Hope and Resistance: Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century
Written by GRB on 04/07/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Today, in this special broadcast, we look at Voices of a People’s History, inspired by the late great historian Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking book, A People’s History of the United States, which helped reshape how history is taught in classrooms.
Twenty years ago, Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove began organizing public readings of historical texts referenced in A People’s History of the United States. The two would go on to publish a book collecting these texts under the title Voices of a People’s History of the United States.
While Howard Zinn died in 2010, his work continues to inspire millions across the country and the globe. Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin have just published a new book, titled Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century: Documents of Hope and Resistance. It gathers more than 100 speeches, essays and other documents of activism, protest and social change.
I recently spoke with Anthony and Haley to talk about the book and about recent live readings from the text. I began by asking Anthony Arnove to talk about Howard Zinn.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Howard was born 101 years ago in Brooklyn to working-class immigrant parents. He, from a very young age, was actually involved in political organizing, worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, had a number of working-class jobs around New York City and was around people who were talking about the need to fight for better working conditions, opposing racism. And then Howard entered World War II, where he was a bombardier. And that was an experience that profoundly transformed him. He came home a determined antiwar activist and someone who dedicated his life to opposing U.S. empire.
He then went from that experience to studying on the GI Bill and becoming a historian, where his first assignment as a teacher was at Spelman College right at the very beginning of the civil rights movement. And he threw himself completely into that movement. He said that he learned more from his students than his students learned from him as a teacher. He had students like Bernice Johnson Reagon, students like Alice Walker and others, who were some of the earliest participants in the civil rights movement in the South. He threw himself into those struggles very actively.
And in fact, as a result of that, he was pushed out of Spelman College by the administration and then migrated north to Boston, where he actually taught in the Political Science Department, because he was kind of pushed to the margins of the historian’s profession because of his involvement in civil rights organizing, which then transitioned very naturally into his work against the Vietnam War. He was one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War, wrote a very important book called Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. He then, of course, ran afoul of the administration at Boston University, where he was teaching, again threw himself into supporting efforts by the staff at that university to organize, supporting students who were speaking out against injustice.
And then, all of this work culminated in 1980 with the publication of A People’s History of the United States, which really provides a groundbreaking rethinking of the entire history of the United States, from the bottom up, a perspective that radically rethinks the way that our history is taught.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to say, when I saw the two of you, Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin, on the stage at Town Hall, it really was a beautiful sight. You have a generation between you. And, Haley, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you discovered Howard Zinn’s writing and how you came to co-edit this book?
HALEY PESSIN: I discovered Howard Zinn as a high school student. So I was lucky to have A People’s History of the United States as one of the textbooks that we read. And I really read it voraciously, in a way that no textbook had ever really grabbed my attention. This one was very much a breath of fresh air, because I was an activist.
And it was a book that began with Christopher Columbus, but really unpacked his actual legacy, in his own words, through his diaries, showing that rather than the brave explorer that we were all taught to admire growing up, he immediately saw that his job while being in the New World was to enslave and to, you know, kill Indians, to kill Native Americans. So, seeing that and understanding that this was the history that this country was founded on was really profound.
But also, the acts of resistance at every stage of history, whether by enslaved people against slavery or by labor activists against their conditions of work or antiwar resisters or civil rights activists — this was a history from the bottom up, that was really about not great people or usually great men whose actions were usually taught to see as shaping history, but a history that is actually shaped by ordinary people acting in concert, acting collectively and acting on their own behalf to change the world. And so, that really profoundly shaped my understanding of history and of what’s possible.
I then did, you know, a number of activist projects. I’ve been involved in Palestine solidarity work and abortion rights work and a number of other things, labor rights. And through that work, I got to meet Anthony, who heads Haymarket Books, is one of the founders of Haymarket Books. And we use their books as, you know, a resource in a lot of activist work and education. And so, we met in that way.
And I was truly honored when Anthony invited me to co-edit this new edition of the book. The previous edition, which is encompassing the entirety of U.S. history, was beginning to get a little bit long as more and more things were added to the book, more and more people’s voices. And so, our editor, Dan Simon, had the idea that we should actually create a new book which focused primarily on the 21st century, so voices from the last 20 years of social movements like Occupy Wall Street, like the antiwar movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like the Standing Rock movement and Black Lives Matter, and all the movements that have shaped the last 20 years. And so, knowing that I was a student of that history and that method of learning history and how inspired I’ve been by Howard Zinn’s work, I couldn’t be more, you know, pleased and grateful to be part of this.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re not just a co-editor, Haley. One of your speeches on abortion is included in this collection, right? Can you talk about what you spoke about there, and also the whole issue of — I hope it’s not an illegal word yet — intersectionality? As you know, Ron DeSantis enters the presidential race, the whole banning of books, which leads to people feeling like they’re having forbidden discussions and ideas, and intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, certainly among those concepts that have been — or, they’re attempting, it seems, to erase.
HALEY PESSIN: Yes. So, I’ll start with my speech. So, I gave the speech at a rally in New York a few months, actually, before the fall of Roe v. Wade, the historic abortion rights Supreme Court decision. And so, I was with activists who were concerned about this, and had been concerned for years, but were specifically concerned as people organizing in New York City, where, you know, we’re considered being in a blue state where abortion rights are protected. And, in fact, the right wing has been emboldened even here to attack people at clinics. The NYPD escorts the anti-abortion activists who, you know, essentially, try to harass people outside of clinics and make it that much harder for them to access what is supposedly a right in this state. And so, we began organizing.
And the speech that I gave was really to speak to, one, the fact that we couldn’t be complacent here, that this issue, affecting primarily states that are so-called red states, was actually important to the entire country regardless of where we were, but also to call out the fact that while these efforts were being driven primarily by Republican lawmakers, it was the concessions by Democrats over the years that had made those rollbacks more likely and much more possible, including things like calling abortion something that should be safe, legal and rare, rather than something that is fundamental to women’s rights, to the right of all people who can become pregnant, to bodily autonomy, to decide their futures economically and their fates. And so, I wanted to draw out those issues together as things that we would not be able to rely on Democrats in office to defend these rights for us, but that we would have to defend them ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you introduce us, Haley, to a speech that Kerry Washington reads, the great actor, of Angela Davis? Talk about the place where Angela gave this. It fits right in to what you’re talking about right now.
HALEY PESSIN: Yes. So, the speech that Kerry Washington read was given by Angela Davis, the great civil rights activist and feminist, at the Women’s March on Washington, the largest protest, single-day protest, in U.S. history, on January 21st, 2017.
AMY GOODMAN: And this, of course, was the day after President Trump was inaugurated.
ANGELA DAVIS: [read by Kerry Washington] At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we, the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism and heteropatriarchy from rising again.
We recognize that we are collective agents of history and that history cannot be deleted like web pages. We know that we gather this afternoon on Indigenous land. And we follow the lead of the First Peoples, who, despite massive genocidal violence, have never relinquished the struggle for land, water, culture, their people. No, we salute especially today the Standing Rock Sioux.
The freedom struggles troubles of Black people, that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history, cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that Black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means, for better or worse, the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history. No human being is illegal.
The struggle to save the planet, to stop climate change, to guarantee the accessibility of water, from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux to Flint, Michigan, to the West Bank and Gaza, the struggle to save our flora and fauna, to save the air, this is ground zero for the struggle for social justice.
This is a women’s march, and this women’s march represents the promise of feminism as against the pernicious powers of state violence, an inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to antisemitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.
Yes, we salute the Fight for 15. We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance — resistance to the billionaire mortgage profiteers and gentrifiers; resistance to the healthcare privateers; resistance to the attacks on Muslims and on immigrants; resistance to attacks on disabled people; resistance to state violence perpetrated by the police and through the prison-industrial complex; resistance to institutional and intimate gender violence, especially against trans women of color.
Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet. And that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine.
Over the next months and years, we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice, to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white, male heteropatriarchy had better watch out. The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance — resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music. This is just the beginning. And in the words of the inimitable Ella Baker, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Angela Davis, or, I should say, Kerry Washington, the great actor, reading Angela Davis’s speech given at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21st, 2017, the day after President Trump was inaugurated. The crowd that filled the Mall and beyond that day was far larger — I’m sure, to the personal horror of President Trump — than those who attended his own inauguration.
Anthony, I was wondering if you can introduce the next clip from the Oscar-winning actor Ariana DeBose. Give us the context for what she’s reading and who she’s reading.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yes. She’s reading a speech by Elvira Arellano, who sought sanctuary in a church in Chicago, who was fighting her deportation by the U.S. government, and who very boldly defied the deportation order against her.
AMY GOODMAN: And as we go into this speech, she was what? In Chicago. And like many immigrants, I mean, she was leading a movement of people who took refuge in churches so they wouldn’t be deported.
ELVIRA ARELLANO: [read by Ariana DeBose] Today I was ordered by the Department of Homeland Security to turn myself in for deportation at 10 West Jackson Street in Chicago, Illinois. I believe that this order is selective, vindictive, retaliatory and inhumane.
In the three years since I was first arrested in my home, in front of my son, I have struggled day in and day out for all of the 12 million undocumented in this country, for the families and for their children. I am not a criminal. I am not a terrorist. I am a mother and a worker.
I am also a person of faith and scripture. In the Book of Acts, Peter tells the authorities, “I leave it to you to judge whether I should obey you or obey God. But for my part, I cannot deny what I have seen and heard.” What I have seen and heard is the injustices of a broken law heaped upon our families. We are welcomed here to work and pay taxes. And now we are being tortured and our families broken to serve the interests of racist politicians.
President Bush has said he is in favor of legalization. He has said that family values do not stop at the Rio Grande. And yet, President Bush is pursuing a relentless policy of raids, deportations, separation of families, and sanctions. This is hypocrisy. I cannot submit to hypocrisy. My faith will not let me.
I have asked for and been granted sanctuary by my church. I am here, and I will remain here for as long as necessary. If Homeland Security chooses to send its agents on the holy ground to arrest me, then I will know that God wants me to be an example of the hatred and hypocrisy of the current policy of this government. I am at peace with my decision.
I have instructed my attorney to send a letter to Ms. Deborah Achim at Homeland Security informing her of my decision and my location. I have done this because I do not wish my friends and community to be subjected to raids and harassment. Nor do I want Homeland Security to use me as an excuse to arrest and deport others like me and to destroy their families and the lives of their children. Let this press conference put it on the public record that Homeland Security knows where I am. I am not a criminal. I am not a terrorist. I am a mother.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the statement of Elvira Arellano, an immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church, where she sought sanctuary from deportation. Her speech was read by the Oscar-winning actor Ariana DeBose.
Anthony, I’m wondering if you can lay out for us how you chose all of these speeches and the sections that you and Haley divided them into.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: We had the benefit of the original work that I was able to do with Howard Zinn covering some of the early years of the period covered in this new book. Some of this material we first encountered on your program, Amy, and in other independent media outlets who were sharing these important voices that should be far more widely known than they are. And we then, Haley and I, started working around two years ago, sifting through that material and trying to identify those voices that really spoke most powerfully to the dynamic issues of the century.
And increasingly also, we were discovering that the voices that are gathered in this book are often not speaking to a single issue, but finding connections between various forms of injustice, making those very important connections that are embodied in the term you brought up earlier, intersectionality. And, of course, the book includes a speech by Kimberlé Crenshaw, whose work is under attack not only for intersectionality, but critical race theory, and also a statement by the African American Policy Forum that she directs.
So, we really had the benefit of Howard’s input, the work of actors and students who read these pieces over the years on various stages and in various classes. And then, I really am grateful for Haley’s own experience as an organizer and her ability to speak to speeches that she had heard or been inspired by in her own right.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Haley Pessin, we’re speaking in the midst of the Writers Guild of America strike. Thousands of people are on picket lines across the country. Introduce us to what Rosario Dawson, the great actor, read at your big opening splash of this book in Town Hall.
HALEY PESSIN: Yes, Rosario Dawson read a statement by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. This was 700,000 farmworkers, female farmworkers, who stood with Hollywood actors against sexual assault at the height of #MeToo in November of 2017.
ALIANZA NACIONAL DE CAMPESINAS: [read by Rosario Dawson] Dear Sisters,
We write on behalf of the approximately 700,000 women who work in the agricultural fields and packing sheds across the United States. For the past several weeks we have watched and listened with sadness as we have learned of the actors, models and other individuals who have come forward to speak out about the gender-based violence they’ve experienced at the hands of bosses, co-workers and other powerful people in the entertainment industry. We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well. Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work.
We do not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen. We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country. Your job feeds souls, fills hearts and spreads joy. Our job nourishes the nation with the fruits, vegetables and other crops that we plant, pick and pack.
Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security. Like you, there are few positions available to us and reporting any kind of harm or injustice committed against us doesn’t seem like a viable option. Complaining about anything — even sexual harassment — seems unthinkable because too much is at risk, including the ability to feed our families and preserve our reputations.
We understand the hurt, confusion, isolation and betrayal that you might feel. We also carry shame and fear resulting from this violence. It sits on our backs like oppressive weights. But, deep in our hearts we know that it is not our fault. The only people at fault are the individuals who choose to abuse their power to harass, threaten and harm us, like they have harmed you.
In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.
Alianza Nacional de Campesinas
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the great actor Rosario Dawson reading Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. Seven hundred thousand female farmworkers say they stand with Hollywood actors against sexual assault. And this was, again, in the first year of the Trump administration, November of 2017.
Anthony, if you can introduce us to what actress Laura Gómez reads, and why you included this in the collection?
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yes, this is a speech by Gustavo Madrigal Piña, who was a student in Georgia, a undocumented student, who was speaking out against the efforts in Georgia, which, of course, were part of broader national efforts to remove undocumented students from opportunities to access education and other public resources. And he speaks out very forcefully as someone who calls himself “undocumented and unafraid.”
GUSTAVO MADRIGAL PIÑA: [read by Laura Gómez] Hello, everyone. My name is Gustavo. I am undocumented, and I am unafraid.
I was brought here to this country at the age of 9 by my parents. Ever since, many people have asked me what brought my family to this country. The answer has always been simple and always been the same: poverty. My parents had to make a life-or-death choice between living in poverty or to go out and search for a better life.
I said “life-or-death choice” because our journey to the United States brought us a couple of times close to death. I remember the second time of walking through the desert, my mom collapsed from the heat. Now, we were very lucky to have such generous people traveling with us who gave us their water so that my mom could drink it, get up and keep walking. I am eternally grateful to them.
At the end of the journey, we were kidnapped, kidnapped by a gang. Me and my sister, we were 9 and 8 years old at that time. They didn’t care. They stripped all of us of our clothes, our money and our dignity. Luckily, we were let go, and we eventually made it to Griffin, Georgia, which would become my family’s home.
I don’t blame my parents for the situation that I’m in. I am grateful to them. I realize that they made the responsible and courageous choices that they had to make, that any parent in that situation, in those shoes, would have made for their kids.
Why am I sharing this with you today? It’s not to gain your sympathy, but to obtain your support, to show you that I am not an “illegal alien,” that I am indeed a human being, a human being with rights.
In these troubled economic times, the state of Georgia has decided to make me and my fellow undocumented brothers and sisters an enemy and a scapegoat. First they banned us from the top five universities here in the state of Georgia, no matter how qualified we are to attend those institutions. And then they criminalized our very own existence and livelihood through H.B. 87.
Well, I’m here to tell the state of Georgia that I’m not going down without a fight, that I am here to fight for my brothers and sisters. I’m here to tell the state of Georgia that I refuse to become a second-class citizen. I refuse to let anyone — anyone — become a second-class citizen. I will put up resistance as long as there is blood pumping through my veins.
And I am also here to ask you to join me and my undocumented brothers and sisters in the fight of our lives. We need to fight back. We need to organize through the struggles that we all share as part of the working class. And together we can beat H.B. 87, overturn the ban, and win social justice and educational equality for all.
My name is Gustavo Madrigal. I am undocumented, unafraid and unashamed.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the actor Laura Gómez reading Gustavo Madrigal Piña’s “Undocumented and Unafraid” at Lincoln Center. When we come back, we’ll talk more about Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century: Documents of Hope and Resistance. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Everybody Deserves to Be Free,” Deva Mahal and the Resistance Revival Chorus. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We continue our conversation with Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin, co-editors of the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century: Documents of Hope and Resistance. The collection is inspired by the historian Howard Zinn’s landmark book, A People’s History of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, if you can talk about the venues you’ve used? And here you have Howard Zinn writing A People’s History of the United States, that sold millions of copies. And he’s quoting different people, you know, movers and shakers, especially within movements. But he found that to be able to actually print the whole speeches meant so much, which is why — is that right? — the two of you put together these books. And now the third edition has come out from Voices of a People’s History of the United States, publishing that several times, expanded, and now Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yeah, Amy. What Howard described to me when we first talked about this project was that A People’s History of the United States, clearly, as you mentioned earlier, took on a real life that no one could have expected for a book that in its first printing was a run of 5,000 copies. And it has now sold more than 4 million copies. And that’s just the official sales figures. We know that people are sharing used copies, taking out copies from libraries. Teachers are photocopying chapters to bring them into the classroom. People are passing along dog-eared copies to friends and family members. So, the impact is far greater than that 4 million figure can possibly capture.
But when Howard and I were working together, he said that he realized that one of the things that was most powerful about A People’s History of the United States was the way that readers encountered their voices, like Fannie Lou Hamer and Eugene Debs and Frederick Douglass and others, that they had not encountered in their traditional textbooks in education, or had encountered in ways that completely marginalized the real drive and passion and force of their ideas. And so he had this idea of gathering together an archive, an anthology, of some of those voices that he had drawn on and that had inspired him in writing A People’s History of the United States.
And then this interesting milestone occurred, where — this was in the early 2000s — HarperCollins, the publisher of A People’s History of the United States, saw that they were about to sell the 1 millionth copy. And they came to Howard, and they said, “Well, we’d like to do something to mark this occasion.” And their idea was to have an academic conference, to have historians gather and talk about the book. And Howard said, “I would not be caught dead at such a conference, but I have another idea. Anthony and I are working on this other project, gathering these documents together. We would like to perform them on stage.”
And 20 years ago, in fact, in February at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, we had that very first performance. You were there. And on stage we had Kurt Vonnegut, the great novelist from Indiana, reading Eugene Debs, who, of course, was also himself from Indiana. Other artists that night included Marisa Tomei, who was just part of our performance 20 years later at the Town Hall; James Earl Jones, the great actor; Patti Smith, the musician.
And that night, something really magical happened. I mean, Howard and I went into that night with a little bit of trepidation. This is not a fancy performance. There’s no blocking or staging or set design. It was just a microphone, some music stands and some chairs on a stage. But it was so powerful to be in a room hearing how these voices from the past spoke to the present, and hearing them in a collective setting that really made it feel so immediate and so alive, and reminded us that we’re constantly a part of history and the making of history, and that when we speak up and when we get together and organize collectively, we can change history.
AMY GOODMAN: Haley Pessin, introduce us to Susan Bro and what we’re about to watch and hear.
HALEY PESSIN: Yeah. So, at the Town Hall book launch, Marisa Tomei read the words of Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white supremacist at Charlottesville, whose car — he ran into a crowd of people. And this was read by Susan Bro at Heather’s funeral, which she had opened up to a larger group of people to collectively mourn the loss and to encourage them to fight against these far right.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this is Marisa Tomei, the great actor, reading the words of Susan Bro, who had just lost her daughter.
SUSAN BRO: [read by Marisa Tomei] My child’s famous Facebook post was: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” She paid attention. She made a lot of us pay attention. Oh, my gosh, dinner with her, we knew, was going to be an ordeal of listening. And conversation. And perhaps disagreement, but it was going to happen.
And we would talk about all this stuff. We talked about politics. We talked about anything that caught her eye that she felt was fair, unfair. She’d talk about her feelings about the police and how things were going. I mean, she just talked. The girl loved to talk. And she was single, so there was nobody listening at home, so mama got a lot of it. And that was wonderful.
You never think you’re going to bury your child. You never think to take those pictures. They asked me for pictures for this, and I struggled. I had pictures from her childhood. But I had to go to Facebook to find pictures of my child, because we were always together. So, you take pictures of the ones that you love, because you don’t know when they’re not going to be here.
But here’s what I want to say to you today. This could could all be for nothing. I could have said, “Let’s not do this publicly. Let’s have a small private funeral.” But, you know, that’s not who Heather was. And anybody who knew Heather said, “This is the way she had to go, big and large.” Had to have the world involved, because that’s my child. She’s that way. Always has been, and she will continue to be.
Because although Heather was a caring and she was a compassionate person, so are a lot of you. A lot of you — you — you go that extra mile. And I think that’s the reason that what happened to Heather has really struck a chord, because we know what she wanted to do, it’s achievable. But we don’t all have to die. We don’t have to sacrifice our lives. They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what. You just magnified her.
So, here’s what I want to happen. You ask me, “What can I do?” So many caring people, pages of pages of pages of stuff I’m going through. So, I’m reading pages and pages of how she’s touching the world. I want this to spread. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy. This is not the end of Heather’s legacy.
You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see — and you want to turn away: “I don’t know. I don’t really want to get involved with that, and I don’t want to speak up. They’ll be annoyed with me. My boss might think less of me.” I don’t care. You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you make it happen. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world.
My child had a high school education. My child was no saint. She was hard to raise, because everything was a negotiation. But you know what? She was a firm believer in whatever she believed. Let’s do that. Let’s find that spark of conviction. Let’s find in ourselves that action. Let’s spread this. Let’s have that uncomfortable dialogue.
It ain’t easy sitting down and saying, “Well, why are you upset?” It ain’t easy. It ain’t easy sitting down and going, “Yeah, well, I think this way. And I don’t agree with you, but I’m going to respectfully listen to what you have to say. We’re not going to sit around and shake hands and go ‘Kumbaya.’ I’m sorry, it’s not all about forgiveness. I know that’s not a popular trend. But the truth is, we’re going to have our differences. We’re going to be angry with each other. But let’s channel that anger into righteous action.”
So, remember in your heart: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. And I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong. Don’t ignore it. Don’t look the other way. You make a point to look at it, and say to yourself, “What can I do to make a difference?” And that’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but, by golly, if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Marisa Tomei reading the words of Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, at her funeral. Heather Heyer killed by a white supremacist who drove into a crowd of antiracist protesters after the “Unite the Right” march at the University of Virginia.
Finally, the latest Florida news, publisher Penguin Random House and PEN America are suing the Escambia County School District for banning books on race and LGBTQ issues, citing a violation of the First Amendment. The fight back against the banning of books, where you have a Texas county library saying if they’re being forced to put certain books on the shelves, they’ll close the library, or Missouri, the Legislature voting to defund the libraries. I want to get each of your final comments on this issue of the closing down of, the pushback on discourse, but how people are rising up. Let’s start with you, Anthony.
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, I think we have to start, Amy, from the question of why is the teaching of history so threatening to people in positions of power. They understand the force of people who are learning history, who are learning to think critically, who are questioning authority, who are learning to think for themselves. They’re very threatened by students like Haley encountering a book such as A People’s History of the United States in their high school classroom, people encountering the work of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw, concepts like intersectionality, antiracist education. That threatens them. And so there’s a very serious backlash taking place.
But I am encouraged, as you say, by the examples of resistance. One of my favorites is the Brooklyn Public Library opening up their digital collection to high school students around the country and saying, “If there’s an effort to ban books where you are, check the book out from our library.”
AMY GOODMAN: And, Haley Pessin, we give you the last word.
HALEY PESSIN: Yes. So, one of the pieces featured in the book is by Jesse Hagopian, “I am not afraid to teach truth.” And I think that’s important, because teachers are going to be one of the frontlines, students are going to be one of the frontlines, in resisting these kinds of attacks.
And I think what our hope is for the book is that this will actually be a resource for folks, whether it’s in committing to teach some of the pieces in the book for days of action, whether it’s in making performances more widely accessible to people. One of the wonderful things that the Voices performance project does is work with young people and have students also put on these performances. And it’s something you can do anywhere.
And so, our hope is that it will be a tool for people to learn not just prior history, but really recent history, and how people have fought back, how people have resisted their own conditions of oppression, and, most importantly, how people have acted in solidarity because they’ve recognized the links between these different struggles. And that is a key theme of the book, that none of these struggles are really separate, that it actually matters that we are fighting together. And that’s the way that we’ll win.
AMY GOODMAN: Haley Pessin and Anthony Arnove, co-editors of the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century: Documents of Hope and Resistance.
And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.