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Zinn: Change brought about by people, not presidents

Forty-eight percent of Americans may still be reeling from a loss in the recent election, but it is clear that while they lost the battle, they stand determined to win the movement.

This message was made apparent as famed historian Howard Zinn addressed a crowd of more than 500 students, teachers and activists at the Special Events Center on Tuesday night.

“Change does not come because we elect one guy over another. What brings about change is a movement amongst the people,” Zinn said.

Making his name as the author of books such as The People’s History of the United States, Zinn has given a voice to the downtrodden and disenfranchised of society. In his books, he tries to empower thousands by showing the harsh realities of history and teaching what is not commonly found in textbooks.

“The Constitution of the United States starts, ‘We the people,’ but it wasn’t the people, it was 55 white men,” Zinn said. “Do you think the 20 percent of the population that were black slaves thought of them as the founding fathers? They fashioned a Constitution that legitimized slavery, and right from the beginning we were divided into rich/poor, landlord/slave and a host of other class relationships.”

These divisions ultimately stem from what Kurt Vonnegut termed a granfalloon in his novel Cat’s Cradle, Zinn explained: The idea that there is always some commonality that binds people together for some unseen benefit. Those in power tend to legitimize this through phrases such as national unity, national defense or national security, Zinn continued.

He went on to talk of his experiences as a bombardier in the Air Force during World War II and how Americans are always led to believe that it was the “good war.”

“It is used over and over again to show that war is ok,” Zinn said. “There is a logical jump that people make that if they are the bad guys, then we are the good guys, but that is not always the case. Just as there were things that Hitler did that were atrocities, there were things the United States did that were atrocities. War corrupts everybody.”

Zinn pointed to numbers that prove his point: fifty million people died in World War II, he said. In one night, 100,000 people were killed when Tokyo was set on fire by an impressive array of Allied bombs, he continued; in one instant, 200,000 people were killed when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Unfortunately, Zinn explained, these people are likened to inevitabilities or casualties of war.

The fact, according to Zinn, that 50 million people can be denigrated to an inevitability only shows the extent to which this idea of a granfalloon has consumed public opinion. It is quite outlandish that people are willing to accept more than 50 million deaths as justifiable, Zinn said.

Nevertheless, the power to change this lays within the very people it effects, Zinn said.

“Movements have a trajectory, and at almost every point they seem destined to fail,” Zinn said. “But democracy only comes alive when ordinary people begin to act and persist, take risks and have faith.”