Anthony Arnove got to know Howard Zinn’s distinctive voice when he collaborated with Zinn on “The People Speak.” As a result, Arnove was selected by the Howard Zinn Trust to edit four decades of his speeches. Although Zinn’s remarks are in text form, his passion, his energy, his humor, and his desire for long-term systemic change jump off the page and inspire the reader.
Zinn’s legacy is inspirational to progressives who believe in healing the world on behalf of the public good. War and the reckless accumulation of wealth – two of the most central features to the American zeitgeist – were anathema to Zinn, who celebrated a just, multi-cultural, egalitarian society.
Noted for restoring the historical narrative of America in his “People’s History of the United States,” Zinn was never content to debunk errant jingoism from the sidelines. From his courageous support of the Civil Rights Movement while a professor of history at the academically prestigious Spelman College (where he was ironically fired in the ’60s from the black female school for being overzealous about desegregation) to his participation in the anti-Iraq war movement, Zinn was an activist who ignited the embers of justice.
The embodiment of civic engagement, Zinn represented the actualization of a true democracy, one in which the people speak — as was the name of the film on which he worked with Anthony Arnove — and create a government formed with grassroots resolve.
Of Zinn’s death at 87 in 2010, Arnove writes in his introduction to “Howard Zinn Speaks”:
As we look at Howard’s lifetime of work, and his remarkable example, he has something else to teach us that is very important. As urgent as the present moment is, we need to build and strategize for the long term and have the patience to weather the attacks and challenges that are coming. The kind of change we want, systemic change, will not happen overnight or even this year. People are now raising questions about the entire system, about capitalism, that cannot be addressed by electing a new president— as more and more people now realize—or Congress.
This moment in which popular protest worldwide is toppling dictatorships, and forcing even establishment discussions to address vital social issues, is one Howard had worked years to bring about and did so much to contribute to making possible. It was something he knew would come. He had the unwavering belief that people would eventually rise up and seek a more just society. It was something he would have been so overjoyed to see and to be part of.
As one reads Zinn’s speeches, they are unusual in that the words rise from the page as if one is listening to Howard exhort, cajole, reason, and move us closer to a nation of integrity and equality. As Arnove notes, Zinn wove droll humor and a celebration of the possibility of change into his calls for action.
Zinn was no insulated academic; he was alive with the promise of the opportunity to radically transform society and ourselves.
It is my delight to host this Firedoglake book forum with Anthony Arnove, editor of “Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches 1963 –2009.”
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]