Voices of a People’s History of the United States brings to life the extraordinary history of ordinary people who built the movements that made the United States what it is today.
VOICES is a non-profit arts, education and social justice organization active throughout the United States. It was founded in 2007 by a group of activists, artists and educators, led by historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, who together edited the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States. VOICES came together as a result of enthusiastic audience response to occasional readings from the book Voices, held across the country starting in 2003, and to ongoing requests from readers and audiences for educational material and more performances. This evident hunger for a history in which ordinary people can participate and recognize themselves, their forbearers, their neighbors and their fellow workers, motivated the founding of VOICES.
Today VOICES employs live performances, as well as educational programs based on primary source materials, to illustrate the struggles that ended slavery and Jim Crow segregation, advanced women’s rights and gay liberation, created unions and the eight-hour work day, protested war and the genocide of Native Americans, and worked to right the wrongs of the day.
By giving public expression to rebels, dissenters, and visionaries from our past—and present—VOICES seeks to educate and inspire a new generation working for social justice.
The VOICES PERFORMING ARTS PROGRAM organizes readings wherever there is interest and provides organizing tools to those who want to stage their own performance, including schools, community theaters, unions, and cultural and human rights groups.
Performances bring to life actual words from U.S. history, by the anonymous and the renowned. Past readings have included the speeches of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the defiant call to arms of Shawnee leader Tecumseh, testimony of nineteenth-century factory girls on strike in the Lowell mills, and others from the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States as well as from the present day.
Since 2003, there have been more than 100 VOICES performances across the United States. In addition, we have staged productions of The People Speak in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia.
Performers range from students and community organizers to artists such as Black Thought from The Roots, Staceyann Chin, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Steve Earle, Wyclef Jean, Sarah Jones, Viggo Mortensen, Sandra Oh, Robert Redford, Tim Robbins, Mark Ruffalo, Wallace Shawn, Patti Smith, Kurt Vonnegut, Kerry Washington, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, and Alfre Woodard.
To see a complete list of past performers, please click here.
VOICES performances do not rely on professional actors and musicians alone, but often combine professionals with novices.
Just as we bring to life a history of everyday people, we hope to animate the stage with first-timers and old hands. And whether that stage is a classroom with an audience of thirty-five or the Berkeley Community Theatre before three thousand, each VOICES performance seeks to educate and inspire the next generation working for social change.
VOICES also aims to change the way U.S. history is taught and understood, in the classroom and beyond.
VOICES has developed comprehensive print and online educational materials using the rich array of existing multimedia content from past performance recordings, the book Voices of a People’s History, the work of Howard Zinn and other people’s historians, and the documentary film “The People Speak,” which is inspired by VOICES.
Together with VOICES performances, the EDUCATION AND LITERARY ARTS PROGRAM engage cast members and organizers at all levels of the dramatic and educational process, from selecting texts, to interpreting them, to adding new voices to the readings. VOICES hopes to help audiences see history as a lively, relevant, and contemporary subject, not just a matter of books sitting on the library shelf.
“I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power.”
- Howard Zinn