Remembering Zinn: ‘You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train’

howardzinnI’m celebrating the life of Howard Zinn today. The New York Times obit is worth a read to recall his days with with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, later, traveling to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan.

Zinn was a wonderful example of the old adage that “teaching is just learning in public.” He put his considerable intellect and passion at the service of popular movements and generated a magical space for new life to come forth. The title of his memoir reflects his personal philosophy: You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

There’s a nice reflection on Zinn by Rabbi Art Waskow over at Sojourners. Waskow writes to Howard:

“If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik — a practitioner of tzedek, justice — could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it’s the memories and teachings you left us.”

Below is an excerpt a lovely essay remembering Zinn by Henry A. Giroux, It’s titled Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered:

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

Read Giroux’s whole essay here.

Protest Against Trains Carrying Depleted Uranium to Utah

DUprotestutahMarc Haddock had a brief news report in Deseret News on the protesters who came out against shipping depleted uranium into Utah. The trains are scheduled to start rolling across the country from Savannah to Utah sometime this week.

My favorite quote in the article is from Ed B. Firmage, emeritus law professor at the University of Utah, who says: “If you or I brought nuclear material into the state, we would be arrested as terrorists. So why can the state do it?”

It sounds like it’s time to relaunch the White Train resistance network. These were trains that transported the parts for nuclear weapons from the PanTex plant in Texas to various sites around the U.S.  (read more here).

Catholic pacifists Jim and Shelley Douglass were lead organizers for those who protested the trains by holding vigils on the train tracks. Often they sat on the tracks to block the trains and risked arrest. (The February 1984 issue of Sojourners magazine details this whole resistance movement.)

Here’s Haddock’s article:

SALT LAKE CITY — Two dozen protesters braved the cold Saturday morning, December 19, to protest plans to ship more than 3,000 tons of depleted uranium through the state to Utah’s western desert.

The protest was organized by the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah as a train carrying the first of three planned shipments of depleted uranium nears the state.

“We cannot allow this waste to be buried here, and we are asking Gov. Herbert to help us turn these trains around,” said Christopher Thomas, policy director for HEAL Utah.

Thomas said a compromise worked out between Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Department of Energy Thursday is inadequate. Under the agreement, the state will allow the first of three trains loaded with the radioactive waste to enter the state, but not to bury the material at EnergySolutions disposal site near Clive until additional safety measures can be taken.

“This is no time to declare victory just because we’ve delayed the time of our defeat,” he said. “Gov. Herbert’s agreement has not stopped these shipments from coming, it’s only slowed them down.” Thomas was cheered on by a small but vocal group sporting signs that read “No DU” and “Nuclear waste is immoral.”

Political activist Claire Geddes also spoke to the small group. “This material needs to be placed in deep storage, not in a lake bed,” she said.

On the fringe of the gathering, Ed B. Firmage, emeritus law professor at the University of Utah, passed out a letter likening the decision to allow the nuclear material into the state as an act of terrorism.

“If you or I brought nuclear material into the state, we would be arrested as terrorists,” he said. “So why can the state do it?”
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