“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.”
Today, one of my heroes and major influences crossed over to the other side. Howard Zinn –radical historian, civil rights acivist, anti-war activist, direct action activist, thinker, doer, fighter for justice and educator- passed away today at 87.
I first read “A People’s History of the United States” early on and it changed my life. It was an eye opener and a page turner. As Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” said “If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s ‘People History of the United States.’ That book will knock you on your ass.”
It told the history of the downtrodden, the oppressed and regular people opposing illegitimate authority, not the government, the politicians or the wealthy. It told me that history wasn’t about the Rockefellers or Kennedys, as the elite few would have us believe, but about those in struggle for justice, and often survival.
As a professor at Spellman, Zinn encouraged his students to request books from the segregated public libraries and helped coordinate sit-ins at downtown cafeterias. As a World War II vet and Boston University professor, Zinn organized actively against the war in Vietnam and was arrested several times. At Boston University, he supported labor organizing and feuded with the university professor, John Silber. Direct action was a philosophy that Zinn carried throughout his life
As direct action became a philosphy in my life, Zinn’s histories and actions have been a guide. As a historian that taught community college for six years, his work was the basis for my lectures. As an aspiring dissident, Howard Zinn’s life remains a role model.
Let’s not mourn Howard Zinn, he had a long life surrounded by loved ones where he changed the lives of millions through his teaching, writing and activism. Instead let’s continue his work and spirit and in the words of Mother Jones “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for living.“