Joshua Frank: So Mickey, Disinformation has just published your fifth book, 50 American Revolutions You Aren't Supposed to Know. You cover a lot of different events in US history that aren't really that well known outside of certain circles and then there are a few that aren't well known at all. Before we get into specifics, can you explain why you choose the events you write about in your new book?
Mickey Z: I simply followed all instructions from my secret funding source deep inside the Castro regime. The more anti-American, the better, I say. Just kidding, Herr Chertoff. In actuality, I looked for episodes that ran the gamut from political to personal to cultural and beyond. I wanted to create a book that was open-minded enough to include everyone from Eugene Debs to Billie Holiday, from Public Enemy to I.F. Stone. The hardest part was narrowing it down to 50.
JF: There seem to be a lot of parallels between events you discuss in your book and events that are going on right now. One that comes to mind is your description of how Dorthea Lange photographed Japanese-American internment camps. I'm thinking of Gitmo here and how the US media has all but ignored the happenings going on inside the neo-gulag. Can you talk about that a bit? Did you purposely choose past histories that have relevance to today's current events?
MZ: I didn't consciously look for parallels, but history does have this sneaky way of repeating itself. As for Dorthea Lange, she was hired by the War Relocation Authority to document life in Japanese neighborhoods, processing centers, and internment camp facilities and ended up exposing too much of "the social impact of the mass incarcerations." The Wartime Civil Control Agency impounded most of her photos and did not release them until after the war. It wasn't until 1972 (seven years after Lange's death) that the Whitney Museum brought her Japanese internment camp images wide exposure in an exhibit called, "Executive Order 9066. " New York Times critic A.D. Coleman subsequently called Lang 's photographs "documents of such a high order that they convey the feelings of the victims as well as the facts of the crime. "
JF: What were some of the stories that you left out of 50 American Revolutions that you would have liked to include?
MZ: Cindy Sheehan's emergence comes to mind as something that happened after the book was completed. As for other episodes, we ran a timeline of sorts throughout the book to at least touch on such events as: 1841: Former slave Frederick Douglass delivers his first anti-slavery speech. 1853: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, America 's first female physician, opens a clinic at 207 East 7th St. in New York City 1870: Victoria Woodhall, feminist, socialist and free love advocate, becomes first woman to run for president of the U.S. 1905: The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) a.k.a. the Wobblies, hold their first meeting. In attendance are Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, and Big Bill Haywood. 1936: Negro Leagues legend Josh Gibson (allegedly) becomes the only man to hit a ball clear out of Yankee Stadium. 1951: The Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization, is formed by Harry Hay. 1968: Philip and Daniel Berrigan are arrested for destroying Selective Service files in Catonsville, MD. 1970: Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton writes to South Vietnam 's National Liberation Front (NLF) and offers to send a battalion of Panthers to help fight American invaders 1973: American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee. 1989: Ani DiFranco forms Righteous Babe Records. 1992: Critical Mass (not an organization; it 's an unorganized coincidence) is founded to challenge the dominance of the car culture...to name but a few.
JF: Some people might say that you have a very one-sided view of history, ala Howard Zinn, so they have to take your view with a grain of salt. How do you respond to these folks, primarily the academic types who are critical of Zinn and your approach to retelling a one-sided history?
MZ: Firstly, I certainly hope everyone takes everything they read with a grain of salt. It should be obvious that every book is tainted by the author's personal POV. I make no pretense toward purity.
As for my "one-sided view," I'll offer what Zinn himself has said in response to that charge: "From the start of my teaching and writing, I had no illusions about 'objectivity,' if that meant avoiding a point of view. I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or any one telling a story) was forced to choose, from an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian. "
Finally, it's a crucial mistake to read any of my books and assume that I'm foolishly trying to offer anything definitive. When one dwells in a commodity culture such as ours, it's all about finding entry points. "50 American Revolutions" was not specifically written for those steeped in American history (although I don't see the downside of refreshing one's radical memory). It's more of a catalyst for those who get their history from Fox News, CNN, and the New York Times.
JF: It is nice to get a refresher on radical US history. But what are we to do with it? I think that is a question burning on a lot of peoples' minds. What can people that are informed and pissed as all bloody hell, do to make some change today?
MZ: Boy, if I had the answer to this one, I'd be some hero, huh? Hey, Paul Revere didn't tell folks what to do when he yelled, "The British are coming." Sometimes, the first and most important step is a wake-up call. We live in a society where problems are cleverly disguised. When discussing the future, the first step is often an identification and demystification of the past and present. In order to work for change, more of us must agree that we change is needed. I'd like to think this book could be a catalyst for such agreement...and change.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at http://www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.