Wednesday, October 07, 2009
THE HOW(L) for Howard Zinn, A dire letter, embedded in humor, to Howard Zinn by Richard Martin Oxman
“…maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.” — Arundhati Roy
“…protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism….” — Alan Ginsberg, Howl
“Civil disobedience is a way of bringing the feelings, the desires, the ideas of people to the attention of the public and to the attention of government.” — Howard Zinn
“The TOSCA Governor could — legally — inspire more civil disobedience than the world has ever experienced, and change the world in the process.” — Richard Martin Oxman
“When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,….” — A.E. Housman
Less than one month away from my first Rutgers University teaching assignment, as a know-nothing Instructor of Dramatic Art, I met the great American stage director Alan Schneider and the incomparable Samuel Beckett at a private showing of Buster Keaton films in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. They had settled on Buster Keaton (who didn’t appreciate Sam’s opus) for the main role in their joint maiden cinematic venture, Film, but they didn’t know enough about his work, so they were obliged to review some classic footage. Actor James Karen (who had recommended BK) got me into the screening room, and Eleanor Keaton ushered me to a seat… a mere few feet from my favorite dramatist. During one break in viewing (right around the time of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution), I heard something like the following:
Alan Schneider: I don’t like to tell people what to do. [Pause.] I particularly don’t like to tell anyone what to tell others to do. Least of all with you, Sam.
Samuel Beckett: [Long pause.] Who would you like me to contact, Alan? [Pause.] That’s okay. I think I know.
I have done my homework, Howard, heartbeats on the pavement. I write directly to you now… in the knowledge that the only way to stop our horrid momentum — to have a chance at all of at least reducing our abominations — is to inspire massive, incessant civil disobedience. As per the thrust of your ongoing, heartfelt advice.
The TOSCA Governor (twelve citizens as per http://oxtogrind.org/archive/364) — legally — , and change the world in the process. There is the possibility. And, as far as I can see, nothing else on the table holds the potential for encouraging the necessary degree of civil disobedience, the amount and kind required to make a significant difference in time. Yes, I do feel deadlines looming, the value of intermittent, diffused civil disobedience notwithstanding.
So… I’ve come up with the following short play on/with words (for action).
As the curtain rises, John and Jane are sitting DC, John fiddling with his shoe (just like Estragon in ). Richard and Howard are sitting UC, leisurely stretching out their double lattes.
John Doe: Nothing’s to be done.
Jane Doe: Sometimes the means become apparent only by taking steps into the dark. Put on your shoe. Let’s go.
Richard Oxman: Hey, Howard, I really don’t want to appear presumptuous… or as if I’m violating any principles of anarchism, but I do have a suggestion. I trust that it won’t seem as if I’m telling you what to do, or telling others what to do.
Howard Zinn: What would you like of me, Richard?
Richard Oxman: Help to get a ball rolling which will culminate in millions of people taking part in civil disobedience with regard to our war machine. Millions who have in common — at least — recoiling in horror at our abominations abroad.
Howard Zinn: Again, what would you like me to do, Richard?
Richard Oxman: All of the following people have at least a few close friends who they could influence. Some have legions of followers, supporters. All have blood connections. I firmly believe that you could make the difference. Get a core group of respected individuals to become proactive regarding… getting their non-politician Governor (devoted to encouraging necessary civil disobedience) into office. I actually can see every single progressive in the country on board with this, in spite of differences. I can envision every single band with progressive bones in their collective bodies writing songs to hail the coming of civil disobedience. And I can easily picture celebrities ‘cross the board taking steps to make a difference… which they never before considered. All because of your reputation, connections and a renewed sense of urgency.
Howard Zinn: Who are you talking about, Richard?
Richard Oxman: Just from the top of my head, in no special order… let’s see. Hmmm, how ’bout Grace Lee Boggs, one friend of Jamil Abdullah al-Amin’s, Dick Gregory, Green Day, Michael Albert (maybe), Staughton Lynd and his wife, Kathy Emery, Bob Moses and the whole gang at Algebra Project, Dana Frank, Marian Wright Edelman and her colleagues at Childrens Defense, Mike Davis, Noam Chomsky’s daughter, Elaine Brown, Patricia Ellsberg, Arundhati Roy, David Barsamian, Lydia Sargent, Michael Parenti’s son Christian Parenti, 1000 people firmly ensconced in academia, 99 people connected with Dramatic Art, 55 writers for Common Dreams and/or Counterpunch, 2 people from Greenpeace, 1 person from California’s Green Party, Mumia Abu-Jamal, 1 person from California’s Peace and Freedom Party, 1 person (outside of California) from any party other than the two major parties, someone on Amy Goodman’s staff, David Cogswell, Cynthia McKinney, some relative of Daniel Berrigan’s, Amari Baraka, a NationDead Man Walking or The Color Purple (unless you have to go through Mel Gibson to reach someone), anyone at www.sweatfree.org, Ward Churchill, Justin Akers Chacon, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tim Wise, Steve Earle (for anti-death penalty purposes), of course (though not Mike Farrell), someone at The Progressive, et al. [Pause.] I had wanted to fill up 100 pages with names and organizations, but… that would use up valuable time, I thought. What do you say? employee, Ralph Nader, any twenty-year union person, Gabriel Matthew Schivone, Bill McKibben, George Kirschner, Matt Damon, 3 people associated with
Howard: Sounds like it would require a lot of heartbeats, Richard.
Richard: Maybe not more than a day’s worth. Perhaps you could allocate assignments for others. The thing is, everyone could carry on with what they’re doing, but simply make the united effort a major priority… so that there were unprecedented numbers devoted — for about a year — to doing something in common. Even if their personal commitment amounted to no more than a few heartbeats per person total over the course of 365 days.
Howard: [rising] Hmmm. Let me think about it, Richard. In the meantime, come with me. Let me show you something. What’ll amount to another window of opportunity.
[Richard reluctantly rises too, and they EXIT.]
ENTER John, limping. He sits DC, very despondent, takes off a shoe, and looks at the audience in despair. Jane accompanies him, very light on her feet, as if she’s Columbine from Millay’s Aria Da Capo.
John: Nothing’s to be done.
[He throws the shoe into the audience, at the audience.]
Jane: [compassionately] Oh, John… why oh why did you do that?
John: [very unsettled] It’s what Buster Keaton would have done under the circumstances.
Jane: That makes no sense.
John: [slumping down] I know. But unless you offer solutions, people will turn away. Because if there is nothing you can do about a problem, what’s the point of thinking about it? [Pause.] I can’t go on.
Jane: Oh, John, let’s just try to forget all of this. [He reluctantly rises, but they do not move.
[The curtain descends on the tableaux?]
Thanks for your kind consideration, Howard. Truly.
Blessings in solidarity,
Richard Martin Oxman
1713 Jennifer Drive
in the Vienna Woods
Aptos, CA 95003
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