ZNet interview with Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove
1.Can you tell ZNet, please, what your book VOICES OF A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
Readers of A People’s History of the United States have almost always pointed to the wealth of quoted material in it — the words of fugitive slaves, Native Americans, farmers and factory workers, dissenters and dissidents of all kinds.
They are drawn to the eloquent, often uncompromising, voices of resistance that have mostly been shut out of the orthodox histories, the major media, the standard textbooks, the controlled culture.
It is vital that such voices are more widely read, and contribute to our understanding of history as seen by — and made by — ordinary people.
The result of having our history dominated by presidents and generals and other “important” people is to create a passive citizenry, not knowing its own powers, always waiting for some savior on high — God or the next president — to bring peace and justice.
History, looked at under the surface, in the streets and on the farms, in GI barracks and trailer camps, in factories and offices, tells a different story.
Whenever injustices have been remedied, wars halted, women and blacks and Native Americans given their due, it has been because “unimportant” people spoke up, organized, protested, and brought democracy alive.
In Voices of a People’s History of the United States, our goal is to introduce readers to as many of these voices as we can, testimonies to living history — speeches, letters, poems, songs, manifestoes, proclamations, petitions, and memoirs — by the people who make history happen but who usually are left out of history books — women, workers, people of color, slaves, Native Americans.
We have included the voices of Frederick Douglass, George Jackson, Susan B. Anthony, Tecumseh, Martin Luther King Jr., Patti Smith, Mark Twain, Angelina Grimke, Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Leonard Peltier, and numerous others, some unknown, some less known or even anonymous, that have truly made people’s history.
2. Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
The book parallels chapter by chapter A People’s History of the United States in its historical and thematic scope, from Columbus’s “discovery” of the America’s through Bush II and the so-called war on terror.
The content comes from archives, libraries, books, newspapers, handbills, leaflets, the many records of our history, assembled over several years of editorial work, with advice, input, and support from activists, historians, friends, and colleagues.
Many of the voices we have included can be found in much shorter form in A People’s History of the United States, but we have also included many voices from the social movements of our past that could not be included in A People’s History.
3. What are your hopes for VOICES OF A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically?
Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
Our goal is to raise consciousness — about class conflict, racial injustice, sexual inequality, and national arrogance.
But more importantly it is to bring to light the hidden resistance of the people against the power of the establishment: the refusal of Native Americans to simply die and disappear; the rebellion of black people in the anti-slavery movement and in the more recent movement against racial segregation; the strikes carried out by working people to improve their lives.
We want to give the voices of struggle, mostly absent in our history books, the place they deserve.
To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations.
We want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of color, or women — once they organize and protest and create movements — have a voice no government can suppress.
Our goal is also for people to use this book in classrooms, in theatres, in public meetings. To bring these voices to life in their own creative ways, through readings, performances.
We dedicated Voices to “the rebel voices of the coming generation.”
The efforts we have put into creating Voices will have been well worth it if this book helps inspire those rebels — and others. If it connects them to the rich past of resistance in this country, and gives people a sense that we can chart a different future.