Sunday, February 08, 2009

Political guru urges students to become activists


Real change doesn't happen without a powerful social movement.

That's what world-renowned political scientist, activist and playwright Howard Zinn told students and community members during a telephone conference Thursday at Dundee-Crown High School

Zinn is best known for authoring the best-seller "A People's History of the United States."

During the 60-minute conference, Zinn answered students' questions about everything from Iraq and President Barack Obama to the Israel-Gaza conflict. Zinn urged students to join organizations and "start doing things" to initiate social change and to keep themselves globally conscious by reading articles from foreign press.

Zinn warned students about becoming complacent with the status quo.

"It has never been enough to elect a liberal," Zinn said. "It's not enough to say, 'We have a good guy in office, we can relax.' If you relax, Obama becomes another politician."

Zinn said for change to happen, there needs to be "movements from below." He said the United States will need social movements from labor unions and black people and a movement to demand free health care to turn things around.

Zinn also spoke about the United States' involvement in other nations and how he believes that perpetuates bad feelings toward the U.S. from other countries or groups, especially with the American occupation of Iraq.

"We have ruined that country by our war and our occupation," Zinn said. "To keep troops there even another 16 months, I think, is a crime. ... If you just go on thinking we're the best and they're the worst, then you'll put up with all sorts of things."

One student's question about Americans' persistent hatred for communism prompted Zinn to warn students against propaganda.

"When you use a word to scare people, then you can take away their liberties," Zinn said. "The same thing is happening today with the word 'terrorism.'"

Bruce Taylor, a Dundee-Crown social studies teacher, organized the conference with Zinn and has organized past phone conferences with such academics as Noam Chomsky and Peter Singer. Taylor said the conferences give students the opportunity to broaden their thinking and hear different viewpoints.

"They have really opened up critical dialogue at the school and changed the climate here," Taylor said.

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