Obituaries 2021

What is most striking, as we end this dreadful year of 2021, is the transitional nature of things but also the appallingly non-transformational nature of things. I am struck by the passing of a number of transitional  figures who made their mark on current versions of history and, what is more important to me, in this particular commentary, is that they made a mark on me personally.  Here, in no particular order, I reflect on the impact of Vernon Jordan, Walter Mondale, Colin Powell, Bob Dole, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, John Ruggie and Desmond Tutu. Quite a collection! Only one of them, as far as I know, was  a loss attributable to the coronavirus itself (Colin Powell), but their losses have simply added to making this a year of sadness and melancholy for me.

Yes, quite a collection for 2021! Obituaries for 2021 may be filled with grief over losses due to COVID-19 (up to 3 million reported and more likely 9 million in total for the year), but it strikes me as an unusually significant year of transitions, much as the pandemic is proving to be a transition from pre-pandemic to, eventually, post-pandemic living – or, perhaps more accurately, to living in a COVID-19-endemic world.

Why Bother with Obituaries?

I have written in the past about the impact on my life of people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg who passed away in 2020 or Kofi Annan who passed away in 2018 . It’s the personalized anecdotes to their accomplishments that have inspired me to pay my respects – even, as with the passing some 50 years ago of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for whom an exhibit honoring the 50-year anniversary of his passing showed up in Grasse, France in 2018, not in 2021.  In fact, I have to start with MLK, especially since we are approaching the annual MLK Day of Service in his memory!

At the time (i.e. back in 2018 in Grasse), the exhibit inspired me to reflect on his impact on the world but also, on a personal scale, to think more broadly about the ways his actions influenced me in such a dramatically positive direction . He was, after all, the commencement speaker at my graduation from Oberlin College back in 1965, urging us all “not to sleep through the revolution”. And , in this case, I also benefited from remembering his impact on the 50-year anniversary of the commencement address itself, when I participated in reunion events at Oberlin College. That was back in May of 2015 when I was still actively engaged in projects oriented to promoting multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral collaboration at the global level on such issues as infant nutrition, climate change and gender equality.   And on that occasion, MLK’s inspiring words were not the only ones to remind us to act forcefully. Michele Obama was herself a speaker at that commencement exercise – calling on us all to “run to, and not away from, the noise”.

Well, this isn’t the time to dwell on the Michele Obamas of the world – she and others like her who are vibrantly in the midst of their lives. Here I want to reminisce about an array of stellar figures who are no longer with us – and how they have had a personal effect on me. That is not to say that prominence has been the defining factor in having an effect on my life.  I have my share of relative unknowns who should not be left unrecognized for their lack of fame – my parents, of course, as well as my seventh grade history teacher or my government professor in college, both of whom inspired me to study international politics . Or the three ACLU law professors from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and Yale, who persuaded me to go back to law school years later.

And then there are all those friends and family members who  were important to me and who live on in my memories, even as they were pre-maturely taken away from us. They, too, have had their personal impact – laughing together, crying together, sharing insights, working together, learning from each other. We remember these people more readily than those who are still living, and  it is the occurrence of their passing that gives us the chance to combine the fond memories with the grieving.

The point here is that these “obituaries” have been an occasion for reminiscing about people who are widely known to others than oneself, whose obituaries and funerals appear in the media to recognize their lifetime of public service, but who have nonetheless also had a personal connection in my  life.  It is that personal connection that inspires me to write my thoughts about these august figures, mostly with a positive twist but sometimes not so positive!

The 2021 Cluster of Obituaries

Because there are so many of them this year, I am motivated to cluster them here. They are all, in their different ways, a symbol of times past where they laid the seeds for a different future. They epitomized leadership and accomplishment in ways that I personally appreciated as I have meandered on my own path through life – and still do, of course!  But what I find especially remarkable about this clustered approach is that they all seem to symbolize the end of a particular era while also representing a pivotal moment for a better future. Anyway, here, again, they are: Vernon Jordan, Walter Mondale, Colin Powell, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, John Ruggie.  To which I now add Bob Dole. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Vernon Jordan, The Powerbroker for Civil Rights

Why, for starters, did Vernon Jordan matter to me? One can’t really say that he was that big a civil rights leader. Not like Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis or even Jesse Jackson. Nonetheless, he stands out on this score because of his impact on me personally – first as the key figure in enabling AT&T to play a constructive role in advancing civil rights at a crucial time in the early 1990s, and second, as the kind of Washington powerbroker that freed up my nomination to the ILO.

True, it was both Jesse Jackson and Vernon Jordan who were in a position to confront the leadership of AT&T on a major civil rights bill in 1990 and 1991 when I happened to be working there and was trying to persuade the company to support the legislation. Vernon, in particular, was a powerhouse at a major law firm, Akin Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, that AT&T had on a multi-million-dollar retainer during the divestiture battles over the breakup of “Ma Bell” the iconic phone system that had monopolized telecommunications in the US for so many years.

I had joined AT&T in 1983, just as the court-ordered divestiture was being implemented. I wanted to see what an “enlightened” monopoly with a respectable record of compliance with civil rights laws would be like as it went out of monopoly status. When AT&T was swept up with the rest of the business community to oppose a major civil rights bill in 1990, I was sent to meet with Vernon to explain AT&T’s position. Fortunately, the company had already been challenged by another major civil rights figure, Julius Chambers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, whom I knew personally from my days as an elected official in North Carolina. I had convinced AT&T’s CEO to consider bucking the business world on this important issue.  When I met with Vernon, I reminded him that we had met once before when I was a White House Fellow and he was head of the National Urban League. While it wasn’t yet feasible for AT&T to break away from the business position right away, Vernon seemed to appreciate my own position but was also quite vociferous in urging the company to come on board.

I am convinced that it was the combination of Julius Chambers and Vernon Jordan that pushed the AT&T CEO Bob Allen to give it a shot. Vernon, in particular, was the consummate figure of corporate flare – tall and imposing and elegantly dressed – who was leading the way for other minorities to penetrate the boardrooms of corporate America. He knew just how to get along while also needling the conscience of CEOs like Bob Allen to do the right thing on civil rights. As we took the lead at AT&T to convene a multi-stakeholder effort to find a compromise on the legislation, I frequently reported on progress to Vernon and his team at Akin Gump.  And the bill that eventually passed was a product of that compromise effort in spite of the subsequent pressure from President Bush and his legal counsel Boyden Grey  that led Bob Allen to wash his hands of this particular “three-ring circus”.

A couple of years later, I had another opportunity to call on Vernon. Bill Clinton had been elected President, and Vernon was a powerhouse in his campaign who had opted to stay out of the administration and yet operated as a key personal advisor to the President.  In fact, many obituaries of Vernon grouped him with the likes of Bob Strauss (the leading powerbroker at Akin Gump), Clark Clifford or Lloyd Cutler.  A powerbroker, he was! When I was being considered for an appointment at the International Labor Organization and clearance had been held up at the White House, my AT&T supporters urged me to pay him a visit, which I did. It was an amazing visit – escorted as I was by one of his personal assistants to his office, where I was invited to sit and chat with him about this hold-up at the White House. As I sat there, he then got on the phone and chatted with this and that person at the White House – not once mentioning my name or the issue at hand. After some fifteen minutes of this, though, he turned to me and said “It’s all clear. Your appointment can go ahead.”  And that was that!

Walter (Fritz) Mondale on Gender

Walter (Fritz) Mondale and I crossed paths a number of times, first in Minnesota when I was a college student at home on spring break doing a field research project, then when I was a White House Fellow in Washington, DC, third in North Carolina when he was was building his campaign for a Presidential run in 1984, and finally, years later in 2019 at a White House Fellows alumni visit to the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta. Actually, the significance of these interactions was more attributable to his wife Joan than it was to him, although it was also the impression made by the pairing of them that stood out for me personally.

First, I knew about Walter Mondale as a teenager when I called upon his wife Joan as part of my field project for a course in local government at Oberlin. I was interested in how women could advance in politics since I was at the time running for college president of Young Republicans. Yikes! Young Republicans? Well, yes, I was a Republican in those days primarily because I thought they were far more progressive on civil rights than the Democratic Party. In fact, civil rights was a Republican cause more than a Democratic one. It has perhaps been forgotten that a greater proportion of Congressional Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Democrats. It wasn’t until years later that LBJ’s prediction, that the white South would go Republican,  eventually happened. And by then, I had disavowed the conservatism of Goldwater Republicans and happily moved my own allegiances to the Democrats.

Anyway, my project was to interview an array of Democratic and Republican “ward chairwomen” in the city of Minneapolis to learn what role they played vis-a-vis “ward chairmen” since both parties were required to have both. Were they co-equals in their political roles, or were their roles gender-based? Most of them, regardless of party, I recall, described more traditionally female roles – managing the refreshments at meetings, drafting the minutes, sending out the agendas, etc.  I do recall that there was only one chairwoman among the twenty or thirty that I interviewed who was outspokenly and actively involved in the political  decision-making in her ward – a feisty Democrat in a working class part of the city.

Then there was Joan Mondale, the Democratic ward chairwoman in the fancy Lake of the Isles ward – whom I interviewed in her Tudor-style home on that very lake. She was, of course, actively supporting her husband who had recently been re-elected Attorney General of the state, but she defined her supporting role primarily in terms of her personal interest in the arts, as a complementary sort of supporting role for an up-and-coming national politician – not so much a politician in her own right (or even someone actively involved in ward-level politics) but definitely involved in her own way in the political world.

We met once again a few years later, after Fritz had been appointed US Senator to replace Hubert Humphrey and  after he had been chosen by Jimmy Carter to be his running mate and had been elected Vice President.  During my White House Fellowship year, we had a session with both Walter (Fritz) and Joan Mondale at their Vice Presidential home next to the Naval Observatory. Again, what I remember is that she was the gracious hostess whose enthusiasm for the arts was once again her primary focus. We all knew that Fritz was an activist Vice President in those days, but he was also very supportive of his wife’s contributions and of equal rights for men and women in general – as subsequently proven by his choice of a woman, Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate in 1984.

On the third occasion, it was actually Fritz Mondale by himself coming through North Carolina as he was working the party’s leadership state by state for his Presidential run in 1984.  We picked him up at the Raleigh/Durham airport for the annual Jefferson/Jackson dinner or some such, and we talked at length about who was supporting him and who was supporting any of his opponents – i.e. mostly concerned about the black leadership’s support for Jesse Jackson, but also about the appeal of John Glenn early on, since he was more likely to get the white leadership’s support in a state like North Carolina.

My personal impression at the time was that he was more oriented to maneuvering support from party leadership than he was about being a strong candidate among voters generally. In fact, one can recall his remark about not having the “fire in the belly” to run for President when he dropped out of the race in 1976.  Perhaps his getting into this position once again in 1984 was only because of his having been Jimmy Carter’s choice for Vice President in 1976.

As someone who had never won an open seat on his own but had been re-elected to the posts of Minnesota Attorney General and US Senator from Minnesota only after having been appointed to fill vacancies in these positions, I sensed that he was someone who knew how to “get along” with the powers that be, more than he was someone with an independent appeal to voters. And, in a sense, one could argue that he was merely a “sacrificial lamb” in 1984,  since Ronald Reagan was so heavily favored to be re-elected that year. Although blunders were made in the campaign itself (announcing, for example, that he would raise taxes), I sensed that Fritz did not expect to win. But, and this is the ultimate point about his leadership style, he certainly came through the disappointingly overwhelming defeat with respect for the results and with his integrity intact.

On the fourth occasion, many years later,  former Vice President Mondale met with the White House Fellows alumni at an event at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta. Fritz was, by this time, an “eminence grise” who could talk about how the Democratic Party had to mobilize to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. He himself was supporting Amy Klobuchar – as was I at the time. He displayed his continuing support for gender equality, having nurtured many a female candidate for political office along the way.  We had an exchange, too, about the importance of building coalitions by emphasizing our common values even among groups with diverse interests and experiences.  He had started his political career as a centrist in Minnesota but increasingly as a liberal in national politics but consistently as someone who believed in inclusive governance. Is his type no longer there in American politics?

As a really nice guy, Fritz has yet to have any memorial services in his honor, even though he died in April . Memorial services were postponed from April to September on account of the pandemic,  both in Minnesota and Washington, DC  but then again were postponed in September to an unspecified date.  Maybe there won’t be any, after all. It is with a bit of  melancholy that I wonder what it would have been like for me if I had stayed in Minnesota where I grew up and where his style of leadership might still carry some weight.  But this particular melancholy extends well beyond the personal to encompass an appreciation for his impact on civil rights, women’s rights and consumer’s rights – as well as workers’ rights – and on bipartisan collaboration – all so absent in today’s political scene.

Bob  Dole – the Abrasive Compromiser

Senator Bob Dole, on the other hand,  was a bipartisan collaborator from the Republican side of things, much like Fritz Mondale was from the Democratic side of things. And both are known for losing both Vice Presidential and Presidential elections in the course of their remarkable and long political careers. Although he was known for abrasive one-liners, starting with a publicly televised vice presidential debate against none other than Fritz Mondale, he also came to be known as someone who supported bipartisan initiatives. For starters, he was among those Republicans who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and furthermore, for bipartisan reforms of food stamps and school lunch programmes, including an international school lunch program that he promoted with former Senator George McGovern. He was also instrumental in the enactment of the Disability Rights Act in 1990, and years later, as a former US Senator, actively lobbied the Senate for the ratification in 2012 and again in 2014 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I’ll never forget meeting Senator Dole (only once in person, other than watching him on the Senate floor or interacting with him in the Senate Finance Committee room). It was in his Senate leadership chambers with the famed balcony looking out over the Mall, where he was known to insist on his daily 15 minutes (or more) to maintain the well-tanned look on his face.  (Somehow, he managed to avoid the overly tanned  look of his House counterpart John Boehner or the orange look of someone else who shall go unnamed here.) He was known, too, for the courageous service and recovery from injuries in World War II that made his right arm permanently disabled and his left arm also numbed.

Since he always carried a pen in his right hand, we all knew to shake his left hand  but only if he offered it.- which he did when I met him  with a group of women tax lobbyists, aka the powerful Tax Coalition.  As I recall, AT&T was interested in keeping a foreign investment tax credit in the massive Tax Reform Act of 1986, and I was there for that purpose. But the group was generally supportive of the closing of loopholes in the tax code . He was his abrasive self, even then, but we all took it in stride and welcomed his basic decency and commitment to bipartisan collaboration. In this regard, he is, like Fritz Mondale, definitely a figure of the past.

Colin Powell in the Forefront

Another Republican of note who died in 2021 who would  not fit into the Republican Party of today is Colin Powell. As a former White House Fellow like myself, we had frequent occasions to cross paths. It is with sadness, however, that I reflect on the deep disappointment I had with his testimony before the UN Security Council in 2003 justifying the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the invasion of Iraq.  He himself acknowledged that the evidence on which he relied in his testimony was ultimately proven to be incorrect. All I can personally say is that I shared the view that the evidence was flimsy and distorted to start with. One doesn’t need hindsight for that.  I was among those who held candlelight vigils to oppose the invasion.   And while he never specifically admitted it, I believe that he was essentially cornered by the “crazies” (his word) who came to dominate the Bush2 Administration’s War against Terror, to play along

What stands out for me regarding Colin Powell’s military and political career is that he did lead the way for Black Americans to become fully integrated into the US military machine. He has numerous “firsts” in his record in that regard –  most obviously first Black American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black-American Secretary of  State. On one non-WHF event where we met, he was supporting an AT&T-sponsored event portraying the Tuskegee  Airmen, a group of predominantly African-American military pilots and airmen to serve in World War II. So kudos to Colin for his groundbreaking role in public service. I am impressed by what it must have required for him to succeed.

John Sweeney and Richard Trumka and the End of an Era in the Labor Movement

Now on to John Sweeney and Richard Trumka. What can I say about these two? I knew John Sweeney better than I knew  Richard Trumka. Both served as President of the AFL-CIO , the main American confederation of labor unions – John Sweeney  from 1995 to 2009, and Richard Trumka from 2009 to 2021.  I also knew their predecessor Lane Kirkland, whose legacy merits inclusion here. He served as the AFL-CIO President from 1979 to 1995. It was he who assumed the helm of the American labor movement at its height in 1979 and even united more of the labor movement (Teamsters, Autoworkers, Mineworkers) into the confederation, but actually oversaw a massive slide in union membership during his years in that role. My interactions with all three were essentially through their engagement as the US workers’ representatives to the tripartite International Labor Organization (ILO).

Lane Kirkland is best known for his outspoken advocacy of Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement in Poland . In 1981, he had also influenced the US to rejoin the ILO which it had “unjoined” under President Carter in 1977.  (That is quite another story!)  It was largely through the ILO that the AFL-CIO was able to provide Solidarity with a global platform at the ILO to bring about the changes in Poland that ultimately led to the end of the Cold War.  But his international work did not make up for the domestic strife in the US labor movement. Lane Kirkland was ousted from the AFL-CIO in 1995, shortly after I started working at the ILO.

I worked more closely at the ILO with his successor John Sweeney , a progressive union organizer reaching out to women and minorities and bringing in a new emphasis on union organizing. He had built up his Services Employees International Union to over a million members before being elected to replace Kirkland.  Although he could not stop the slide in membership overall during his tenure at the AFL-CIO, he proved to be a decent enough mobilizer of union support for legislative initiatives and federal elections.

Ultimately, in the continuing turmoil that plagued the AFL-CIO, it was John Sweeney’s own protege at the SEIU, Andrew Stern, who pulled many of the more progressive  unions away from the AFL-CIO in the mid-2000s . In spite of John Sweeney’s own efforts to accommodate reform within the AFL-CIO, I would speculate that there was a lot of resistance from the larger (at least historically) old-style unions in heavy industries and transport to make his reforms work. I wrote at length about the need for unions and employers organizations to be more oriented to social issues after I had left the ILO in 2001, but it appeared to be a losing cause.

When Richard Trumka took over the AFL-CIO’s presidency in 2009, it seemed as though he was simply reinforcing this old-style of confrontational leadership that had prevailed in the industrial unions from their origins earlier in the twentieth century.  HIs background was in the United Mineworkers union – and he certainly was known for his feisty leadership of one strike after another.  And he looked the part! I called these old guard union leaders “les poids lourds” at the ILO. Beefy, burly men with booming voices and proud histories.  It is vividly symbolic that, upon Richard Trumka’s sad and sudden death from a heart attack at the relatively young age of 72, his successor is Liz Shuler, the first woman to lead the AFL-CIO and that the second in command, as Secretary-Treasurer, is Fred Redmond, the first African-American to hold this position.

This is, indeed, a significant transition for the labor movement in the US – and might also be the harbinger of change elsewhere.  It is true that the head of the main international trade union organization, Sharan Burrow was elected to this position several years ago, but we also have the possibility of female leadership at the ILO itself, with a couple of strong female candidates to succeed Guy Ryder – but also a couple of black African men, too, which would be a first, either way, for the ILO.  That said, there is also a fifth candidate for ILO Director-General, Greg Vines, who happens to be another white male, but a strong and credible contender. So we shall see.

John Ruggie and the Guiding Principles

Professor John Ruggie was another figure of transitional significance who passed away in 2021. He stands out as one of the main advisors to Kofi Annan during his tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations (Lord Mark Malloch-Brown being another and Jeffrey Sachs, yet another). Although Professor Ruggie is best known in academic circles for his analysis of “embedded liberalism” – a system of economic governance that described how the global economy operated in the 1950s and 1960s and even 1970s. Supporting a mix of free trade policies with national interventions for domestic policy purposes, this system was displaced by the “neoliberalism” of the Reagan/Thatcher era, otherwise known as the “Washington Consensus”, that prevailed well into the 1990s.

For me, it was a time of working on behalf of the ILO to get the Bretton Woods institutions to reverse or at least modify their anti-labor stance as advocates of that infamous Washington Consensus.  And even after I left the ILO, my work was oriented to promoting these workers rights standards. For Professor Ruggie, it was the opportunity to work with Kofi Annan to advance what he originally promoted as the UN “Global Compact”, getting businesses to endorse a set of core human rights principles – mostly a combination of environmental and labor standards. And subsequently, he was brought in by Kofi Annan to be his representative to respond to the pressures coming from the UN Human Rights Council to make business compliance with human rights standards mandatory under international law. What he ultimately came up with, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, expanded on these same standards to encompass a business responsibility to protect these rights. Thus, his contributions were very much a part of my own work agenda, especially as I worked with companies like Unilever and Medtronic and Syngenta to engage in multi-stakeholder collaborations at the global level.

Thanks to Professor Ruggie for this evolutionary cycle of building the soft law of international business accountability, from the Global Compact to the Guiding Principles. At the Human Rights Council itself, there is today a Working Group on  Business and Human Rights and a long-drawn-out effort to enact a binding code for business that continue to push for taking the next steps. Until recently, both the European Union and the US had resisted cooperating with the process, but the EU eventually changed its position. And given the recent agreements reached on an international minimum corporate tax and the growing concerns about digital governance, we may see some real movement here as well.

Desmond Tutu and Ubuntu

Finally, I come to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who passed away on 26 December 2021.   Desmond Tutu is the last of the string of famous people who passed away in 2021 with whom I have the kind of personal connection that has inspired me to write this lengthy tome.  He is a global icon with an impressive history in the “rainbow nation”, the endearing term he gave to his home country of South Africa. I need not elaborate on his record  of leadership to end apartheid and initiate a national reconciliation there – or his global voice,  speaking up for human rights everywhere – including HIV/AIDS , LGBTQ rights, and issues as varied as climate change (which he called “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time”), the rights of Palestinians and even the right to assisted dying. Although he was a  devout Christian, “the Arch”, as he was lovingly called, developed a long-lasting friendship with the Dalai Lama;. The two are described today as “mischievous brothers”, both advancing global justice.

My personal impression is a simple one. He was speaking at some UN event in Geneva – I don’t even remember the date or the subject. The special nature of the event was that I was able to bring my son along to hear him speak. Gradually and very movingly in the course of his speech, we were both entranced by his sincerity, his simplicity, his inherent goodness, his charm and his joyful good humor.  After he had finished speaking, we had the opportunity to go up to him and introduce ourselves. It had been a large audience, but he took the time to visit without rushing his gaze from one person to the next. He welcomed us with his smile, the warmth in his eyes and in his handshake. Yes, in those pre-pandemic days, we were able to shake hands. Again, I don’t remember what we said, but I do remember the warmth and the power of his personage – and his smile!. Both my son and I remarked about the impression he had made on us when we learned about his passing on Boxing Day.

There is a transitional nature to all of this, and especially to the passing of “The Arch”. As a couple of South Africans put it, “The archbishop’s death marks the end of an era: many are lamenting the loss of our moral compass as we face a dearth of moral leadership in South Africa”.  See the article defending his liberation struggle here. It seems that we are facing a dearth of moral leadership just about everywhere.

With regard to “the Arch’s” impact, I am struck by the cross-cultural nature of the dynamics that started with Mahatma Gandhi, first in South Africa and then in India, advocating a non-violent resistance to injustice that links back to Henry David Thoreau and his “duty of civil disobedience”; and links forward to the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King, Jr, and even the “Rainbow Coalition” founded by  the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984; and then back to “the Arch” and his famed adaptation of the phrase to South Africa as the “rainbow nation”.  Of course, Desmond Tutu also embraced the very African concept of  “ubuntu” – saying often that “I am human only because you are human”. There are many strands of thought here. But we come back to the urgent need for moral leadership today.

Transitioning to the Future

Admiring these transitional figures of yesteryear – Vernon Jordan, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, John Ruggie, and Desmond Tutu – has brought me, as I wrote at the beginning of this commentary, to a certain melancholy. They all did good things (and some not so good or at least didn’t work out too well, given where we are today) in times that are long past. We benefited from their actions and from their personages, but we are dealing today with different circumstances. Well, not entirely everything is different. We still have functioning democracies here and there – and a heightened awareness of the struggle it takes to keep them operating. We still  have an international framework of institutions that may need reform but do operate – and leaders who are trying to make do.

Only one of these transitional figures, Colin Powell, passed away in 2021 on account of COVID-19, but it just seems that they have all left us at a time of crisis. The partisan divide in the US, authoritarian and ethnic populism around the world, climate change, became problematic long before 2021. But the changing nature of the pandemic through this past year has shocked us all and continues to do so. I am hopeful that it will finally persuade us to act globally, even as we have to search diligently for new variations  of that inclusiveness, of that “ubuntu”/”rainbowism” /whatever you want to call it, that these august figures symbolized and acted upon in their lives. RIP.




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