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'Read-in' Planned to Defend Zinn's Legacy

Following attacks on the late historian by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, activists are planning a "read-in" to celebrate Howard Zinn's life and work.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Jared and Corin via Wikimedia Commons

 

Scholars, activists and radicals from across the country are planning to gather on November 5 to celebrate the life and work of radical historian Howard Zinn.

The event, a public "read-in" of Zinn's work, is taking place at Purdue University, where Zinn's work has been the focus of attack by University President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Recently, the Associated Press revealed that in 2010, then-Gov. Daniels ordered his education officials to make sure Zinn's work was not being taught in Indiana schools. Daniels called Zinn "un-American" and a "fraud," and referred to his most popular book, A People's History of the United States , as full of "lies on every page."

But activists are gathering to defend Zinn's legacy from Daniels' attacks. Zinn dedicated his life to social and intellectual activism, an embodiment of his famous adage, "You can't be neutral on a moving train."

Major scholars, activists and organizations have endorsed the event, including philosopher Cornel West, University of California-Los Angeles historian Robin D.G. Kelley and former Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch. Organizations lending their name to the event include the Zinn Education Project, the Steering Committee of Historians Against the War, Veterans For Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, the Indiana Peacebuilding Program and the Hòa Bình Việt Nam, Chapter 160: The Việt Nam Chapter of Veterans For Peace. The Purdue University Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion also has made a generous financial contribution to the event.

A highlight of the event will be a public reading of a solidarity statement authored by actor and Zinn collaborator Matt Damon and his mother Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a scholar and advocate for public education.

The November 5 read-in will feature James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me ; historian and labor activist Staughton Lynd; former U.S. diplomat and peace activist Anne Wright; writer, filmmaker and co-editor with Zinn of Voices of a People's History of the United States Anthony Arnove; historian Alex Lichtenstein; and Seattle public school teacher, associate editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and founding member of Social Equality Educators Jesse Hagopian.

Support for the Zinn event has taken global and local turns. Les Mutins de Pangee , a French audiovisual company, is coming from Paris to film the read-in as part of a documentary on Zinn's life. Susan Curtis, a Purdue history professor, has begun a campaign to create a scholarship in Howard Zinn's name for a Purdue student in American Studies. The campaign has already raised several thousand dollars towards its $25,000 goal.

According to the organizers, one of the most significant financial donations to this event was by a Purdue undergraduate named Molly, who made a $5 pledge to help support the event. Molly's mother is an Indiana public school teacher who lost her job because of budget cuts to education during Mitch Daniels's tenure as governor. "It is this donation, above many others of a higher denominations, that makes us proud," said Tithi Bhattacharya, one of the organizers of the read-in.

The read-In will also be a nationwide event, with solidarity actions happening on several campuses. Faculty and students at Indiana University-South Bend, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, and Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne are holding solidarity events at their campuses alongside of similar events planned at Ohio State University, the University of Washington, the University of Chicago and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Purdue event will be live-streamed and available to viewers across the nation on the website WeAreMany.org. Haymarket Books in Chicago is also helping to sponsor the event and is making available new book titles by Howard Zinn, as well as Staughton and Alice Lynd's classic oral history of the labor movement, Rank and File .