William Rivers Pitt Dared to Hope for Our Future. Let’s Do Right by His Memory.

It is impossible to complete the impossible task of memorializing William Rivers Pitt, Truthout’s illustrious and brilliant lead columnist whose work I edited for 15 years, I’m suppressing the urge to grab my phone and call Will.

“I don’t know how to begin your eulogy,” I would say.

“Easy!” he’d reply. “Lead with a trusty classic. You know the one.”

And I’d know what he meant — the Irish blessing Will often shared with our staff in tough times. This is Will’s slightly adapted version of that old prayer, whose author is unknown:

May the road rise to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm on your face.

May the rains be gentle on your fields.

And until we meet again

May God (or Whatever), hold you in their hands.

The blessing captures something about Will’s connection to his readers. Will saw writing as an act that he cared. He made his audience realize that they are entitled to the warmth of sun and the nourishment from the rain.

Despite his rage against evil, Will loved humanity and the Earth with an even greater passion.

Will wrote of how that great love hummed at the core of his being: “I came into this world a human tuning fork, humming with the tones surrounding me entirely against my will. I can’t stop it and would not if I could. My sense of wonder and awe is overwhelming. It is as if the air is transformed into high waves that crash on the shore. I drown daily, hourly, in minutes and in seconds, I drown in moments, and smile as I sink, because it is beautiful beyond words and space and time.” He contrasted that love with the remorseless darkness that, too, pervades the world. But, Will assured his readers, even in the face of horror and heartbreak, “You are not alone. Always reach for the light. It is there. I know. I’ve seen.”

These words are from Will’s eulogy to Robin Williams. Will wrote many eulogies, because he was not afraid to confront deep pain, and hoped to help ease the pain of others — and also because he wanted to memorialize each person who, as he put it in a tribute to peace activist Jerry Berrigan, “cared an awful lot.”

How do you eulogize a eulogist? A person who wrote such beautiful, compassionate, and beautifully articulated tributes that it made you wish the honoree could return from the dead to see them.

How do you eulogize a proclaimer, a person with a singular gift for characterizing a moment, a feeling, a political climate, a global climate in a way that made you feel just a little bit better — because he found the words that echoed the turmoil burning inside you, too, and called you to action?

How do you eulogize a wordsmith, someone who coined a new expression in every column, often sending me, his editor, frantically searching through the Oxford English Dictionary for clues as to the adage’s origin … only to realize it was actually Will’s spontaneous invention?

All I can say is that Will Pitt was all of these and more. Will Pitt was a jewel at the center. Truthout. Will had been at TruthoutFor more than 20 years. He quit his job as an English teacher at high school to address the horrors of Bush’s era. He wrote with a pure and raging fire, cataloguing every injustice committed by the Republicans during that time. As the Bush regime ended, Will urged us not to lose our memory of those injustices, in an open letter to the former president: “We have tasted the soot and smelled the blood on the wind; we have seen how fragile our way of government is when placed in the hands of low men such as you, and because of that, you will be remembered for all time.”

Will Pitt was a prominent voice in exposing the inhumanities of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan. His legacy is beyond his. Truthout His columns touched millions of people. He was also a bestselling author of many books about the war in Iraq, including War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know (Co-authored with Scott Ritter)., Silence Is The Greatest Seditio, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, America’s Ravaged Reputation, and The Mass Destruction of Iraq – The Destruction of a Nation, Why it Is Happening, And Who Is Responsible(co-authored by Dahr Jamail).

Will, our greatest electoral political analyst, knew Washington like the back of his hand and blogged through every election over the past 15 years. He also knew the limits of party politics: Will was the Republicans’ most comprehensive denouncer, but he also warned of the enormous dangers of “moderate” Democrats.

Will remained a constant voice of alarm about the climate crisis for many decades before mainstream media paid any attention. He urged us to recognize that the catastrophe was not simply a phenomenon of the future: “The future is now,” he wrote, “and it is hot, thirsty, windy and dangerous. This truth is baked into tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow again…. How much worse it gets depends upon us.”

He repeatedly reminded us of Trump’s danger, even at times when many on the left wanted to simply laugh. “They laughed at Mussolini, too,” Will wrote, “until it became a crime to do so. After that, the joke was on the world.” And the signs of the January 6 coup attempt were clear to Will nearly two years before that day came to pass.

When pandemic times hit, Will dedicated himself to covering COVID — he wrote nearly a hundred columns about it — even when it became the unpopular topic, the one people wanted to move on from. He stressed the interconnectedness of the pandemic and the crisis in corporate power. At each pandemic peak, he reminded us, “[COVID] has not gone away and returned; it never left, and swells every few months whenever we decide to let our guard down because capitalism must be fed.”

Will was not a commentator for comment’s sake: He wanted his words to spur deeds. He encouraged readers to do more than just read, no matter how small, and he understood that even small actions can save lives. “There is much to be done just within reach of your arm,” he was fond of saying, when speaking of the climate crisis. “Do That, and you’ll have one hell of a story, along with, perhaps, people left to hear the telling.”

Will reminded us that when things are hardest, when fascism is ascendant, when war is imminent—that is when we must “dig in,” must “embrace the winter,” must dissent, dissent, dissent.

Will wrote against injustice, but he also opposed competition and individualism through his extraordinary generosity of spirit. This was especially evident after he became father. Will is known for his unwavering dedication to his daughter. His stubborn hope for our shared future was tied to his determination to help build a world in which his daughter would “get the chance to know what it is to reach, to fly, to rise, to become.”

Will strove to teach his daughter to “do the right thing when nobody is looking,” and within Truthout’s staff, he did just that. He reached out to people frequently when he saw they were going through a difficult period. He was quick to add inspirational words to our group chats in times of collective crises. He was a humble and friendly writer. As an editor, I am not used to hearing the words, “You’re right!” But Will was not afraid to acknowledge that a paragraph should be cut here or there. He also acknowledged his interpersonal mistakes, and became a profuse apologizer (even when he’d done nothing wrong!He believed in accountability, and sought to put this belief into practice at the micro level, with humor and sincerity. Will Pitt understood the importance and power of relationships. He knew that in these turbulent times, relationships were vital. Must If you want to live on Earth, learn to cooperate.

Will’s understanding of the perilousness of life on Earth pervaded each piece he wrote. Yet so did the reality that we can’t predict the future: We have to Do The future. Last year, in commemoration of his 20th birthday at TruthoutWill wrote:

If I could wish for anything, it would be to have another 20 years. Even if that meant that we could sit down in 20 years and talk about all the good times that happened after we cured COVID and kept Trump out of power.

Likely as not, though, I’ll be back here in 20 years talking about the day we lost Boston and New York to the Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe not.

That’s the thing about tomorrow: It’s only a rumor. The rest is upto us.

William Rivers Pitt reminded everyone that the fates of the world are not determined. We have a choice: Will we speak out even when we’re not sure our words will make a difference? Will we find the courage and strength to confront injustice? Will we admit when we’ve screwed up, and transform the circumstances to create more beauty and love in the wake of mistakes? Will we act of radical kindness even if no one is watching? Will we believe in humanity, even when things look grim? Will found the answers to his questions were yes, no, yes.

Will often ended his columns with the gentle encouragement, “Stout hearts!” It was a reminder that although we can’t always mentally strategize our way out of turbulent times, we can get through them together using deeper human tools: compassion, vulnerability, real feeling, righteous anger, righteous love.

As we face the impossibility of this larger-than-life man’s death, we must turn to those tools. I’m going to let myself feel Will’s death fully. I’m going to cry angry tears for a long time. I’m going to rededicate myself to the work of transforming this screwed-up world, in community with all of you.

As Will taught us, “All I have, all you have, all we have, is the power to do good and right within our own reach.”

We’ve worked with Will’s family to create this fundraiser in the hopes of raising some money to support Lola’s needs, including her future education.All funds raised will be donated directly to Lola’s trust. Please give all you can.