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Opening Ceremonies Offer Dazzling Spectacles, Solemn Tributes

September 20, 2011

IBEW members and leaders from across North America convened at the opening ceremonies of the 38th International Convention Monday, Sept. 19, setting a tone of reverence for tradition and the optimism for the work ahead.

Five years since the last meeting in Cleveland and after years of planning, a dazzling multimedia spectacle unfolded in the Vancouver Convention Center. With cutting-edge visuals and zooming light effects, the front and side walls of the convention floor transformed to display massive video screens showcasing portrayals of workers.

“I am the IBEW,” said a towering, diverse group of workers representing all trades of the IBEW.

An actor portraying IBEW founder and first President Henry Miller touted the strength and resilience of the union members:

In the face of opposition, we formed the Brotherhood of today – a Brotherhood without limits, a Brotherhood beyond borders.

Making their entrance, International President Edwin D. Hill and International Secretary Treasurer Salvatore Chilia emerged on the stage to the beat of pulsing rock music.

Hill fired up the crowd with a rousing greeting, eliciting cheers from attendees when he mentioned the previous night’s ceremonial lighting of the 2010 Olympic torch during the delegates’ reception:

Light is a very powerful symbol of our union. Not only does the work we do provide light, energy and communications to the continent – our Brotherhood is also a light in lives of all it touches, standing for dignity and justice in a world where neither are guaranteed.

Hill called the convention to order after being presented with a one-of-a-kind, hand-carved gavel crafted by Edmonton, Alberta, Local 424 member Jim Bendfeld. He then offered a pointed tribute to retired Third District International Representative Michael H. Namadan, who played a vital role in Hill’s upbringing, early career and entrance into union office before he died in July. “He was there every step of the way,” said Hill.

To begin the session, First District International Vice President Phil Flemming welcomed delegates, inviting first nations’ Musqueam members Rose Point and her nephew, Shane Point, to offer ceremonial prayers.

The Vancouver Police Pipe Band, which presented the colors, offered a vivid musical salute to the convention’s host nation. Edmonton, Alberta, Local 1007 Assistant Business Manager Jimmy Connor sang the Canadian national anthem. And for the first time in IBEW convention history, Canadian members recited their nation’s pledge of allegiance.

Third District International Vice President Don Siegel introduced the Sword of Light Pipe and Drum band, comprised of New York Local 3 members. The ensemble dedicated its performance to their former drum major, James Conway, who passed away last spring. After the band processed out of the convention hall, Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 member and assistant shop steward Cody Beltrami offered a soaring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Delivering the first invocation of the convention, Rev. Frank John Franz prayed that the week finds delegates making “the right choices” to ensure bright futures for working families. He quoted from the Bible’s book of Micah in calling on delegates to do justice for members of the union.

Members also observed a moment of silence for the 21 members of New York Locals 3 and 1212 who lost their lives on September 11. Local 3 President John Marchell gave a report announcing that nearly $4 million had been collected for a disaster fund established for IBEW families who lost loved ones.

It was another moment of solemnity that was a thread of the morning, offering gravity and repose within a broader spectacle that energized thousands of delegates during their first session on the convention floor.


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