Somewhere in this old house where I live, full of many generations of treasures and trash, I still have the CNVA pin that I wore in high school (that’s Nauset Regional High School, 1960-1965).
CNVA stands for Committee for Non-Violent Action, and the black-and-white pin displayed the ban-the-bomb symbol — a simple stick figure of a missile in a circle, meaning “This is forbidden.” The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was the original British source for the symbol that came to be known as a peace sign across the world.
I am thinking of this as I read my email from the Zinn Education Project. Howard and Roslyn Zinn were among the Wellfleetians who hosted an annual vigil by town hall to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days (Aug. 6 and 9), lest we ever forget the civilian toll inflicted in those first — and still only — deployments of the atomic bomb.
I see where Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, offered advice to a future history teacher: “Don’t obey the rules!” He recognized that teachers need to stay employed in order to keep teaching, so clearly some rules must be followed. His advice was measured and complex. He described it as a sort of “guerrilla warfare with the establishment.” You might teach from the designated curriculum but contextualize the teaching by adding other resources that tell other stories, ones not offered in the standard texts.
We hear a good deal about “untold stories” these days. Only very recently have museums and forums come to incorporate stories of the native people of this narrow land, the Wampanoag Nation, who inhabited the Outer Cape for 12,000 years before the coming of the English settlers and colonists.
One of my reading groups is deep into the life of Rosa Parks, an iconic figure often depicted as an accidental hero, a quiet, unassuming seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a public bus. It turns out she was a political activist, an outspoken defender of the dignity of her community in the Deep South of the 1950s and later in Detroit. With grit and guts, she supported civil rights from a young age, growing up as the granddaughter of enslaved people.
Parks worked for the NAACP in Alabama in the 1950s and helped to sustain the Montgomery bus boycott that lasted almost a year — and was one spark that lit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rise to leadership and the 1960s civil rights movement.
But what of that ban-the-bomb pin I sported in the halls of Nauset High, and what about Zinn’s guerrilla warfare? Here I find the link I’ve longed for in these last years, since the emergence of the previous president and media figures like Alex Jones. Their narratives have been exposed as unfounded in facts. But the people who buy into those stories include family members, neighbors, friends, and local business owners who feel enraged by the injustices they experience.
When I hear “deep state,” I think of Dennis Kucinich and Edward Snowden and the ways that the power of extractive industries and the military-industrial complex have been with us for much of the 20th and now the 21st centuries. I think of the vested interests that have sustained racism since the colonizing of this land and the founding of the nation. But the hold of dark money on elected officials is in plain sight now.
The people have the power, as Patti Smith sings, and we Americans do have a good deal of that power, but we must not fall asleep on the job. Today, despair infuses our lives along with the heat and humidity. I find courage in the lives of activists like Rosa Parks and Howard Zinn. We cannot successfully ban the bombs until our government re-invests in skillful international diplomacy, something I learn about by following historian Andrew Bacevich’s Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Meanwhile, friends make music with which to celebrate summer, despite all. And I’m going to find that ban-the-bomb pin.