I was fortunate enough to know Howard Zinn a little. He wrote a blurb for my first book, Saving Private Power, in 2000…not only calling me “iconoclastic and bold,” but lending me instant credibility with a single paragraph. Also, when I later asked him to write an introduction for another of my books, A Gigantic Mistake, he replied with a short comment about not liking introductions. He preferred to dig right into a book, he said. I promptly asked if I could use that comment as my book’s “anti-introduction,” and he loved the idea.
Thus, it is with a heavy heart I write the word “late” before Zinn’s name. He died on January 27 at the age of 87. Perhaps best known for his book, A People’s History of the United States, Zinn spent most of his life defending the underdog while telling the story of the people. Back in the days before we humans became too smart for our own good, someone like Howard Zinn would’ve rightfully been called a “saint.”
Zinn’s legacy can and must live on through us. I suggest you take some time to read his work and explore his life. For now, I offer…
1. “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
2. “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.”
3. “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.”
4. “As dogma disintegrates, hope appears. Because it seems that human beings, whatever their backgrounds, are more open than we think, that their behavior cannot be confidently predicted from their past, that we are all creatures vulnerable to new thoughts, new attitudes. And while such vulnerability creates all sorts of possibilities, both good and bad, its very existence is exciting. It means that no human being should be written off, no change in thinking deemed impossible.”
5. “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.”