Howard Zinn’s monumental book, A People’s History of the United States, lifted the curtain on the traditional American narrative, revealing class struggles, dissent, and the efforts of everyday Americans, people of color, women, day laborers, migrant workers to gain and live with the rights promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
In The People Speak, Zinn is joined by a group of talented actors and musicians in bringing these people’s stories to life. Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortensen, Marisa Tomei, Sean Penn, Rosario Dawson, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, David Strathairn, Danny Glover, Kerry Washington, Benjamin Bratt, Sandra Oh, Jasmine Guy, Bob Dylan, Pink, Eddie Vedder, Chris Robinson, Rich Robinson, John Legend, DMC and Bruce Springsteen are among the stars lending their voices to The People Speak, a documentary based on A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, the companion volume of 200 primary sources, co-created with Anthony Arnove.
Co-directed by Howard Zinn and our guests Anthony Arnove and Chris Moore, The People Speak reveals some of the ugly truths about our country that traditionalists would prefer stay buried. Well, we are only as sick as our secrets, and it is important to know that our Founding Fathers owned slaves, that Lincoln would not have preferred to have kept the Union together without freeing the slaves. It is vital to realize that the rights of Native Americans were stripped from them, that Muhammad Ali was jailed for resisting the draft, that hundreds of thousands of Americans have lifted their voices and moved their bodies to make this country live up to the promises on which it was founded.
From the founding of America through the abolition and suffragist movements, civil rights struggles, union organizing and draft resistance, to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, The People Speak shows that there is more than one perspective on history; the candy-coated rainbows of the traditional versions have shadows beneath that give a greater depth and meaning to our nation. And a greater hope for her future.
The beauty of America is that we can speak up and out, that we have the right to freely assemble; that in America, all are supposedly created equal. The sorrow is that we have to fight for these rights at home, while the government seeks to export to other countries with war what passes as democracy.
One stunning passage from Malcolm X makes this point:
If violence is wrong in America, it is wrong abroad.
The People Speak draws the link between racism, classism and militarism through the experience of real Americans, reminding us for the need to be vigilant, to question authority and to unite for the greater good. We the people can cause change by acting together.