I have sat down to write this post a number of times and just couldn't quite seem to find the right words. Howard Zinn was a personal hero of mine, reading his essays, listening to lectures and interviews and of course A People's History of the United States totally blew my mind and I was always looking for more to get my hands on. He spoke to me as an educator, he taught me to challenge the history I had been taught (and who taught it). He impressed on me the importance and power of knowledge. He made me believe that not only can you not be 'neutral on a moving train' but that to see what is wrong with the world comes with a responsibility to work to change it, and that the time to do that is now.
I never expected his death to have such a strong impact on me (I bawled on the bus when I found out, ha) and over the past few days I've been thinking on why this is. I didn't personally know the man, but like Naomi Klein said on the Democracy Now! tribute to him, he was every one's favourite teacher and now we've all lost that. I definitely think that is part of it, but also I think (at the risk of sounding cheesy) that he taught us to believe in ourselves and our convictions, that 'ordinary' people can and more often that not have been the ones to bring about change. He believed in people. While it breaks my heart that I won't get to hear him speak, that I won't be able to look to him for comment or that he won't write another book, the reality is it is now our turn to stand up for justice, speak out for the oppressed and fight for change.
I wanted to end in his own words so this is from his autobiography, 'You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train' ;
"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
"What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
"And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. 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."
A marvelous victory, indeed. We'll miss you Howard.