Voices of a People’s History of the United States

Last night, we went to a reading/performance from Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States, an anthology of speeches, lectures, songs, and poems by history makers who often get left out of the history books. The event was sponsored by Illahee, a group that puts on some really interesting events. The day earlier I read in the Willamette Week that actor and activist Viggo Mortensen, who’s filming in Oregon, was going to do a reading at the event. Pretty cool, eh.

We walked to the First Baptist Church in downtown and got our tickets a few minutes before the event started. Luckily, we got a couple of seats in a pew in the third row from the stage despite a packed house. Anthony Arnove, the editor of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, started things off with explaining Zinn’s original People’s History of the United States and how that work spawned Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Originally, Zinn’s publishers wanted to celebrate People’s History’s 25th anniversary by gathering academics and intellectuals to discuss the work. Arnove related Zinn’s reply, “I’d rather be shot!”. Then Arnove introduced the readers/performers, none of whom I’ve heard of. Finally he introduces the final performer to everyone’s surprise… Eddie Vedder. Dang! I’ve never been a Pearl Jam fan but I have to admit I was a bit star-struck.

The readings were inspiring, notably, Staceyann Chin’s reading, performance really, of Cindy Sheehan’s speech right before her vigil at Crawford, Texas. I was reminded of my past activist days during college and graduate school. Tomorrow, Barack Obama is in town for a rally. If I get back from Olympia in time I’ll try to get out there.

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