I heard Howard Zinn speak only twice: many years ago, when he spoke against the Vietnam War to a small beleagured group of students, and more recently, when he filled the Humboldt State University gym.
He's best known now of course as the author of A People's History of the United States. A few years ago, Deborah Mokma who edits and publishesSentient Times in Oregon, published a quote from Zinn I found intriguing. But when I checked with her, she didn't know where it was from--it was sent along to her without attribution.
So I looked through Zinn's books in the library until I found it, and the paragraphs that followed were just as profound. Now that I've heard about Zinn's death, I thought this expanded quote (from his 1994 book, You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train, Beacon Press, p.208) is a fitting epitaph, or at least a wonderful legacy. It follows after the jump.
"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."