Playwright Kushner promotes socialism in campus speech

Ken Eisinger

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner doesn’t just decry the ills of capitalism in America, he proposes an alternative: socialism.
The 41-year-old playwright delivered the annual Joseph Warren Beach Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, receiving a standing ovation from the more than 600 people who packed the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
Kushner won a Pulitzer and two Tony Awards for his two-part play “Angels in America.” The play is set in 1986, and focuses on the AIDS epidemic.
Many of his plays contain broad political messages, an interest he says dates back to his days at Columbia University and New York University.
In his 50-minute speech Wednesday, Kushner lamented the alienation and disenfranchisement he said capitalism promotes. He endorsed socialism as an alternative political ideology, pointing out that its goals are not to ignore the individual, but to ensure collective well-being.
“Socialism acknowledges our differences,” Kushner said. “Our circumstances can be improved upon.”
The discrepancy between rich and poor strikes a particular chord with the openly gay playwright, who was born in New York and raised in Louisiana.
Two weeks ago, the Children’s Defense Fund released a report detailing child poverty in the United States. The study found that 20 percent of all children in America were poor in 1996, up from 14 percent in 1973. During that same period, the median yearly income of families of parents under 30 has dropped 33 percent from $30,000 to less than $20,000.
“Capitalism sucks,” Kushner said. “We all know it. The world is a mess, and it’s depressing to think there’s no alternative.”
Kushner said he feels that people censor themselves into not criticizing contemporary U.S. social organization.
“The lecture was a call to action, a wake-up call,” said Jeff Walkup, a University College program development and management employee. Several lecture attendees also spoke of the need to take some action — but most were not sure what.
In an interview Thursday, Kushner said that in the absence of a large mass movement — like the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s — people should consider reading and thinking politically as activism. If people feel lonely in their political struggles, they should network with others, he said.
Kate Griffin, a fourth-year American studies graduate student, said the lecture was so inspiring that she would consider quitting graduate school and following Kushner around the country.
“I feel that we are at a pivotal axis, and social organizations don’t have to be the way they are,” she said, explaining why she felt so passionate about Kushner’s message.