(image from Flickr user Douglas Brown)
I don’t have much to add to the outpouring of support for the life and memory of Howard Zinn, but I do want to put his life’s work in a bit of perspective.
A central plank of Zinn’s message always was this: change does not come from a ballot box; change happens when you stand up and do something. And the old adage (which I think came before Zinn, but he used it well) about standing still on a moving train holds true. Not acting these days is as much an affirmation as acting. There is no standing still in these times. I doubt there ever was.
We live in a world where a distortion, when repeated enough, becomes held as true. We have to expend real energy to get to honest truth, and no one will do that for us. At a time in which we need people, real people, up and out and getting peoples’ attention, we find pleasuring comfort in Internet slacktivism. And that simply won’t do. To quote Zinn:
If those in charge of our society – politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television – can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.
And I don’t mean get offline, necessarily. The Internet is the best weapon the people have right now. But the gloves are off the corporations in the wake of Citizens United, and it simply is not enough these days to wear a bracelet, or protest via Facebook status, or add a ribbon to the back of a car.
So what would Zinn say about so-called slacktivism? I would guess it would go like this: write, but write to someone; post statuses, but post about ways for people to take real action; symbolic bracelets and ribbons are good, lawn signs and picket lines are better. Your friends and Twitter followers already know how you feel. To make change you need to reach more people, more strangers, and more adversaries. Only then will you change minds.
I saw Howard Zinn speak three times in my life, and each time was inspiring, uplifting, and most importantly, motivating. The world will sorely miss him, I’m sure. Rest in peace.