Scott Wallace, Co-Chair of the Wallace Global Fund, accepted the “Progressive Champion” award at the annual 2015 Awards Gala Celebrating America’s Future with a thought-provoking speech honoring his grandfather Henry Wallace.
Arguably the most progressive vice president in American history, Henry Wallace famously rebuked the conservative Henry Luce, who in early 1941 wrote “that the 20th Century must be to a significant degree an American Century.” Wallace recoiled at the hegemonic overtones and in May 1942, at a low point in World War II, fired back.
As Scott Wallace characterized it: “Henry Wallace called him stupid – not in so many words. He said, ‘There can be no privileged peoples. We .. are no more a master race than the Nazis.’ Total smackdown!”
Scott continued: “He said the new century must be the ‘century of the common man’ — common person he probably meant — not just in America but all over the world. We need a ‘people’s revolution,’ he said, for ‘all the people’, not just for the self-interest of a ‘few,’ with an economy that is just, charitable and enduring.”
“The damn speech went viral without the Internet,” Scott marveled, as it became a best-selling book and (Oscar-nominated) movie.
In 1944, Scott recalled The New York Times asked the vice president to elaborate on what stood in the way of the common man, and his response was “American Fascism,” which he considered to be when corporations and government are too close together. Scott quoted from the oped: “They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective [is to use] the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously [to] keep the common man in eternal subjection.” Scott noted that “there’s still a grain of truth” to that statement today.
“We’re just following his instruction manual,” Scott said of his grandfather, speaking of the “people’s revolution” his philanthropic fund seeks to cultivate. Van Jones introduced him, showering praise for the Wallace Global Fund’s “Divest-Invest” campaign, securing $2.3 trillion worth of pledges to divest out of fossil fuels and into clean energy, and capturing the spirit of Henry’s Wallace vision for a system that works for the common man.
Scott then offered a litany of change he warned won’t happen on its own: “The death penalty isn’t going to kill itself. Citizens United isn’t going to overturn itself. Income inequality is not going to fix itself. It takes a movement … and movements take money, and a strategy and a whole lot of people.”
It’s a strategy that Henry Wallace laid out 70 years ago, and that his grandson is carrying out today.