Lessons from Howard Zinn:

Just 12 years ago this coming May, Howard Zinn spent two memorable days participating in Wisconsin Labor History Society events: our annual conference held in 1998 in Oshkosh and the Bay View Tragedy event a day later in Milwaukee.

This marvelous man, whose life was spent using history to spur ordinary folks to recognize their own potential to “right the wrongs,” died Jan. 27 at the age of 87 of an unexpected heart attack in California.

After his Saturday afternoon presentation to our 1998 annual conference in Oshkosh, I had the honor driving Zinn to his Milwaukee hotel; the next afternoon I picked him up and gave him a brief tour of Milwaukee, as well as showing him the route of the 1886 workers who were marching on behalf of the eight-hour day, just before the State Militia had fired into them, killing seven.

What a singular joy this was! This man who seemed to always have a sparkle in his eye found irony and humor as he discussed the trials and tribulations of the day. (Columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times has similar reflections in his column of Jan. 30, 2010. Click here to read.)

It surprised us that Zinn, who had made of lifetime career out of chronicling many of the forgotten struggles of working people, admitted he had never before heard of either of these two major labor events in Wisconsin history: the city-wide millworkers strike in 1898 in Oshkosh that brought Clarence Darrow to town to testify in a conspiracy trial against the union leaders or the Bay View Tragedy.

And that was precisely his point: the history of ordinary people is missing from the schools and the textbooks.

The textbooks and teachers, he told the conference audience in Oshkosh, tell about oil baron John D. Rockefeller and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, but not “about the people who worked in Rockefeller’s oil refineries, nothing about the people who worked in Carnegie’s steel mills . . .

So I had to learn about labor history on my own to find out what was missing in the history books.”

And, of course, learn he did, eventually authoring the marvelous “People’s History of the United States,” which provides great perspective on the realities of history as it affects ordinary citizens, people of color, the poor and the others unheralded in most history books.

Just recently, Zinn participated in “The People Speak,” on the History Channel, in which prominent actors and performers read the words of Americans highlighting the struggle for economic justice and peace. (http://www.history.com/content/people-speak)

Zinn’s philosophy must continue to govern us, even in these days of despair as our economy falters, our troops still fight overseas, banks thumb their noses at us by pocketing huge bonuses in spite of their bungling of the economy, and the Arctic ice cap disintegrates.

It’s fitting, then, that we reflect upon what he told the packed meeting at the Puddlers’ Inn in 1998 at our annual Bay View Tragedy event. Referring to the 1886 massacre that ended, for the time being, the eight-hour day movement, he said: “You can say it was a defeat. They had to go back to work the ten-hour day. . .

If there is anything important to remember about the Bay View massacre, it’s that no defeat lasts if what is behind it is as struggle for justice, if behind it is a moral cause . . .

What happened here in Bay View is a reminder that struggle continues and all of us have a responsibility to keep it up.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn.

(For a video of an interesting interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart, go to http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-january-6-2005/howard-zinn

For other links to what others have said about Howard Zinn, go to http://www.howardzinn.org

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Who REALLY Won in Massachusetts?

Scott Brown, so full of glee that he joyously peddled his daughters as “available,” (though one apparently wasn’t), proclaimed his Massachusetts seat win was a “people’s victory.”

Wrong!

The winners were those who would do very little to really help ordinary folks, middle class working families and the struggling poor.  The winners were:

  • The health insurance companies, which stand to maintain either a status quo in the health care system, or a compromised health care reform bill that will reward them even more generously by forcing folks into health plans without much public assistance to pay the high premiums.  They win either way.  The people lose!
  • The moguls of our corporations, who will benefit as an energized Republican minority will block every effort at restoring more protections for the welfare of people through OSHA, the EPA and other agencies of government.  And, the corporations, too, will win by blocking realistic hope for strong labor law reform, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, further stifling workers’ rights in the workplace.
  • The hotshots on Wall Street, who will be able to run wildly back onto the scene, making more speculative loans, avoiding oversight by even more clever use of derivatives and other such strange machinations, while pocketing huge pay checks at the expense of taxpayers who saved their hides.   The Republican roadblocks in the Senate may make it now virtually impossible to pass any protections.
  • The folks who would deny personal rights, such as same-sex marriages, the right to an abortion, the right to a fair trial and greater fairness in immigration laws.  All of these will face continued terrible hurdles in a Federal Court system already skewing to the right; President Obama’s effort to restore any balance to the courts will face the “nay-sayers” of the Republican Party that will block virtually any appointment, leaving the seats open for what they hope will be the next President, a Republican.

The Losers!  All of us, although it appears some 52% of folks in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may not think so now!

Call them ‘NeoPopulists’

How could it have happened?  The tea-baggers!  The angry white mobs at the town meetings! The Republicans!

Are these today’s “populists?”  The media loves to throw the noun “populist” on these folks, claiming they are the “common people,” or “ordinary folks.”  And the reporters use the word “angry” to describe them.

Yet, are these folks really angry?  Or is it a show?  Or, have they been pumped up by the likes of former GOP Congressional leader Dick Armey and media nuts likes Rush Limbaugh and Glenn back? Lots of evidence shows that the whole movement has been manufactured by big money funneled through the people like Armey and fueled by Fox (Fair and Unbalanced) News.  Freedom Works is Armey’s baby, and its board of directors reads like a list of corporate elite, including Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine and onetime GOP Presidential candidate.

They’ve gathered great steam, creating a bandwagon effect that seems quite formidable and quite possibly this effort may turn the Congress around come November 2010.  The news media, including virtually ALL of the so-called liberal press, has given these folks plenty of publicity, further stoking their fire.  In comparison, the even more well-attended antiwar rallies (typically all grassrooted) never received such attention.  And, only MSNBC and a few media like the Nation and the Huffington Post have properly spotlighted the manufactured nature of this new “populist” movement.

Make no mistake about it!  This “populist” movement has indeed fooled lots of ordinary folks into believing this is the place for them.

They’ve identified the Obama Administration as the toadies of Wall Street and the rich; they’ve been misinformed that the health care reform bill would kill grandma; they’ve been told as the snows of winter fall that global warming is a plot by aliens; they blame the loss of jobs and dropping incomes on “liberals.”

Ordinary folks indeed do have lots of be angry about, and they’re easy prey for the charlatans of the rightwing.

The Democrats and the Obama Administration have done little to show that they are indeed the party of working people, of the poor, and of the disenfranchised.  So, these befuddled folks, being fooled by the tea-baggers and shouters and Dick Armeys, turn to this “populist” movement for answers.

Unless the Democrats and President Obama begin acting like traditional Democrats (like the party of FDR) the people will indeed jump onto the bandwagon of phony populists.  They will eventually learn that they made a huge mistake: the policies these “populists” support will not help ordinary folks in this time of despair.  And those who jump on this bandwagon will learn they were bamboozled, but it’ll be too late then.

The truth is: given the chance, this new movement, let’s call them Neo-Populists, would lead this nation into a greater dictatorship of the corporations and wealthy, into a nation of hate and intolerance, and into betraying the ideals and principles that made the United States great.

The Neo-populists care nothing for ordinary citizens.  It’s time that message is heard throughout the nation.