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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."

Howard Zinn

Originally posted to Captain Future on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 04:20 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

    by Captain Future on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 04:20:08 AM PST

  •  Excellent quote and one that speaks to our (5+ / 0-)

    times. Thanks.

  •  Thanks for the reminder (6+ / 0-)

    to read more Zinn.

    "Looks like we got ourselves a Reader" - Bill Hicks

    by blueoregon on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 05:57:03 AM PST

    •  Yes, let's read more Zinn (0+ / 0-)

      Last night I was reading this A POWER governments cannot suppress by HZ

      First written Dec 22, 1999, this excerpt was later expanded and updated into this form as published in 2007 by City Lights Books in San Francisco.

      In the year 1919, when the city of Seattle was brought to a halt by a general strike - beginning with 35,000 shipyard workers demanding a wage increase - the mayor reflected on its significance:

      "True there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution...doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practiced in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet. To succeed it must suspend everything; stop the entire life stream of a community....That is to say, it puts the government out of operation. And that is all there is to revolt - no matter how achieved."

      What happened in Seattle in November 1999 was not as large an event as the general strike of 1919, but it showed how apparently powerless people, when united in large numbers, can stop the machinery of government and big business. In an era when the power of government, and of multinational corporations, is overwhelming, it is instructive to get even a hint of how fragile that power is when confronted by organized, determined citizens.

      When in the early 1960s civil rights activists of the South put into practice the principle they called "Nonviolent Direct Action", they were able to make heretofore invincible power yield. What happened in Seattle was another manifestation of that principle.

      Nonviolent action is not utopian; it is practical as well as moral. It builds on what already exists. It starts not with civil society, with the hearts and minds of people, which is where John Adams said the American Revolution was won. The people can bypass the government and tackle social problems themselves, as has been demonstrated by Havel in Czechoslovakia, Solidarity in Poland, and the indigenous in Chiapas, Mexico.

      pp. 25-6

      "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience."- Howard Zinn

      by skywriter on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 07:26:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, I needed that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kimball Cross, Dar Nirron, dmw97

    Between the mess the world is in and looming unemployment, I can definitely use a bit of the professor's positive wisdom right now.

    Thanks for reminding me.

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