Remarks of John Cavanagh, IPS Director, at the 32nd Annual Letelier-Moffitt Awards

Welcome to the 32nd annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards. I am John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, and I will be your guide to this evening’s festivities. First, I want to remind you all that no one should ever watch a presidential debate alone, and so we invite you after tonight’s festivities to stay for dessert and coffee, and then join 500 of your friends for the presidential debate in this room at 9 p.m. on the screen behind me.

Now I know that many of you are feeling fear, anxiety, and anger about both the elections and the financial crisis. We are in the midst of a moment that bears some similarities to what Jesse Jackson described poetically in the 1980s: as corporations merged, CEO salaries surged, workers got purged, and the economy was submerged.

Well, what I want to say to you tonight is that this is what it feels like in the middle of a paradigm shift. You are in one. And it represents an enormous opportunity if we only have the smarts and the guts to seize it.

What was the old paradigm? Our good friend Naomi Klein has called it the Shock Doctrine. And in her best-selling book, she cites none other than Orlando Letelier, who wrote a path-breaking article in the Nation magazine 32 years ago, describing the horrors of free-market policies on the working people of his native Chile and how those policies necessitated military repression to pacify resistance by those who were hurt or marginalized.

Of course that was just the beginning of the Shock Doctrine. Most countries on the planet, including our own, have had three decades of reckless deregulation and privatization that has unleashed the titans of Wall Street to take your hard earned savings and pour them into a vast deregulated global financial casino.

Well, in the last three weeks, that casino and that paradigm have come crashing down. The Wall Street titans who did everything to chase the Feds off Wall Street are leading the charge to bring them back. We are witness daily to problems the market just can’t solve. And we are watching governments and citizens movements reassert their power.

What will we replace the old paradigm with? Well, how about a shock doctrine of our own? How about a progressive shock doctrine?

How about a doctrine that shocks the market fundamentalists by transforming our country and the world from one where corporate profits rule to one where the needs of the people and planet come first?

How about one that shocks the Henry Kissingers of the world by transforming our foreign policy from reckless unilateralism and vengeance to international law and justice?

How about a doctrine that shocks Halliburton, and Boeing and the other defense contractors by slashing our military budget and spending it on human needs?

And how about a doctrine that shocks those Wall Street titans by making them pay for their own bailout?

We can do all these things and more, but we can only do them if we work together in new networks and new coalitions, some of which have sprouted up in the last 3 weeks. Many of you here have already been killing yourselves working to bring real change to this country on November 4. We all know that if these efforts succeed, we can think much, much bigger than we’ve been able to do for the past eight years — maybe for the past 40 or 50 years. Let’s never forget that it will be concerted citizen action, applied on a government that WE create. But we can achieve a progressive, green, fair, and just shock doctrine.

In closing:

The Letelier-Moffitt Selection Committee has asked that we take a moment tonight to pay tribute to the man who has never let us forget that health care is a RIGHT: Senator Edward Kennedy, a man who has stood on this IPS podium twice to present Letelier-Moffitt awards. Senator Kennedy was recently granted the highest award bestowed to a civilian by the government of Chile, the Order to the Merit of Chile Award, for his decades-long commitment to the struggle for human rights and democracy in that country. Following the 1973 coup against democratically-elected president Salvador Allende, Senator Kennedy worked tirelessly on behalf of the tortured and the disappeared. In 1974, Kennedy led the fight in Congress to cut off military aid to the Pinochet regime. His speech on the Senate floor on the day that Orlando and Ronni were killed is reprinted in your program. We wish you were here Senator Kennedy, but we are all wishing you well.

Some final acknowledgements: there are three names that I heard different of you mention during the reception, people who guided us and who have died in the past year and who we miss dearly: Michael Maggio, Stewart Mott, Paul Newman. You honor them by carrying on the fight for human rights, for peace, and for justice.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies, a member of the New Economy Working Group, and co-author of Development Redefined: How the Market Met its Match (Paradigm, 2008).