A Recent Howard Zinn Interview

Cross-posted at Progressive Blue.

Howard Zinn, Historian and Activist, Dies at 87. The New York Times described Mr. Zinn.

…an author, teacher and political activist whose book “A People’s History of the United States” became a million-selling leftist alternative to mainstream texts, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif.

I recently wrote a DKos diary called Will you be watching “The People Speak” tonight? As a “leftist alternative” and as a dedication, I’ve updated the part of that diary about the the December 4th interview between Howard Zinn and Bill Moyers.

It was amazing to see these two great Americans sit down and discuss history from the bottom up, focusing on historic successes of the people. Looking at the Bill Moyers Journal link you can read the transcript and view clips from “The People Speak” or below the fold are the YouTube links and a few small thoughts about a man who dedicated his life to the people.

Howard Zinn probably does not need much introduction around here. His Wiki Link offers a brief overview of a life much fuller than just the publication of “A People’s History of the United States” and the inspiration of many Americans to get involved in the actions of government. He was obviously an inspiration to many people here.

The Howard Zinn interview was about his recent History Channel production “The People Speak.”where television was used as method of reaching a larger audience. From Bill Moyers introduction “Actors and musicians bring to life voices of protest from America’s past. Performing words and music that have given us, as Howard Zinn says, whatever liberty or democracy we have.”

That Bill Moyers page opens with a quote from “the historian of the American everyman and woman.”

“They’re willing to let people think about mild reforms and little changes, and incremental changes, but they don’t want people to think that we could actually transform this country.”

A quote about the people on top that just don’t want people thinking that our nation can be transformed into a peaceful nation. That top down message that we cannot afford proper healthcare or protection for all of our citizens but we can afford military bases all over the world.

In part one of the Howard Zinn interview is a presentation of where Mr. Zinn came from, how “he and his students at Boston University saw a more down to earth way of looking at American history and since no book could provide it Zinn decided to write one.” Also about how going to the polls every four years is not enough and the inspiration of people of the past like Genora Dollinger. How many Americans know who Genora Dollinger was?    

In part two the false media presentation of a passive citizenry is explored. Howard Zinn recalls the recent almost forgotten Sitdown Strike in Chicago and compared that to the forgotten union labor movements of the past. You have got to see Bill Moyers and Howard Zinn’s brilliant segway from Sarah Palin to Susan B.Anthony via William Jennings Bryan and the fascism warning within. Howard Zinn points out the actions of Susan B.Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam antiwar movement to conclude “You must stick up for your principles even if it means breaking the law.”

In part three there is the very important fact that democracy is not the three branches of government taught in our schools but the people. The power of organizing for the people as presented by Cesar Chavez, how long the people waited for populism to take hold but there were times when  progress happens. Bill Moyers decided to end “with a woman who showed us the power of a single voice speaking for democracy, born into slavery, largely uneducated, she spoke out for the rights of all people who didn’t have any.” I don’t know how any American can get through Kerry Washington’s  presentation of Sojourner Truth without tears of joy for the history of our real history makers.

There is so much that can be learned form Howard Zinn and so many that need to hear his words. For myself and many others he was them man who presented “people powered politics” as a possibility.

“If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen’s movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed.”

The New York Times notice about this sad passing pointed out that Mr. Zinn’s wife Roslyn, died in 2008 and that they hey had two children, Myla and Jeff. In addition Mr.Zinn leaves three granddaughters and two grandsons. That story ends with one of Mr. Zinn’s final works.

One of Professor Zinn’s last public writings was a brief essay, published last week in The Nation, about the first year of the Obama administration.

“I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” he wrote, adding that he wasn’t disappointed because he never expected a lot from President Obama.

“I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president – which means, in our time, a dangerous president – unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

The President said it himself “Make me do the right thing.” What a great man Howard Zinn was. Hopefully his final advise to the people will be embraced.

If you’ve never read the book, in this A People’s History Of The United States link, you can read the whole book for free.


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  1. and this one with Ziga Vodovnik at Counterpunch:

    Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization – it is nothing wrong with idea of globalization – in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.

    ZV: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: “Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order.” Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?

    HZ: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.

    ZV: Do you think that a change can be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or only through alternative means – with disobedience, building parallel frameworks, establishing alternative media, etc.

    HZ: If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through a political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the “Left” are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over – first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions.

    [Emphasis added]

    • Eddie C on January 28, 2010 at 6:03 am

    I’m only mentioning that because I had cleaned up my text and made it look better. Then I copied and pasted some of the cleaned paragraphs here, So this is very slightly different from the original post.  

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