Most WIN readers probably believe that true change happens through collective action. As part of the vague grouping we call “the Left,” we place our faith in movements, not leaders – actions, not symbols. Nonetheless, there are on occasion some individuals who so capture the spirit of revolution that they become luminaries for entire generations of activists.
Two such individuals are Mumia Abu-Jamal and Howard Zinn, neither of whom requires introduction. Biographies of both men, one in print and one in film, are featured in this reviews issue of “radical lives.”
Stephen Vittoria has created a compelling film about Abu-Jamal’s life, focusing on his radio journalism and political analysis rather than the controversial case that landed him in jail. Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Strategy Center, uses the film as a launching point for a provocative meditation on the history of the black revolutionary tradition.
In his recently released biography, Martin Duberman makes Howard Zinn’s own history come alive in much the same way that Zinn brought to life the history of peoples’ struggles. Vijay Prashad draws on Duberman’s authoritative biography to paint a portrait of Zinn as “a man of hope” for a better world that might be. Prashad’s own The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), is a history of those whose stories are neglected, in the same vein as Zinn’s monumental A People’s History of the United States.
In addition to these two icons of the left, other radical lives are well-represented in this issue. Rosalie Riegle reviews Shawn Francis Peters’ book about the Catonsville Nine, those courageous activists who first set fire to draft files during the Vietnam War, lighting the spark for dozens more similar actions. Later in this issue, Riegle’s own book about prisoners of conscience, Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, Community, is reviewed by former WIN editor Judith Mahoney Pasternak.
While it is only by acting in concert that we can fundamentally bring about a more just and peaceful world, the lives of these individuals might serve as inspiration to us all to live more radically.