On Monday night, author, professor and activist Dr. Howard Zinn spoke at D.C.‘s Busboys and Poets restaurant to address the future of the Obama administration and the current state of foreign affairs in the United States.
A crowd packed the venue to capacity with many people huddled outside in the drizzle listening to the speech through a single outdoor speaker.
Though billed to talk about his upcoming film, “The People Speak,” Zinn, 87, spent most of the night lecturing on the economic crisis and President Barack Obama.
Zinn is the author of “A People’s History of the United States.” He is also a professor emeritus at Boston University, a distinguished Fulbright professor at the University of Bologna and holds a doctorate from Columbia University.
Zinn began his speech with a bit of humor aimed at the Bush Administration.
“There is different atmosphere in D.C., the overwhelming feeling of relief, of ‘wow, they’re gone, the gang’s gone,’” he said.
Though staunchly critical of the Bush years, Zinn did not hesitate to take aim at President Barack Obama. He stated that Obama was not willing or ready to make the fundamental changes necessary to meet the recent economic crisis, and has been too willing to yield to corporate interests.
“Obama has made a lot of wonderful promises, but he is a politician, and he is surrounded by politicians, people who show no signs of departing from the past,” he said.
Amanda Patino, a freshman in the School of International Service listened to Zinn from outside the packed café.
“He definitely isn’t favoring Obama, even though he’s very liberal,” she said. “The fact that he holds both poles of the political spectrum to the same high standard is admirable.”
A recurring theme of Zinn’s speech was the necessity for a change of the national mindset. He said Obama has shown the potential to bring about great change, but has done little to prove it.
“Howard Zinn is a rare breed among historians,” said Dr. Peter Kuznick, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History.
“He openly sides with people fighting for peace and social justice, passionately narrating the struggles of workers, women, Native Americans, slaves, dissenters, rebels and oppressed people everywhere - struggles that have made this country what it is, in a positive sense,” Kuznick said. “He also shines a light on the dark side of American history to show how much better this country could be if it lived up to its highest ideals.”
During a question and answer section, an audience member asked Zinn for his opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the recent conflict in Gaza.
“I am angry, troubled, touched and heartbroken by the recent events in Gaza,” Zinn said.
He criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza and stated that the ratio of deaths suffered by the people of Gaza compared to those suffered by the Israelis was “inexcusable” and could not be “accepted silently.”
Zinn ended the night by proposing a set of goals the United States should strive to achieve.
“[We should become] a nation that is liked all around the world, a nation that is not feared, a nation that is peaceful,” said Zinn. “If that makes me a dreamer than yeah, I am a dreamer. We want a peaceful world and a decent society.”
Before stepping off stage, Zinn turned around and addressed the crowd that had gathered behind him outside.
“Thanks for standing out there in the rain, it’s courageous, and now that you know my ideas, go home, have a nice cup of tea.”