Possibility

Failure to Quit | HowardZinn.org

Failure to Quit

By Howard Zinn
This essay (written for Z Magazine in 1990, and reprinted in my book Failure to Quit, was inspired (if you are willing to call this an inspired piece) by my students of the Eighties. I was teaching a spring and fall lec­ture course with four hundred students in each course (and yet with lots of discussion). I looked hard, listened closely, but did not find the apathy, the conservatism, the disregard for the plight of others, that everybody (right and left) was reporting about “the me generation.”
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I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility.

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If History Is to Be Creative • HowardZinn.org

If History Is to Be Creative

America’s future is linked to how we understand our past. For this reason, writing about history, for me, is never a neutral act. By writing, I hope to awaken a great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias, class inequality, and national hubris. I also want to bring into the light the unreported resistance of people against the power of the Establishment: the refusal of the indigenous to simply dis­appear; the rebellion of Black people in the antislavery movement and in the more recent movement against racial segregation; the strikes carried out by working people all through American history in attempts to improve their lives.

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Book cover: A Power Goverments Cannot Suppress • City Lights

A Marvelous Victory

In this world of war and injustice, how does a person manage to stay socially engaged, committed to the struggle, and remain healthy without burning out or becoming resigned or cynical?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

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‘One Long Struggle for Justice’

Author on Air • January 19, 2010
In early January of 2010, the Zinn Education Project joined with HarperCollins, publisher of Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, to sponsor an “Ask Howard” online radio interview, and invited teachers from around the country to participate. Sixty teachers and students submitted written questions to Professor Zinn. The Jan. 19 interview was conducted by Rethinking Schools Curriculum Editor Bill Bigelow. Below is the full audio recording, followed by excerpts from that interview, edited for length and clarity.

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Zinn Speaks: An Interview on the State of the Empire

By Wajajat Ali • Published at Counterpunch • April 19, 2008
Zinn reflects on his historic and memorable time at Spelman College in the ‘60s, his thoughts on the Democratic Party, his philosophy of dissent as democracy, and his hope for America’s future.

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An Interview with Howard Zinn

Interview by Shelly R. Fredman • Published by ZCommunications • May 22, 2006
“For those who find a special inspiration in Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, fine. If that inspiration leads them to work for justice, that is what matters.”

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Against Discouragement

In 1963, Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. In 2005, he was invited back by President Beverly Daniel Tatum to give the commencement… Read More

Changing Minds, One at a Time

Published in The Progressive • March 2, 2005
As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: “BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE ‘CALLING OF OUR TIME.’ ”

Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: “An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident.”

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The Optimism of Uncertainty

Published by 
ZCommunications • September 30, 2004; The Nation • September 20, 2004
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played.

The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

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Howard Zinn – You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Interview by Lawrence R. Velvel • Books of Our Time • November 11, 2003
This discussion ranges from Mr. Zinn’s optimism for the future and what true Patriotism is, to what Americans don’t want to hear.

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Robert Birnbaum Talks with the Author of A People’s History of the United States

Interview by Robert Birnbau • Published at IdentityTheory.com • January 10, 2001
“I talk to audiences in Oklahoma and Texas and here and there and mostly to audiences of people who don’t really know my work. I certainly don’t expect them to be sympathetic to my ideas. When I express my ideas — and they are radical ideas — except that I don’t start off by saying, ‘I’m now going to tell you radical ideas.’ Or, ‘I’m now going to expound ideas of socialism or attack capitalism. Or, ‘This is going to be a hate imperialism talk.’ None of that. People respond to common sense ideas about foreign policy and domestic policy. It encourages me about the potential in this country, despite who is running it.”

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Unsung Heroes

Published in The Progressive • June 1, 2000
A high school student recently confronted me: “I read in your book A People’s History of the United States about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism, the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world, the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienated and depressed?”

It’s a question I’ve heard many times before. Another question often put to me by students is: Don’t we need our national idols? You are taking down all our national heroes- the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy.

Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire and emulate. But why hold up as models the fifty-five rich white men who drafted the Constitution as a way of establishing a government that would protect the interests of their class-slaveholders, merchants, bondholders, land speculators?

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A Flash of the Possible

Published in The Progressive • January 1, 2000
What happened in Seattle recently was not as large an event as the general strike of 1919. But it showed how apparently powerless people—if they unite in large numbers—can stop the machinery of government and commerce. In an era when the power of government, and of multinational corporations, is overwhelming, it is instructive to get even a hint of how fragile that power is when confronted by organized, determined citizens.

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‘Inspire Please…’

Published by ZCommunications • July 16, 1999
For those not in the know, let me explain that we who write for the progressive-radical movement have our specialties. Some specialize in writing depressing stuff. Others write humorous pieces. Some concentrate on trashing other Left writers. It seems that there was an opening this month for someone to inspire, and I was chosen. Not an easy job, when the United States government has just finished dropping thousands of cluster bombs on Yugoslavia…

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On Getting Along

Published by ZCommunications • March 7, 1999
You ask how I manage to stay involved and remain seemingly happy and adjusted to this awful world where the efforts of caring people pale in comparison to those who have power? It’s easy. First, don’t let “those who have power” intimidate you.…Second, find people to be with who have your values, your commitments, but who also have a sense of humor. That combination is a necessity!

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Zinn and the Art of Liberal Persuasion

Published in Perspective • March 1999
“My aim is to kind of provoke people to get active, people who’ve got some awareness of what’s going on in the world, who have enough awareness to come to one of my talks. They have a little bit of awareness, and my hope is to increase that awareness, and turn it into action.… I use history to expose information which has been concealed, and which is troubling. History has a very—you might say gloomy—message when you look at what has happened in history. And then on the other hand to counter that with the stories of social movements that have done very inspiring and marvelous things.”

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‘History as a Political Act’

Interview by Raymond Lotta • Published in Revolutionary Worker • December 20, 1998
“Beneath the surface of youthful ‘ambition’—’need to graduate,” ‘need to make a career’—beneath that surface, I believe there’s always among young people a hunger to do something worthwhile and important. And if you present young people something that is happening, that touches themhellip; I find that they respond.”

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Outside the Classroom

Interview with David Barsamian, originally published in The Progressive, July 1997. Excerpted from The Historic Unfulfilled Promise. Q: Do you miss teaching? Zinn: I miss the classroom and the encounter with students. But I’m not completely divorced from… Read More