The end of the year is a time for lists: “The ten best moments,” “the top five films,” “the three best albums.” It's also a time for remembrance and a chance to pay tribute to those who died over the past year. Statesmen, celebrities and athletes usually top the obituary lists. Here is an alternative list of three Americans who died in 2010 you probably won't see noted in the mainstream media. They all shared one common trait: speaking truth to power.
Howard Zinn (24 August 1922 – 27 January 2010)
The legendary historian, author and activist is best known for his classic work, "A People's History of the United States." Published in 1980, the book shook the foundations of American history to the core. Eschewing traditional narratives of Christopher Columbus, the Founding Fathers and the American power elite, "A People's History of the United States" provided an account of US history from the perspective of Native Americans, slaves, immigrants, unionists, feminists, African Americans, war resisters and dissidents of all kinds. Since its publication, the book has sold over a million copies and continues to sell tens of thousands of additional copies every year.
"We want to give Americans a history which shows them that it’s possible to fight back," Zinn said less than a year before his death. "You don’t have to depend on the president and congress and the supreme court. In fact, you had better not depend on them, because they’re not going to solve the fundamental problems that we have in our society. We can only do it ourselves, when we organize, when we act, when we protest."
Zinn was a lifelong dissident himself. He was active in the civil rights movement and many other struggles for social justice over the past half-century. He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women in Atlanta, and was fired for insubordination when he supported a student rebellion against the university administration. In 1967, he published "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal," the first book to call for an immediate, unconditional US withdrawal from the war. In 1971, he helped Daniel Ellsberg hide the Pentagon Papers before they were leaked to the press. Zinn continued his activism until the end of his life, speaking out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting the struggles of people around the world.
"He was fearless. He was simple. He was straightforward. He said the right things, said them eloquently, and inspired others to move forward in ways they wouldn’t have done," said Noam Chomsky, a renowned MIT professor and Zinn's longtime friend. "In his life and in his work, he was a remarkable person, just irreplaceable."
Doris "Granny D" Haddock (24 January 1910 – 9 March 2010)
On 1 January 1999, just three weeks shy of her 89th birthday, Doris Haddock–known as "Granny D"–began marching across the country to promote campaign finance reform. She walked 3200 miles–ten miles a day for 14 months–and made national headlines along the way. When she arrived in Washington, DC, on 29 February 2000, several dozen members of Congress walked the final miles with her.
Two months later, she was arrested for the first time in her life at the age of 90 when she stood inside the Capitol Rotunda with 29 other protesters and read the Declaration of Independence. In her court statement, Granny D told the judge: "I was reading from the Declaration of Independence to make the point that we must declare our independence from the corrupting bonds of big money in our election campaigns."
She is widely credited for galvanizing the public support that helped pass the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act in 2002.
Two years later, when the presumed Democratic nominee for the US Senate from New Hampshire dropped out of the 2004 race just days before the filing deadline, Granny D decided to jump into the fray against the Republican incumbent, Senator Judd Gregg. The great grandmother of sixteen captured 34 percent of the vote but lost the race. She went on to found a group that pushed the New Hampshire state legislature to create the Citizen Funded Election Task Force. She died at the age of 100 at her home in Dublin, New Hampshire.
"A poor man today has to sell his votes in order to run for office, or he has to be a multimillionaire," Granny D said in 2004. "That is not a democracy. And until we get public funding, it will not be one."
Chalmers Johnson (6 August 1931 – 20 November 2010)
The distinguished anti-imperialist scholar and best-selling author has been described as "the most significant intellectual force to have shaped and defined the fundamental boundaries and goalposts of US foreign policy in the Modern Era." But he didn't start off that way.
Chalmers Johnson served in the Korean War, worked as a consultant for the CIA from 1967 to 1973, and was a staunch defender of the Vietnam War. But he later became one of the foremost scholars of US foreign policy and a trenchant critic of American militarism. He taught at the University of California for 30 years and was a prolific writer, penning numerous articles and authoring 16 books. The title of his 2000 book "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of the American Empire" referred to the CIA term for the unintended consequences of a country's foreign policy. The book became a best seller after the 9/11 attacks.
"The concept 'blowback' does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries," Johnson wrote. "It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes–as it did so spectacularly on 11 September 2001–the American public is unable to put the events in context."
Johnson went on to document America's vast network of more than 700 overseas bases in the book, "Sorrows of Empire." Johnson wrote, "Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base."
Johnson's last book in his trilogy on American imperialism was "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic." In it, he issued an ominous warning: "I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent."
Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a producer for the independent TV/radio show Democracy Now! Some of the material for this piece is drawn from interviews broadcast on the program.