Revolution #251, November 27, 2011
Report from One Area:
Getting Out BAsics on "Black Friday"
On "Black Friday"—the "biggest shopping day of the year"—teams of people in different cities went up in the face of the obscene orgy of "shop till you drop" to create a whole different scene. Their mission: to get BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian into the hands of many and cover the cost of responding to requests from prisoners for copies of the book. And in doing so, to jump-start an emerging fundraising campaign: "BA Everywhere… Imagine the Difference It Could Make." The following is a snapshot report from one area.
People in our area had a mix of exciting plans for Black Friday. We went to a new Target mall in an oppressed area, largely Puerto Rican (that is now being gentrified); another neighborhood that is mainly a mix of students and artists; the Occupy Wall Street encampment in our city, which is adjacent to a shopping area; a gourmet food store in a traditionally progressive middle class area; and the bus lines where families get on the buses to visit relatives in prisons 5-10 hours or more away. We also tried some important new things—dressing up and going to the opera, having a presence outside a world famous art museum (where there was an exhibit of a well-known radical artist), and going outside (and inside) the headquarters of major law firms known for their pro bono work.
A group of five of us took the alternative to capitalism and Black Friday to the heart of Occupy Wall Street. As we were getting going, a march being led by a group of drummers coming back from Wall Street and another march to end violence against women of a couple hundred people arrived at the same time. This was really favorable conditions and right away a couple of us jumped into the rally and did a mic check and read the entire quote 1:10 from BAsics about "look at all these beautiful children that are female in the world." A lot of people thanked us for that.
We got out several hundred fliers in the park and along the outer areas, which included thousands of holiday shoppers going by. This crowd was more difficult to penetrate and there were even some backward responses. Around the park, there were folks in town for the holidays who came down to see OWS and were just thrilled to be there as well as very concerned about the police presence. These people were especially open to BAsics. One woman from California had brought her 17-year-old son down to the park to check it out and to hand out stickers she had made, "Occupy Authority." She had heard of BA and one of our crew opened up to Chapter 6 on revolutionary responsibility and leadership and found a quote that spoke to the positive role of revolutionary authority as opposed to the notion of authoritarianism. She read the quote, then bought a copy for a prisoner. She also got a copy of Revolution newspaper.
We tried different things at the table, but it seemed the most effective was the "putting the book into hands" approach—to have as many people as possible standing there holding the book, and reaching out to those who looked really interested and giving it to them to browse.
Outside the Target, we had a large display featuring the centerfold letter from the prisoner in California along with images from that centerfold and the image from the cover of Revolution #247 (responses to 3:16) across the top. "Want the alternative to capitalism? Get the BAsics!" Our table featured a large display of BAsics, the RCP's Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), the current edition of Revolution and the special Revolution #244 on BAsics. Although it was a struggle to cut through the "shopping fog," putting the book in people's hands and letting them look at it and letting people know the impact of this book on the prisoners—a lifeline to the revolution and transforming to be emancipators of humanity—had a big impact. "This is really some book! I've only gotten past the first two pages and it's really something!" said a man who bought it on the way into the mall. Others who bought it on the spot did so after reading one or two quotes and recognizing something of what BA and this revolution is about. People were much more willing to donate after we had an opportunity to show them some of the letters from prisoners and how their lives were changing as a result of being connected to this revolutionary leader.
In the artist area, we had an enlarged display of sections of the centerfold in Revolution #251. We were unable to put out the envelopes for prisoner books, as suggested, on our street display, so we put up stickers on the big poster to indicate books that had been bought for prisoners. A significant number of people who got the book were from outside the country—a design teacher from Scandinavia, a writer from South America, a doctorate student from Europe, a young woman from a southern African country, a woman from Israel. After spending some time reading BAsics intently, the woman from Africa gave us money to send a book to a prisoner. She then left, saying she didn't want to buy it for herself. Later, as we were starting to pack up to leave, she returned to buy BAsics! She said she now wanted to get a book—she had gone down to our city's Occupy Wall Street and while there, she heard someone reading aloud the quote "Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world..." She was deeply struck by the quote and when she learned that the quote was from BAsics, she just had to come back to where we were to get a copy of the book for herself.
The team at the upper-middle-class neighborhood (in front of the fancy food store) at first had some trouble breaking through. Summing up, they decided they wanted the first thing to jump out to people was that this was a campaign to get 1,500 copies of BAsics to prisoners—and the idea of holiday giving a gift that matters. This drew forward a different sentiment—including those with more awareness of the prison issue—including a doctor from the Bay Area who is connected with health issues in California prisons; a woman who is a child of holocaust survivors, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after WW 2 and spoke about her feelings of empathy for people who suffer imprisonment and poverty; and a Black woman who spoke about her understanding of prison issues, who also wanted a copy for herself as soon as she looked at the table of contents and read the first quote. Also a white grad student who is doing a paper related to this, and an older Black man who returned to the book table after reading through the flyer and looking at BAsics. Also, although she didn't contribute on the spot, an older Black woman spoke about her church's work with ex-offenders and said she was going to show the material to the group at her church.
The legal/law firm team had a plan to go to law firms that have done ongoing pro bono work involving cases at Guantánamo as well as death penalty cases. We were able to go to one of these law firms first with a flyer saying we were coming back that evening when folks were going home and with a copy of the book in our hands. That evening we had buckets, a big donate sign and it was clear what we were doing, but it was dark. We came back several days later (as was printed in the initial flyer) in the morning with bigger signs and agitation which said "500 prisoners have this book BAsics and it has helped raise their political awareness and developed and trained a section of revolutionaries among them where they are changing the world and themselves in the process; 1500 more have requested this; help make this happen and DONATE. We need $15,000 to cover the costs for this."
What was striking was the demographics of who stopped. Some Black people stopped. Hardly any white people stopped. One young Black secretary told us she has been a supporter of the Innocence Project. Another Black woman who was just passing by told us her brother is in jail and she wants to get a copy of BAsics to him. Looking it over, she said to us: "It seems this is what he needs." A Black man, a truck driver and father of three who lives in Harlem, said he is going to support this effort and "work with you revolutionaries who are doing a mighty thing here." This struck a nerve and when people did take the time to undo their earphones connected to their i-pods and took in what was asked, it made a difference and they got that they were making a difference.
Interestingly, one young white guy who identified with the Occupy Wall Street movement and is a student at a college in the area donated $10. He knew and applauded that there was a beginning cross-over of sections of people coming from different places to fight against the system. He knew about stopping stop and frisk in New York.
The team that went to the museum felt it an important place to be—really part of the mandate of the BA Everywhere campaign, to get BA's works and vision to every corner of society. But there were not the lines of people we expected to be there and it was difficult to get out our fliers and get people to stop. We stopped often to sum up and readjust our agitation, etc.
One holiday gift pack was sold to someone who knew about Revolution Books and knew of Bob Avakian. Another was sold to a couple coming out of the museum who stopped to read our display, "Want the alternative to capitalism? Get a copy of BAsics!" They were walking away, but when they heard a seller talk about BA's new synthesis of revolution and communism, a vision of a world without exploitation and oppression, they came back. The wife looked at the husband and said something like "I know you want to contribute to this" or something like that! They wouldn't take a copy of BAsics but donated the full $20 for prisoner books.
The team is summing up more and plans to go back to the museum. There are times when one can go to the museum for free and people line up for tickets. The mural exhibit by the famous artist is moving and vibrant; the commentary doesn't do it justice. The team felt that we didn't reach all the people we could have and plan to go again.
Another team focused on a major crossroads in the large Black community neighborhood where we met the usual mix of students, professionals, travelers and residents. We had an anchor location at one spot and sent another team to another key intersection a few blocks away where we had some loud and effective agitation on the subject of mass incarceration. People are keenly aware of this, many know about and support the actions to STOP "Stop and Frisk." In about two hours at the second location, five holiday gift sets were sold as well as one individual sale. Back at the anchor location, which is a strategic but less busy spot, we sold five gift sets. Ten of the 11 people buying books paid for one to go to a prisoner as well. Overall we collected $333 on the day; $223 of this was in straight donations and gift set proceeds.
We spoke to people more on the movement for revolution and how prisoners by getting connected to BA are changing themselves and becoming emancipators of humanity. We talked to dozens of people with friends, relatives, loved ones locked away and others involved with various organizations that reach out to incarcerated people. A woman driving by stopped, was honking her horn to get our attention, and said "I've seen you guys here on the corner every Saturday, I want to find out more about you. I'll stop around the corner." (Cars behind her were honking.) When the seller caught up with the car around the corner, the driver already had her $20 out for a holiday gift pack. The seller asked her to park and come out and talk next time! Another seller spoke to a corrections officer who donated several dollars to get the book to prisoners. A postal worker bought a holiday gift pack. There were some people who have seen the revolutionaries on the corner for years who have started to get a sense of what this revolution is all about, having heard about the dialogs between Carl Dix and Cornel West, the STOP "Stop and Frisk" actions, the April 11 event on BAsics. Almost all these people gave some kind of donation. Other people said, "You'll be here next week, won't you? I'll have money then." A couple of people we know in the hood came out to greet us as we got ready to leave for the evening.
On Sunday at a church in the Black community, we sold two copies of BAsics that included one gift pack to a prisoner ($30). In addition we collected $57 in donations. Quite a few of these were $5 donations from people who had seen our flier either last week or earlier in the morning. We impressed people with the $500 dollars in combined sales and donations in Harlem over the "Black Friday" weekend. One woman laughed out loud, pleased with the fact that we had gone right in the face of the ugly consumerism with this and managed to raise this much money for such a cause. She was not a churchgoer but a passerby and did not think highly of church or churchgoers. She was surprised that we were reaching out to people at this church. We talked about this in relation to building the movement for revolution, people who are inspired to fight oppression out of religious convictions. We had a display with a thermometer challenging folks at this church to match the figure and she wished us luck. The woman who bought the gift pack was very animated when she learned of the movement for revolution and checked out the book's opening quotes. She bought the newspaper, the gift pack of one for herself and one for a prisoner and wants information on the STOP "Stop and Frisk" campaign.
One man, only out of prison two months, had bought the book last week after leaving church service. The same man came by today and shook my hand. He said he'd only read the first few quotes but said, "This is a very important book, I really want to thank you for what you're doing out here." He spoke of how people in prison are starved for information and many get broken. He said, "God bless you," as did a few others who gave donations.
Right now we have reports that, over the weekend, money for 85 books to prisoners was raised and 65 books were sold to individuals. We also distributed more than 5,500 flyers.
BA Everywhere Black Friday Team
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