A people’s book fair

November 15, 2017

Melanie West and Joan Bender report look ahead to the Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco, an event bringing together left publishers and political activists.

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives...The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
-- Howard Zinn

THE FOURTH annual Howard Zinn Book Fair will take place on November 19 at the City College of San Francisco.

Named after the radical historian, the Book Fair is now an exciting and important annual event for the Bay Area left. Last year, more than 1,600 people attended--including a packed room to hear Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #Blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation. With its theme of "The World We Want" this year, organizers expect a similar number to attend this year.

As Trump passes the one-year mark of his presidency, millions of people are looking for a way to fight back against his all-out assault on the rights of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and the working class as a whole.

Listening to a session at the Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco
Listening to a session at the Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco (HZ Book Fair | Facebook)

At the same time, Trump's election has unleashed a menagerie of far-right extremists who are committing acts of violence and intimidation. Now is the time for collaboration and coalition-building among those who are committed to turning the tide against reactionary politics.

The Book Fair is a unique opportunity for ordinary people to connect with each other and talk about creating a better world--the world we want. This year's event will feature speakers such as Indigenous rights activist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz; former Black Panther and recently released political prisoner Sekou Odinga; and feminist writer and activist Rebecca Solnit.

The full line-up is packed with sessions covering a wide variety of important topics, including the rise of fascism; the fight for national health care; the economy; the role of the Democratic Party; the relationship between electoral politics and building the left; and more.

A multi-session track on "Black Reconstruction in Our Times" is based on W.E.B. Du Bois' seminal writings. There will also be sessions devoted to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, including a session co-sponsored by Jacobin magazine, with Jacobin founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara and Socialist Worker contributor Todd Chretien discussing "When the Bolsheviks Took Power."

What else to read

The 2017 Howard Zinn Book Fair will take place November 19, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the City College of San Francisco's Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia St. For details, visit the Book Fair website.

THE LARGE book room will highlight the radical inclusivity of the Book Fair, bringing together multiple authors, publishers, bloggers, 'zine makers and artists contributing to progressive politics in the Bay Area and beyond. Radical, independent publishers including Haymarket Books, Verso, AK Press and PM Press will be on hand.

As Danny Katch, author of Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People, said, "It's not easy to live up to the name Howard Zinn, but the Book Fair has his combination of radical ideas with a collaborative and non-sectarian approach to debates on the left."

As a locus of left-wing authors, activists, and organizations, the Howard Zinn Book Fair is providing a space for people in the Bay Area to build the personal, political, and organizational strength necessary to not only defend our side from attack, but to go on the offensive as well.

The San Francisco United Against Trump coalition emerged out of last year's Book Fair and was a first step in building resistance to the Trump presidency. It succeeded in bringing large numbers of people into struggle, many of whom were completely new to organizing.

At the Book Fair this year, organizers hope to help bring together the forces to organize a counterprotest against the "March for Life" in January, an annual event that brings anti-abortion bigots to San Francisco's streets.

Though speaking up is an important first step, it isn't enough to raise our voices in protest. The kinds of political organization that we build today will help determine the character of future struggles. The Howard Zinn Book Fair can be a part of contributing to building our side for the fight ahead.

Further Reading

From the archives