Norman Lear was the too-rare Hollywood producer who could get television audiences to laugh heartily and think deeply at the same time. Television shows like “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day At a Time” not only entertained but enriched by tackling delicate subjects like race, gender and other social issues in ways that helped millions of people face the ways our society and culture fell short of its ideals.
But Lear was compelled to give up having access to the living rooms of millions of people to devote his full time to another urgent calling: fighting the rising influence of the religious right in American politics.
From his conviction that people of different political views can still be good Christians and patriotic Americans grew People for the American Way, an organization that has been a staunch critic of the right and a fierce defender of the principle that progressive Americans must have their faith and their patriotism acknowledged and respected.
For this work, Lear was given the America’s Future Lifetime Leadership Award at the Take Back America gala dinner Tuesday night.
In his acceptance speech, Lear called himself “a born-again American,” a person who is proud to be a person of faith, a patriot and a progressive. His work at People for the American Way has been guided by the belief that the right should not have been allowed during the 1980s and 1990s to monopolize the discussion of faith and values as it did.
The human search for meaning and values, he said, “is the greatest conversation going, and I want in,” he said.
His other piece of advice to the Take Back America conference was to “stop serving as a punching bag for the right.” Shouldn’t progressives “speak with dignity and conviction about what we really believe?” he asked.
Lear gave additional remarks at a Wednesday plenary session.
Also at the gala dinner:
- Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., received the Progressive Champion award and declared to “her progressive family” that based on recent election victories by progressives and progress in influencing the political debate, “it looks like all of our work is finally paying off.” She added, “We were told all of these years that we had to run to the political center, and we have succeeded in moving the center.”
- Urban environmental activists Van Jones, of Oakland, Calif., and Majora Carter, of New York City, received the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award for their collaboration on Green Jobs for All, a program designed to create green energy projects that generate jobs in areas of high unemployment. The program was incorporated into the energy bill passed by Congress late last year. Carter recalled three characteristics she admired about Wellstone, the late Minnesota senator: he stood up for what he believed in, he admitted mistakes and he cared. “If we remember to do those things we can continue his legacy,” she said. Jones added that progressives has a special obligation and opportunity to implement positive solutions to the nation’s challenges. “America is not looking for a movement that will critique it,” he said. “It is looking for a movement that will inspire it.”