Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Resplendent Zinn

Please head on over to TomDispatch.com and read Howard Zinn's commencement address to Spelman College's 2005 class. The ironic thing is that this "people's historian" was fired in 1963 from his position as chairman of the history department of this black college due to his civil rights activities. While Professor Zinn is unique in his democratic belief that people should control their government, their culture, and their economy for the common good, he's uncommon in his zest to stand side-by-side in direct action to achieve this.

In his address he reminded the graduates -- with an eye toward today -- what happens when a committed group of people are ready to battle the bullet and baton non-violently for what's moral and just:
I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do -- enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That's when democracy came alive.
As the Japanese have their scholar-warriors, Howard Zinn is our American scholar-activist, using his intelligence and time to document how ordinary Americans, indigenous as well as immigrant, have been smashed by concentrated power throughout history, but more importantly and triumphantly, how they have risen up and demanded their rights and a better life. He never tires in reminding us that this is in us as well, and necessary, if we are to retain the republic we so love. He never tires in inspiring.