I just finished Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States  and as thoroughly depressing as it makes me feel about the past, I’m as equally optimistic for the future. There was not much in the book that was surprising, which speaks well about the changes in our public school system (at least in wealthy enough school districts). 

Despite all the current events that fit very so squarely in the narrative of Zinn’s work: NSA overreach, Military over expenditure, Foreign drone strikes without any judicial process, gutting food stamps, etc. etc,  what makes me optimistic about the future are the few events where the People did accomplish something contrary to the preferences of the elites.

While the most prominent cases have been reactive, rather than proactive, they are nonetheless extremely important. First were the successful protests against SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA. A series of bills that would have drastically undermined the freedoms and rights of internet users, which were actively not being reported on by the news, were discussed and protested against online to great success.  While part of the success of these protests was in doubt helped by the support of corporate entities like Google and Wikipedia, it is no less profound an achievement.  

Another great moment in recent history is the fact that we didn’t take military action in Syria. Despite the huge momentum in favor of direct action: pressure from key regional allies, President Obama saying he really, really wanted to, etc, we some someone ended up with a diplomatic solution. While this is a much more complicated situation than killing anti-internet legislation, it nonetheless is a major win.

What both of these have in common is a lack of ownership of the national conversation by elites. The internet and the democratization of news has helped the People to make enough noise that they cannot be ignored. It is still early, and still disorganized, but I’m optimistic that as time goes on it will get better. Things are about to get loud.

A People’s History and a People’s Future