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October 24, 1990 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-10-24

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, October 24, 1990 - Page 7

Zinn speaks to inspire '90s activists

by Mark Buchan
Howard Zinn has taught history
and political science at Boston Uni-
versity, where he is now a professor
emeritus. He is the author of A Peo-
ple's History of the United States.
His most recent book is Declara-
tions of Independence: Cross-exam-
ining American Ideology. Zinn will
be speaking tonight as part of Stu-
dents' Rights/Activism Week.
MB: In one passage of your
book, you talk of how you had been
knocked unconscious by a police of-
ficer while holding a banner at a
demonstration, and that this made
you lose all desire for 'objectivity,'
whether in life or history. What ef-
fect did this incident have on you?
HZ: A very powerful effect. I was
17 years old, and a few of my
'radical' friends had persuaded me to
go to a demonstration in Times
Square. It was a peaceful demonstra-
tion, and yet the police decided to
charge the demonstrators. I was
turned round, spun round and
knocked unconscious.
I remember very well the feeling
of waking up a few hours later, and
seeing Times Square deserted. It was
very eerie; a few hours before, thou-
sands of people had been there. I had
* always been brought up to believe
that the police, the state, were there
to keep order, to protect the people.
But for the first time, the things
some of my friends had been saying
about a 'ruling class' began to make
some sense; the police were not
there to protect 'the people,' but
only the interests of a certain privi-
leged group.
' MB: What do you say to people
who agree that this happened in the
past, but that it couldn't happen to-

day, couldn't happen now?
HZ: I think that it's just not true.
Certainly during the Vietnam War,
police were used to break up peaceful
demonstrations again and again. And
today, thousands of people protest-
ing against nuclear weapons have
suffered in the same way. And
should opposition to the potential
war in the Persian Gulf increase, the
forces of the 'state' will be used
again.

Arawak Indians he slaughtered is
somehow not 'objective.' It is
'objective' to talk of the rapid indus-
trialization of the United States, and
of the companies that engineered it,
but not to talk of the thousands of
workers who actually created that
wealth, their struggle for humane
working conditions and a living
wage.
MB: Have you experienced any
harrassment from the university au-
thorities for the way you teach?
Zinn: Well, yes. The president of
the university for much of my time
here has been the somewhat notori-
ous John Silber. Here is a man who
has sent in police against students to
break up demonstrations, who has
sent in police to bust union pickets.
He has openly tried to fire not only
me, but four other professors here;
fortunately, I already had tenure be-
fore he arrived, and so had some pro-
tection. And I have managed, by tak-
ing wage cuts, to retain some sort of
academic independence.
MB: Silber is running as gover-
nor. What do you think of this?
Zinn: The fact that he is running
as a Democrat underlines the lack of
real political choice in this country.
He openly boasts that he voted for
Reagan and Bush, and yet runs as a
Democrat, which suggests to me
that there is no real, important dif-
ference between the parties. You can
vote for 'a' or 'b,' but c, d, e, or f
are not even considered options. The
Democrats or Republicans can argue
about whether or not to cut a few
billion from a three-hundred billion
dollar defense budget, but to claim
that we have enough weapons al-
ready, or to completely cut spending
isn't an option. They can argue
about how much to cut Medicare,

but the idea that medical care, or in-
deed education, should be free for ev-
eryone isn't an option.
MB: A chapter in your book is
entitled 'Second Thoughts on the
First Amendment.' What do you
think the point of free speech should
be?
HZ: Too many people think that
freedom of speech is an end in itself.
It is no more than a means to an
end. It should give space for radical
criticism of our society, which
would in turn allow us to re-evaluate
society and change it for the better.
MB: And is speech free' in this
country?
Zinn: The reality is that speech is
bought, sold and distributed in this
society in exactly the same way that
wealth is: unequally. If you pick up
the letters page of the New York
Times, you will find that of the one
percent of letters they print, nothing
can be considered anything more
than a little left or right of center.
What should be a forum for radical
criticism of society, and real dissent,
is simply not functioning. Mean-
while, Mobil Oil have been running
pieces on the page every week. The
fact is that Mobil can buy the space
to say whatever they want, whenever
they want to say it, in a way the
vast majority of people cannot.

Paris with the bass and drums playing
"The Devil Made Me Do It" counterpoint to it.

(12")
Tommy Boy
Simultaneously as rough and
smooth as the Black panther omi-
nously stalking across the tape
jacket, Paris kicks ballistics aimed at
poaching our nation's pigs. Paris'
panther struttin' is nothing like
L.L.'s (not Bean) though. Paris is
attuned to Amiri Baraka's idea that
style equals ideology: as. dope as
'Trane, as holy as Allah, as revolu-
tionary as Nkrumah.
With Uncle Sam and his fiery red
eyes "pointing his plastic finger" on
the cover, it is obvious who "triple
six" refers to. "The punk police"
with the mark of the beast are Sa-
tan's pawns in killing African Amer-
icans for lust and greed, they are the
harbingers of death, not only for the
Black race, but for "civilization" as a
whole. Paris signifies and drops sci-
ence in a style of spitting rage that
links generations of Black music
with Trotsky, Castro and Ho Chi
Minh.
Mad Mike scratches with
splintered iron claws over a claustro-
phobic distorted guitar riff, leaving
nothing but abrasive, rhythmic le-
sions that shatter into brilliant
stripes of Ashanti colors with the
haunting echoes of Denmark Vesey,
Toussaint L'Overture and Patrice
Lumumba. Mad Mike's assault is as
innovative as Jimmy Blanton's bass
playing on Ellington's "Jack the
Bear" in that his scratching functions
as the dominant rhythm in the song

Although it may cover the same
musical terrain as his last 12" "Break
the Grip of Shame," this time
around Paris' rhymes have been ar-
ranged in a statement of revolution
as simple and powerful as a raised
Black fist. "Now you know why the
panther went crazy/ The devil made
me..." is more than a justification
and a stern, solemn warning that
"food stamps and free cheese/ Aren't
the cure for a sick disease," it is a
short and potent summation of
African Americans' position in this
society - nothing but the sum to-
tal of white stereotypes of Black-
ness. Paris' style towers above bad-
ness- he becomes the epitome of
Baraka's In Our Terribleness: "I'll
spit on your flag and government/
Because help the Black was a con-
cept never meant/... Just as the devil
planned it/ Rape and pillage every-
one on the planet/ Give them false
gods at odds with Allah/ 'Love your
enemy' and all that hoopla."
Attacking the white devils and
assimilationist bourgeois move-
ments that shed more Black blood
than white with the same vehemence
as a gang of Klansmen fire bombing
a church in Alabama or an all-white
jury in Broward County cowering in
fear from the dreaded specter of mis-
cegenation, "The Devil Made Me Do
It" is absolutely essential listening
"unless you don't give a fuck to be
free."
-Peter Shapiro
See RECORDS, Page 8

Zinn
MB: What do you think academic
'objectivity' is?
HZ: First of all, I don't believe
there is any such thing. Different
people make different selections as
to which aspects of history they
choose to represent, and which they
choose to ignore. What is called
'objectivity,' is teaching history the
way it has always been taught, the
way professors in past generations
have chosen to teach it. It is history
from the perspective of the state, its
leaders. It is 'objective' to teach the
'discovery' of America from the per-
spective of Columbus; but to teach
it from the perspective of the

HOWARD ZINN will be speaking at
6 p.m. tonight, at Rackham Lecture
Hall, on "Student Activism:
Challenging the Knowledge
Factory."

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October 24, 1990

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