Katrina vanden Heuvel Wins the Marc Raskin Award for Civic and Intellectual Courage

Katrina vanden Heuvel Wins the Marc Raskin Award for Civic and Intellectual Courage

Katrina vanden Heuvel Wins the Marc Raskin Award for Civic and Intellectual Courage

In her acceptance speech, The Nation‘s editorial director and publisher highlighted the fragility of democracy, Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine, and the inevitability of change. 

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher and editorial director of The Nation magazine and a longtime IPS board member, received the 2023 Marcus Raskin Award for Civic and Intellectual Courage. The award, named for the late IPS cofounder Marc Raskin and jointly presented by IPS and the Raskin family, recognizes an outstanding and brave leader in the fields Raskin was passionate about—including peace, social reconstruction, art, and politics. Here are Katrina’s remarks, delivered on June 8, 2023. This transcript was originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies. 

I am deeply honored to receive this award. It was February 17, 2020 when I received the letter from John Cavanagh informing me of this joyous prize.

Much has happened since that time, in many people’s lives. I lost my beloved husband, Stephen F. Cohen; my remarkable father, William vanden Heuvel; and a mentor and friend, Victor Navasky. I have also had happiness—my daughter, Nika, got married in April. (She’s in Alabama, monitoring prison conditions.)

What has remained strong in these tempestuous times? IPS and The Nation, Representative Jamie Raskin, and our memories of Marc and Tommy Raskin. John, I’m grateful for your many years of leadership and our late night calls. Tope, we are excited about you taking this institution into the future. And to the committed fellows doing work to make this country and world more just, fair, and peaceful, thank you. Finally, great thanks to Bob Borosage—my friend, ally, political guru.

And of course—thanks to Representative Ro Khanna for his courageous support for renewing Congress’s role in matters of war and peace and his brilliance. His book Dignity in a Digital Age reminds us of how critical it will be that there is a more equal distribution of wealth associated with new technologies. And I humbly stand on the shoulders of Rev. William J. Barber II—a moral prophet who stands on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr.

I consider Jamie, a deeply valued contributor to The Nation and our nation for over 40 years, a member of the Nation family. In our pages and at Nation events, he is generous, brilliant, reasoned, passionate, compelling, and eloquent. And his grace has always moved us, never more so than when he suffered an unimaginable personal tragedy—on the last day of 2020 when Jamie lost his 25-year-old son, Tommy.

Jamie has long taught us about the fragility of democracy, the spine of our Constitution, the treachery of demagogues, and the necessity of justice. He and his colleagues left an indelible stain on Trump and exposed the utter cravenness of Republican senators. Due to Jamie and his team, the citizenry understand the threat posed by Trump’s sedition and by the senators’ cowardice. The House impeachment managers after January 6, led by Jamie, performed a priceless service to the country.

Jamie also dazzled with searing constitutional analysis laced with quotes from Tom Paine, Lincoln, Voltaire, and many other great minds—including this one from his beloved father, Marc Raskin: “Democracy needs a ground to stand on and that ground is the truth.” He, like his father, is a great teacher.

It was Marc who introduced Jamie to The Nation. For more than 60 years, Marc—a philosopher, teacher, author, activist, and citizen—provided piercing and independent insight into the state of our republic. In a city filled with strivers eager to trumpet conventional wisdom, Marc saw through the trappings of power and the lies and myths that buttress it. He called on us to change our course and rebuild our democracy—and he understood how the immense military industrial complex, the madness of the nuclear arms race, and a foreign policy of policing the world deformed democracy at home.

Marc and Jamie understood that taking personal risk maintains relevance to one’s intellectual work. Both are deep believers in “passionate scholarship”—breaking barriers between thinkers and doers. An early critic of the Vietnam War, Marc Raskin joined Bernard Fall to produce The Vietnam Reader, which became the basic text for the teach-in movement. As the war escalated, he co-authored “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” calling for resistance to the draft. For that, he was indicted as part of the Boston Five, tried, and acquitted.

Washington is a city that suffocates independent thought, less by repression than by seduction. That is what made Marc so rare. At a young age, Marc rejected trappings of power to create a space that might speak truth to that power: the Institute for Policy Studies. His influence on ideas and on the legions of young people he mentored was profound. Jamie continues that tradition with his Democracy Summer, a program he launched that has trained thousands of students to register voters and become organizers—democracy’s next defenders.

Independent media is also democracy’s defender. At The Nation, we refuse to be a stenographer for the powerful. We work to give voice to the powerless and issues that affect them. Of course we cover the news, but not from the perspective of the political and corporate establishment. Our deeper mission is to uncover the news that powerful people would prefer to keep hidden. We don’t treat politics like a spectator sport—we want to make people participants.

I’m proud that The Nation has always given priority to the public interest over profits. The very first centerfold in The Nation depicted five media “octopi” with news as a small cog in the corporate structure. Maybe I was doing penance for my grandfather. The corporation that he founded was called “the star-spangled octopus” in a four-part 1946 Saturday Evening Post series.

This past March, we marked 20 years since we were lied into the Iraq War. I took pride in our stance at that time and since, opposing one of the great foreign policy debacles and searing examples of media malpractice. Too many in the so-called liberal media and elite paved the way for that disastrous crusade. And they have not been held accountable.

Today, I am increasingly worried that we live in what might be called an intellectual no-fly zone.

As Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine enters its second year, shouldn’t the ramifications, perils, and costs of this proxy war be a central topic of informed analysis, discussion, and debate? Yet what we have in our media and political establishment is, for the most part, a one-sided, even nonexistent public discussion and debate.

Those who have departed from the orthodox view on the war are excluded, marginalized, or slurred—and rarely seen on corporate media. The result? Alternative and countervailing views and voices—voices of restraint, which advocate persistent and tough diplomacy to attain an effective ceasefire or armistice, one designed to ensure that Ukraine emerges as a sovereign, independent, reconstructed country—are rarely heard.

I suspect Marc wouldn’t approve of my quoting the venerable journalist Walter Lippmann! But he once observed that “where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

In closing, let me share my belief that change is inevitable. But if there is one constant in The Nation’s history it has been faith—not in political parties or policies, but in what can happen when you tell people the truth. The Nation’s first issue, published on July 6, 1865, described “the conflict of the ages, the great strife between the few and the many, between privilege and equality, between law and power, between opinion and the sword.”

As long as The Nation is around, that fight will go on—with some confidence, hope, and a measure of feistiness and outrage. With an abiding belief in Marc, Jamie, and Tommy’s spirit, compassion, and commitment to our beloved republic, the true power and beauty of America animates us in the vertiginous yet hopeful days ahead.

Keep hope alive!

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