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Aaron St. jean
Gabriel matthew Schivone
Nuclear Power Not Clean, Green, â€¦
Tiffany Ten eyck
Z Papers on Strategy
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Gay & Lesbian Community Notes
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Determining Justice in Our Current History
G.M: Here in Tucson, Arizona, we are feeling the effects of President Bush’s deployment this past summer of National Guard troops to marshal the U.S. border. Bush also called for 18,000 agents of the Border Patrol to be stationed by 2008. What do you see as the intentions and ramifications of a greatly militarized border?
ZINN: I think the main purpose is not so much to keep people from crossing the border—they will always find a way to do so—but to create an atmosphere in the country that is viciously nationalistic, xenophobic, and hostile to strangers of any kind. By creating fear of people on the other side of the border, it gives the government more control over its own people.
There are many striking parallels to the government border policies and social discriminations and persecutions of both Mexican and American Chinese throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What may be drawn from this?
The conclusion from this history is that we have an economic system that sees human beings as property to be used when it is useful, to be discarded when it is no longer profitable. The Chinese were welcomed to provide cheap labor on the transcontinental railroad, but then they were not needed. Creating hostility against them turned the attention of white workers away from their own exploiters and against “the other.” This has been the historic device used by corporations to divide the working class. The same factors operate today with Mexicans and other immigrants.
You’ve spoken and written about how crucial a knowledge of history is and about how it is a vital interest of the government to keep people in a state of “historical amnesia.” Would you explain?
When people don’t know their history—and I’m not speaking of the sanitized, nationalistic history that we get in school and in the media—they are easily deceived. When the president tells the nation we must go to war for liberty or democracy or because we are being threatened, a public with no knowledge of history has no way of checking up on this. But if people knew the history of presidential deceptions to get the nation into war, they would not go along, they would be very skeptical. If they knew history they would know that President James Polk pretended he was making war on Mexico because of a clash on the border in 1846 and that he was bringing civilization to the Mexicans. They would understand that he lied about his true motive, which was to acquire almost half of Mexican land. If they knew history they would remember that the U.S. went into Cuba in 1898, claiming to liberate the Cubans and then made Cuba a virtual colony of the United States. They would know that President McKinley lied about his real motive for going into the Philippines and Woodrow Wilson lied about World War I and Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin in getting the U.S. into the Vietnam War.
What can we understand from studies of history, psychology, and anthropology concerning human nature and the conditions of war?
A common belief, which you see all the time, is that wars are the result of “human nature.” But there is no evidence for this in genetics or anthropology or psychology. The only evidence given is that we have always had wars. True, but you could say the same about slavery or any institution that has lasted a long time. It’s a way of avoiding the fact that war, slavery, and other phenomena are not natural, but created by human beings under certain social conditions. If wars were the result of human nature it would not be necessary for governments to work so strenuously to mobilize their populations for war. People would rush to kill. But that’s not the case. Governments have to deceive the population, use enormous amounts of propaganda to persuade people to go to war, entice young people of the working class into the military in the hope of bettering their lives. If none of that is sufficient, the government must coerce the young, draft them, and threaten them with prison if they don’t join.
I can tell you from my personal experience in the Air Force in World War II, my fellow crew members were not lovers of war. They were persuaded they were doing something good in fighting fascism, that this was a just war. You can see in the Vietnam War how, once soldiers saw through the propaganda of the government, many of them turned against the war.
You’ve expressed reverence and gratitude for artists during times of war and popular struggle. Would you discuss the significance of artists in times of civil unrest?
Artists have a special role in social movements—they lend passion, poetry, humor to the principles any movement espouses. They enhance the power of a social movement, which needs every additional strength it can muster to challenge the power of authorities.
You’ve written and spoken about the importance of civil disobedience. What pragmatic and moral arguments would you articulate, both to activists and the public, regarding the legitimacy of civil disobedience in the face of legal injustice?
It’s important to know that the law is not made by any divine being, it is not sacred; the law is made by the people who run the society and they make the law to serve their own interests. Even if there are organs of representative government in the United States, these are not truly representative of the people, but serve the interests of the elite. So it is not sufficient to tell people, “Go through the regular channels” because those channels are controlled in such a way as to block radical change. That’s why civil disobedience is necessary—in order to fulfill the requirements of democracy. Without civil disobedience, we are at the mercy of people in power who make the laws, execute the laws, and decide which laws to enforce.
The important question to ask about any policy or any action is not is it legal, but is it just? There is a difference between law and justice and justice is more important. When the law serves justice, it can be obeyed, when it does not, it does not deserve obedience.
With the resurgence of groups like Students for a Democratic Society [SDS], what do you see as a new direction for student involvement in social struggles?
This is a time in history when students, who I believe are naturally idealistic and ready to take up a just cause, need to organize. The issues are matters of life and death for young people. Will they have to go to war? Will the wealth of the country be monopolized by 1 percent of the population? Will they live in a society which they can be proud of, a society that does not make war on other people, that takes care of human needs?
What insight would you share with activists in the reproductive justice movement?
The crucial question is the right of women to control their own bodies and the fact that outside authorities have no moral right to tell women what to do with their children or their unborn children. When a democratic state prevents a woman from making a decision about her own life, it is acting like a totalitarian state.
In what way do you see the movement gaining ground in the economic sphere?
Economic democracy can only come from the organization and struggle of people against corporate and government power. Workers gain a measure of economic democracy when they form a union and challenge the power of the corporation to determine their hours and wages and working conditions. When consumers boycott a product successfully they are creating democracy in the economic sphere.
The control of the economy by the wealthy can only last so long as people obey. When they stop obeying, when they refuse to work—or refuse to buy—the most powerful corporations become helpless.
What would you say to those who are sometimes referred to as the elite intelligentsia about their responsibility on a greater level?
It is important for people in the academic professions or in science or in the arts to understand that they are fortunate to have a certain degree of freedom, which most people struggling to make a living do not have. They should also understand that if they make use of this freedom to create a just society, to oppose war and militarism, they are being true to the best of their profession, to the greatest poets, the greatest writers, the greatest scholars.
What do you feel is the potential of people freeing themselves from mass coercion and disinformation?
This is an important insight, that we absorb the propaganda of those who control society and internalize the ideas which keep the status quo. History is useful in showing those times in the past when people have broken out of the bonds of manufactured ideas and begun to think on their own, and as a result of independent thought rebelled against the conditions of their lives.
Gabriel M. Schivone is a poetry editor of Days Beyond Recall literary journal at the University of Arizona (where this interview also appears). He is a member of Students for Reproductive Rights, SDS, and Students for a Moral Objective Scholarship.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.