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long live the people’s historian!

January 30, 2010

I was saddened to learn that Howard Zinn died Wednesday at the age of 87. I never really knew anything about him until I bought one of his short plays, Marx in Soho, at the local bookstore about a year ago.

I had locked myself out of my apartment, and Annie wasn’t going to be home from work for a few more hours, so I went to look around the local bookstore for something to read until she got home. I happened to notice the small, reddish book sitting in the philosophy section—it was short and cheap, so I grabbed it. I spent the rest of my time reading it at a nearby coffee shop.

Not long after that, I rented a documentary about Zinn called Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train from the local video store. It was an excellent documentary, and from that moment on, Zinn became one of my heroes. But more importantly, it got me interested in American history, especially the history of the American labour movement. I ended up buying a copy of A People’s History of the United States, and that book knocked me on my ass!

Zinn not only taught me a lot about the American labour movement, but he helped me to find my political bearings as well. At the time I discovered Zinn, I was in the process of figuring out where I stood and how far I wanted to go with my political activism. Zinn inspired me to get politically active for progressive causes at a time when I could easily have been lulled into being just another passive voter.

So, in memory of his passing, my favourite Howard Zinn quote: “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” RIP, comrade.


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