Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Prophet Passes Away

Howard Zinn suffered a heart attack yesterday while visiting Santa Barbara. He was 87. The author of A People's History of the United States challenged the fundamental telling of the American story: "a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance." He flipped the script, giving privilege to the perspective of women, workers, minorities, immigrants and the poor. EasyYolk is indebted to his thought and action. As we reflect on some of his writings, may we read them critically and devotionally:

By 1800, 10-15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization. (29)

On the American Revolution:
Here was the traditional device by which those in charge of any social order mobilize and discipline a recalcitrant population—offering the adventure and rewards of military service to get poor people to fight for a cause they may not see as their own. (78)

A Network of Economic Reconstruction:
We would need—by a coordinated effort of local groups all over the country—to reconstruct the economy for both efficiency and justice, producing in a cooperative way what people need most.

The Goal:
Certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available—free—to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation. [639]

A Neighborly Socialism:
Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods—a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another, a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name ‘socialism.’ (639)

The Vision:
There would be many defeats. But when such a movement took hold in hundreds of thousands of places all over the country it would be impossible to suppress, because the very guards the system depends on to crush such a movement would be among the rebels. It would be a new kind of revolution, the only kind that could happen. I believe, in the country like the US. It would take enormous energy, sacrifice, commitment, patience. But because it would be a process over time, starting w/o delay, there would be the immediate satisfactions that people have always found in the affectionate ties of groups striving together for a common goal. (640)

In a timely critique, he proposed reversing course and cutting military spending to provide for the most vulnerable in our nation and world:

The US, by such a drastic change in its policies, would no longer be a military superpower, but it could be a humanitarian superpower, using its wealth to help people in need. (682)

Zinn died on the the same day that our first African-American President delivered his first State of the Union Address. Zinn was carefully hopeful about the possibilites of real change a year ago when Obama was inaugurated, yet was openly critical of his policies throughout the year, calling for the progressive movement to pressure him to greatness in his May 2009 Progressive Magazine piece. Zinn clarified our role:

Our job is not to give him a blank check or simply be cheerleaders. It was good that we were cheerleaders while he was running for office, but it's not good to be cheerleaders now. Because we want the country to go beyond where it has been in the past. We want to make a clean break from where it was in the past.

In order to truly honor this prophet, we must act. Our mesmorizing of Obama is over. Our patience for his promises is over. Let us unite and petition and provoke Obama to greatness. Zinn said that this is our only hope for peace and justice in our system.

Last night, Obama promised to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We should remind him daily of this is fiercely urgent. Last night, Obama asked for better ideas on health care reform from either party. We should remind him that he campaigned for a single-payer plan 2 years ago. It would restructure our health care system which, by the way, is not the best in the world (as GOP Governor Bob McDonald claimed last night in his response to the State of the Union Address). Last night, Obama said that all Americans care about National Security. We should remind him that our war strategy is failing: the more troops we send all over the Muslim world, the more successful al Qaeda becomes at recruiting terrorists. We must imagine and then demand peace and justice if we are ever going to see it realized.

--Theological Autopilot

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