RIP Howard Zinn 1922-2010
The world is mourning your loss today and attempting to comprehend the vastness of the empty space you leave behind. I can’t stop thinking of the ways in which your wisdom and dedication to sharing the truth of America’s history has forever changed me and carved me into the person I am today. I want to thank you.
It was in the early 1990′s, while eagerly attending my first junior college courses that I was introduced to People’s History. The instructor of the history class I was enrolled in informed us that your book was required reading, that it would shed lights upon the often forgotten and untold stories of those in our country who were not the winners; those who were not the heroes of the various battles we, as a nation, have faced. Your book shined a light on my own personal history as well and for that, I am forever grateful.
You may have heard this hundreds, maybe even thousands of times through your 87 years on our planet, but your teachings were the catalyst that shot me directly into my life as an activist. I devoured your book. And devoured it again when it was revised in its newest editions. And I cried. I cried in mourning of the people who stood so bravely before my time, only to be shot down- oftentimes quite literally- for working for a better world. I cried for the forgotten immigrant families from around the world and I was determined to somehow, in my measly little way, make sure their struggles were not in vain. A series of lights also ignited on a personal level when I realized that the uncontrollable angst and self-loathing in me weren’t merely the norm for the youth of the day, but rather a result of the social constructs that were erected in order to keep poor women like me in our place. I no longer felt isolated or “crazy” for having the questions and feelings that came up in discussions about race and class and gender. And most importantly, through the knowledge I gleaned from your book, I found a community of others who were feeling the same.
Through the years, you came up repeatedly in conversations. After the war in Iraq began, your quote, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people”, was secured to the bumper of the van that my children and I lived in while looking for housing. Strangers would often follow me to my destinations only to ask where the quote came from and so came opportunities for open dialogue about the state of the world- and so came a deeper sense of camaraderie and community in an often troubling and painful time in my life, and the life of many others across the planet.
I could write you volumes and critiques and reviews of the specifics of what you have written and how it has changed the course of history here in America, but somehow part of me knows- beyond a doubt- that you are cashing in your karmic currency and basking in the glory of the beautiful unknown for the work that you’ve done in all of our lives.
Cheers to you, Mr. Zinn. May you rest in the peace which you have earned.