Urgency in the air for the Zinn book fair

November 26, 2018

Rebecca Mason gives a preview of this weekend’s annual conference and book fair.

“Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work, more hours of leisure. Don’t ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.”
Howard Zinn, Marx in Soho

THE fifth annual Howard Zinn Book Fair will take place on December 2 at the City College of San Francisco, Mission campus, with the theme this year “Fighting for the Air We Breathe.”

The slogan is meant to draw attention to the effects of human-caused environmental devastation and what it will take to save the Earth and its inhabitants from the ravages of climate change.

But in the wake of the devastating wildfires roaring across Northern and Southern California in November that left the air hanging over the Bay Area hazardous to breathe for several weeks, the theme of the book fair has an eerily immediate relevance. “We had no idea just how fitting that slogan would be,” said Jeff Boyette, one of the book fair organizers and a member of the International Socialist Organization.

Browsing radical literature at the 2017 Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco
Browsing radical literature at the 2017 Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco (Rebecca Mason | SW)

The Camp Fire, which began on November 8 in Butte County, north of Sacramento, has consumed more than 150,000 acres, destroyed nearly 20,000 structures, including more than 14,000 homes, and killed at least 84 people, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

As this article was being written, nearly 500 people were still missing and tens of thousands have been evacuated. Toxic smoke from the fire poured into the Bay Area, creating hazardous air conditions for the region’s 7 million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, the Woolsey Fire outside of Los Angeles burned through more than 95,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Wildfires are a natural occurrence in California, but they are increasing in size and intensity due to climate change. Wildfire season is 72 days longer than it was three decades ago, and experts are warning that a year-round wildfire season could be the new normal. “We’re literally burning the candle at both ends,” said climate scientist Daniel Swain.

Organizers of the Howard Zinn Book Fair recognize that it will take collective action to stop the worst effects of climate change. The book fair is a unique opportunity for ordinary people to connect with each other and talk about saving ourselves and the planet we call home. As Boyette pointed out:

The book fair will be happening just a couple months after the Rise for Climate mobilization in San Francisco, which was the largest environmental march the West Coast has ever seen. The march really reflected the growing breadth of the movement and the urgency of fighting climate change. We have hosted speakers on environmental issues in the past, but this year, we felt it was critical to put this issue front and center.

THE BOOK fair program features a variety of talks and workshops on climate change and environmental justice, including a session on lessons from the Rise for Climate march, a panel on urban ecology and gentrification, and an interactive role-play activity, taken from the collection A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, designed to help people make sense of the impact of climate change around the world.

The lineup of speakers is packed with authors and activists from around the Bay Area and beyond, including Sarah Jaffe, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Tongo Eisen Martin, Paul Ortiz, Cat Brooks, Leticia Del Toro, Meagan Day, Richard Walker, George Lackey and many more.

There will be sessions on a host of important topics, including U.S. imperialism and the rise of fascism. The program includes a series of talks on the “Spirit of 1968“; a session on the teachers’ strike wave, featuring a teacher and strike leader from Arizona; and a panel on tech worker resistance.

The centerpiece of the book fair is a large book room, where attendees can find must-read titles from a wide variety of radical, independent publishers and booksellers, including Haymarket Books, Verso, AK Press, and PM Press. Left-wing organizations from across the Bay Area will also be on hand to connect with people who want to get more involved.

The night before, on December 1, organizers are planning a special event titled “How We Get Free: A Conversation on Black Feminism, Politics, and Liberation,” co-sponsored by the Howard Zinn Book Fair and International Socialist Organization.

The event will bring together three leading activist-scholars — Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Cat Brooks and Zoé Samudzi — to explore questions around race, gender and class, and feature poetry readings by poet, essayist and fiction writer Idrissa Simmonds.

Named for the late radical historian, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, the book fair was launched in 2014 by a group of Bay Area authors, activists, independent publishers and booksellers who agreed that books, and an open discussion of the ideas they contain, are essential for a healthy, democratic culture.

The fair is held annually as a free, one-day event in the Mission district of San Francisco, drawing between 1,000 and 2,000 attendees each year. Since 2015, it has been hosted at the City College of San Francisco’s Mission campus. It is run entirely by volunteer organizers.

Building on the legacy of its namesake, the mission of the Howard Zinn Book Fair is to showcase authors that chronicle the often-overlooked experiences of oppressed and exploited peoples and their struggle for justice. Discussion flows freely; differences are articulated, heard and debated; and connections are made to further the goal of a better world.

Join us again this year for another one-of-a-kind event.

Further Reading

From the archives