Revolution #175, September 6, 2009
Correspondence from a Revolution Club youth from the San Francisco Bay Area
I feel like there have been some very significant advances in meeting the three goals set forth by the new message from the RCP, even while I feel we have just scratched the surface. Here I want to present to Revolution readers some of the experiences I've had in taking out (in particular to the youth) this call and some of the obstacles I've run into in doing so.
ROCK THE BELLS
At the Rock the Bells concert we had a pop-up tent with huge displays, a banner and a red flag. One young woman walking with a group of friends stopped and looked at the picture of the little girl in Iraq with her legs blown up. Here first response was, "Oh my god." But her friends kept walking and started urging her to move on. She responded by telling them, "How the fuck can you ignore this? Look at this!" I told her this is why people need to confront this and why they need to begin to understand that we need a communist revolution to get rid of this system that causes all this. I showed her the statement and told her that this is what this Party and its leader, Bob Avakian, is setting out to do. She said that she agreed that people shouldn't ignore this, but when it came to communism she said, "Why would you want to take away people's rights, though? I don't understand how you could want this suffering to stop and yet be a communist."
I struggled with her and told her that we've been lied to about everything—about the source of the horrors and especially about the liberating experience of the communist project. I said far too many people who aren't willing to accept these crimes—I pointed back the picture of the Iraqi girl—are then suckered into having faith in this "democratic system" and in turn learn to accept the very crimes they oppose. She said she wouldn't have ever considered communism as a positive experience before this encounter with us, but that she feels compelled to check it out. She said she is sick of the crimes being committed and it's why she stopped and tried to make her friends look, but that communism killed millions of people. I asked her where she heard that and she said, "From school…duh!" I simply asked her if she believed everything they taught her in school. She said she saw my point and bought the statement and gave us her phone number. She didn't want to join on the spot but wanted to learn more.
A young man came up to me in amazement, "You guys are really communists?!" He was very anti-communist, but genuine in his shock and interest to find out what it's like to be a communist. I told him about the leadership and strategy we have to make revolution. He bought the statement based on the fact that he was very surprised to go to a concert and find communists.
THE STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL
A group of us went to a farming town where they were having their annual Strawberry Festival. It was a two-day weekend event. Originally we were planning on going only Saturday but we realized when we got there that all the farm workers were still out on the fields on Saturday and the majority would come on Sunday. The first day was kind of lean because of that. The second day there were probably ten times as many people.
On Sunday we returned and I had the approach of finding youth and focusing on them and organizing them into this movement for revolution. We ran into a big contradiction in that we don't go to this area that often. So we had to find ways for people to organize on their own and where they are—which we should be trying to do anyway, we later summed up.
I posed this problem to one young woman in high school that I encountered. She said she could take the statement and show it to her friends and talk about it. So I decided it was worth taking some time to go through the statement with her. We read the several paragraphs from it: on the youth, on women, on a revolutionary crisis and on the role of Bob Avakian. So then we figured out plans to leave her with an assignment. I had her name the friends she could think of who were like-minded. I asked her how she thought they were like-minded. I explained to her to not avoid, but also not to waste her time on the intermediate and backward people. She asked me if she had to know everything to take this out to others. I explained to her that what she needed to know was really concentrated in the statement and that she should study it and try to find answers to the questions she's dealing with, as well as going to our website. So we left with a plan: she would study the statement, distribute it to like-minded people and call me to tell me what happened and questions she ran into.
She ran into questions around nationalism and what we thought about Che. Like why have a white leader and is this a movement for oppressed nationalities, in particular Chicanos. I told her those were big questions and were important. We discussed some of the limits of nationalism and I referred to the side bar on that topic that's in the Black national question issue of Revolution ("The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," #144, October 5, 2008). I read some parts of it. She generally agreed with that analysis. She had some questions around Che but had to go because her mom wanted her off the phone. (Her mom didn't like that she was talking to a guy on the phone.) The last thing I told her was that she should write up her experiences and send them to Revolution.
My experience with the "Strawberry Queen" of the festival was also interesting. There's apparently a competition where some young women dress up in strawberry costumes and compete to see who has the best costume. One of the contestants was a high school student. She came up to me in her big strawberry costume. The first thing she asks is, "What kind of revolution are you talking about? Is it like Che?" Then we get into some of the content of the message and particularly the paragraph on a revolutionary crisis/people and how this has to be the conscious act of millions—something Che was not about. So she bought the statement with her friend's money (she had no pockets!). She put the statement inside the strawberry costume's pouch.
When the Warped Tour came to town a tiny crew of us went with the RCP's call, a pop-up tent and a bunch of displays. For a group of three of us we really shook things up and unleashed both the positive forces as well as the reactionaries who lashed out against us. We were making some good connections with people. So when the Christian fundamentalist band Under Oath (blah!) started performing these punk youth who were atheists but forced to go to Catholic school joined us in going into the audience with an enlargement of the front cover of Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods! and stacks of the call. The response from the crowd was very divided. Immediately some gave us thumbs up, started giving high fives to the person holding the enlargement, while others flipped us off or shrugged us away.
I ended up getting separated from the group when a mosh pit broke out where I was getting out the statement (I didn't want to mosh to a fundamentalist band). When I managed to get out of the pit I started getting out the statement again. I guess I went into the crowd that liked the band...one girl took the short-version and spit on it and ripped it, another guy told me to get the fuck out of there with my evil message, and another guy was about to fight me until his girlfriend pulled him away.
The other crew with the enlargement ran into another guy that really liked what we were doing around religion (because he thought it was irrational to be religious) and joined us on the spot by distributing the short-version. When I met up with them they were having a pretty large and heated debate with these Christian youth about why you can still have morality without religion. I heard one of them say, "It makes me feel good that there is a god up there." A comrade responded by saying that that is consolation, and to the degree that you're doing that versus confronting reality, that's a problem. He goes on and says that we need a scientific approach to reality. The Christian youth said, "So why are you here with that sign if you're promoting that 'don't-give-a-fuck' attitude?" The comrade responded by saying we DO give a fuck about the future of the planet and that's why we're atheists AND communists! The Christians just couldn't believe we really were communists and ended the debate.
Earlier that day I met two young women who were handing out free condoms and getting people to sign a petition to get Walmart to sell emergency contraceptives. They gave me a condom, and I asked them what they thought about revolution. They said they liked the idea. I read the paragraph on women to them and explained that the whole battle around abortion and birth control is really about women's larger role in society and whether they will remain enslaved to men and to their reproductive organs. They really agreed and asked how they could get involved.
I explained to them the three main goals of the campaign and got into it with them around Bob Avakian's leadership. They asked how he became a leader and I told them a little bit about how he came out of the '60s and working with the Black Panther Party, and how he's gone way beyond anyone else on the planet in his understanding of revolution and communism. I told them they should give us their contact information and take a stack of fliers and the "I'm with the REAL revolution" stickers and give them to people with the condoms. "Teach them about safe sex and the need for revolution and introduce them to this leadership," I told them.
Later in the week I called them and they told me they had just put the stickers on their condom can and on their shirts and people would ask them what it was about. They told them it was about revolution and gave them the statement and referred them to our booth. They also told me that some of the guys were being fucked up and patriarchal toward them and since they were handing out condoms the guys were equating that with wanting to have sex with them. They explained to me that the way they would handle that was by trying to give them the statement. And the guys would say they didn't want it, or that they didn't want to hear it and they just wanted the girls' numbers. They told me that at that point they would say that if they weren't interested in talking about politics that they would move on. They would tell the guys, "I'm not here to have sex with you, I'm here to teach you about safe sex." But they also explained that there were some young men and a lot of women who were genuinely interested and said they would go to our booth.
I summed up later that it would have been better if I'd walked with them and got out the statement with them so that I could explain to them more of what it was about, get into the statement more, and give them some "on-the-job training" in taking revolutionary communism out. It wasn't correct to say here's a stack of fliers I'll talk to you next week. We have to prepare people for and give them a taste of the controversy they will encounter, and help them learn how to turn it into an opportunity to spread revolution.
Later in the day this older white guy came to our booth and was reading the "American Democracy=Capitalism=Imperialism" display. There were a lot of youth lined up at the booth next to us where a band was giving autographs. I came up to the guy and asked him what he thought. He started getting in my face and screaming saying, "This is the most blatant, unadulterated bullshit I've ever seen in my life! We're letting these criminals in Iraq just go scot-free and continue to kill our troops. Don't you have any respect for what our soldiers are doing for you?!" I responded by taking our display off of the tent and putting it up so that others could see and said, "Look at those little girls! Were they criminals? That's what those soldiers are doing! Do you have any fucking clue what you're talking about?"
At this point the youth who were waiting in line were all looking. And I guess this reactionary fool thought I would get defensive about "our freedoms" and that he would embarrass us in front of these people. But neither happened. We started distributing the short-version to everyone who was around us. That one reactionary brought another big white guy to stand next to our booth and look tough (I guess).
We decided that we didn't want them to just be standing around the whole time and put the situation on their terms, and we should confront them to either diffuse the situation or to escalate it on our terms. It wouldn't have been good to just leave them standing around and intimidating others. So we got into it with them, and we let other youth who were digging the revolutionaries being at Warped Tour know what was up with these reactionaries. These two youth got into the debate with them basically saying that they wanted to hear our perspective because we wanted to change the world. These other young women were also on the sides listening.
We had talked to one of these women, told her what we're about and told her what was going on with those reactionaries. But I guess it didn't come to her attention that we were communists (even though we said it plenty of times). In the middle of all this she reads the statement and tells me that she doesn't understand how there could be a party called the "Revolutionary Communist Party." She said that the words "revolutionary" and "communism" are two antagonistic things. Communism is anti-revolutionary and is dictatorial, she said. I told her that if you want to talk about dictatorship and the horrors it brings on people, talk about capitalism. Where communists have held power there have been tremendous accomplishments in meeting people's basic needs and in tearing apart exploitative relations and ideas that go along with those relations.
She interrupted me and said that she doesn't like capitalism. She hates what it does to people. "Fuck Obama, too," she said. "He's fucking tricking people into believing shit that Bush wanted people to believe in." She started telling me that her family was from Poland and that the tremendous suffering there was caused by communism and only now by capitalism. Her argument was that both were really bad. But the interesting thing was that this anti-communism was in the context of her being really hurt by and emotional about the suffering people go through all over the world. Her friend kept on telling her, "OK. Fine, you disagree. Let's leave and see the next band." But she refused to stop arguing with me because she said that it matters what kind of change you have in the world. And she doesn't want people to suffer whether it's under communism or capitalism.
I told her basically that there are no socialist states in existence in the world. Her argument was that their names are communist. It was getting pretty heated. And I told her, "Look, personally, it fucking hurts that the tremendous suffering your family went through, that people in China are going through, that people in Cuba are going through, is done in the name of communism. But let's be scientific and objective. This is the functioning of capitalism with a communist façade. Nothing else and nothing less. And I think that if you're serious about changing the world, if you really, really care about the suffering people go through, you can't accept ANY argument at face value and you have to be scientific. And you have to actually fight against the crimes of this system right now and organize to stop them. That's what we're doing."
And I explained to her the work that Bob Avakian has done is summing up the experience of past socialist societies (which were tremendously and overall positive, but secondarily not good enough). I made it clear, using the paragraph on Avakian from the statement, that this leader was different and far beyond anything that has ever existed on this planet. She said she agreed that you need to fight against the crimes right now and build resistance and talk about this revolution and debate it. And, even though at first she gave me back the short-version statement, after that back and forth she bought the full version and gave me her phone number.
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