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  April 10, 2009

Send a message to Obama


Howard Zinn: Social turmoil is not bad if it leads to something good Pt.3
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biography

Howard Zinn was an American historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright. He is best known as author of the best-seller 'A People's History of the United States'. Zinn has been active in the Civil Rights and the anti-war movements in the United States. Howard Zinn passed away on January 27, 2010. Zinn was raised in a working-class family in Brooklyn, and flew bombing missions for the United States in World War II, an experience he now points to in shaping his opposition to war. In 1956, he became a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, a school for black women, where he soon became involved in the Civil rights movement, which he participated in as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee SNCC and chronicled, in his book SNCC The New Abolitionists. Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored a young student named Alice Walker. When he was fired in 1963 for insubordination related to his protest work, he moved to Boston University, where he became a leading critic of the Vietnam War.


transcript

Send a message to ObamaPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network coming from Boston with Howard Zinn. Thanks for joining us again. So we left off talking about—you were speaking about the necessity of a mass motion, some kind of a movement on the scale of Vietnam to send a message to President Obama, essentially, "Don't listen to your advisers; listen to this movement." Before we talk about how a movement like that might get built, why do so many people think that President Obama is anything other than who the advisers are he has picked. Hasn't he picked people that more or less agree with him? Like, why do we think he's any more than what he appears to be?

HOWARD ZINN, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: You know, every day I talk to people who represent just what you were talking about, friends of mine who have a hard time being critical of Obama and who keep defending his policies in various ways, weakly I must say (they wouldn't think so, but weakly), saying things like, "Well, you know, he doesn't have much choice," or, you know, "Oh, give him more time." But I think the reason for this reluctance to criticize Obama is that his election brought such an enormous wave of relief at finally getting rid of the Bush administration; and, of course, exuberance, justified exuberance, at having a first African-American in the White House; and the enthusiasm for this young, intelligent, articulate person who expressed himself so well.

JAY: And look at what the alternative could have been.

ZINN: That's right. So it's very hard to come down from that very high wave of exuberance to a sober, realistic assessment of what his administration has been doing. And it will take some time for that to happen.

JAY: So picture this as a possible scenario. Eight years from now—let's assume President Obama wins another term in four years or so. Eight years from now, if these policies don't work, all this stimulation—and you could, I suppose, also predict the best-case scenario, but a lot of economists are predicting the stimulus is unlikely to work, the banking system is unlikely to be fixed by these current measures. Unemployment's likely to rise. We might be seeing some kind of hyperinflation [inaudible] very unpredictable right now many people are making lots of predictions, but it don't look good. Eight years from now, this all could be blamed on Obama, to some extent, deservedly or not, 'cause a lot of this is systemic and there's only so much perhaps this administration can do anyway. But we could be facing a Republican ticket with some momentum pointing to what they would call the failures of the last eight years, and that ticket could make McCain-Palin look benign. So how plausible is this scenario? And what should people do about it? Because so far most people are still putting their eggs in the Democratic Party basket, one way or the other.

ZINN: Well, I mean, the scenario that you paint is a frightening one, and it's plausible. It's plausible that if the country feels that the Obama administration has failed in solving very severe problems, I'm sure they would turn to whatever the opposition is, just as they turned to Obama, just as even white people who may have been reluctant to vote for Obama were so glad and anxious to get rid of George Bush that they voted for Obama and he won. So that is a frightening scenario. And I think what the progressive movement needs to do is to really try its best to create the kind of social movement that we had, well, yes, during the civil rights movement, during the antiwar movement. Go back to the trade union movement of the 1930s, or to the organization of the unorganized, to the strikes that took place. I mean, let's think of Roosevelt coming into office in the beginning of 1933. And what did he face? He faced—well, just recently he faced the Bonus Marchers—thousands of veterans assembling across the Potomac in Washington, DC. He faced unemployment councils and tenants movements and general strike in San Francisco, general strike in Minneapolis, the whole city being tied up, hundreds of thousands of strikers in textile mills in the South—yes, a country in turmoil. And I think it would take—people may be alarmed by this, but the truth is, what's more alarming is what we're facing now. Social turmoil is not alarming if it leads to something good. And the turmoil that black people created in the South in the '60s, it was turmoil, but it was constructive. It led to change. And we need that kind of turmoil in these next few years in the United States in order to move the president and Congress towards bold, bold measures, measures in foreign policy and measures in domestic policy that would then create—really it could create a very new situation, a situation which pleases the American people to the point where they're not going to elect a right-wing government eight years from now.

JAY: When you talked about what happened in the '30s, almost every sentence included a strike or some kind of action that involved the trade unions in one way or the other. And to a large extent, whatever movement there was in the 1930s was because there was this emerging trade union. So in the next segment of our interview, answer the question why in the private sector there's something—I think 7.2 percent of workers are in unions, and if you add the public sector, I think you're lucky to get 11 percent. And so why are we at such historically low levels of unionization? And what might be done about it? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Howard Zinn.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.



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