The Metro Blue Line train moving across South Los Angeles

You Cannot Be Neutral on A Moving Train, Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 81)

Howard Zinn, the renowned historian who was once a bombardier in Europe for the U.S. during World War II, published his final book, You Cannot Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, in 1994. A lifetime later, I can still remember being struck by his biography’s title for how the idea of “no neutrality” came off as both a challenge and an invitation to invoke the consciousness of a society claiming to be a democracy by giving anyone and everyone a chance to participate in its story.

In 2014, when I launched JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller, I knew I’d be telling personal stories to the world, but I also stopped short of thinking of those stories as personal histories. Today, by contrast, I recognize every poem, story, and picture on the site as contemporary historicizing from a personal perspective, or modern documentation from individual voices of the world around us for the purpose of having others, and perhaps just anyone other than ourselves, bear witness to our experiences.

For this reason, I’m proud to note that after six months since announcing the website’s call for submissions, I’ve had the privilege of publishing over ten different voices, all by people of color from Los Angeles and beyond, with the eleventh voice coming to readers’ screens shortly.

These small steps forward notwithstanding, however, I recognize that it’s still early, and that there’s still far more work to do to both challenge and invite more people to add their voice to JIMBO TIMES, just as there’s more to do to invite our neighbors’ participation into a democratic country which clearly still has a long way to go before it can be said to truly honor the democratic process it wants to be known for.

I think of the workers, as I think of the young people, all across Los Angeles, who’ve still got a lifetime in front of them to come to terms with before they might ‘participate’ in a way that might be hoped for or even expected of them. The fact of the matter is that many of them already participate when they show up to work each day to continue fighting for their survival through this increasingly stratified society. They also participate even before physically laboring at work by caring for their family-members at home, by taking up humble spaces and minimal resources, and even by acknowledging and sometimes lending a hand to their neighbors, so many of whom have been abandoned by their government for far too long.

I want to make Los Cuentos for them, so that they can also take their time learning about the history of this American experiment in a way that speaks to their character, in a way that allows them to explore their place in it, and in a way that makes clear how the future absolutely depends on their health and well-being by means of their rights to housing, work that pays a living wage, educational opportunities, and their passing these things on to who they may.

Even after a lifetime of protest, there is still so much of this work to do, and still such little time, that I can only ask for Los Angeles’s best as we set out once again in its name. It’s time to catch the train.


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