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The Arts and Zinn, posted May 16, 2019, by Mary Grabar:

Howard ZinnFirst a belated Happy May Day to all Workers leading students on marches and riots, and those like high school Teacher of the Year finalist James Hensley, inspired by Howard Zinn. The Dissident Prof hopes you had time to recreate before the hard labor of handing out grades and bringing donkeys to exam-stressed students to take in a “critically acclaimed” production of Howard Zinn’s play, Marx in Soho, at the NextStop theater in the Washington, D.C. area, usually performed around the high holiday. Or if not at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

The people’s historian has also influenced rock bands, rap "artists," and classical musicians. "Homage" will be paid to him by Kronos Quartet at their festival later this month.

Even country music artists have been inspired by Zinn, as evidenced by an interview with Phoebe Hunt, of Phoebe Hunt and the Wanderers, called by Rolling Stone “one of the ’10 country artists you need to know in 2017.’” She is someone the Dissident Prof herself would pay money to hear because she likes Americana, folk music, fiddles, mandolins, and all that. Here’s Phoebe doing a pretty song, “Take Me Home.”

Another one she wrote, “Marching On,” described by Vicki Dean in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as “powerful,” was inspired “by the plight of Native Americans during the 2016 Standing Rock protests in the Dakotas.” The protests led Hunt to read A People’s History of the United States.

"I would cry myself to sleep a lot because it was just so sad, all the injustices,” Hunt said. “Then one morning I woke up and I wrote all the lyrics to ‘Marching On.’”

 

As Hunt was preparing for her upcoming show in Sarasota, Dean wrote,

Her songs are a reflection of her life, raw and powerful. Songwriting is her main outlet as an artist, although she loves singing and playing fiddle just as much.

Speaking of art, Zinn’s name was invoked in a discussion about removing a mural at the George Washington High School in San Francisco paid for by the Public Works of Art (PWA) program of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

As Renée Loth, a columnist for the Boston Globe wrote,

The mural [“The Life of Washington”] depicts scenes in the life of Washington, for whom the high school is named. Painted by the Russian-born artist Victor Arnautoff and rendered in the Social Realist style of the era, the mural includes one panel showing Washington at Mount Vernon being attended by his slaves, and another, titled “Westward Vision,” that depicts Washington directing a group of frontiersmen stepping over the body of a dead Native American. Howard Zinn himself couldn’t have found better material to illustrate his leftist critique of American history.

The San Francisco United School District, however, is considering a motion to dismantle the entire 13-panel mural because—and even Howard Zinn could not appreciate this—students are getting triggered by it.

Several public officials, including the school board’s president, want the work destroyed or, at minimum, covered over. But opposition to the mural is not coming from self-styled patriots offended that it besmirches Washington’s reputation. Rather, the challenge is mostly from residents and some students who find the work’s iconography demeaning to oppressed minorities, and perhaps triggering trauma in students who confront it. “We’ve heard again and again from people who feel offended by it, hurt by it, and who feel less safe and supported in our schools as a result of it,” testified Matt Haney, a district city supervisor and former school board member.

MarxPeaceThe school’s population of 2,000 students is overwhelmingly Asian (60 percent), with Latinos being the second largest group (18 percent), and whites the third (10 percent). Only 4 percent are African American and 0.2 percent, American Indian or Alaska Native. 

While most leftists, like Loth, revel in any kind of effort to bring down the Founding Fathers and to place American history into its Zinn-inspired place next to the Third Reich, they find themselves in a kind of intersectional dilemma:

The feelings of students and others who are disturbed by the mural are real and should be respected. But you don’t have to read too deeply into Arnautoff’s work to see it was meant as a subversive counter-narrative to the whitewashed history that prevails in most high schools even today. Arnautoff was a committed leftist who was hounded during the McCarthy era, interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and nearly fired from his teaching post at Stanford for his views. To have his work expunged because it now offends the very groups whose painful stories he wanted kept alive is beyond ironic.

Loth’s position is that such works need to stay because they can be used for a “teachable moment,” along with responsive art work that depicts “the achievements of black, Asian, Latino, and Native Americans.”

Or, maybe we should teach that Arnautoff was really a precursor to Zinn, a propagandist for the Soviet Union, his homeland to which he returned to end out his days. He had escaped from Russia in 1925 and in thanks to his adopted land portrayed her first president as a genocidal killer. In case, there is any doubt about Arnautoff’s sympathies, his mural for the San Francisco Coit Tower (also a PWA project), “City Life,” includes himself next to a magazine rack prominently featuring the Daily Worker, newspaper of the Communist Party USA.

In fact, Arnautoff was a member of the CPUSA. As he stated, his murals were intended to “’inspire change through criticism of the present political system.” He began teaching art at Stanford University, but his 1955 lithograph smearing Richard Nixon, drew calls for his dismissal from Stanford. The academics stood by him, so he worked there until 1963 when he decided to return to Russia, where he continued his characteristically socially aware art, until his death in 1979. Contrary to Boston Globe columnist Renée Loth, he was not just a “committed leftist.”

Will students be “triggered” by reading A People’s History of the United States? As in Comrade Arnautoff’s mural, there are toiling slaves and dead Indians, as well as greedy Founders, murderous industrialists, and persecuted Black Panthers and Vietnam War protestors. The book brought Phoebe Hunt to tears.

Zinn Watch is a new feature of the Dissident Prof Education Project, a winner in the class action lawsuit against the Obama/Lois Lerner-IRS harassment scheme for “viewpoint discrimination,” marching on to fight the “re-education of America”!

Watch for Mary Grabar's book on Howard Zinn to be published by Regnery and available in all capitalist bookstores on August 20, 2019.

 

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