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Vale Howard Zinn: A movement that won’t go away

cover detail from The No-Nonsense Guide to Human Rights (2009)Maverick US historian and pacifist Howard Zinn died suddenly in January, aged 87.  He was an inspiring, indefatigable human rights activist best known as author of A People's History of the United States.  (His endorsement graces the cover of New Internationalist's No-Nonsense Guides.)

When asked in a recent interview, Zinn said he would like to be remembered as "somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power that they didn’t have before."

In that vein, friend and colleague John Dear recalls how, "after a lifetime of studying the history of US social movements," Zinn came to a conclusion:

"He said every major movement for social change in our history was hopeless.  Hopeless from the beginning, hopeless through the middle, hopeless up to the very end — people laboring toward a hopeless goal.

Prof. Howard Zinn"But then, like a bolt out of a blue sky, a breakthrough.

"The key, he said, was that ordinary people kept at it despite all evidence.  Ordinary people doing their small acts for justice every day — here was the key. Over time peaceful acts add up to something big.  What the powerful fear most, he said, are the grass-roots movements that won’t go away.

"So our job is not to give up, give in or go away.  Take action, speak clearly as you can, and trust the lesson of history: . . . Truthful, nonviolent movements are destined to win."

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