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Published on Tuesday, April 18, 2000 in the Madison Capital Times
Historian Zinn Foresaw Globalization Protests
by John Nichols
WASHINGTON -- The students who flooded into the nation's capital for this week's protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund brought books with them.

And why not? While they are activists, they are still finishing up classes this spring.

But, perhaps not surprisingly for so rebellious a bunch, they did not always bring assigned texts. I ran into one protester from western Massachusetts who was paging through a Noam Chomsky book before a forum on globalization. Some of his classmates had books by the Indian physicist Vandana Shiva and other participants in the forum.

Down the row was a young woman reading Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States.''

Could there have been a better text for this most American of movements?

Zinn may be close to four times as old as many of the participants in this week's A16 (April 16) protests, but he is their perfect comrade. Brilliant historian, consistent radical and kind and gentle soul, he recognized immediately that this new movement of opposition to corporate globalization is very much in the tradition of the American people's movements he has so ably chronicled and championed.

In a very fine piece for the issue of The Progressive published after last fall's Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, Zinn made the connections. But that came as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work as a historian and an activist.

Zinn, who will be speaking in Madison at 7:30 tonight at the Wisconsin Union Theatre in the Memorial Union, has always made the connections.

"A People's History of the United States,'' the book my young friend was reading before the forum, was published 20 years ago. Yet the text's closing chapter, "The Coming Revolt of the Guards,'' reads as if it was written in the spring of 2000 -- not 1980.

"People with time, in friendly communities, might create a new, diversified, nonviolent culture, in which all forms of personal and group expression would be possible. Men and women, black and white, old and young, could then cherish their differences as positive attributes, not as reasons for domination. New values of cooperation and freedom might then show up in the relations of people,'' Zinn wrote.

"To do all that, in the complex conditions of control in the United States, would require combining the energy of all previous movements in American history -- of labor insurgents, black rebels, Native Americans, women, young people -- along with the new energy of an angry middle class. People would need to begin to transform their immediate environments -- the workplace, the family, the school, the community -- by a series of struggles against absentee authority, to give control of these places to the people who live and work there.

"These struggles would involve all the tactics used at various times in the past by people's movements: demonstrations, marches, civil disobedience; strikes and boycotts and general strikes; direct action to redistribute wealth, to reconstruct institutions, to revamp relationships; creating -- in music, literature, drama, all the arts, and all the areas of work and play in everyday life -- a new culture of sharing, of respect, a new joy in the collaboration of people to help themselves and one another.''

Anyone who saw the broad coalitions that came together in Washington to protest on behalf of a new vision for a just and humane global economy would have to agree that Howard Zinn either has a mighty fine crystal ball or he really has put all those years of studying the people's history to good use.

Certainly, the young people who came to Washington have learned the lessons. They are building a movement that more closely matches Zinn's vision than any that has come before.

John Nichols is the editorial page editor of The Capital Times.

2000 The Capital Times


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