On December 13, the History Channel aired a great new documentary called The People Speak, which I had been looking forward to seeing for months. The film, for those of you that missed it, is based on Howard Zinn’s famous book A People’s History of the United States, which greatly impacted the way I look at history and the potential for ordinary people to affect change.
Over the last few years, Zinn put on a series of events around the country where actors, musicians, writers and activists, read excerpts from both famous and obscure speeches, books and documents – by Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez and many others – that highlight the long struggle for social justice in this country.
Narrated by Zinn, The People Speak weaves archival footage with dramatic readings of these speeches by actors and artists such as Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Bruce Springsteen, and John Legend.
I was fortunate enough to be at one of these events a couple years ago in New York, where Kurt Vonnegut read Mark Twain, who was an outspoken critic of the US war against the Philippines. It was something to behold, as Vonnegut, then in his 80s, bore a close resemblance to Twain.
You can still check out clips from the film, or buy a copy of it, on a special website that was developed by the channel to promote the film. And if you’d prefer to avoid supporting the History Channel, which is normally quite conservative, you can sign up to pre-order the film on its official website. It should be available early next year.
It takes effort to track the impacts of mass mobilizations like #MeToo, Occupy or Black Lives Matter, but understanding social change is impossible without such work.
By sharing our lived experiences, I have seen how incarcerated people can stop the pipeline funneling troubled teens to prison.
As the new ‘Rustin’ biopic shows, the great organizer of the 1963 March on Washington was always working to join more people together in the struggle for greater justice and peace.