True to its title, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (1980) brought the people into history, helping to popularize the idea that we should view our past from the grassroots up instead of from the Oval Office -- and the boardroom -- down.
Now, cartoonist Mike Konopacki, with Zinn and writer Paul Buhle, has made it easier for people's history to reach ... the people. Their comic-book-style A People's History of American Empire was published in April. The large-format, 273-page adaptation traces a century-plus of American expansionism, from Wounded Knee to the invasion of Iraq, and summarizes grassroots resistance to injustice and misrule, from Native Americans to anti-war American soldiers in Vietnam.
Konopacki visits Downtown's ArtUp gallery on Fri., Oct. 3, for a book-signing, talk and performances built around a gallery installation about A People's History. The event, part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Gallery Crawl, also features Amy Trompetter, a veteran of the famed Bread and Puppet Theater, and her Wobbly Bucket Brigade, performing their traveling show based on Zinn's writings. Also that night, watch for similarly themed guerrilla performances by the Apathetic Anarchists, a Chatham University street-theater class taught by ArtUp director Tavia LaFollette.
Konopacki, of Madison, Wis., is a longtime labor cartoonist. (Ongoing ventures include Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons, with Pittsburgh-based cartoonist Gary Huck, who's married to LaFollette.) Konopacki conceived this People's History as a series of stories -- the American invasion of the Philippines, revolution in Nicaragua -- linked by an illustrated lecture by Zinn, the 86-year-old activist and Boston University professor emeritus.
"Throughout U.S. history, our military has been used not for moral purposes but to expand economic, political, and military power," says the illustrated Zinn. Konopacki's line drawings, plus historic illustrations, vintage political cartoons and digitally manipulated photos, document periods of popular upheaval, like the early-1890s series of revolts that included the Homestead Strike. Zinn argues that even the defeat of fascism during World War II (when he served as an Army bombardier in Europe) was inextricably linked to U.S. corporate interests and imperial ambition.
Konopacki, 57, says the book, part of New York-based Metropolitan Books' "The American Empire Project" series, is selling to high schools and colleges. It's meant to supplement, rather than replace, more conventional histories.
"The power structure doesn't need my book," he says. "They've got their own textbooks. This is my answer to that."
Mike Konopacki and A People's History of American Empire with Amy Trompetter and the Wobbly Bucket Brigade 5:30 p.m. Fri., Oct. 3. ArtUp, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Free. 412-443-8132 or email@example.com