[Howard Zinn raw #19]

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Howard Zinn gives a lecture and fields questions at St. Michael's College in Vermont. He discusses the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and what young people and students can do to fight for social justice.

0:03 Howard Zinn discusses the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear any cases regarding the consitutionality of the Vietnam War. He says that in spite of the failures of the American political system to actually enact checks and balances, citizens came together to build a movement to end the war. “When the American people learn about something, their sense of decency comes to the fore and I think that happened during the war in Vietnam.” He mentions the role of the My Lai Massacre in revealing the brutality of the war.

2:38 Zinn talks about the development of the anti-war movement. He says the media overstates the role of students within the anti-war movement. “No, everybody. Priests, nuns, lawyers, businessmen, housewives, people of all ages, and finally, GIs.” He tells the audience about Vietnam Veterans Against The War, a group of GIs who organized to protest the war, as well as the documentary Denis Mueller made about them. “But the point is ‘yes, democracy came alive.’ And now we’re at that point in American history where we need it to come alive again because it seems clear that the political system is corrupt, inadequate.” He talks about the domination of the economy and political system by large corporations and the need for a popular movement to confront this domination. He cites the increase in awareness of gender inequality in society brought about by the women’s movement.

5:45 Zinn pokes fun at the State of the Union address. “I swear, when I looked at the State of the Union address on television, I thought I was looking at one of the old pictures of the Supreme Soviet. I’m serious. I mean, everybody applauding, everybody standing up, everybody in agreement, general adulation, another president saying everything is fine.” Zinn tears down the idea that “the economy is doing well.” He says that, while yes, there are people living prosperously, many people across the United States are living in poverty. He argues that the imprisonment of 1.7 million people should be a clear indicator that something is wrong. He brings up infant mortality, the 40 million Americans without health care.

8:54 Zinn says that violence, drug use, alcoholism, and psychic disorder are symptoms of an economy with a shameful distribution of wealth. He talks about the absurdity of using the Dow Jones as a measure of economic health.

10:04 Zinn talks about Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement with fighting economic injustice at the end of his life. “When the Civil Rights movement was floundering, when the Civil Rights movement was faltering, didn’t know where to go because it had solved certain problems of racial segregation, but it had left untouched the fundamental problem of black people in this country – the fundamental problem, also, of many white people in this country – the problem of poverty.” He compares King’s Poor People’s Campaign to the Bonus Army, a group of WWI veterans and their families who assembled in Washington D.C. in 1932 to demand their bonuses. Zinn talks about the backlash against Martin Luther King Jr. when he broadened the scope of his activism to talk about poverty and the war in Vietnam. “That’s why he was with the striking garbage workers of Memphis, hours before he was assassinated.”

11:57 Zinn elaborates on the need and potential for a new movement in the United States. He says the elements are all there: people have a sense of right and wrong, people can see that wealth has been channelled upward, there is widespread job insecurity and lots of organization working across the country for social justice. He says young people should work with unions and local organizations, citing the success of the Freedom Summer campaign of 1964.

13:51 Zinn ends his lecture by reading two of his friends’ poems. The first is “The Low Road” by Marge Piercy from The Moon Is Always Female. The second is “Some” by Daniel Berrigan. The audience applauds and Zinn transitions into the Questions and Answers section of his talk.

17:35 Zinn lets the audience know that he will “not control the audience the way the government tries to control audiences.” He discusses Madeline Albright’s townhall in Columbus, Ohio broadcast on CNN and the success of the audience members in forcing the State Department and CNN to take questions from people they did not want to take.

21:35 A student asks Howard Zinn how he was able to stay motivated and functional in his fight to transform the system. Zinn says that it’s a difficult question and if the answer were clear, we’d have already been able to build the movement we need to build. He says that despite not knowing exactly what pushes people to change their mind or take action, we shouldn’t be disuaded from taking small actions or trying to change the minds of seemingly unmovable people.

26:19 An audience member asks about Kenneth Starr and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. “The whole issue of Clinton’s sex life and all of that simply does not interest me. What interests me is Clinton’s policies… What he did to Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, I’m not saying it has zero importance, but it pales in signifance compared to what he did to the mothers of this country…” He says that he doesn’t like to give coverage to the Clinton sex scandals when there are other more important national political issues.

29:24 An audience member asks Howard Zinn for a reading list. He recommends Living My Life by Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky. He decries the mainstream media’s shutting out of Noam Chomsky from public discourse.

34:22 Zinn says reading about the Vietnam War is a good way to adopt and spread an anti-war consciousness.

35:55 An audience member asks if Zinn thinks we’re repeating the same mistakes or evolving as a human race. Zinn says both. He says we have obviously been repeating acts of war and violence pretty regularly. He condemns nationalism and the violence it brings about. Zinn says that he does believe that a consciousness of racial equality has emerged out of the Civil Rights movement. “What I would claim and also want to think is that in this parallel development of bad things that repeat themselves and a growing consciousness about these bad things, that in this race, that at some point the changed consciousness will be manifested in change in instituions, change in reality. I see there’s a race between these two parallel developments and since it is a race, it’s very important that we all get into it on one side.”

 

 

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