Thursday, November 13, 2014

Raging Against the Machine in Little Tokyo with Howard Zinn's American Voices

The evening began in Little Tokyo, downtown, where Oliver and I went and slurped noodles. He had some sort of beef bowl, and I had seared tuna with a spicy wasabi dressing. Afterward, we walked over to the Aratani Theater, a small but classy joint where I've seen Toni Morrison and other literati. Some of you might remember that as part of our homeschool curriculum, Oliver and I are making our way through the young people's version of the great radical Howard Zinn's controversial People's History.  In a nutshell, Zinn writes American history from the point of view of the exploited as opposed to the "great" leaders, statesmen and warriors. The book has been suppressed over the years, bemoaned by the religious and patriotic right, but Oliver and I are finding it compelling reading, as well as overwhelming and sobering. Tonight's show had actors reading original texts of some of these people in American history -- familiar names like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and Naomi Klein, and then ones less so like poet Marge Piercy, union activists and labor leaders.

An 1880 speech by the women's suffragette and populist Mary Elizabeth Lease who cried out against the excesses of Wall Street was weirdly prescient and brought down the house. The folk musician Joe Henry sang a Bob Dylan tune, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine sang Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad. Can I just tell you that while I recognized the name Rage Against the Machine, I didn't know Tom Morello from Mr. Morell, my eighth grade English teacher? Ya'll, I'm a believer after hearing this guy's voice and guitar-playing and just overall -- well -- passion. I might have even jumped up and down at the end during a rousing rendition of This Land is My Land when he told us to do so.

Oliver, who earlier expressed his reluctance to sit through all of these performances was completely jacked up when John Kresinski of The Office walked onstage, and don't tell him I told you, but I think he was smitten by Kerry Washington. Aside from feeling energized by the wisdom and spirit of these voices of our distant and near past, I left, too, feeling sober and not a little depressed at how little has changed, how we seem to be moving backward, again, in this country, involved in endless wars, rallying to deport and demonize the immigrants who do the bulk of work, taking away women's reproductive freedom, shooting men of color or throwing them in jail and allowing those who brought the country to its economic knees to walk free, their pockets newly padded, buying elections and driving an ever greater wedge between those who have and those who have not. For a few glorious hours tonight, though, I looked around and saw people of every age, shape and color, and the sight of my boy's smiling face and shining eyes made me feel a tiny bit hopeful.


  1. That sounds like a heck of a night! Reading your post prompted me to see if we have any Marge Piercy in the school library where I work, and we DON'T. I think I will change that. We should at least have "The Moon is Always Female," don't you think?

    I haven't heard Rage Against the Machine, though I've certainly heard of them. I keep thinking I should give them a listen.

    As for your last point, although the news is frequently discouraging, I really do believe we're moving forward overall. I think the people who would have us step backward into a more oppressive time make a lot of noise, but they're so noisy because they're losing. (Apparently I'm feeling quite optimistic this morning!)

  2. I'm with Steve and I, too, am feeling optimistic this morning, at least a little. Your post made me even more so and thank you for reporting in on such a beautiful, inspiring evening. I'm so glad that Oliver got to go with you, that you are teaching him these things, exposing him to the greater and the good.

  3. now that's what i would call a great educational opportunity/experience. bravo!

  4. I think we are definitely moving forward, because there are parents like you taking your beloved boy to evenings like this. In fact, I have chills thinking about it, the very best and most hopeful kind.

  5. What a great night, all if it, even the noodles! I would love to have seen those performances, so I'm very jealous. I'm also so very much in awe of your home schooling and parenting. I'm trying not to retroactively judge myself, but my son could have benefited so much more from your program than the canned one he barely survived. Oh well. No do overs, and history does seem to be doomed to repeat itself some days doesn't it?

    I did not know there was a kids' version of that tome.
    And I was JUST telling my G that it's time he starts to listen to Rage...

  7. We don't evolve as fast as I wish we would, but we do evolve.

  8. There are more voices from the Zinn series on YouTube. My goodness, I am so jealous of your evening with Oliver! I had fish sticks and cut oranges for dinner Thursday night. harrumph.

  9. Very cool education you are giving to that boy - and sharing with us - thank you! I think you could start a highly successful school of your own with your creative mind and curriculum. {You need another project on your plate, don't you? ;) } xo



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