Zinn Criticizes Democrats and Gives Advice to Progressives
In an interview with Shelly R. Fredman in the May/June issue of Tikkun, progressive historian Howard Zinn criticizes the Democrats and makes some recommendations for progressives.
There is no 'magical tactic;' What succeeds is building up and escalating protest and resistance:
SF: Has the Left responded adequately to the kind of fascism we see coming from Bush’s people? Street protests seem to be ineffective; it’s sometimes disheartening.Democrats not only lack a spiritual message, 'they don't even have a political message,' are dependent on corporations, and are incompetent when it comes to winning elections:
HZ: The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones—protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience—but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time.
If you listen to the media, you get no sense of what’s happening. I speak to groups of people in different parts of the country. I was in Austin, Texas recently and a thousand people showed up. I believe people are basically decent, they just lack information….
SF: Where do you see the Democrats in all this? What of their role, their responsibility?Hillary Clinton is too opportunistic, Obama overly cautious -- Marian Wright Edelman for President!
HZ: The Democratic Party is pitiful. Not only are they not articulating a spiritual message, as Lerner says, they don’t even have a political message. The Democrats are tied to corporate wealth. And they are incompetent when it comes to understanding how to win elections. By the time Kerry ran, the public had actually shifted. Fifty percent were against the war. The Democrats should have been saying they would end the war, and make those dollars available for healthcare.
SF: What about the upcoming crop of presidential candidates—Hillary Clinton, for instance?Will it really take a third party to transform the Democratic Party, which has become a 'closed circle'? How likely is that to succeed in the US political system? Bill Domhoff, along with many other social scientists, is highly skeptical and recommends to transform the Democratic Party by running more and more progressive candidates: Third Parties Don't Work: Why and How Egalitarians Should Transform the Democratic Party, March 2005.
HZ: Hillary Clinton is so opportunistic. She goes where the wind is blowing. She doesn’t say what needs to be said. And Barack Obama is cautious. He’s better than Clinton, but I’d suggest Marian Wright Edelman as the Democratic candidate for president. She's the epitome of what we need. A very smart black woman who deals with children, poverty…. She’s in the trenches, and she ties it in with militarization. But she doesn’t come out of government.
That’s another problem—the Democratic Party is a closed circle. It may take a threatening third party to shake things up.
According to Zinn, Michael Lerner overestimates the importance of spiritual values. Even Tikkun is too intellectual. Instead, progressives need to articulate the spiritual in more emotional terms and communicate a clear and coherent message in a language people actually do understand, along the lines of Barbara Ehrenreich's writings:
My differences with Lerner, though, reside in the proportion of attention he pays to spiritual values. These are important, but they’re not the critical issue. The issue is how are people living and dying. People are dying in Iraq and our wealth is being squandered on war and the military budget.
SF: Don’t you believe the Left needs to address spiritual needs to win? How else can we galvanize the heartland, people taken in by the religious rhetoric of Bush?
HZ: Yes, there are special needs and they need to be addressed. But after the last election there was a kind of hysteria among liberal pundits about a “failure” to deal with the moral issues. There is a hard core for whom religion is key. They are maybe twenty-five percent of the population. It’s a mistake to try to appeal to that hard core.
I define the spiritual in emotional terms—to the extent that religion can draw on the Ten Commandments (for example, thou shalt not kill), it is important. And I find the spiritual in the arts, because they nourish the spirit and move people. Artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, for example, and now Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. We need more of these.
It’s not that people are turned off by the Left. The Left hasn’t reached out to people with a clear, coherent, and emotional message. The Left often does not know how to talk to other people. Tikkun itself appeals to intellectuals.
I’ve never spoken the language of ivory tower academics. And there are other voices on the Left that speak in understandable language. For instance, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, in which she took menial jobs across the country and wrote about those lives, was a bestseller. There’s an emotionalism to her message that makes contact and touches thousands. Michael Moore’s movies have been seen by all sorts of people. GI’s in Iraq watched his movie. We just have to do more along those lines.