Progressive Leaders Honored At Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards

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The Franklin D. Roosevelt Institute honored five recipients for demonstrating a commitment to FDR’s progressive principles, at the Four Freedoms Awards in New York on Wednesday night.

Award recipients included economist and author Paul Krugman, who was awarded the Freedom of Speech and Expression Medal “for challenging economic orthodoxy and advancing a more equitable vision of society,” and NETWORK director Sister Simone Campbell, who won the Freedom of Worship Medal “for championing social justice in the health care reform debate.”

President Roosevelt’s granddaughter Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Roosevelt Institute, provided the welcoming remarks. Referring to the legacy her grandparents left behind, she said, “During the painful days of the last two weeks, how often have we longed for their kind of vision, hope, and leadership in government. And how often have we realized that their legacy resides in us, in you, and in me. And that as FDR said, ‘Government is ourselves, and not an alien power over us.’”

“These awards celebrate the ideals that my grandparents believed in and worked for,” she continued. “They recognize that that work is still ongoing, and they call each of us to renewed commitment.”

King’s Commissioner of Zeeland and chair of The Roosevelt Foundation in the Netherlands, Johannes Polman, used his remarks to explain how this year’s recipients have demonstrated their dedication to FDR’s Four Freedoms. “The 2013 Four Freedoms Awards laureates are outstanding examples to us as ambassadors and advocates of the Four Freedoms  and the great course they represent,” he said. “Our world needs people like you, people with compassion and commitment.”

Krugman accepted his award with humility and appreciation, calling himself an “FDR groupie,” and saying that Roosevelt is a “model of what a leader should be.”

“I’m feeling quite abashed in the company of the other honorees,” Krugman continued. “They are heroes, they are people who have done amazing things and taken huge risks, and I just write stuff in a comfortable office and I even get paid for it. And it’s an incredible privileged existence, but if there’s one thing that FDR taught us is that privilege brings with it duty.”

Sister Campbell explained how her work upheld FDR’s vision for democracy.

“We hold an obligation to ensure that all live in dignity, that all farm workers know that they can raise their families in dignity, that no one suffers gun violence or any other form of violence in our cities,” she said. “We have an obligation to come together as a community. And what I have learned that faith can do is faith can reduce the fear. Because fear is what drives us apart.”

The other 2013 Four Freedom award recipients were Ameena Matthews, who received the Freedom from Fear Medal for her work as a Senior Violence Interrupter for Cure Violence in Chicago; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who receieved the Freedom from Want Medal for their work to provide fair wages for farm workers across the country; and poet and farmer Wendell Berry, who was awarded the Freedom Medal for using his platform to advocate that “humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish.”

The inspiration for the Four Freedoms awards originates from Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress. Roosevelt’s speech, as Anne Roosevelt explained, outlined “his vision of the core principles of a strong and vibrant democracy. These have come to be known as the Four Freedoms.”

The Four Freedoms Awards began in 1963 and are awarded in alternating years by the Roosevelt Institute in the U.S. and Roosevelt Stichting in the Netherlands. Past recipients have included Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Presidents Truman, Carter, and Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Studs Terkel, and Barbara Ehrenreich, among others.

You can watch the Four Freedoms Awards Ceremony here.

Photo: Prisca Edwards via Roosevelt Institute

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