Institute for Policy Studies co-founder Marcus Raskin, a philosopher, analyst, and mentor to generations of activists, whose ideas helped shape left-leaning thought for decades, died December 24 at his home in Washington at the age of 83.
The staff, family and friends of the Institute held a memorial and celebration of Marc and his life and work at the Sixth & I Synagogue on February 12, 2018. Below are the texts of the speeches from the service.
Help keep Marc’s vision alive by supporting the Raskin Memorial Fund at IPS.
Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, I am Lynn Raskin, Marc’s wife. The Raskin family and the IPS community are so pleased to see all of you who are here to celebrate the life of Marcus Raskin.
We have lost Marcus, but we hope to continue his legacy.
Several years ago, an anonymous donor gave a generous seed grant to create the Marcus Raskin Freedom Fund. In memory of Marc, a beloved colleague has also made a significant contribution. The Raskin Family and the Institute for Policy Studies are committed to growing this fund to support two new important projects:
First, would be to fund one or more Marcus Raskin Next Leader Interns at IPS. Marc treasured IPS interns and helped mentor hundreds over the years. Three years ago, IPS transformed its intern program with a commitment to pay its, 15 or so interns, $4000 each for 10 weeks to extend the leadership and intern experience to low-income people.
The second endeavor we wish to fund is the Marcus Raskin Award for Civil and Intellectual Courage. Beginning in 2019, an Award will be given in April of each year to honor someone whose acts of civic engagement, intellectual leadership and political bravery in the service of peace and social reconstruction, best exemplify Marc’s spirit. If we can raise $75,000, IPS will be able to continue his legacy through both programs.
To read more about these two new and important programs in Marc’s name, you will find information on the back of your memorial brochure or go to the Institute for Policy Studies web site for the Marcus Raskin Memorial Fund. Contributions of any and all sizes are gratefully accepted.
Thank you so much for being with us and being part of the progressive spirit that inspired Marc’s drive and commitment.
I met Marc Raskin in early 1960 when I “took over” his job as Legislative Assistant to a young liberal Congressman named Bob Kastenmeir from Madison Wisconsin. He was 26 and I was 24, and I was doubly one-down: Marc was from Milwaukee, and I was from the much smaller Wisconsin city of Racine. At that first meeting I asked him: “How do you do the job of “legislative assistant?”
Going out the door, he shouted: “Just figure out what you want to do…. and make the Congressman do it…”
I obviously fell in love with the guy. He became my closest friend—and there are so very many memories: Like meetings when Marc and Dick Barnet decided to create a “think tank” and needed at least a few initial co-conspirators. (Four as I recall: besides myself, Christopher Jencks, Arthur Waskow, and someone who shortly thereafter fled Washington and was never heard from again.)
We met at Dick and Ann Barnet’s house, and aside from the heady “deliberations,” and the laughter, also, an elderly dog who farted regularly, commenting on our “chutzpah.”
Back in the day, “think tanks,” especially radical ones, did not exist. (And besides, how to you finance such a thing? Marc didn’t blink: “You figure out what you want to do, and you get [fill in the blank] to do it.” Within a few years, conservatives gave IPS the backhand compliment of creating The Heritage Institute because IPS had shown what you could do if you were serious!
It was also great fun! Marc loved a good joke, the dirtier the better!
The Institute in those early days was both serious and also very funky: You could bump into anyone from Stokely Carmichael to Hannah Arendt or Leo Szilard (who got Einstein to write the letter to Roosevelt that led to the Atomic bomb) Just in passing, Marc and Dick and Ralph Stavins gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. All in a day’s work.
I remember Marc’s very first day working at the Kennedy White House was the day of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs landing in Cuba. It went down-hill after that: I recall him telling me how he and another staffer broke down in uncontrollable tears after an internal White House meeting contemplating—really contemplating—the all-out use of nuclear weapons and the deaths of millions of Russian and Chinese people.
Another memory: Being with him at his trial in Boston, when along with Ben Spock, Bill Coffin, Michael Ferber and Mitchell Goodman, he was indicted for inciting young would-be draftees to burn their draft cards during the Vietnam War. The others were convicted. Marc inexplicably was not. (He later famously commented: “I suppose I could have asked for a retrial.” (The convictions were reversed on appeal.)
And I remember being with him at so very many hospitals: from cancer to heart problems and beyond. Marc regularly went down for the count, but he also regularly bounced back. And being with him and Lynn at raucous sedars at our house. Marc hated them, except when we had other guests who defended the latest Israeli outrage against the Palestinians. (Then the sedar discussions got interesting for him.)
Marc endured them because he and my wife Sharon kibitzed and laughed at the end of the table, disregarding even a -shortened version of a very untraditional sedar. Much more enjoyable for him were the Christmas dinners created by his amazing and oh-so-caring wife Lynn!
I don’t need to remind you how extraordinarily productive Marc was. His many, many books fill a serious book case.
Nor did a day go by, as John Cavanagh attests, that he did not come to work with a new project for anything from global disarmament to creating a “music carry-out” so poor kids could use the kinds of instruments middle class kids abandon to the attic.
For me, however inspiring he was, it was very personal. Marc was best man at our wedding. He played Claire de Lune for Sharon and me then, and as a reminder, many, many times thereafter. On another occasion I recall him remarking, mostly to himself: “Debussy never stopped reaching.”
Marc never stopped reaching.
Marc’s thoughts spanned the globe. But he was never comfortable abroad. Because he loved what is good about America as much as he hated the bad. Here is a story:
Some time before the fall of the wallrights conference in Berlin. Friends suggested we visit Wolfgang Bierman, the Pete Seeger and No. 1 dissident in East Germany. Marc was enthusiastic about the idea. But when we reached Checkpoint Charlie in our rented car and he saw all the soldiers and their guns he said “this is crazy, let’s go back.”. I told him not to worry and we drove to Bierman’s building. Parked the car , climbed to the second floor, knocked on the door and were greeted by a uniformed Stasi official who informed us that we had taken the wrong stairway. By this time Marc was fit to be tied, but I dragged him over to the right apartment, where we had a wonderful afternoon of conversation and music making with Bierman, no doubt duly recorded by the Stasi next door.
Life with Marc was never dull. When I think of him , one word springs to mind: “caring”. He couldn’t stand people devoid of empathy. His guiding principle for the brilliant and complex body of work he has left us was simple: the search for a caring society and a caring world.
Lynn, Erika, Jamie, Noah and Eden, family and friends,
As co chair of SANE, which called for banning atomic testing and preventing nuclear war, Marcus invited me to join the Board. All I remember is arguing with him at every meeting. I have no idea about what.
Marc insisted that the “… peace movement could not be parochial, because imperialism is not parochial.” “Peace movements around the world had to have a sense of community”.
When Rev Wm Sloane Coffin asked Barnet to come to The Riverside Church, he called me knowing that Dick would persuade me to create a disarmament program for Bill’s ministry. The first person I asked to speak in 1978 to explain war and weapons to the congregation and community was Marc.
Marc and Arthur wrote the “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” aimed at resisting the draft which sent young men to Vietnam to kill or be killed. Marc spoke at the release of the Call and was charged with conspiracy to counsel, aid and abet draft resistance. The “co-conspirators” met at the home of Leonard Boudin, where, according to Coffin, Marc was “the gloomiest about the state of the nation.”He called the moment the “decimation of the intelligentsia”.
The Boston 5 could not be ignored. They “pushed millions of Americans to confront the war and the draft in new ways”. (acc to Coffin’s biographer, Warren Goldstein)
The all male jury acquitted Raskin. Bill said, the acquittal “brought more tears than joy to poor Marc”. Acquitted, said his Boston lawyer, “Because Raskin wasn’t theah”.
In 1988, Marc called me to help persuade Bill Coffin to become President of SANE/Freeze. Bill agreed, he and Randy moved to DC for three years, growing the country’s largest peace organization.
The world has lost our moral authorities: Eqbal Ahmad, Basker Vashe, Dick Barnet, Saul Landau, Orlando Letelier, Ronnie Karpen Moffitt, and now Marcus.
I beg of you, stay healthy, and productive.
Thank you all for being part of this celebration of Marc’s extraordinary life and brilliant & courageous work.
Marc was the reason I came to IPS, the reason I came to DC – and he taught me more than anyone else about international law and empire, about internationalism and acting globally, about thinking big and ignoring the nay-sayers. He also taught me a lot of pretty bad jokes – but we won’t go there.
I remember sitting with Marc on the curb outside our old office in September 2001, just two days after the 9/11 attacks. We had been evacuated again, & we were sitting on the sidewalk going through a draft resolution Congresswoman Barbara Lee had sent over, marking up what would become the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that presidents ever since have used to justify illegal wars – an authorization that only Barbara Lee had the courage to oppose.
And as we sat there, watching jeeploads of special forces in ninja-suits careening into the driveway by the treasury building, Marc said “you know, there could be a military coup.” And I remember saying “there might have already been, and we wouldn’t know it.” And without saying another word, we both got up and walked to the corner, tried to cross the street to go take a look. But of course the secret service and others, they wouldn’t let us, and we looked at each other & walked back up the street and sat back down on the curb and continued marking up the Authorization.
We’ve been building movements against those wars ever since — and Marc brought us some of the most creative ideas of how to do it.
And not too long after that Marc taught me one other really important lesson – why you should always give money to every homeless person you see. It’s because you never know. Any one of them might be Jesus.
Marc’s close friend of 50+ years, Noam Chomsky, who wasn’t able to join us today, wrote that while others would recall Marc’s political accomplishments, Noam would remember “the long quiet evenings at Marc’s home until early morning hours, sometimes still with a whiff of the tear gas that was the symbol of Washington to me for many years, immersed in discussions of resistance, world order, nuclear war, Marc’s imaginative forays into reconstructive knowledge, much else.”
That wide range of issues, passions — that was the essence of Marc.
Those days that Noam described were long before I knew Marc. But imagine the times even earlier, when Marc and Dick decided “why not” leave the White House to build this new thing no one had ever created before, an independent left-wing activist think tank linked to social movements?
Imagine those times – McCarthy defeated but McCarthyism and anti-communism still running amok through the Cold War-driven U.S. Jim Crow segregation still in place, the civil rights movement just beginning to rise, mostly limited to pockets of the South, while racist assaults remained constant and lynchings were still a common occurrence. Unacknowledged sexism, environmental devastation, cultural censorship still mostly unchallenged, the left and progressive movements still largely decimated.
None of that is true anymore. Our movements against war and racism, for economic and climate justice, for immigrants’ and gender rights and sometimes even for international law and justice — have grown and taken root. We have a lot of work ahead, it’s harder now than most of us younger than Marc can even remember — but Marc’s ideas helped us put down the roots of those movements, helped us teach generations of new activists, helped us all think bigger and mobilize broader and act braver than we might ever have on our own.
Go well, Marc. We’ll keep working in your name —challenging the new threats, stopping the next wars, finding the new leaders, transforming the new world. Go well.
Lynn, Jamie, extended IPS family and friends, thank you for inviting me to be with you today to reflect on the life and legacy of a great warrior – a man I was proud to call my teacher, mentor and friend, our beloved Marc.
First let me offer my condolences to Marc’s family. I know losing him was a tremendous loss and I just can’t imagine the huge void it has created in your lives. I am very blessed to serve in Congress with Jamie, who brings that “Raskin” brilliance and passion to the many challenges we face. Jamie, thank you for your friendship and your brilliance.
Today we come together as a family to celebrate the very full life that Marc lived. A life in which he fought for global peace and security. A life that touched the world in so many beautiful ways.
I first met Marc Raskin during the mid 70’s when I worked on Capitol Hill for a great progressive statesman, Congressman Ron Dellums who loved and cherished Marc’s wise counsel and friendship. In fact, before I came back to Washington today I spoke with Congressman Dellums. He asked me to share his deepest condolences with all of you. He was so grateful for Marc’s friendship and the great faith he placed in him.
Many don’t know this but Marc actually encouraged Ron to for president, he told him that that the United States was ready for an African American president at a time when many couldn’t even fathom the idea.
That’s just who Marc was, a visionary.
I remember many meetings and strategy sessions listening and learning from Marc about the federal budget. In many ways he shaped my understanding of the federal budget and the lens through which I approach my work. As a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, I am so grateful for the wisdom Marc imparted, I truly hope that the work I do in Congress embodies the lessons I learned from him.
So much of my work on nuclear disarmament also came from my interaction and dialogue with Marc as part of the SANE Freeze movement which he chaired. I remember very lively discussions around the issues of race and the necessity to broaden the peace movement to include issues of justice if we really wanted to have a broad based inclusive movement.
Because of Marc, I once marched carrying a sign that said “a nuclear bomb is an equal opportunity destroyer” to make that point to communities of color. As a staffer, I was in awe of Marc’s intellect. It was like being back in school absorbing new ideas and analysis when we were with him. Marcus knew he was my teacher, but even still he respected my input and ideas and often left me feeling like I was at least half-way smart.
When I was elected to Congress, Marc was one of the first to congratulate me and come to meet with me and of course share his ideas on what I should think about as priorities. But he also offered his assistance and continuing friendship, which I was so happy to receive. Believe me, I took him up on his offer many times.
I will always remember Marc’s steadiness and insights after the horrific 9-11 attacks. We talked constantly about the mood of the country and the consequences of a rush to pass an open ended authorization to use military force. He gave me suggestions and feedback and even reviewed proposed language about the dangers facing the United States and the world if we passed such a broad authorization to use military force.
I called Marc right before I gave my speech opposing the measure. He voice was calm and reassuring. He told me he knew how hard this was going to be and gave me some thoughts on my floor speech, which I hand wrote about 10 minutes before I spoke. Marc’s wisdom, advice, insight, and inspiration gave me the courage to cast the lone no vote and he will be forever in my heart for helping me through such a rough period.
As a man for all seasons – whose musical, political and policy genius has brought me clarity, happiness and hope to many, I honor Marcus Raskin’s life and legacy and thank him for his friendship.
His spirit will live on forever and today, with mixed feelings of sadness yet gratitude and joy that I say thank you dear comrade, may you rest in peace.
Back in 2009 a friend sent me a job posting. It was actually an invitation to apply for something called a Newman Fellowship at the Institute for Policy Studies. I’d heard of IPS because of the incredible work they had done over the years, and also because I’d heard about Marc Raskin. I’d read some of his work in graduate school, though I didn’t know a great deal about him or his life. As I prepared my application materials for the fellowship I decided to study up on Marc and Richard Barnet so that I’d have something to talk about during my interview. Over the course of the next week I discovered two things that surprised me:
1. That Marc was still at IPS and
2. That he was a musician. An artist.
The more I learned about Marc the more it became clear to me that I had to work at IPS, and that I had to figure out some way to get Marc to mentor me.
I succeeded on the first count: I was hired by IPS at the beginning of 2010. During my first few days at IPS I was delighted to learn that Marc was a familiar presence in the office—he showed up at most meetings, and I often saw him walking the hallways, checking in on folks, greeting people warmly. One day I found an excuse to visit his office and that first time we spoke for quite a while, initially about the subjects that I was working on, and eventually about me. My life. My ambitions. My dreams. The next time I saw him he handed me a book. It was about surrealism, that great artistic movement that took hold of Europe in the early 20th century, and that’s when I knew that he recognized me. That’s when I realized he was telling me that yes, I had to work on my mind and read and study, but that I also had to tend to my imagination.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about progressive movements, and I think the reason why we’ve had such great success in the past, and why we continue to envision successful pathways into the future is because we recognize the importance of the imagination. We sing songs as we march because by singing we are actively creating the future we would like to inhabit. We write and recite poems because poetry connects us to the very core of who we are, even when everything around us would have us forget. When I was growing up my parents often told me about the importance of speaking my future into existence. We had no money—oftentimes we huddled under blankets in the deep of winter and fanned ourselves futilely during the hot summers, but my father always insisted that we would be fine, that everything would work out, he asserted that all of us would one day inhabit the dream that had brought him to America in the first place.
And this is what Marc was all about. In his books and in his speeches and even during casual conversation he constantly spoke our future into existence. He told us what we would have to do achieve our dreams, and why we would be successful.
Marc was a great thinker, and his books will continue to guide us for many years to come. But he was also an artist, and that is why he was so good at teaching us how to dream.
This is why I will miss him so much, and why, in his honor, we must continue to imagine the future that will be ours.
Optimist because of what he described as existential necessity, Marc insisted on there being second, third or more chances in life. I see what he meant: this is the first time I have spoken in a synagogue since my Bar Mitzvah.
Lives may be written in several ways. Each of us experiences ambiguity, duality, conflict. Marc was exemplary in a mastering matters which afflicted the rest of us. His was the presence in our lives of a wise and forgiving and frequently joyous Rabbi. The moral pathos, the incessant quest for a more caring culture , the insistence that dreams were anticipations of possibility were the lessons of a secular saint. We were (and alas are) prisoners in the ordinariness of our lives. He taught us that we were responsible for our own liberation. Little wonder that a common picture of Marc’s uncommonness depicted him as a Utopian, an undocumented visitor inexplicably amongst us.
That was and is wrong in every way, Marc as student saw through the absurdist conventions of academic normality. As Congressional staff official he mobilized a dormant liberal group of Representatives and brought them to the threshold of a new radicalism. In the Kennedy White House his grasp of the inner uncertainties of the imperial managers rendered them uneasy. He knew how things worked—or rather how they did not, leaving advisers and leaders in denial of their t enduring propensity for failure.
Marcus and his friend Richard Barnet were not partners in a schematic dissent. They were realists who refused to sign on the dotted line since they saw it wavering. C.Wright Mills and William Appleman Williams were, shamefully, dismissed inveterate naysayers. Marcus and Richard spoke from the depth of the American vortex. They refused the ignoble role of court jester since they understood the official stage as a sordid comedy. Their work on the national security state, on the militarization of politics, on the deformation of civil society was a major current in a deepening river of opposition. They inspired academics, journalists, government officials and politicians, above all an increasingly restive citizenry to trust their critical instincts.
The international response was large. In the in the very centers of Communist power their work was taken as proof that there was indeed an American party ready to talk, that the Kennedy speech of June 1963 had not been consigned to the memory hole. In the universities and institutes amongst the more reflective party leaders, in a nascent public opinion, the then new Institute for Policy Studies found interlocutors preparing for their own version of social reconstruction. In western Europe a peace movement deeply integrated in churches and political parties heard from Marc and Dick voices speaking for a USA they admired.
There is an affinity between music and science. Think of Einstein’s violin which the master described as echoing the sounds of the stars. Marc enjoyed the company of scientists, was especially friendly with the Einstein disciple Leo Szilard, worked with the Kennedy Science Advisor Jerome Wiesner and accompanied him to the negotiations in Geneva on the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty. Marc was familiar with a broad spectrum of modern culture—- with the artists, dramatists, performers, writers who were interpreting the world anew. I recollect his accounts of travels to Europe I: it was striking how he understood cultural and political rhetoric very different from our own.
His achievements were very large. It is the wholeness of the person that impels us to mourn. So profoundly. I first met Marcus in the Kennedy White House in July of 1961, We became friends despite distance: I was in Europe for the next five years. When I returned to the US in 1966 I found the transition difficult. He was very supportive. I admired and have to confess envied his empathy. There is a quote from Goethe, nothing human is strange to me. Marc was indifferent to the claims of status, talked of how much he had learned from those who were different, He was grandfatherly fatherly and brotherly, as circumstances demanded. Freud said of himself that he was proudest that he had never done anything common. The actual record suggests one or two flaws, Marc could utter the claim with untroubled sovereignty. He was always there for all of us.
Recently in a singular alliance, thanatologists and bio physicists have concluded that when we die, the psychic energy and neurological products of our brain are transformed into elements of the universe. That is in fact and old Hebrew concept, of Ruach, the spirit that leaves the body. How appropriate when we remember our dear dear friend, who made of his Jewish heritage a fount he could draw upon to convince others, by precept and example, that they could live more largely, more generously. Marc is gone but in us he lives on. May the heavenly powers be thanked that he was given to us.
Lynn, Erica, Jamie, Noah, Eden
I had the joy of knowing Marc as a friend, a colleague, a co-conspirator and a mentor. He welcomed me into his raucous extended family and into what the Russians called his “shabby Institute.” He changed the way I looked at the world. For that and much more I will be forever blessed.
Let me talk briefly about Marc’s remarkable work as a public scholar.
From a very early age, Marc thought about the world in original and independent ways, with searing insight. At the age of 26, in his first day at the National Security Staff under McGeorge Bundy, he attended an informal meeting on the Bay of Pigs debacle that took place that day. Bundy quipped that Che learned much more from the overthrow of Arbenz than we did. “Interesting that Che learned from Guatemala, “Marc said, “what did we learn?” Bundy didn’t reply. Later that day his secretary informed Marc that Bundy would prefer he not come to any more meetings, but simply come in at the end of the day and talk privately. Marc kept coming and kept writing memos. Bundy soon complained: “Am I working for you or are you working for me?”
At that early age and in those heady circumstances, Marc already saw through what he described as the “establishment regulars” who would “disagree about tactics, but never about ends,” They can, he wrote, “appear reasonable in a frame of reference that may be very mad.”
Marc was a true citizen, a small d democrat. Knowing the madness of the national security state from the inside, he chose instead to stand with citizens in motion – with the young protesting the war, the civil rights and women’s movements, the civilizing movements that transformed the US. He didn’t simply applaud them, he helped guide them. He built the Institute around them. He took risks with them. He got arrested with them. He saw them as the great hope.
“Just as there are revolutionary frameworks in science that begin whole new patterns,” he wrote, “so it is that uncoordinated mass political activities of people unable to live with the pain of oppression force new powerful impulses to the surface that then result in profound change.”
Marc was more anarchist than Marxist. It is ironic that IPS is so central to his legacy, since no institution had a founder more instinctively subversive of institutions. He and Dick set out to create an independent space where public scholars could define their own work. The Institution was best at its least, providing them with support, a seminar room, and constant intellectual turmoil. As a new director, I remember how committed hiring someone to do communications and public relations was a hugely controversial heresy.
Marc believed profoundly that ideas matter. Critique and examination were not enough; it was vital to offer alternatives. He drafted legislation to make US officials accountable to the Nuremburg standards in American law. He detailed the stages and laws needed for complete and total disarmament. He led the IPS project to provide alternatives to the federal budget. He constantly sought to build a small d democratic left inside and mostly outside the Democratic Party, but he knew that even without taking power, ideas and citizen movements could and did change the culture and the most powerful and entrenched of institutions.
He was a great teacher. His fecund mind was ever stimulating. His irreverent sense of humor disarming. And unlike most truly brilliant people, he listened. He encouraged those he touched to take risks, to think anew, showing us a respect that we strove to deserve.
Today, his courage and ideas are needed more than ever. The National Security State is more entrenched, and more corrupt, more deadly and less accountable than before. And once more it is independent movements, insurgencies that hold the hope of rebuilding from under. Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Our Revolution and the Sandernistas, the Dreamers, Fight for $15 and more.
Marc lived a life filled with music and ideas, relishing his true wealth of family and friends. He dedicated his book on Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to what he called the “family-nation Raskin,” his children and grandchildren, noting “they all live with the unwritten fifth freedom: the freedom to think and to love.” That is the freedom he delighted in throughout his life. And that is his instruction to us.
Marc was for three decades a greatly valued friend of the Nation. As a member of its editorial board, he contributed many articles, ideas, and wise counsel. He inspired with his brilliance, humanity, kindness and humor. I learned from him how essential it is to fuse radical intellect with common sense. The Nation, I am proud to say, has published three generations of Raskins—Marc, Jamie & Marc’s grandson Tommy!
At editorial board meetings, Marc was the disruptive genius, an intellectual whirling dervish—clear eyed, yet also a utopian … I remember one meeting at which in the course of 17 minutes, Marc critiqued the suffocating consensus of the moment, called for the abolition of the CIA, challenged the madness of the nuclear arms race, warned of the latest abuse committed by the national security state, and closed by proposing a vision for radical change and reconstruction. We were all out of breath. Not Marc.
His Nation articles offered piercing insights into the state of our republic——and into the breadth of Marc’s interests and the scope of his intellect. He wrote on subjects ranging from the nuclear arms race to the neoconservative assault on free speech to his beloved Jean Paul Sartre and John Rawls. In a 1991 dialogue on “rethinking the left” that Marc helped organize, he argued, “where we have been wrong we must so state. Where we are in need of rethinking, let us rethink, and where we have been right, morally, politically, let us say so forcefully. We are in need of something more than co-optable reforms, something more life-affirming than revolution. We are in need of reconstruction and transformation.” With courage and imagination Marc chose not merely to critique—in 1963 he joined with Richard Barnet to found IPS, the first truly independent think tank, pioneering the modern politics of ideas in Washington.
While there are many think tanks in DC doing corporate donors’ bidding, IPS was and remains in the words of Izzy Stone, the “institute for the rest of us.”
Today more than fifty years after its founding, IPS continues to thrive—with John Cavanagh—one of the great alchemists of progressive ideas and movement building—at the helm. It is institutions like IPS (I’ve been a proud board member for some 25 years) and dare I say the Nation, founded a few years earlier than IPS in 1865! , that must survive, thrive and collaborate (as we happily do) if we are to build that more just and progressive country and world Marc envisioned.
Washington is a city that suffocates independent thought, less by repression than by seduction. That is what made Marc so rare, so invaluable. At a very young age he rejected the trappings of power and the lies and myths that buttress it and created a space that might speak truth to that power. Yet as Marc also understood,
those in power often already know the truth. The real question, as the Nation’s Bill Greider titled one of his books, is “who will tell the people?” Marc did—IPS does.
Ideas and projects poured out of Marc’s verdant mind over many decades. He wrote or edited more than 20 books. He was not simply a theoretician, he was an organizer as well. At the time of the Iraq war, Marc’s vision helped spark the organizing of more than 350 cities to pass resolutions opposing that war. He sought constantly to build a progressive force—a movement, a party, a congressional caucus—that would champion an agenda for economic justice and for peace. Marc embraced the movements and insurgencies that have made America better. He believed deeply in what he called “passionate scholarship,” in breaking the barriers between thinkers and doers.” Taking personal risk is the way of maintaining relevance to one’s intellectual work,” Marc wrote—as Vietnam continued to escalate, Marc took risks, one was co-authoring “a call to resist
illegitimate authority,” calling for resistance to the draft. “A call” should be mandatory reading for members of today’s resistance.
The great social critic Paul Goodman dedicated his last book, New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, to Marc, describing him as an old fashioned citizen. Today we gather to celebrate Marc—a true citizen. Tomorrow, as he would have wanted, we will rise early, ready to fight for our constitution and country/onward!
Imagine: Two people jumped out of comfortable jobs in the Kennedy White House and into the unknown to found IPS in 1963, Marc Raskin and Dick Barnet. When I think of the blessings in my life, I got to spend my first 17 years at IPS working closely with Dick. And then I’ve had the joy to work for 35 years with Marc, to share an office with him, to have him to turn to when the absurd or the unexpected descended on either of us. No wonder I’m happy almost all the time.
Much of my time with Marc was spent laughing. Laughing about the challenges of fighting for peace and justice against the oversized opponents of the national security state and global corporations. Laughing about the ups and downs of fundraising to support the great work of so many of you in this synagogue today.
One byproduct of Marc working with the most powerful people on earth in his late 20s was that he was intimidated by no one. He was afraid of no one. He would pick up the phone and call anyone. Senators. Presidents of universities. And, they would take his call, and he’d share an idea.
Marc thought bigger than anyone I’ve ever known. The New York Times guy writing Marc’s obituary asked me to list Marc’s 5 biggest ideas from his perch at IPS. That was a challenge. Here are the five that I offered: public scholarship, the national security state, social inventions, empathetic invariance (look that one up), reconstructive knowledge.
Daily, he’d walk into the IPS office with several big, bold new ideas. Many of them were as daring as they were completely unrealistic. For example: an encyclopedia of all knowledge from social movements. A few of them were gems that helped us move toward justice, or peace, or equity. The great thing is that he never got mad when we left many of these ideas quietly outside on the doorstep. But, he loved plotting how to make the ones we picked to soar. To honor Marc, we all need to think bolder, and beyond the realm of what is possible today.
Marc’s ideas and his support of everything at IPS required funding, and was he ever an amazing partner on fundraising. I will mention just one story. Almost 20 years ago, Marc had surgery to fix a leaky heart valve, a surgery I would undergo ten years later. The day before the surgery, the doctor told him the usual odds of success, which included that Marc had a 2 percent chance of dying. (This really is a fundraising story.) So, that night, the night before his surgery, Marc called me up and asked me to come to the hospital, and to bring a list of our high donors.
I entered his hospital room. Marc asked: “Do you think I’d be worth more dead, or alive?” I was, for a moment, speechless. And, he said, “We’ll, let’s go through the list and see what you could ask for if I die, and how much I’m worth alive.” So, we did, laughing away until Lynn and the hospital staff gently ushered me out of the room.
It has been so heartwarming to get dozens of notes from former IPSers in these recent weeks full of stories of Marc. Each one reinforced what Marc was, above all: Marc treated everyone the same, and he cared deeply about the ideas of everyone who entered IPS, from the Noam Chomskys to the interns. And, he – and Dick — provided a chance for the well over 1,000 people who’ve worked at IPS over these 55 years, to have the chance to make a difference. That is part of why we are seeing so much love for Marc here today.
I end simply by saying that I’ve had a warm feeling about Marc all through this past month, that he is really happy now — about his amazing family, about the successes of IPS and its allies, about his people. Happy for the long ride he enjoyed to be bold and courageous and often audacious, and to do what he loved doing every day for over eight decades.
Thank you, Marc.