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Howard Zinn Book Fair Unites Left Groups

Photograph by Sophia Rodriguez-Bell

The Howard Zinn Book Fair, an annual gathering of diverse left-wing intellectuals, occurred in San Francisco on December 2. The fair is an assembling of individuals identifying as being a part of the left’s many different subgroups. Inspired by the late social activist and historian Howard Zinn, the fair brings together authors, activists, bloggers, speakers, and readers to come together and work towards a common goal: building a better future.

December 2 was the fifth annual fair. The day consisted of speeches and readings by speakers and authors, discussions, workshops, and browsing of published and unpublished works. Attendees consisted of all parts of the left, from socialists to anarchists, and liberals to social democrats. These subgroups of the left appear to differ greatly in terms of their opinions and political standpoints. However, the fair aims to be a space for these different groups to come together, interact, and recognize the reality of all sharing a common desire for the world’s future.

The event has always been entirely volunteer run. Five years ago, a small group of activists, publishers, writers, and book sellers gathered.  “They thought that the Bay Area needed a venue like this that brings together all sections of the left,” Jeff Boyette, a Howard Zinn Book Fair committee member, said. Boyette is a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and became involved with the book fair through his work with the ISO. The ISO  has been part of the fair since its founding.

Boyette has different views than many others attending the fair, but he is grateful for it as it allows those at the event to become educated on the history of the left movement.

“We can’t move forward without having an understanding of our history … this is a way to get together and learn of past struggles so we aren’t repeating mistakes, but successes instead,” Boyette said.

Attendees of the Howard Zinn Book Fair also appreciate the event for the freedom of media that it provides. Keith Palik has been attending the event for several years. Being part of the publishing and printing industries for his professional career, Palik said he noticed how, for the most part, much of the media and information that people are exposed to each day is restricted and controlled by corporate companies.

Rather than having individuals’ perspectives, the representation in media is entirely company based. The fair, because it showcases unpublished works, offers new accounts held by real people, for everyone. “It’s important to have alternative voices that represent the anti-corporate view,” explained Palik. “And places such as this serve that purpose.”

The Howard Zinn Book Fair’s popularity has grown tremendously since its establishment in 2013, an effect of the recent transformations within the varied left movements.

In the past few years, a new, elevated energy has been introduced to the left, speakers at the book fair explained. Meagan Day, a writer for socialism magazine Jacobin, and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, spoke at the fair.

Day has noticed how the fair has been going on for several years, but now there are many new faces and new groups attending and sharing their work. “There’s new energy on the left,” Day said.

She believes that the left has been opened up. Previously, the left has been “relatively cloistered, and now there’s new movements, and that brings new energy to this event,” Day said.

The Howard Zinn Book Fair has an extremely hopeful tone regarding the future. Attendees believe that working together to reach the common goal, regardless of differences, is how to obtain a more positive future.

“It is extremely important for different perspectives of the left to come together and listen to one another … we can metabolize those perspectives and proceed from them,” Day said.