Following Howard Zinn

Future Hope column, Feb. 1, 2010

By Ted Glick

Feburary 1st, 2010 is the 50th anniversary of the student sit-in at a white’s only, Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. that sparked the 60’s civil rights movement. I suspect that those four brave students, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond, had no idea that their action would be the spark that it was. I suspect that they did what they did because it was the right thing to do and because of people and events that influenced them to the point where they felt the strength to take this very real risk.

We need to recapture some of that same spirit, that willingness to sacrifice and to do what we believe is right even if we’re not sure of the results.

There are some positive signs that growing numbers of activist progressives are prepared to do so, to take action on key issues even if it means challenging, directly or indirectly, Barack Obama. This is being evidenced within the climate and peace movements, with the organizing taking place towards the June 22-26 U.S. Social Forum, with growing criticism of Obama’s unwillingness to give leadership for truly progressive policies, and in other ways.

This is a good thing, since President Obama, all last year and during his State of the Union address, has made it very clear that he’s essentially a Democratic Leadership Council, centrist Democratic Party politician. He is more concerned with achieving the appearance of legislative success, for example, than fighting for federal legislation that actually does what is needed on his priority issues: unemployment, health care, climate/energy and financial industry regulation. And he’s proposing an over $700 billion military budget to advance the interests of the American empire.

Barack Obama is no change-agent. Whether he can be pushed from below to become more of one remains to be seen. If it happens it will be because enough of us step forward from a wide range of constituencies and organizations in a unified effort to build the activist, independent political movement badly needed.

This past week, a day after Howard Zinn’s passing, I received an email from Rabbi Arthur Waskow quoting Zinn in an email sent just the day before he died. Waskow asked Zinn what he thought of the idea of pulling together a “coalition aimed at ‘independence from the military-corporate alliance,’ with a platform that includes strong planks on climate, jobs, health, ending the present wars, major reductions in the military, transforming campaign finance, and ending the filibuster. Perhaps with rallies, vigils, sit-downs, etc in state capitals and other centers all around the country on July 4, and support for specific progressive candidates in the 2010 Congressional elections.”

Zinn responded positively: “You are absolutely right, this is the time for the resurgence of a national movement that begins with a coordinated country-wide action.”

I wrote to Arthur, indicating my interest in the general idea, and I hope that the basics of the idea take root and grow among the constituencies and organizers needed if it’s to become what we need. I hope a broadly-based coalition comes together very soon to discuss and make decisions about how to advance the best of these and related ideas

We need a movement that is multi-issue—Arthur identifies most of them—and we need a movement that is broadly-based, much more than just the super-dedicated types. We need a movement that, from the beginning, involves leadership from important grassroots-based, community and labor organizing efforts, especially in communities of color and definitely involving youth. It can’t just be people like Waskow and Glick, for example. I am sure Arthur would agree.

There are two other things that I hope would be part of any discussions about how to move this good idea forward.

One is whether it would be possible for an “up the ante” action to take place in connection with, or as a main focus of, such a unified effort. What I’m thinking about is something like an encampment—a tent city–in Washington, D.C. of thousands of people who come not just for one day but for a number of days, saying with their bodies that we are sick and tired of a dysfunctional political system for virtually everyone except the corporate and banking elite and the Pentagon.

The other is that there needs to be discussion from the beginning about this coalition for unified action this year being an on-going thing, not a one-time or a one-year effort. We need something like an on-going United Progressives network which empowers the overall progressive movement via a consistent and visible presence on the national scene.

It is much, much easier to write about the need for such a thing than to build it. I know this from personal experience. But the fact is that the critical mass of progressive leaders necessary to bring this about will not gel unless it is something we are talking about now, taking whatever steps we can make to advance toward this objective as soon as possible.

We must never forget the exemplary, humble, courageous and wise leader, Howard Zinn. And there can be no better way to honor him than to follow his lead in this year 2010 to generate the unified grassroots pressure from below, from the left side of the political spectrum, that he correctly saw as both needed and right on time.

Ted Glick is active in the climate movement and the independent politics movement. Past writings, including his recently-completed book, “Love Refuses to Quit: Climate Change and Social Change in the 21st Century,” are accessible at