On the Moving Train: Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

Right up until the present day did Howard Zinn engage in heated political debate, choosing not to toe a line, but push boundaries, and integrate untypical language and concepts into a political field which has stayed much the same – with war, and poverty. You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train is of course the title of his autobiography, but no truer words have been spoken. Not only must we recognise that if we switch off from affairs that affect us, this allows the unpalatable of this earth to swoop in, but neutrality itself is a position which can not be an option, we are thrown – as Heidegger said – into the world, and the space with which we occupy as a consequence is our starting pad to change the world, to acknowledge that the train is moving, and operate the same.

On Obama, Zinn identified little other than rhetoric, “I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies” he exclaimed. But the point is not to stop there. Zinn explains further that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president … unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

The flirtation with whether Obama marked the era of post-racial society would have stirred uneasy with Zinn. A black president is not the end point at which we sit hands on heads, it is necessary to manoeuvre thereon – democracy has no such an end point, democracy is the motion with which neutrality is not an option. Like Dr. Cornel West hoped of Obama, he will be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass [abolitionist who held talks with Lincoln in 1863 on the treatment of black soldiers] to put pressure on him.” Zinn would have wanted Frederick Douglass’ of us all!

Proof of Zinn’s “redemptive politics of activism“, and his Lenin-esque attitudes towards leadership*, can not be found in any better place than during the interview with Harry Kreisler, where upon the question of his first teaching assignment at Spelman college, Zinn noted that “I learned more from my students than my students learned from me”. His time living in the south, before the black movement geared up to fight for their rights, was an enriching experience for Zinn, one in which he notes “I began to look at history from a black point of view. It looks very different from a black point of view.”

In the words of Eddie Vedder, whose song “Down” was inspired by his friendship to Zinn finishes: “So long“.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

*Leaders are not born, Lenin held; they must be trained


One Response to On the Moving Train: Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

  1. Pingback: In memoriam, Howard Zinn, 1922-2010 « Though Cowards Flinch

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