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Norman Lear is using his milestone 99th birthday to raise awareness around socio-political issues in the U.S. he feels passionate about.
In an op-ed published by The Washington Post Tuesday, the revered TV writer and producer called for better protection of voting rights. Throughout the piece, Lear references his time serving in the United States Army during World War II and the continued racism and discrimination he has witnessed in the years since.
"I woke up today at the start of my 100th year as a citizen of this beautiful, bewildering country," he began. "I am proud of the progress we've made in my first 99 years, and it breaks my heart to see it undermined by politicians more committed to their own power than the principles that should bind us together. Frankly, I am baffled and disturbed that 21st-century Americans must still struggle to protect their right to vote."
He continued, "I am a patriot, and I will not surrender that word to those who play to our worst impulses rather than our highest ideals. When the United States entered World War II, I dropped out of college to fight fascism. I flew 52 missions with a crew in a B-17, dropping bombs 35 times. Unlike so many others, I returned from that war safely, to another 70-plus years of life, love, family, failure and triumph."
Morgan Lieberman/WireImage Norman Lear
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The Jeffersons creator went on to pay tribute to the Tuskegee airmen, a group of primarily Black military pilots and airmen who fought in WWII.
"It's very likely that I owe my a-- and all those decades of human experience to that Black and Brown squadron of Red Tail P-51 fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee airmen," he wrote. "When we saw their red tails coming to escort us, we all felt a bit safer."
"Yet when these courageous men returned to the United States, they returned to racism, segregation and discrimination. Their heroism did not shield them from the indignities and violence of Jim Crow. I can only imagine the depth of the betrayal the airmen must have felt, but it did not prevent many of them from accomplishing great things."
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Lear said he finds it "deeply discouraging" that some parts of society haven't seemed to progress much since then, citing voter suppression bills, federal voting rights laws being blocked in the Senate and rising "racial and religious nationalism."
"To legislators getting between people and the ballot box, and to senators who are standing in the dishonorable tradition of those who filibustered civil rights legislation, I say this: You may pass some unjust laws. You may win elections by preventing or discouraging people from voting," he wrote. "But you will not in the end defeat the democratic spirit, the spirit that animated the Tuskegee airmen to whom I owe my life, the spirit that powers millions of Americans who give of themselves to defend voting rights, protect our environment, preserve peaceful pluralism, defeat discrimination, and expand educational and economic opportunity."
"The right to vote is foundational to addressing all these issues. It is at the heart of everything I have fought for in war and in peacetime," he stressed, later concluding, "Protecting voting rights should not be today's struggle. But it is. And that means it is our struggle, yours and mine, for as long as we have breath and strength."
In addition to his impassioned article, Lear marked his birthday with a touching video posted on Instagram Sunday.
"I've got a question for you," he began in the clip. "I'm 99 years old, I'm sitting in this place in Vermont. I'd like you to take a look at this view I have — I mean, if there's anything more beautiful than that on God's green earth, I don't know what it is."
"I found the place a great many years ago, it belongs to my six children, my glorious six children," he continued. "And my wife and I are here to celebrate this 99th birthday with all of them, kids and grandkids. I want to know if there's anybody you know or [have] heard of in the history of humankind more fortunate than I. Can't think of one, can you?"