Repercussions & Reflections

A Journal of the Intersection of ideas and actions on Global Conflict and Local Initiatives published by the William Joiner Center



-by Barry Brodsky

In 1974, I found myself living in Brockton in a federally subsidized housing project called Battles Farm Village, going to UMass-Boston on the GI Bill, and working as a tenant organizer for a statewide housing organization.

While at a meeting one night, I met someone who worked at something called The Boston Community School. He told me about the school’s mission – bring classes to adults who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend them. I told him about the tenant union I was part of in Brockton, and he said to check with the tenants and see if they were interested in having a class taught at the project. Back home, several people said they’d love to learn more about the history of community organizing in America, and did this school have a class like that? I relayed that message to the school.

A few days later, I got a phone call from Howard Zinn. He told me he taught at Boston University, was volunteering with the Boston Community School, and that he would love to meet on a weekly basis with tenants active in the tenant union to discuss the history of community organizing.

For the next 12 weeks or so, Howard drove down to Brockton one night each week to deliver a lecture and then talk with the men and women cramped into a living room about ways people band together to fight for their rights. I attended three or four of the sessions. I still remember him talking about eviction blockings during the Great Depression, and about a citywide rent strike in New York City. He brought readings for people to study for the next session. He did it all for a cup of coffee (or maybe tea, I forget) and a piece of pastry each week.

People rotated apartments in the project, and would usually put out a flyer inviting their neighbors: the flyer would read something like “Come hear BU Professor Howard Zinn tonight in my living room” and describe the subject of the evening’s discussion. There was a core of about a dozen people who attended every session, and then there were others, like me, who would show up occasionally.

And then one week sessions were over. One of the tenant reps told me that Howard had wrapped up the night before. I felt badly that I missed most of the sessions, but during the next couple years, when we’d have a meeting and some issue or other would come up, it wasn’t unusual for one of the tenants, in the midst of a heated debate, to say something like “remember when Howard talked about…” and a lively discussion would ensue comparing the current situation to some historical event they had discussed with Howard in someone’s living room.

I started writing plays in the 1980s and was delighted to find Howard was also writing plays. I went to see his play “Emma” and hoped he would be there, but he wasn’t. I saw him speak a few times at rallies and events, but never approached him to remind him of those classes he taught in the living rooms of Battles Farm. I wanted to tell him how much it meant to all of us, and how empowering it is to know that what you’re doing is part of the flow of American History. I have a feeling, however, that he already knew.


  1. This is a smart blog. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much pisason. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. Youve got a design here thats not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what youre saying. Great job, indeed.

  2. Keep functioning ,remarkable job!

  3. Thank you for a very informative site. What else may I get that type of info written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a challenge that I am just now running on, and I’ve been on the look out for such info.

  4. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your weblog. You have some really good articles and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an email if interested. Kudos!

  5. Nice to be visiting your blog again, it has been weeks for me. Well, this is the article that I’ve been waited for so long. Thanks, great share.

  6. Hello there, I discovered your web site via Google while looking for a related matter, your site got here up, it looks good. I have bookmarked to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar