[Howard Zinn raw #20]

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Second half of a conversation between Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel in Berkeley, California. They discuss their careers, the difficulty of challenging political consensus in the United States, and field questions from audience members.

0:04 Howard Zinn asks Studs Terkel about his experiences with oral history. Zinn says that when he reached out to the Columbia University Oral History Project about sending interviewers into the South to talk to people involved with the Civil Rights movement, he was told that they didn’t have the resources. However, he says, Studs Terkel was on his own able to carry out the project.

3:02 Studs Terkel tells the story of almost failing to turn on his tape recorder while traveling with Bertrand Russell. Terkel says that his technical ineptitude often works to his advantage, because when people are able to help him out, they feel needed by him.

4:52 Zinn tells Terkel that it seems that while the courage of ordinary people is often praised, their wisdom is ignored. They discuss Peggy Terry, a woman from Appalachia, and her dig at Howard Hughes. Terkel says that there’s a longstanding tradition of recording ordinary people and bringing their stories to light. Zinn says that historically, the stories told in the United States are those of the wealthy and powerful and that he thinks Terkel’s work was truly innovative and crucial. Terkel gives credit to the tape recorder and jokingly compares himself to Richard Nixon.

8:23 Zinn brings up Terkel’s experiences with his debating team in school, in which the students were given questions such as, “Should we grant independence to the Phillipines?” Zinn and Terkel agree that such questions are ridiculous and falsely premised on the idea that the United States has the right to serve as arbiter over such matters.

9:43 Zinn and Terkel decry the sorry state of public television. Zinn proclaims, “The public does not appear on public television.” However, he continues, he recently saw something refreshing on Jim Lehrer’s PBS NewsHour. He recounts that there were three Congressmen on the show arguing whether we should just bomb Iraq or do more than that, but Representative Cynthia McKinney confronted them and raised “the impertinent questions.”

12:28 Zinn lets the audience know about a petition to put the Equal Opportunity Amendment on the ballot in California. The emcee tells the audience they’ll all be recieiving a free copy of Terkel’s book.

14:28 An audience member asks Zinn about his long-standing contentions with Boston University president John Silber. Zinn describes the situation as a stand-off. “He had his office and his money and his buildings and his trees. And I had these 400 students every semester.” Zinn recounts the general strike that took place at Boston University in 1979.

17:50 An audience members takes issue with the idea that the media is primarily responsible for ignorance and misinformation amongst the American public. Terkel responds by pointing out that the media companies are owned by a handful of businessmen and conglomerates and journalists are simply not in a position to go after corporate America without losing their jobs. He says that the cards are stacked against us and we have to play a sharp game. Zinn talks about the increasingly consolidated media landscape and how publishing houses, which had been able to evade the monopolization of media, were now being bought by huge conglomerates. Terkel brings up the decline of independent book stores and the rise of Barnes & Noble and Borders.

21:12 An audience member asks Zinn how we can break through the hawkish foreign policy consensus in the United States. Zinn recommends turning to history to combat politically expedient lies, deceptions and repressions. He says that throughout history, it is clear that violence does not accomplish much and ultimately violence done in the name of a just cause will tarnish that cause. Zinn believes that we don’t need to persuade people that it’s wrong, but actually reaching people, building a movement, and educating people. Terkel emphasizes the importance of investigating and understanding history.

26:00 Their conversation concludes; Zinn, Terkel and Alice Walker pose together for a photograph. The event organizers distribute posters to Walker, Zinn, and Terkel.

28:29 Zinn, filmmaker Denis Mueller, and various audience members converse after the event.

 

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