Two men on a stage, one with a guitar, one with a plaque in his hand

Photos by Bob Studzinski

In between dancing and singing along with protest songs and psychedelic music, Free Press readers helped honor four community activists at the November 13 Free Press Protest Fest and Awards ceremony. The event was held at Woodlands Tavern and featured Golden Ratio, Brian “Clash” Griffin, Victoria Parks, Connie Harris, Dan Dougan (as emcee and musician), the Chicken Hawk Bird Getters, and comedy by Travis Irvine. The awardees were:

2017 Free Press Musician Award - Brian “Clash” Griffin

Brian “Clash” Griffin has been a singer and songwriter since 1963. As a “truth-seeker,” he has emulated his hero, Phil Ochs, Ohio State University student and political songwriter/singer. At nearly every rally, demonstration, march, protest and social justice event in central Ohio – Brian was there with his guitar: playing until his fingers were frostbitten in 2002 outside then-Governor Bob Taft’s church, trying to stop an innocent man’s execution; unintimidated in 2003 during the Iraq War when pro-war fanatics attacked protestors during weekly peace vigils at 15th and High; occupying the Statehouse in 2011 with Uncle John’s Statehouse Band; and singing while marching in the Pride Parade, Black Lives Matter marches, and at this year’s (very wet) People’s Climate March. Brian’s dedication to providing music at every gathering often involves him making up a cause-oriented song on the spot.

One of Brian’s most memorable protest gigs was when he was part of the massive crowd protesting Senate Bill 5 at the Statehouse on February 22, 2011. It was only 20 degrees and snowing. His fingers were numb as he played “This Land is Your Land” with the crowd singing along. The protestors were locked out of the Statehouse but they eventually had to open the doors and let the masses in. As a bonus, a photo of Brian performing made the front page of the Columbus Dispatch.

Brian started writing songs as a teenager and has written 400 or more songs. He attended Upper Arlington High School and studied drawing at OSU. At age 17 he was excited and inspired by his first Bruce Springsteen concert in 1981. He started playing local gigs in 2000 including the Ohio State Fair. His first album, “Late Bloomer” debuted in March 2003. The albums “Dispatches from the HomeFront” and “LoveLoss” were released in 2005. The Occupy movement spawned his singles “Gonna Rise Up” and “American Spring,” followed by “Love and Protest-The Best of Brian Griffin 2002-2012.”

Brian performs regularly at local coffeeshops and bars and recently teamed up with Willie Phoenix as his producer. His current venture is his group “Brian Clash and the Coffeehouse Rebels” who play locally and hold benefit concerts for charity. The Free Press is in awe of Brian’s consistent musical presence and appreciate the soundtrack he provides to our lives.

2017 Free Press “Libby” Award for Lifetime Achievement in Community Activism Tekla Taylor-Lagway

Tekla was born 1934 in northern Vermont, raised by single mother Emilia, a strong woman with a passion for justice and a firm belief that a woman could do anything a man could do. Tekla earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Antioch College. She received a Ph.D. in mathematics from NYU, with a specialty in group theory, a branch of abstract algebra.

During the Central American wars, Tekla was a founding member of the Syracuse University group People for Peace and Justice. On sabbatical in 1985 at York University in Toronto, Tekla joined the Toronto Anti-Intervention Coalition, led by a member of Socialist Action, who introduced her to a member of the socialist organization Solidarity, which she joined a few years later.

In 1987, she left Syracuse University and become part of Neighbor to Neighbor’s campaign to stop Contra aid, the US govt support for armed opposition to the Nicaraguan revolution. She worked as an unpaid junior organizer in Rapid City, North Dakota, Ann Arbor, and Chicago. From 1988 to 1991, she was organizer of the Springfield Area Central America Project (SACAP) in western Massachusetts.

From the mid to late 1990’s Tekla taught at Earlham College, a small liberal arts college with Quaker roots, in Richmond, Indiana. At Earlham, she was a member of the Earlham Socialist Alliance doing community organizing, not separate student activism and faculty activism, working to stop the oppression of Palestine by Israel.

In 2002, after retirement, Tekla came to Columbus where she was at first active in the anti-war movement and Ohio prison issues. She is an ecosocialist – believing that an ecosocialist economy is the only possibility for salvaging humanity’s environment. She is active in the Franklin County Green Party, Ohio Green Party, and the ecosocialist working group of Solidarity.

In 2002, Tekla married Willie Lagway, an Ohio prisoner, with whom she had visited and corresponded with for several years. Tekla’s husband shares her passion for education and for saving humanity’s environment. He is facilitator and trainer within the Ohio prison system of an environmental awareness program, Roots of Success, a progressive program now taught in all of Ohio’s prisons.

2017 Free Press Volunteer Award- Gregory Gross

Gregory Gross is a long-time Board member of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism (CICJ), the nonprofit organization that publishes the Free Press. Gregory first became involved with the Free Press in the 1990s, when he started donating his security hours earned at Comfest for the Free Press booth. Gregory has been a dedicated volunteer, helping out at many events, including playing with a jazz band at a Free Press salon.


For many years Gregory was a volunteer distributor for the Free Press, even driving down to Athens to drop off papers at the Casa Nueva co-op and a record store. He also delivered bundles of Free Presses by bike throughout the OSU campus area. An avid bike rider, Gregory often rides for charities such as the American Cancer Society (he is a survivor) and the American Diabetes Association.  

Gregory grew up in New Jersey and attended Capital University in 1977. He became an activist when Reagan became president, starting by joining the American Atheists and local humanist organization.

In the early 1990s, Gregory co-founded the Central Ohio Green Education Fund (COGEF) in Columbus. COGEF worked against the “Mobile Chernobyl,” when radioactive waste was going to be trucked through Ohio. After that project succeeded in halting that effort, COGEF helped in the fight against trash burning power plant on Columbus’ south side, that was successfully shut down in 1994.

Gregory and COGEF held Earth Day celebrations in Columbus and “No Chemical” New Year’s Eve parties for many years at the Third Avenue Church. COGEF also held several Citizens Grassroots Congresses through the years. Gregory recently stepped down from the CICJ Board and is now President of the COGEF Board that currently operates WGRN FM 94.1 community radio.

Gregory’s present concerns are about the importance of voting, health care, and building local institutions like Community Shares.

2017 Columbus Democratic Socialists of America Eugene V. Debs – Michael Harrington Award - Amber Evans

Amber Evans is a Columbus native, growing up the oldest of eight siblings on the North Side. Along with other students inspired by the principles of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Amber’s organizing efforts began in earnest during her undergraduate years at Ohio State with the Ohio Student Association, where she organized around issues of student debt and tuition costs. Her work quickly expanded beyond the realm of higher education into the broader community with the No School Takeover campaign, which fought against an effort to allow a city government takeover of Columbus City Schools.

Amber currently serves as the Director of Organizing and Policy with the Juvenile Justice Coalition, where she organizes youth, families, and communities to transform the criminal justice system based on restorative justice practices and reallocate funding from incarceration to trauma healing and resiliency services. She is also a core organizer with the People’s Justice Project, which organizes low income people and people of color through civic engagement, community organizing, and direct action to build independent political power in Ohio and to fight mass criminalization and incarceration.

Amber’s work exemplifies an intersectional organizing model, taking into account that the oppressions faced by marginalized groups in our society don’t exist in isolation, but must be addressed simultaneously. Further, she doesn’t simply fight against, she fights for - her work centers a vision for truly positive, transformative change. And on a personal level, many of us in Columbus DSA who have had the privilege to work alongside Amber have experienced the deep generosity, love, and compassion at the core of everything she does.

The Debs-Harrington Award is granted annually to honor a local activist whose organizing efforts are building mass democratic power toward a more just, equitable community. In recognition of her dedicated and multi-faceted leadership in building an intersectional grassroots movement in our community, Columbus DSA is proud to nominate Amber Evans for the Debs-Harrington Award.