Revolution #253, December 18, 2011
The Cornel West – Carl Dix Dialogue at UC Berkeley:
Thousands Turn Out For Unprecedented, Transformative Evening
"Carl Dix and Cornel West tonight... Even from the 99th overflow room, this is so incredibly powerful."
"Fantastic, the best event ever at UCB. It was well-timed with what's happened, it was intellectually challenging, emotionally touched people and relevant."
"Students emailed their lives will never be the same."
Word had spread throughout the University of California, Berkeley campus and among many in the Bay Area—via leaflets at Occupy rallies, emails on department and student organization list serves, class announcements, and word of mouth—in the weeks leading up to the December 2 dialogue between Carl Dix and Cornel West—In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-Education: What Future for Our Youth? So the students, faculty, Revolution Books supporters and others organizing the event expected a full house of 1,000 in Pauley Ballroom, and had reserved two overflow rooms seating another 800. But in the hours leading up to the event it became clear something else—new and extraordinary—was happening.
In October and November, UC had been the scene of an awakening and uprising unlike anything the campus had seen since the 1960s—a national focal point of student struggle against budget cuts, the Occupy movement, outrage over police abuse, and racism on campus—with students, faculty, and people from the community gathering in the thousands and waging sharp, uncompromising struggle against the administration and police—and weeks earlier against a racist campus Republican "bake sale" against affirmative action. So a lot of different kinds of people—from the Occupy movement, African-American student groups, students studying mass incarceration and police violence, and others had been working in various ways to bring the dialogue to UC. Twenty UC Berkeley academic departments, centers, and student and student government organizations, as well as several community groups, were sponsoring the dialogue.
One administrator emailed that the dialogue would bring unique voices to campus and enrich the discussion about "the criminal justice system, structural racism, economic justice." A Black student told Revolution, "There's been no other event at UCB that even came close to this one: an important whole evening with two Black intellectuals speaking to a very large crowd, let alone speaking about things like revolution."
On December 2, people were lining up hours before the event to get in, with the line stretching as far as the eye could see. Some said it went from Pauley halfway across campus past the library, others that it went all the way across to Hearst—probably a half mile. People had come from campus and around the Bay Area. Some came in organized groups—like 30 high school students and teachers from San Francisco. There were students from Mills, Laney, SF State, Cal. State East Bay, and San Jose State. There were activists and prominent figures from the community, and many who'd been active in the Occupy movement. Folks came from LA and even Las Vegas.
"Holy cow! A HUGE line of people for CARL DIX, CORNEL WEST—WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH, mind blowing," one person tweeted. Hundreds and hundreds were still lined up after more than 1,800 people packed into Pauley and two overflow rooms.
Pauley Ballroom was charged. After a welcome by an Associated Students UC Senator, two spoken-word performances by UC students, and introductions by the two moderators—one a UC faculty member, the other a UC graduate student—Carl Dix took the stage.
Carl Dix: "Revolutionary greetings Berkeley!"
Carl Dix started with a revolutionary shout-out to Berkeley—"the home of the free speech movement... where Huey and Bobby founded the Black Panther Party... There's another part to the importance of Berkeley for me and that's that the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, his roots are here in Berkeley... all of this comes together in the specialness of Berkeley to me."
Then he jumped right into what are we up against, what kind of liberated society and world we can bring into being, and how we can make revolution.
Dix painted a vivid picture of people around the world up against the horrors of this global system—people in central Africa ravaged by conflicts driven by intensified imperialist rivalry for control of Africa's resources, 2.5 million women from South Asia and Eastern Europe being trafficked as sex slaves. He also focused inside U.S. borders, referencing horrific things like Nazi-like anti-immigrant laws, the attacks on homosexuals, and digging into the brutal oppression Black people have faced ever since being dragged here. He analyzed the roots of the New Jim Crow, underscoring that it is not the fault of the youth that they have been born into a world where in many cities "fully half of our youth will never find employment—that is the future our youth are up against." He stressed that these are due to the workings of the capitalist system but also the result of conscious policies and laws that amount to a slow genocide.
Dix drew all of this together, to broad applause: "So this is what we are up against and what it comes down to that there ain't no way that you are going to deal with this short of making revolution and getting rid of this system once and for all. That's what it comes down to, sisters and brothers. That is what we are up against and that is how we got to move on it."
Then Dix emphasized that "The most important message I want you to get is that things do NOT have to be this way—that through communist revolution we can change all this. That Bob Avakian has done deep study and brought forward a new understanding—a socialist society both viable and moving to communism." And in response to the conventional wisdom that communism has failed, Dix said, "Consider what is the source of that, and that it's the same people who don't tell you the truth about history, about the current state of society here in this country and around the world. And who don't tell you about how it got that way. Those are the people who are telling you that communism has failed. And they are lying to you about that too, sisters and brothers."
As one example of what socialist society would make possible, Dix compared the lack of—and mis-education—youth get in this country with how education would be dealt with in the new socialist society. Where people would be taught critical thinking and be able to learn the true history and nature of things. Dix called people's attention to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and urged people to buy and read it. As an example of what people do not learn about in this society, Dix walked the audience through why Haiti is so poor—not because the Haitian people are messed up, but because the country has been strangled by colonialism and imperialism ever since the people rose up in revolution. In contrast, in the new society people would learn the truth of history and all of reality. They would be taught different values and encouraged to think critically and use their knowledge to change the world. He stressed that this would only be possible by making revolution to change the system.
He got into the strategy for revolution, citing the document "On the Strategy for Revolution," giving emphasis to the need to Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution, and then the "need to spread revolution everywhere, and you need to spread the pathbreaking leadership, work and vision of Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Here you have a leader who has developed a framework and a guide that goes at that question in an all-around and comprehensive way, that brings to you in a basic sense an understanding of why the world is like this, but also a vision of how it could be different and far better. Now think about the impact this has for people who are standing up and questioning stuff to have this framework they can bounce off of or that they can debate with, that they can develop points of agreement and points of disagreement with....
"In light of what we see as the importance of getting Avakian's work and vision everywhere, the Revolutionary Communist Party has embarked on a campaign to raise big money, the money that is needed to get that work and that vision everywhere."
Dix described what he and Cornel West had been doing around stopping stop-and-frisk in New York City, and how they were taking this effort everywhere, including into Occupy Wall Street. The audience broke into applause twice during this part of the speech.
Dix ended with a quote from BAsics 1:13 in a call and response—answered and energetically taken up by most of the audience: "Mic check. Mic check. 'No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, who the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.' And having said no more of that, we must act to make it real."
Cornel West: "Young people are hungry and thirsty for truth and justice"
Dr. West then stepped to the podium. He quickly went into core themes: "If you are committed to truth, and the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. If you are concerned about justice—and justice is what love looks like in public—so, if you love poor people... you can't stand the fact that they are being treated unjustly. That's what we're here for."
West drew repeatedly from Black culture, peppering his speech, as the Daily Californian put it, "with humor and jazz references," addressing "issues ranging from the lack of accountability from Wall Street executives ... to the 'warped' political priorities of the federal government. 'Young people are tired of lies ... and weapons of mass distraction.'"
West cited Sly Stone's anthem from the '60s: "Stand! You've been sitting much too long," contrasting this with how "too many of our young folk are tied into this culture of superficial spectacle where they are told that to be human is to be titillated and stimulated so they become addicted and self-medicated to keep them sleepwalking."
He repeatedly spoke about the Occupy movement—first, drawing from the way the Occupy movement has been a crucial awakening—and contrasting that with 30 years of an "ice age" in this country "where it is fashionable to be indifferent to poor people" and to the wretched of the earth. "What we need to talk about is oligarchic power, plutocratic power. Billions of dollars at the top. Trillions given to those at the top because they are too big to fail."
He did a biting analysis of the kind of society gangsta rap came from: "Where does gangster rap come from? Looking at old folk and saying you're acting gangster-like. They looked to Wall Street and saw gangster activity. They looked at the White House and saw selections rather than elections. The Supreme Court deciding against popular votes. They looked at politicians and said, 'My God, Congress seems to be a site of legalized bribery and normalized corruption with 26 lobbyists for every Congressman or Congresswoman.' They said that everyone is concerned about the 11th commandment: thou shall not get caught." This brought knowing laughter from the audience.
He hammered at the hollowness of this culture and its standards of morality: "For the last 35 years we've told young people in every corner of this nation to be successful. What does success mean? Material toys, title, wealth, power and being well-adjusted to injustice." This point got widespread applause.
West then raised a crucial theme of his speech and of the dialogue: "Like my dear brother Carl Dix, we refuse to accept the notion that there is no alternative to the present. We will not defer to the truncated public discourse that says the only limit of our politics is the choice between a mean-spirited, mendacious Republican Party and a milquetoast and spineless Democratic Party. We refuse to confine ourselves to that kind of limit. We want something else. We want another world! We want a better world! We want more imagination. We want more empathy. They say, 'Oh, that's just utopian. You're just dreaming.' What's wrong with dreaming?"
West raised the importance of differentiating between justice and revenge (which was then followed up in the dialogue between the two of them). "When I give a critique of oligarchy, I'm not talking about hating oligarchs, I'm talking about the use of oligarchic power, which is a choice. It is a decision. We're not demonizing anybody; we are demonizing systems. ... There's a qualitative difference between justice and revenge and you don't have to read Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to know the difference."
He raised that given the Occupy movement and the repression of it, "We're at a fork in the road. You can either go toward anger, revenge and bigotry or you can go toward love, justice and equality."
Dialoguing About Love, Dreaming, Communism, Courage and More
When Cornel West finished, he sat down next to Carl Dix, center stage, for an extended, wide-ranging, and deeply engaging dialogue. Dix kicked it off by referencing West's point about being motivated by love for the people, and the importance of dreaming of a radically different world, and how all this is very different than being motivated by revenge. West responded that the question of love and hatred "has to be tied to a systemic analysis of power" and emphasized the importance of political courage and acting based on principles—noting the importance of Avakian's distinction between "righteous indignation and revenge."
There was deep, shared unity on key points, as well as sharp disagreement, including over religion and how to evaluate Stalin, Mao and the first wave of communist revolution. Throughout there was a sense of "an engagement, not just a clash," as one student put it, between two people who loved and respected each other and each other's ideas while arguing passionately for their beliefs.
Talking to many people afterward, it was clear that the evening had been tremendously inspiring and uplifting. "Most were very enthusiastic, using words like incredible, brilliant, amazing, inspiring, awesome, very empowering, powerful, truthful, wonderful, invigorating, fabulous, and absolutely stunning," one Revolution reporter summed up. "They were astounded." Students and faculty—at UC as well as from other colleges—described the evening as "life-changing." One academic said it was "fantastic," and the "best ever event at UC," and added, "It was well-timed with what is happening, it was intellectually challenging, it emotionally touched people, and it was relevant."
Some were literally in tears describing how they felt afterward. Others remarked on how seriously people were listening to the lengthy and substantive speeches and the dialogue. Some of the themes that emerged from talking to dozens of people included hope that things could be different, joy at seeing so many different people come out for an event featuring these speakers on these themes, renewed energy and commitment to the struggle against injustice and oppression, a sense that new ground for engaging big ideas had been carved out, and among a significant section of the audience, a desire to learn more about revolution, communism and Bob Avakian.
Hope, building off the Occupy upsurge, was a big theme. One Black woman, a toxicology undergrad from San Jose State, told Revolution, "Really I feel empowered." Another person said, "The future of our youth can be unlimited if we stop sleepwalking and pay attention and realize we have power and can change and dismantle the system." A local teacher said, "The dialogue further deepened my urgency to teach with a greater energy to wake my students up!"
"I really liked the whole thing," one Cal student said. "It was like these were social revolutionaries of their time, well, while currently as well... No passing on the torch. This is the time for us. The Occupy movement and reinvigorating our democracy and that stimulation and empowerment from them. Believing in us. That's incredible, hearing that from such great leaders." Her friend, asked about the theme of the future for the youth, responded, "It doesn't have to be this way, that the status quo can be changed. That's really inspirational."
"The dialogue is inspiring and optimistic on the goodness of a protesting community," one Black youth remarked.
"This event came at the right time," a UC sophomore told the Daily Cal. "With the Occupy movement on the rise and it being visible even on our own campus, Cornel West and Carl Dix seemed to fuel the spark of passion for the movement."
"The first thing that was surprising is when I got here and the line extended a quarter of a mile or something? It was astounding," one man in his 30s, who is somewhat familiar with Carl Dix and the RCP, told us. "But still I just wasn't prepared. It was like being born again or something like that. It's a weird religious metaphor to use but it was just so reinvigorating and hope-instilling. And just to see all these young people—sharing all this commitment. It's just amazing. I almost felt close to tears at some points."
The way the two speakers dialogued and related to each other also made a deep impression, and seemed to have created a new space for people to think, imagine, and engage different perspectives and really big ideas. "Just by the way two men who have strong disagreements on religion and certain history, by overcoming that difference to speak up for truth united them together for a beautiful brotherhood," one person said. "I feel like I've found my spiritual brothers and sisters!"
"They were talking about the truth," a Latino youth told us, "and every time you talk about the truth I can't help but be shaken."
A Black man in his 40s who brought a youth he's mentoring, said, "I saw Dr. West at Cal State East Bay a few weeks ago. It was good to hear some of the same message, he tweaked it a little for the audience. But to hear him combined with what Dix had to say, I liked that because they are on opposite ends but they still had a common thread in the middle. Right? I talk to people all the time and I always say that we can have a discourse and not agree. To me this is an example of that. To me this is invaluable."
A significant section of the audience was intrigued by Dix's discussion of revolutionary communism and Bob Avakian and wanted to learn more. "I especially like the communism part," a Black high school student said. "I have researched about communism, the old kind. So it was interesting to hear how they revised it, to make it in a different kind of situation, how it applies to now."
The San Jose State toxicology student Revolution talked to loved Cornel West, and also said, "I actually really enjoyed [Carl Dix] because he's a communist and I really don't know that much about communism, so [pointing to BAsics and the Constitution she had bought] I'm a go home and I'm a read about it and find out. I know that Americans have this idea that it is not that great but whatever, I'm going to figure out for myself and I'm going to stand by that."
Dix's remarks about communism and his promotion of Bob Avakian also raised a lot of sharp questions and controversy. One student told us, "Cornel West was amazing—it was inspiring. I loved Cornel—he's about love and justice. Carl Dix was too absolute—to say that socialism and communism is the only way to solve the problems of capitalism. I'm no capitalist, but why is he saying revolution is the only way—it's too black and white. Where has socialism made for a better society?"
The event ended around 11 pm, but knots of people stayed in the room, like they couldn't get enough, and wanted to keep drinking in the atmosphere. One Korean-American UC student Revolution talked to was outwardly exuberant. She wanted to take the poster for the event, which had been taped to the podium, home as a souvenir—like it had been a kind of Woodstock. What stood out to her? Carl Dix's point about fighting through for the truth and living by that. "That resonated so much with me."
It's clear that much more from this unprecedented evening will continue to resonate in many different ways, with many, many different people.
This event was filmed by C-SPAN for national broadcast, probably in December. Stay tuned to revcom.us for details. For more information and to bring this dialogue to your campus, people should contact:
A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Carl Dix
PO Box 941 Knickerbocker Station
New York, New York 10002-0900
Ph. 866-841-9139 x2670
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.