Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the Forum Honoring Anthony Lewis

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York 
New York, NY
October 29, 2013


Thank you so much for the invitation to be here with you. It is an enormous honor to share the stage with these remarkable writers.

There is nowhere I would rather be tonight – and in saying that I even include Busch stadium – which shows just how much I miss Tony.

Whatever the issue – the right to legal counsel, free speech, racial justice, apartheid, genocide, war, peace – Tony Lewis laid out the facts and wrote what he believed – systematically, eloquently, ferociously. That’s why he inspired so many of us here tonight.

I grew up reading “At Home Abroad” and “Abroad at Home” and whatever else he called his columns. What mattered was the byline – the name Anthony Lewis was a synonym for adult conversation and a morally literate view of the world. In Bosnia, where I was a rookie reporter deeply unsettled by the atrocities going on around me, he brought that singular passion of his to call on the United States to intervene to protect civilians. He was against bystanding. In a way, over his whole career, whatever he covered, he was the un-bystander, the upstander. I went to law school after covering the war in Bosnia, but the law seemed abstract and removed from real lives. Then I encountered the genius of “Gideon’s Trumpet” and -- we can’t forget -- “Make No Law.” As a writer studying law, I knew exactly what I wanted to be – Anthony Lewis with freckles. This was an utterly unrealistic ambition.

One of the great thrills of my life came when I was a 1L in law school and Kitty Galbraith, knowing I had been a journalist, invited me over for dinner to meet Tony Lewis – the Anthony Lewis. He shared his view of the Bosnian war, but he also asked about the war. A journalist to his core, he never missed the opportunity for an interview – even with a 25-year old first year law student. But he also tried to engage me on the parallels with FDR’s response to the Holocaust. The blank look on my face betrayed my ignorance of the particulars. He did not hide his disgust. “Samantha,” he said, as the dinner wound down, “you are a bright person and you may have a good career ahead of you, but you simply don’t know history.” I was crushed – laid bare by Tony Lewis, the Anthony Lewis.

He didn’t suffer fools, which made the reward extra sweet when he decided you weren’t one. A year after meeting him, I wrote a paper for a law school class on the history of the US responses to the major genocides of the twentieth century. I shared the paper with Tony, and, to this day, I remember exactly where I was standing when he called – in a group house in Cambridge, on a phone that connected to my fax machine. He told me I should think about turning the paper into a long article or short book. It was the ultimate ratification. If Tony Lewis believed, I believed. In large part thanks to his encouragement, the paper eventually became a long book on genocide.

Both willfully and reflexively, so many of us tried to model ourselves on Tony. He taught me more than history. He taught work ethic. No one worked harder at his profession than him. No one was more fearless in challenging the official version of truth. No one seemed so unashamed in using the power of the pen to tip the scales of justice in the right direction. For all of his empathy and indignation, Tony taught that you can win more people over by showing than telling. And he transformed abstract legal principles into compelling human stories that made us re-think our ideas about fairness and law.

But one lesson was more important than all the others. Once he found the woman of his dream, he taught that love mattered most. When it came to Margie, he practiced showing and telling.

Indeed, when one thinks about it, maybe his lifelong fight for justice can best be viewed as Tony’s effort to level the playing field so that, others, too, could live free and equal enough to have the time and wherewithal to fall in love.

In recent years he worried that – in this new era of blogs and tweets -- we might find ourselves swamped with opinions but desperately short of facts. He was concerned – and with good reason – that although shouters and haters had come to overpopulate the airwaves, the inheritors of his own proud tradition were becoming increasingly hard to find.

And it is worth asking: who will pick up the baton from Anthony Lewis? Who will push us to rise above our prejudices and think critically about the world and about our ability – as individuals – to make a positive difference within it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but when talking to aspiring writers, I urge them to audition for the role of becoming the next Tony Lewis. They may or may not end up with a column in the Times; but they will undoubtedly process the injustice and indignities around them in a wholly different way.

Anthony Lewis is no longer among us – but he will always be with us.

His words, his example, his warmth, his love of justice, his love of being in love, and the memory of his embrace – both intellectual and literal – live on.

Thank you.


PRN: 2013/201