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Howard Zinn

"People Still Have Power"


The stock market the last 15 years has gone up 400 percent and the wages of working people have gone down 15 percent. That's the situation we're in today where there's the veneer of luxury. ... There are more sweatshops in New York City today than there were at the turn of the century.... The Labor Department did not have enough inspectors to go around to make sure the minimum wage laws were enforced, but at the same time President Clinton said we need more people to go into the factories to make sure there are no illegal immigrants working there. There are a lot of sick things behind this layer of prosperity in this country.


Something is very desperately, basically and deeply wrong with this country and not only do we know it ... but I believe the people out in the country -- Americans -- know in large numbers that something is wrong. You know that they don't believe in that kind of democracy represented in the voting booth because half of them don't go and half of those who do go don't have any enthusiasm.


And you know that when they take surveys of public opinion, and surveys are inherently conservative, it shows that the public is far ahead of the Democratic and Republican parties on all the major issues of the government helping people, on issues of the single-payer health system, on issues of taxing the rich and of people to be willing to be taxed themselves if it is for good causes like health or education or protecting the environment and people want a new independent political force in this country other than the Republican and Democratic parties that have given them this ridiculously limited choice.


So I think we have this reservoir of understanding in the country which doesn't have an opportunity to express itself but that's what movements are for, to give them an opportunity to express what they feel and given them an opportunity to act out how they feel. And there are divisions that are necessary and people need to get beyond what is given to them ... and once again put visions before people that actually correspond to what people in some part of themselves really know and believe.


Yes, that vision represented by the Declaration of Independence of the equal right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and a principle that should be extended beyond American citizens and there should be no differentiation between immigrants, Americans, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, your kids deserve this, your kids don't deserve this ...


The Declaration of Independence needs to be extended to everybody, including those people outside the boundaries of the United States. If all people really are to be treated as equals, then the children of other countries are equal to the children of our country and the starvation of kids ... If we adopted that principle we could not have a war machine and we would have to renounce war because war would mean killing our own children. ...


There are visions in the Declaration of Independence and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which, unlike our Constitution, sets forth the principles of economic rights of the rights to work, the right to housing, the right to health, the rights to all the things you need to pursue happiness. So these visions are there for us to hold up to people and inspire people and to get people moving to act. And once people get moving to act they realize how much power they have. And people who at one time or another have been awed by the immense power that the establishment have and corporations have and once you begin to act and you see how fragile that power is and how somebody like Jesse Jackson can get on television and call for a boycott of Texaco and immediately Texaco caves in ... the boycott is a very powerful weapon and people have it as consumers and workers. ...


Howard Zinn is a historian and playwright.