For the fourth year running, the John A. Penrod “Brigadas” Award for Peace and Justice will be presented at the Civic Media Center’s SpringBoard fundraising event on March 21 (see details on p. 24). This year, the award will go to two recipients — Robbie Czopek and Jeremiah Tattersall.
In 2008, three progressive groups created the Brigadas Award to honor the legacy of John A. “Jack” Penrod, who dedicated his life to the fight of the people for dignity, freedom and a peaceful society. Gainesville Veterans for Peace, the Alachua County Labor Party and the United Faculty of Florida wanted to honor and encourage activists in the community for their consistent track record of movement work.
In his day, Jack Penrod, a veteran of the MacKenzie Papineau battalion in the Spanish Civil war, worked with the Congress of Industrial Organizations and helped organize the first faculty union at the University of Florida, United Faculty of Florida. He was a member of Veterans for Peace and a vocal opponent of the Iraq War; he helped found the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, worked closely with the National Organization for Women and Gainesville Women’s Liberation, and also dedicated time to the Alachua County Labor Party. Jack devoted his life to peace and justice, and he didn’t stop until his death in 2008 at the age of 94.
You can support the Penrod Award and the hard-working activists in the community by mailing donations to Gainesville Veterans for Peace, P.O. Box 142562, Gainesville, FL 32614. For more information, call 352-375-2832.
Read more about 2014’s Penrod “Brigadas” Award Recipients, Robbie Czopek and Jeremiah Tattersall, below.
by Joe Courter
While some people’s activism gets coverage in the news, on television, and in the social media world, there are others whose quiet dedication and steady hand make a whole lot of other stuff possible. Robbie Czopek came to Gainesville four and a half years ago and very quickly became a regular Civic Media Center volunteer. Not new to activism, Robbie grew up in St. Augustine, where he co-founded the Food Not Bombs chapter. He was already aware of the Civic Media Center when he came to Gainesville to attend graduate school at UF. He was never just a “show up and do your shift” volunteer; he showed real interest in helping out both with events and assisting the coordinators with some of the mundane office tasks like data entry and accounting. As that first year went by, Robbie realized graduate school was not where he wanted to be. When the co-coordinator position opened up, Robbie expressed a lot of interest in the job. As he had been so motivated to learn and help with the inner workings of the CMC, he was a logical choice. In addition to his organizing work with the Gainesville Industrial Workers of the World chapter, he assumed the paid staff position as co-coordinator. We had not long ago moved into our new location on South Main Street, and it was a dynamic period for our South Main neighborhood. Robbie worked first with James Schmidt and then with Emily Sparr. Last year, in what’s a big asset for the CMC, the Radical Press Coffee Collective came into existence, and Emily made the decision to devote more time to that project. At that time, Robbie stepped up to the challenge and took the reins as the sole coordinator of the CMC.
And that’s what he’s been doing, and will keep doing until August, when he will step down and follow the siren song of Portland, Oregon. The CMC faces a challenge in finding the right person(s) to take the job, as there will be big shoes to fill! We need to download all the knowledge in Robbie’s brain that made him such an effective coordinator with all the aspects of the CMC: tech, accounting, event and volunteer coordination, publicity, and oc- casional crisis management. It’s a multi- faceted job, with a lot of not-so-glamorous aspects and he has shown major dedication to the fulfillment of the CMC’s mission.
The Civic Media Center opens minds, makes connections, and enriches countless people with knowledge, culture, and acceptance into a community of active and aware people. That doesn’t happen by magic; it takes work. It’s fitting that the person who kept it going be recognized by the Penrod Brigadas award.
by Paul Ortiz
Jeremiah’s persistent pursuit of truth and justice for all is reflected in his tireless community organizing and social action research in support of working class people who toil on university campuses, in Gainesville restaurants, and in the agricultural fields of Immokalee. He has been active in a myriad of radical movements including the Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Coalition to End the Meal Limits Now.
Jeremiah has distinguished himself as an activist by his ability to dig up the truth whether in the form of statistics, worker testimonies, or hard-to-find data that has been employed by groups like the Wage Theft Task Force to pass the historic Wage Recovery Ordinance in Alachua County that went into effect in January 2014.
From his base in Gainesville, he has become active in regional, statewide and national politics organizing on behalf of the North Central Florida Central Labor Council and the AFL-CIO. He organizes and educates UF graduate students and instructors in the United Faculty of Florida, the union that Dr. Jack Penrod helped start. A founding member of Fight Back Florida, he organized protests against devastating budget cuts that hurt working class families, and he rallied Gainesville residents against the government federal government shutdown in 2013.
Jeremiah’s patient and grounded approach to radicalism elicits admiration from political friends and foes alike. He is a leader of a new generation of community organizers seeking to transform the South and he is a living embodiment of the principles that Jack Penrod fought for in the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Spanish Civil War, and the Labor Party.
Jeremiah began participating in radical activities including work with homeless people and anti-war activism in high school, but it was his entry into doing solidarity work with the Coalition of Immokalee workers in 2009 as a student at UF that deepened his understanding of how to become a community organizer. He gained critical experience working on a successful campaign with Students for a Democratic Society and other student organizations to push the ARAMARK Corporation in 2010 to join the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food.
Subsequently, he worked with the Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality and as an editor with The Fine Print.