Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn died. America has lost a champion.

Howard Zinn, progressive, radical, teacher, activist, historian, has died at age 88. Zinn is widely published, but perhaps best known for his work A People's History of the United States. This book changed the way people viewed American history, unmasking the founding fathers as slaveholders, and pointing to the post-occupation history of America as the history of groups rising up for change - from early labor movements to sharecroppers uprisings. A People's History of the United States Online Version gives a good way to leaf through one of the most important books on history of the 20th century. It was originally published in 1980, and has been updated through 2003. Zinn faces honestly the slave-holding and violence of Columbus, the position of women, the plots to eliminate Native Americans.

Every history is written with the author's own perspective. Zinn removed the perspective of established histories to see events through the eyes of the people, not the politicians.

Howard Zinn removed more of the trappings that had literally "whitewashed" American history. Her is a list of quotes for those of you who may not have known Zinn. He was a teacher at Boston University, a fiercely anti-war activist, and a man who stood up for the truth. He was arrested and beaten in demonstrations against Vietnam, threatened with ouster from his teaching position, and denounced by conservatives everywhere. Howard Zinn believed passionately in the cultivation of critical thought, and in the development of an activist citizenry.

“In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.”

“I'm worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel - let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they're doing. I'm concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that's handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers.”

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

“The UN should arrange, as US forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country.”

“He said, 'Remember this: Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.”

"TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

"The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth.
Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back."

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

"If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive movements of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare."

It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.

A couple of weeks ago, Mary Daly died.. Now Howard died. That is a lot of activism to lose in a month. I hear Bernice Johnson Reagon's song "They are falling all around me" performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock..

They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
The strongest leaves on my tree

Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
The teachers of my life are moving on

Oh, death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Your face I will never see, never see you anymore


It is your path I walk
It is your song I sing
It is your load I take on
It is your air I breathe
It's the record you set that makes me go on
It's your strength that helps me stand

Read up on Howard Zinn if you have not yet done so. Listen to him on YouTube speak about war and human aggression. Let his words galvanize you to action, to critical thought.

Yes, big voices are moving on. But these voices would surely remind us, in the words of Mother Jones, to “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.“

Progressive activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia had an email conversation about upcoming activist plans the day before Zinn died. In the Center's newsletter the day of Zinn's death, Arthur said to his departed friend of over thirty years:
"And -- dear dear Howard, I wish you a joyful New Year making trouble for the Authorities in Heaven. If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik - a practitioner of tzedek, justice - could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it's the memories and teachings you left us.
Shalom, salaam, shantih - peace!

Recorded Speech:
This isa 12 minute speech given by Zinn at the 92nd St Y in NYC as an introduction to "the newly released, updated and illustrated A Young People’s History of the United States that highlights the words of America’s youngest rebels, dissenters and visionaries, from our past and present. "


Blogger troutbirder said...

A great loss indeed. I had his history book for reference in my social studies classroom for many years. It often inspired me there and also in Saturday morning coffees with several red necked friends who frequently accused me of promoting "class warfare." Discouraged during the Bush II years, I often reflected upon the wisdom of that great political philosopher Paris Hilton, who was quoted as saying, "what class warfare? We won."

6:17 AM  

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