[Howard Zinn raw #37]

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Francis Fox Piven discusses Howard Zinn, Boston University, and the future of social movements in the United States.

0:08 Frances Fox Piven talks about getting to know Howard Zinn at Boston University. She talks about writing a response with Howard Zinn to John Silber’s statements that he wanted to make BU an elite university. “And we said, ‘we don’t want this to be an elite university. We want this to be a university to which ordinary people come, come in large numbers. And we don’t necessarily want to glorify the academic traditions that are glorified at places like Harvard or MIT. We want to be critical and spirited.”

2:00 Piven reflects on BU faculty coming together to block ROTC recruiters. She says she enjoyed working in close proximity to Zinn and Murray Levin. “So I always felt, not that I was at John Silber’s university, but that I was at our university, because when I came to work, I saw my friends and there were always a lot of students sitting around on the floor and these were the people I talked to.”

4:20 Piven discusses the conflict between the Boston University political science department and Boston University president John Silber. She explains the escalation of the conflict between Silber and Zinn.

8:52 Piven says that Zinn’s politics are really central to his life, but she wouldn’t say he has an iron will. She talks about Zinn’s commitment to justice.

11:01 Piven discusses the need for not only a working class background, but a political culture in the community and family that treats class as a basis for political effort. She discusses Howard Zinn’s political involvement starting in the 1930s. “I think Howard always realized that a political life was a good life.”

13:12 Piven discusses the relationship between Howard and his wife Roslyn. She describes Roslyn as Howard Zinn’s partner. “It was because Ros was so supportive and so much a partner that he was able to be a political person with his whole life.”

16:16 Piven says she didn’t read any of A People’s History until it was completely finished.

17:12 Piven says that it took exceptional conditions to push the faculty at Boston University to unionize. She discusses the difficulty of organizing faculty.

23:04 Frances Fox Piven says that she believes that important reforms in the United States have only been won from below through the mobilization of poor and working-class people in a way that threatens American institutions and American elites. “I don’t think that people win anything significant if they follow the route of conventional politics.” She discusses Shays’ Rebellion, abolitionists, the labor movement at the end of the 19th century, the New Deal, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement. She says we’re once again on the cusp of popular insurgency.

29:28 Piven attributes the success of A People’s History to its sharp contrast with most United States history textbooks and courses. She says that A People’s History is rather dour in comparison to books like E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

32:24 Piven situates Zinn within a broader movement to reconstruct history from the perspectives of ordinary people.

33:37 Piven discusses her professional relationship with Zinn.

35:43 Piven says that you never know when or how a social movement will emerge. She talks about neoliberal globalization and the movements that are developing to combat it.

37:44 Piven says Zinn’s legacy will be A People’s History of the United States.

38:41 Piven says that attacking Zinn’s lack of academic rigor is an inappropriate criticism, because he doesn’t want to be an academic.

40:45 Piven says Howard Zinn doesn’t remind her of Pete Seeger.

 

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