Howard Zinn — have you ever heard him? Perhaps not, but I would hope so. He was a man who wanted to be remembered “for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality.” That’s a pretty large to-do list (and I thought getting to class was hard).
He was an academic historian, an author of countless books and articles, a playwright, and perhaps most importantly, he was a social activist. In fact, Howard Zinn was even a professor here at our very own Boston University. Pretty cool, right?
However, he was also an alleged communist, with such a potential for “evil” that he was followed by the FBI. He has been called crazy and radical, arguing that power should be left in the people’s hands, all of these herdlike people. He’s been marked off as a revolutionary and a nut-job. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if at some point during his long career of civil disobedience, someone had the insane idea of calling him the Mad Hatter.
But, you know what? I bet he’d kind of like that last one.
The Mad Hatter, a character most of you should know, is a rather strange fellow. Like Zinn he has a smooth rasp to his voice and suave, white hair (if you put a green top hat on old Howard and gave him a cup of tea, he’d actually fit the part pretty well). In Lewis Carroll’s story, the Hatter was sentenced to death by the infamous, conniving Queen of Hearts. His crime: “Murdering the time.” His weapon of choice: A song, of course. I’m betting it was “Friday,” by Rebecca Black. But hey, maybe “It [really is] Time the Antiwar Crowd Starting Singing.”
For speaking out — singing out — he was sent to his death; yet in true Hatter form, he escaped, only to set up camp in a perpetual protest: His very own Wonderland Tea Party (circa 1767, if you know what I mean). The Hatter is downright crazy to the naked eye, but simply put, the Mad Hatter doesn’t accept the social norms he finds wrong; he marches to the beat of his own . . . well, hat. But more importantly, the Hatter doesn’t just celebrate and cherish what he believes in for one day a year. Oh no. Rather, the stark-raven-mad Hatter and the March Hare spend 364 days of the year celebrating what they believe. In fact, the only difference between the Mad Hatter and Howard Zinn, is that Mr. Zinn spent all 365 days of the year writing, speaking and fighting for what he believed in. And he probably liked his tea without the jam.
I imagine the world as we know it — America the beautiful — must have looked a lot like Wonderland to Mr. Zinn: Rules and laws that don’t make any sense, leaders and rulers that abuse their undeserved authority, and people that walk around speaking gibberish, without thinking or understanding what they’re really saying.
As the March Hare put it, “Ah, well that’s the point: If you don’t think, than you shouldn’t talk.”
I’m no longer surprised that Zinn started “from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong.”
So Howard, where do we start to make it right?
Beyond creating some higher declaration of interdependence between all people of the world, beyond that first baby step toward civil disobedience, we have to realize one simple truth: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
So who’s ready to play ball? Well, the Boston University Anti-War Coalition definitely is. In fact, they’re holding a “Tribute to Howard Zinn” this coming Tuesday, April 2 in Tsai Auditorium. It’s a way of getting students out of the classrooms with their textbook histories and armchair historians, and for once, letting the people’s history really be heard. These aren’t the victors, these are the victims. But are they sitting down? Well, I suppose in Rosa Parks case, the answer might be yes, definitely. But as for the rest of them: They’re standing up — with clenched fists, burning emotion and some damn powerful words.
Before Zinn died back in 2010, only three measly years ago, he said that he wanted to be remembered as “somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power that they didn’t have before.” Dissent was his patriotic gift to us. He was the guy for the “ain’t I a woman” (Sojourner) truths. He was the one that swept away all the humbug, the rot, the false pretense. Howard Zinn believed that “America, the plum blossoms are falling.”
So I’d ask that you raise your cups of tea in respect for one hell of man: A very merry unbirthday, to you, Howard Zinn.
David Fonatana is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.