The People Speak: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

people_speakTonight from 8 to 10 PST, the History Channel will broadcast what promises to be an excellent, timely film directed by Matt Damon, based on Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s Voices of A People’s History of the United States.

Much of the film consists of the words of ordinary Americans who became extraordinary and changed our history. Their words are spoken again by contemporary actors and actresses, such as Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, Marissa Tomei and others.

Here’s a moving excerpt (because Zinn becomes visibly choked up) from the transcript of Moyers’ interview with Zinn:

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sequences is in here, is when we meet Genora Dollinger. Tell me about her.

HOWARD ZINN: She was a woman who got involved in sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Those very dramatic moments when workers occupied the factories of General Motors and wouldn’t leave, and therefore left the corporations helpless. But this was a time when strikes all over the country galvanized people and pushed the New Deal into the reforms that we finally got from the New Deal. And Genora Dollinger represents the women who are very often overlooked in these struggles, women so instrumental in supporting the workers, their men, their sweethearts. And Genora Dollinger just inspires people with her words.

BILL MOYERS: She was only 23 when she organized.

HOWARD ZINN: Amazing. Yes.

[MARISSA TOMEI as GENORA DOLLINGER]: Workers overturned police cars to make barricades. They ran to pick up the fire bombs thrown at them and hurl them back at the police. The men wanted to me to get out of the way. You know the old “protect the women and children” business. I told them, “Get away from me.” The lights went on in my head. I thought I have never used a loud speaker to address a large crowd of people but I’ve got to tell them there are women down here. I called to them, “Cowards! Cowards! Shooting into the bellies of unarmed men and firing at the mothers of children.” And then everything became quiet. I thought, “The women can break this up.” So I appealed to the women in the crowd, “Break through those police lines and come down here and stand beside your husbands and your brothers and your uncles and your sweethearts.” I could barely see one woman struggling to come forward. A cop had grabbed her by the back of her coat. She just pulled out of that coat and she started walking down to the battle zone. As soon as that happened there were other women and men who followed. That was the end of the battle. When those spectators came into the center of the battle and the police retreated, there was a big roar of victory.

BILL MOYERS: That’s Marisa Tomei as Genora Dollinger. What do you think when you hear those words?

HOWARD ZINN: First, I must say this, Bill. When my daughter saw this she heard Marisa Tomei shout to the police, “Cowards, cowards.” My daughter said a chill, a chill went through her. She was so moved. And so, when I see this, and I’ve seen this so many times, and each time I am moved because what it tells me is that just ordinary people, you know, people who are not famous, if they get together, if they persist, if they defy the authorities, they can defeat the largest corporation in the world.

More Resources:

Bill Moyers interesting interview with Howard Zinn, in which they discuss The People Speak.

The PBS People Speak webpage.

The History Channel People Speak webpage.

More about Genora Dollinger.


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