All of us here at IPS are grieving with the Raskin family for the loss of their son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, uncle and more. Tommy was part of our IPS family, along with his grandfather and IPS founder Marc Raskin, and all the amazing Raskins of now four generations. We send to all the Raskins our love, our tears, and our commitment to live up to the spirit and power of the light of Tommy’s life. The below words are written by IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis, who worked closely with Tommy and knew him well.
When Marc Raskin persuaded me ten years ago to have his grandson Tommy come to the Institute for Policy Studies to do a summer internship with me, I worried I’d regret it. Marc was the co-founder of IPS, of course, and had been my mentor for many years — but really, Tommy was only in high school. Marc assured me that Tommy was an exception to all the rules. Boy was he right.
Tommy was extraordinary. He was only 15, but he was brilliant. Intellectually curious, open, eager for new ideas to challenge his steel-trap mind. And beyond that, he held a rare level of empathy and compassion. The others in our intern cohort that summer were all college students – juniors and seniors, maybe a couple of graduate students. Tommy was at least five years younger than any of them – yet somehow he was the one who took responsibility for making sure everyone was doing okay, that no one felt left out, that everyone was connected.
And Tommy’s intellectual rigor was uncompromising. He would never accept conventional ideas – even progressive ideas – without interrogation. IPS Director John Cavanagh remembers him arguing with me over the war in Afghanistan with the same eloquence and confidence as his grandfather Marc and his father, Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin.
Tommy was always willing, even eager, to challenge assumptions that undergirded false histories and sham analysis. In his 2015 Amherst College student blog article The Irony of Colonial Apologetics, he uncovered the economic support provided to colonialists often falsely portrayed as rugged individualists. “In truth,” he wrote, “colonial enterprises were welfare cesspools replete with military protection, relocation subsidies, and exceedingly cheap land for European settlers.”
I loved working with Tommy. He challenged me, forced me to defend my positions even as I pushed him to defend his. He taught me some great lessons in what assertions I could take for granted, and what I certainly could not. He took nothing for granted – except for the recognition that he needed to learn all he could, and that he needed to understand positions and ideas he disagreed with so he could better confront and defeat them.
The entire IPS family mourns the loss of this extraordinary young man, who died on December 31 at 25.
Tommy Raskin was a person the world needs, right now. His too-short life brought us all the gift of a bright light, a magical mind, a daring compassion. Marc was right: Tommy was an exception to all the rules. The world needs him, and will miss him terribly. Right now.