“ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE ENOUGH”
An Interview with Howard Zinn
By Jessica Lee and John Tarleton
From the November 17, 2008 issue
The election of President-elect Barack Obama is a historic moment pinned between an energizing rhetoric and a dire reality. To help put the occasion in perspective, The Indypendent reached out to renowned U.S. historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.
The Indypendent: Since its inception, the United States has experienced vast social changes that are often oversimplified in history books as the projects of politicians and the product of presidents. How does change actually occur and what can be learned from these collective moments in history?
Howard Zinn: Significant changes occur when social movements reach a critical point of power capable of moving cautious politicians beyond their tendency to keep things as they are — or when these movements, by direct action, bypass the political system and bring about change by acting directly on the obstacles to change. When the anti-slavery movement reached its height in the late 1850s and early 1860s, it pushed President Abraham Lincoln toward the Emancipation Proclamation and pushed Congress toward the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. When the labor movement became militant and called strikes all over the country in the 1880s, it won the eight-hour day directly from employers without the actions of government. In the 1930s, the strike and the growing labor movement pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt into the New Deal reforms — minimum wage, Social Security, subsidized housing, etc. When black people protested and demonstrated all over the South, bringing about scenes that shocked the nation, then we got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But before that legislation, militant black protesters desegregated lunch counters and began to change the South by direct action. The movement against the war in Vietnam reached the point where it could not be ignored, where the direct action of deserting GIs, angry veterans and draft resisters created an atmosphere in which the government could no longer count on the support of the American people — and then the government began to move gradually toward ending the war.