Howard Zinn – a remembrance
Historian, activist, and Grassroots International friend Howard Zinn died January 27 at the age of 87. I remember introducing Grassroots International to Howard when I was Executive Director. He had heard of Grassroots, but he didn’t know much about it. I had just come back from the West Bank. I remember the moment when we bonded. I was trying to describe some indescribable injustice I had witnessed. Someone else who was part of the conversation asked me how I could do this work, wasn’t it just too depressing. I said, “No, it’s inspiring. What’s depressing is when people are oppressed and they can’t or won’t fight back. My trips for Grassroots are inspiring because I have the privilege of meeting so many activists and popular leaders who are fighting back, often against unimaginable odds.” Howard’s eyes sparkled. “Exactly!!!” he exclaimed.
I think I learned that from Howard Zinn. Has there ever been a more positive, optimistic champion of the oppressed? If so, I haven’t met them. He understood, with a depth we can only marvel at, that ordinary people, oppressed people, make history. They are not simply the victims of it. Howard saw the world clearly for the unjust place it is; his was not a false optimism that denied harsh realities. Rather, in every injustice he saw the seeds of radical history in the making. That was his joy and his gift, to see, always, our possibilities as a people to make history, and to nurture those aspirations.
That’s why he connected with Grassroots International. He saw us working with the very people who struggle so mightily to write their own histories. And he lived for those inspiring stories of popular struggle. And for the ability to communicate those struggles to us all, in the ways only Howard could do. I will miss him as a friend. Grassroots International will miss him as an inspiring champion of all people who make their own history, and as aloyal friend and generous supporter.
Tim Wise is former Executive Director of Grassroots International and currently Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, where he leads its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program. With a background in international development, he specializes in agricultural policy and rural development. He is involved in ongoing research in the areas of: Sustainable Rural Development, Beyond Agricultural Subsidies, Mexico Under NAFTA, WTO and Global Trade.
Photo Above: Howard Zinn from the Boston Globe