This essay, written for Z Magazine in 1990, and reprinted in my book Failure to Quit, was inspired (if you are willing to call this an inspired piece) by my students of the Eighties. I was teaching a spring and fall lecture course with four hundred students in each course (and yet with lots of discussion). I looked hard, listened closely, but did not find the apathy, the conservatism, the disregard for the plight of others, that everybody (right and left) was reporting about "the me generation."
In early January of 2010, the Zinn Education Project joined with HarperCollins, publisher of Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, to sponsor an “Ask Howard” online radio interview, and invited teachers from around the country to participate. Sixty teachers and students submitted written questions to Professor Zinn. The Jan. 19 interview was conducted by Rethinking Schools Curriculum Editor Bill Bigelow. Below is the full audio recording, followed by excerpts from that interview, edited for length and clarity.
Zinn reflects on his historic and memorable time at Spelman College in the ‘60s, his thoughts on the Democratic Party, his philosophy of dissent as democracy, and his hope for America’s future.
"For those who find a special inspiration in Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, fine. If that inspiration leads them to work for justice, that is what matters."
In 1963, Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his support for students’ civil rights activism. In 2005, he was invited back by President Beverly Daniel Tatum to give the commencement address.…
As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: "BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE 'CALLING OF OUR TIME.' " Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: "An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident."
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.
This discussion ranges from Mr. Zinn's optimism for the future and what true Patriotism is, to what Americans don't want to hear.