From The President / May 11, 2016

Remarks Accepting the North Star Award

On May 9, DA President Gara LaMarche was honored by the North Star Fund at their annual Community Gala in New York. His brief remarks accepting the North Star Award alongside fellow honorees Billie Jean King and George Gresham of 1199SEIU are below.

Thank you, Margie.  I can’t think of anyone whose social justice spirit, passion, lifetime of work and — to use a word I did not learn in Latin class at Immaculate Conception School — whose sheer menschiness would make me feel that just being introduced by you is honor enough.

But of course the honor is magnified greatly by its source, the North Star Fund, which I have admired, learned from and supported since my early days in social justice philanthropy … by sharing it with George Gresham, whose voice for those fighting for dignity and justice inspires me daily … and with an icon for equality and excellence like Billie Jean King. Billie Jean,  I am sure I speak for all of us when I hope the history you made in whupping a blowhard showboating misogynist opponent is repeated at the polls this November.

Most of all, though, I am honored – humbled, really – to share this honor and this stage with the leaders of Adhikaar and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.  I took the R train to Woodside last Monday and was privileged to share with Luna and the Adhikaar staff their daily lunch of fantastic Nepali food – which each staff member takes turns preparing.  From organizing exploited nail salon workers to dealing with immigration and domestic violence issues to helping the Nepali community access health care, Adhikaar’s advocacy for this immigrant community grounded in service to the community and led by the community is a model for social justice in these perilous times.  Their stories and strategies, and those of BAJI, need a wider audience and support, starting here.

Tonight’s event, and the community around it, is critical to achieving social and economic justice in this country, because the North Star for North Star, from the beginning, has been the power of social movements.  If you want to know why social movements matter, look no further than the current elections.

Why is the Republican governor of North Carolina faltering, and why is everyone from the NBA to Fortune 500 companies boycotting the state over issues critical to the trans community, which couldn’t even get respect from the larger LGBT movement only a few years ago?  Because of the strength and insistence of social movements. Because people shook things up.

Why do one party’s Presidential candidates now support an end to deportations, a higher minimum wage, justice for Flint, and other progressive stances, and why do they need to be spurred to do even more, and to keep the promises they are making?  Because social movements moved them, and because power yields nothing without a demand.

Attention philanthropoids and “impact investors:” if you want to see meaningful metrics, and a fantastic return on investment, there it is for you – and the investments you need to make are sitting in this room and throughout the North Star docket.

To the extent this is a personal honor, though I share it with hundreds of those who have taught me and sustained me – from my daughters, wife and sister, who are here tonight, to the colleagues and staff who have been with me on this journey — let me close very personally.

Sometimes I wonder, when I have moments of reflection, how an 11-year old boy from a small white New England town, in the first generation of his family to go to college, who was always picked last for teams, who spent most of his non-school time in front of the television set – 60’s TV Theme Songs for one hundred, Alex! – or holed up in the stacks of the library poring over Presidential biographies, how that boy – who by the way is me, over fifty years ago now – grew up to help billionaires spend billions of dollars, in a Willy Wonka kind of job as a professional redistributionist.

In the life I have come to lead, I get to host parties with Arianna Huffington  … hang out at Sundance and TED … advise Mayors and Governors on politics … and pal around with Barack, thanks to my EZ Pass for the White House, if you believe Michelle Malkin and the other right-wing Inspector Javerts who dog my life. And I enjoy that life, unexpected as it was from my origins, don’t get me wrong.

But I won’t miss any of that when it goes away, as it will, the wheel of worldly power turning relentlessly, as it must.  What is most important to me, looking back over the work I have been privileged to do in the last 40 years, is a host of many other moments.  In the ACLU, driving to east Texas in the 1980’s to sit with the family of a young Black man gunned down by the police … walking the colonias of the Rio Grande Valley with Mexican-American farmworkers who can’t drink their water because of pesticides … at Open Society, sitting in a church basement with Guatemalan meatpackers in Nebraska critical to the local and national economy but living in a rightless apartheid state …  at Atlantic, talking with kids in foster care in Belfast learning to use their own voice and agency to get the education and lives and jobs they deserve … with Mozambican refugees in Johannesburg crammed into the stairwells of a local church for sanctuary … and in recent years, being shown around her rural village by a young Indian girl at risk for the sex trade … teaching – and learning from — prisoners in upstate New York and working with those returning to the community in Brooklyn at the Fifth Avenue Committee.

It is in these moments, and with these women and men, where I have felt most alive — most in service of what we are on earth to do.  In my life I have acquired a position of privilege in the world — partly by unearned race and gender benefits and partly through what I have done and earned.  But there is no point to that privilege – no point at all – except to use it, and whatever platform and tools and assets it provides, guided by those who are struggling for justice.  That is why I get up in the morning, that is why I support the work of the North Star Fund, and that is why the honor you have given me tonight means more than any other honor I can imagine.

Thank you.