Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On the Button - Chomsky and Zinn

            When the MIT version of the Gangnam Style video here went viral, I was thinking, wouldn’t it have been great if Noam, one of the world’s major pacifists, had said something more significant than “Oppan Chomsky Style.”  Over five million people would have heard and thought about his words less than two weeks before the election.  What ran through my head were some Beatles’ song lyrics popular during the peace movement of the 60’s and 70’s, at the height of the Vietnam War, when a country of peace activists wanted American’s political leaders to withdraw all troops from Vietnam.  I was about to write the lyrics: All we are saying, is give peace a chance, in an e-mail to Noam when Glenn dumped a box on my desk from our friend Roger Leisner, a photographer, videographer, and very vocal supporter of the legalization of marijuana and hemp. Roger is a great character, and one hell of a dedicated activist.
            Roger has sent us hundreds of photos - hard copies and dvd's - of Noam lecturing or talking with other activists, including politically astute filmmakers, academics, and authors, as well as peace, hunger, and human rights action groups. We have in our archives photos of labor organizers, doctors, and playwrights - people like Howard Zinn, Mel King, Edward Said, Michael Moore, Daniel Berrigan, Paul Farmer, Dorie Ladner, and scores of other local and global activists.  Though some are deceased, most are still with us and continue to correspond with Noam, and many of them have become his personal friends.  I have several framed pictures of Noam and Howard Zinn in our office, taken by Leisner at various events over the years.  The peace movement lost one of its long-time leaders when Zinn, political historian and author of A People's History of the US, died in 2010. 
        Noam and his wife Carol were close friends with Howard and his wife, Roz.  In the fledgling years of the movement, when they got together and talked politics, there was another conversation going on between Carol, a Harvard professor, and Roz, a talented artist, as they commiserated on the possibility that their husbands could end up doing significant jail time for their political actions.  Noam and Howard fought on the front lines of the antiwar rallies from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan and conflicts in between. Things changed for Noam and Howard when both Carol and  Roz were diagnosed with cancer, each making her own personal decision about the way she would live out her life. Roz Zinn died early in 2008, followed by Carol Chomsky in late 2008.  Carol’s death was of course devastating to Noam, and Howard’s death in 2010 brought for him another layer of sadness. Noam was now the only one left standing of the vibrant and dedicated foursome of friends who had shared the early days of political activism, making hefty personal sacrifices along the way.  I think of Noam and Howard as two of the original peace activists.  
            I don’t know what’s in here, Glenn said, rattling the box. 
            “It sounds like more buttons,” I said.  Roger had included political buttons in past mailings, the largest package coming during the beginning of the Occupy Movement. Most of the buttons in that mailing said simply “Occupy,” some bearing the name of a city, and still others the faces of Noam and Howard.  I opened the box and spilled its contents onto my desk – about thirty more political buttons .  The first one I picked up depicted a single black fist, which stood for black power in the sixties, and now more generally for solidarity, support, resistance, defiance, and strength.  Another caught my eye: “I was never aware of any other option but to question everything - Noam Chomsky.”  That spoke to me, and I started to pin it to my jacket while reading another: “Dissent is the highest form of Patriotism – Howard Zinn.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  I decided that wearing Noam’s politics on my clothing might not be as effective as hanging the button on an office poster, so I pinned it to a wall hanging hand-delivered to us by a Colombian artisan, and fastened the Zinn button onto my jacket. 
            I added another to my desk lamp, and was sweeping the rest back into the box when I noticed a button that had been hidden under the others.  It was striking – red, orange and yellow colors inside the spaces of a thick, black peace sign.  I took my glasses off to take a better look.  Really?  The top half read, “All we are saying is,” and the bottom, “Give Peace a Chance.”  I had serious goose bumps.
            This sort of thing happens to me a lot.  Call it déjà vu, call it coincidence, call it Kismet.  It's what the Sufi calls “The Truth”.  This one I had no problem pinning on, and I wore it for the rest of the day, and during the weekend at a dinner with my activist friends in Maine, and the next morning, when I voted.
            We have been mercilessly bombarded by muckraking multimedia ads which will be thankfully put to rest soon.  Why can’t these candidates and their speech writers just say this simple, positive truth:  The most important thing is to give peace a chance.  It would save a lot of lives.  And there are plenty of places where that money could be spent.  One of Noam’s quotes – to me the most salient - is printed on a small black and red poster sent to us by a high school student, who made it for a class project. It is taped to our glass library door near my desk. It says:  “We can be fairly confident that either there will be a world without war, or there won’t be a world."
This November, I voted for the one who looks like he cares even a little bit more than the other that there will be a world to which we can bring peace.


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  2. Hi Bev, you have one of the most interesting jobs on the planet! Loved reading the post. I am bookmarking your blog; will check in on your posts. Ravi