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Si Kahn

Si Kahn

Solidarity Forever Award

Si Kahn has worked for 45 years as a civil rights, labor and community organizer and musician. He recently retired from his position as Executive Director Emeritus of Grassroots Leadership, the Southern-based national organization he founded 30 years ago that works to abolish all for-profit private prisons, jails and detention centers as a step toward helping create a prison and criminal justice system that is truly just and humane.

Si began his organizing career in 1965 in Arkansas with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (more popularly known as SNCC), the student wing of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. During the War on Poverty, he served as the deputy director of an eight-county community action agency in rural Georgia and coached the first racially integrated Little League team in that part of the state.

In the 1970s, he worked with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) during the Brookside Strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, and was an Area Director of the J.P. Stevens Campaign for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). These historic labor struggles are portrayed in the movies Harlan County U.S.A. and Norma Rae. Si founded Grassroots Leadership in 1980 and served as its Executive Director until February 1, 2010, when he became Executive Director Emeritus.

Si’s songs of family, community, work and freedom have been recorded by more than 100 artists and translated into half a dozen languages. His musical body of work includes 16 albums of original songs for adults and children, plus a collection of traditional labor, civil rights and women’s songs recorded with Pete Seeger and Jane Sapp. Strictly Country Records released Si’s most recent CD, Courage, in April 2010, concurrently with the publication of his latest book Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists and Quiet Lovers of Justice. Si also co-authored The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy (Berrett-Koehler 2006) with his wife and public philosopher Elizabeth Minnich, and he wrote two widely used organizing handbooks, How People Get Power and Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders.

Si is a member of the organizing committee for Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, AFL-CIO; a past trustee of the Labor Heritage Foundation; a lifetime member of the International Bluegrass Music Association and of the Folk Alliance; and the official poet laureate of the North Carolina labor movement by unanimous vote of the convention in 1985.


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