I heard a reference to Tony Kushner last week that reminded me of a piece I read some years ago in The New York Times. Kushner gave an extraordinary commencement speech at Vassar in the spring of 2002, which was then reproduced in The Times’ Op-Ed section, as I recall. Reading the speech again tonight makes me sad to think about what happened this week with the young man at Rutgers who committed suicide by jumping off the Washington Bridge in NYC.
Dark times, then and now.
A quote here from Kushner’s so well-crafted speech:
I am here to organize. I am here to be political. I am here to be a citizen in a pluralist democracy. I am here to be effective, to have agency, to make a claim on power, to spread it around, to rearrange it, to democratize it, to legislate it into justice.
Why you? Because the world will end if you don’t act. You are the citizen of a flawed but actual democracy. Citizens are not actually capable of not acting, it is not given to a citizen that she doesn’t act, this is the price you pay for being a citizen of a democracy, your life is married to the political beyond the possibility of divorcement. You are always an agent. When you don’t act, you act. When you don’t vote, you vote. When you accept the loony logic of some of the left that there is no political value in supporting the lesser of two evils, you open the door to the greater evil. That’s what happens when you despair, you open the door to evil, and evil is always happy to enter, sit down, abolish the Clean Air Act and the Kyoto accords and refuse to participate in the World Court or the ban on landmines, evil is happy refusing funds to American clinics overseas that counsel abortion and evil is happy drilling for oil in Alaska, evil is happy pinching pennies while 40 million people worldwide suffer and perish from AIDS; and evil will sit there, carefully chewing pretzels and fondly flipping through the scrapbook reminiscing about the 131 people he executed when he was governor, while his wife reads Dostoevsky in the corner, evil has a brother in Florida and a whole bunch of relatives, evil settles in and it’s the devil of a time getting him to vacate. Look at The White House. Look at France, look at Italy, Austria, the Netherlands. Look at Israel. See what despair and inaction on the part of citizens produces. Act! Organize. It’s boring but do it, the world ends if you don’t.