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An Ocean of Resistance
An Interview with Howard Zinn
W e have to become not just a military superpower, but a ‘humanitarian’ superpower,” historian Howard Zinn told a large audience at the University of Georgia in April. “Terrorism is the extreme fanatical edge of an ocean of resistance.”
Best known as the author of A People’s History of the United States , Zinn has also written more than 20 other books since he began writing history in 1959 with his book La Guardia in Congress . His other works of history include The Southern Mystique (1964), Disobedience and Democracy (1968), The Politics of History (1970), Declarations of Independence (1991), Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993), The Future of History (1999), Terrorism and War (2002), and his recent Artists in Times of War , published last year. Zinn also is the author of two plays, Marx in Soho and Emma —a play about Emma Goldman.
TANT: You are called a radical historian. Did you arrive at your philosophy by evolution or by epiphany?
ZINN: By evolution. Growing up in a working class environment in New York, working in the shipyards, going to war, teaching at a predominantly black college in Atlanta, and becoming involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements gradually made it clear to me that so much history, such as the history of black people, has been ignored.
What’s the difference between a liberal and a radical?
A liberal thinks that the system is basically good, but that it has a few flaws. A liberal will say that we made a mistake in Vietnam, while a radical will say that we didn’t make a mistake—it was deliberate. Liberals think that you can work within the system and maybe get a better president. Radicals think that the whole system is so corrupt that it will swallow you up and spit you out. Radicals also think that you need to create powerful social movements outside the system that will put pressure on the system, what has been called a permanent culture of resistance.
What do you think are the real motivations for Bush’s war on Iraq?
Everything that the United States does in the Middle East is based on a desire to control the oil resources. A second reason is to have another military base in the region. Military bases are like money to some people—they can never have enough. The third reason is political. Bush knows that if he gets the nation into a war, there will be a rallying around the president.
In an interview with C-SPAN, you called Theodore Roosevelt “the most overrated American president.” Which U.S. president do you consider the worst?
I consider George W. Bush to be the worst American president. He has aligned himself with the most reactionary elements in the country—with corporate wealth and Christian fundamentalists. He sees as our enemies the Islamic fundamentalists and in the U.S. he is representing the Christian fundamentalists.
If Bush is the worst, which president is the best?
would have to call Franklin D. Roosevelt the best. Maybe one of
the reasons he was the best was because he was married to Eleanor
Roosevelt. She had a real compassion for black people and a warm
outlook. FDR was a kind of compassionate aristocrat, even though
he had all kinds of flaws, including his close ties to Southern
racist politicians whose support he depended on. To his credit,
he incurred the wrath of the rich and powerful. In one of his campaigns,
FDR said, “The rich hate me and I welcome their hatred.”
He believed in capitalism, but thought capitalism would be better
served by a more gentle approach.
What historic U.S. figure would you most like to spend time with?
Helen Keller, because she became a fierce antiwar person and supported radical labor unions like the Industrial Workers of the World.
What historical events of the last several decades have not received enough attention in schools and colleges?
Two that come to mind are the migrant farmworkers movement and the rise of activism among disabled people, many of whom are activists in the spirit of the socialist Helen Keller.
What is the greatest danger facing the U.S.?
America’s greatest danger is our becoming a warfare state where the wealth of the country is sacrificed for military adventures abroad with less money for children and the environment—a movement toward a kind of U.S. fascism. That’s an extreme statement, but in the 1930s Sinclair Lewis wrote a book called It Can’t Happen Here about fascism coming to the U.S.
What is the greatest hope?
Our greatest hope is that there will be a new social movement in this country that will unite all those people who do not want us to be a militaristic state and who want the wealth of this county to be used for human needs. It will take that kind of movement to turn this country in a new direction.
Who are some of your favorite historians?
Henry Steele Commager, Charles Beard, and Richard Hofstadter are some of my favorites. Paul Avrich, who writes about early anarchists, is a fine historian.
Who are some of your favorite writers in the nation’s press and what are some of your favorite alternative publications?
I would put Barbara Kingsolver, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, and James Carroll, a Boston Globe columnist, among the current writers I enjoy. I like Z M agazine , the Nation , the Progressive , and In These Times .
If you could live in another country, what would it be and why?
Canada, because that way I could sneak across the border to have a milkshake with my friends and cheer the Red Sox—and I’d have universal health care.
Ed Tant is a longtime activist from Athens, Georgia and an opinion columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald .
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.