — is one of those people and she has played a critical role on the ground at Occupy Wall Street since day 1.

In 2011 Sam was a key member of the US Uncut national team, and before that an environmental justice crusader with Greenpeace. She also founded the New York Action Network and is a nonviolent direct action trainer with the Ruckus Society.

With a talent for the true work of organizing, she listens carefully, plans strategically, and coordinates people to take action. She is meticulous in planning nonviolent direct actions that are creative, fun and impactful. Presently, she has been working to bring that special spark of Occupy Wall Street across the country with the 99% Spring, where she has been helping to create the national training curriculum and embolden the Progressive Movement in our strategies for change.

Sam Corbin is some of the best that Occupy Wall Street has to offer and singing the praises of this one person, who has worked silently in the background to help make Occupy Wall Street happen, honors the many people who have brought economic inequality back to the forefront of the American political dialogue.

Peter Wagner
Prison Policy Initiative

Peter Wagner built the national movement to keep the prison industrial complex from exercising undue influence on the political process. He exposed an ancient Census Bureau rule that allowed pro-prison legislators to bar people in prison from voting and then claim their political clout. It's called prison-based gerrymandering. It violates the constitutional guarantee of "one-person-one-vote" and resembles the three-fifths clause of the Constitution that gave the South extra representation for their slaves.

Peter demonstrated that the problem was real, and then he changed the frame to build a bipartisan urban and rural movement where almost everyone benefits from ending prison-based gerrymandering. Today, four states have outlawed the practice of prison-based gerrymandering and the Census Bureau is starting to take notice.

Working for much of the decade without formal funding or institutional support, Peter built the movement from the ground up. He used his blog on the website to develop the movement's consensus around messaging and the necessary federal, state and local solutions. He seized the imagination of the press, of criminal justice reformers, and good government groups and over a decade built one of the major civil rights victories of the past decade.

Peter deserves credit for having the vision to see how mass incarceration was diluting our right to vote, and for having both the skills and the drive to build a successful movement for change.

Jonathan Westin
New York Communities for Change

As powerful as Occupy Wall Street has been, the ability to win concrete victories for working people was almost always dependent on the connections built between Occupy Wall Street and ongoing campaigns. Nowhere was that more true than with Jonathan Westin.

Jonathan is organizing director for New York Communities for Change, one of the largest community-based organizations in New York. He was instrumental in driving the millionaires’ tax campaign in New York and worked on the May 12 coalition that organized an occupation of the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. He went on to a 20,000-person march on Wall Street, where many of the original Occupy Wall Street organizers met.

Jonathan was able to work with various groups to help shape their work in relation to Occupy Wall Street. He worked with other community-based organizations and unions on the October 5 march to Zuccotti Park, an event that was vital for Occupy and for having the world see the left come together again. He was also involved in the billionaires’ march a week later that included Occupy and community organizations together taking on Wall Street.

Jonathan’s work also was pivotal to the success of the November 17 National Day of Action in New York, the largest national day of action the city had seen since the war protests.

He has been a conduit to supporting the Occupy movement from the community organization perspective while taking hits along the way.

Lee Slaughter
Community Organizer

Lee has worked in health care for over 30 years and now lives in Atlanta. She has been organizing since she was in high school. She has two broken legs from a 2009 accident, but that has not stopped her from doing the things she feels are important to bring positive change to her community.

In 2007 and 2008 she was a neighborhood captain for the Obama campaign and drove low-income people of color to the polls. She has organized marches, rallies and many events for reproductive rights. She fought tirelessly during the health care debate for universal coverage.

Lee has stood up to defend women's health clinics from the harassment from the religious right. She has hosted house parties for "Rebuild the Dream"; more recently she hosted Emory University students to explain what crashed our economy and why their student loan debt is integral to what happened. Last year she organized a "Move your Money" campaign and 73 families switched from large banks to local credit unions.

Lee is currently organizing a March for Women's Health at the Capitol. Recently Lee started a very creative campaign in which Georgia women sent an aspirin to Rick Santorum after his benefactor commented that birth control was an aspirin between the knees.

She is the Energizer bunny of organizers. Whether she is in a wheelchair following surgery, on a walker, on crutches, or walking with a cane, Lee shows up and gets the job done.

Jay (Jhatayn) Travis
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

Jay has accomplished a great deal as a leader, an organizer and an advocate for the rights of working and low-income families in Chicago and around the country.

In 2000, she became one of the youngest executive directors in Chicago when she took the helm of the storied Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). She has trained a core of strong male community organizers and led the organization from the brink of closing to being an organizing force in Chicago.

KOCO under Jay's vision and leadership has achieved several significant organizing victories. Among them, KOCO:

  • • Stopped a plan to close 20 out of the 22 schools in KOCO's area in 2004, the first arm of what became known as Renaissance 2010.

  • • Formed a multiethnic coalition called Communities for an Equitable Olympics and won a community benefits agreement from the City of Chicago in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics, which guaranteed jobs, affordable housing and resources for neighborhood schools.

  • • Helped to form Communities for Excellent Public Schools, a national coalition of 35 community-based organizations and four national networks that was successful in pushing the U.S. Department of Education to include parent and community engagement in the Education Blueprint and in grants to local school districts.

Jay has overcome sexism and racism to become a formidable leader in Chicago. She is humble, principled, courageous and brilliant. KOCO has prospered under her leadership and she is respected nationally for what she brings to the table.

The biographies above have been edited for brevity.


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