Howard Zinn was a historian, playwright, and social activist.
He left this Earth in 2010, but what he left behind is a legacy of the written and spoken word that still affects people today.
His body of work talks a lot about the struggle of everyday people to make a difference in the world — often despite incredible forces aligned against them.
He also covered history and politics from a point of view that is almost never represented in our culture — that of the people rather than those in power.
I often say that when I took history in high school and college, there were a lot of books about "this rich white guy that did this, and this rich white guy did that." It was when I discovered Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" that the lights really came on for me.
I began to realize that my culture and background — son of a union man who worked a blue-collar job in Iowa — had as much to do with history and who changed the course of it as anybody's. One man can spend $100 million and change something, but millions of workers demanding an eight-hour day ? Tens of millions of people in the streets, demanding civil rights? That's how massive change happens.
Howard was also a great orator. The following is a quote from a debate at Johns Hopkins University.
Here's the full quote:
"As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem."
He was about as antiwar as you can be, knowing that all wars inevitably mean killing innocents.
Here's another quote I love:
When I discovered this video of him talking about activists looking back fondly on their lives, it really hit home with me.
It's from the documentary "#ReGENERATION," and it's a fabulous 90 seconds of wisdom about those very people who become active, take things to the streets, and create change right in front of our eyes.
At times, it looks like he has wistful tears in his eyes when he recounts his life of advocacy and action. Maybe it will resonate with you, too?