Revolution #265, April 8, 2012
The Murder of Trayvon Martin, the Need for Revolution, and the Strategy for Revolution
Editors' note: The following is a rough (edited) transcription of a presentation Sunsara Taylor gave at Revolution Books in New York City April 4 as a prelude to a discussion. Revolution newspaper urges all its readers to read this presentation and think deeply about the approach and orientation which Sunsara presented.
ST: Hello, my name is Sunsara Taylor. Welcome to Revolution Books. We are going to discuss tonight the murder of Trayvon Martin and the strategy for revolution and the need for revolution.
So without any further opening comments we are going to begin this evening with two video clips which speak for themselves.
[The first clip is from the PBS television show Eyes on the Prize, Episode 01—Awakenings 1954-1956. Starting about 10 minutes in it describes the lynching of Emmett Till.
The second clip is "Emmett Till and Jim Crow: Black people lived under a death sentence" from Bob Avakian's talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About.]
ST: So what we just saw was about Emmett Till, a young Black teenager who was lynched after he went to the store to buy candy, some 57 years ago, and we are gathered here because just about a month ago a 17-year-old young Black man was killed after he went to the corner store to buy Skittles that night—because he was wearing a hoodie and looked suspicious: Trayvon Martin. As the statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party said: "It is very good and very important that people, not only in Sanford, Florida, but all over the country, are outraged by the murder of Trayvon Martin and are making their outrage known in many different and creative forms of protest. It is also important that, in connection with the murder of Trayvon Martin, the memory of Emmett Till—wantonly murdered by white supremacists decades ago—is being raised to express the fact that people have seen this go on for far too long and will not stand by to see it happen yet again.
"At the same time, the fact that yet another Emmett Till moment can arise—that yet another outrage of this kind can take place—today, more than 50 years after the original Emmett Till lynching, and that this murder of Trayvon Martin is not an isolated incident but only the latest of an endless chain of such acts that are perpetrated, condoned and covered up by the powers-that-be, shows very powerfully that, this time around, we must not settle for anything less than stopping this, once and for all—we must build a movement to really and finally put an end to these and countless other outrages that spew forth from this system, by sweeping away this system through revolution. This is deadly serious and we must take this up very seriously."
Now, I want to ask everybody a question that is going to frame the evening: "Do we want to be sitting here in 57 years, or 60 years, or having our children or our grandchildren sitting here in another 57 years reflecting back once again on another one of these outrages? And saying, "how long will this go on?" That's the question we have to ask ourselves and it's about what is happening to Black people, what's happening to Black youth—but it's across the board in this system. If you want to look back 50 years and see the conditions of women you can watch the AMC series Mad Men, and watch about the total discrimination, routine marital rape, and everything else that was normalized and then you can open up the Sunday New York Times, the Book Review, and read about how the latest craze is a modern-day refashioning, a best seller that is supposedly popular among women, which is about how sexy it is to have a man beat you up and treat you like a slave. We can look back and say this is just like 50 years ago. And do we want people looking back 50 years from now saying, "how much longer will this go on?"
Or you can look back 50 or 60 years and you can look at the massive death, the mass rape, the massacres, and the destruction of a whole people and their land of the people of Vietnam—and you can live right now and say "Look at Iraq"—a million dead and 5 million displaced. Look at Afghanistan, look at Pakistan and look at what's looming before Iran. And you can project forward again too and say in 50-60 years do we want people gathering saying "how much longer"? Or you look at the environment—the destruction of ecosystems, of species, the warming of the climate, the changing of the weather patterns. You look at all of this and all that it means to the planet and humanity, and do you want people gathering, in groupings like this, in this part of the world or others, reflecting back on what's happened in the last 60 years? The whole wreckage of the planet that is bound to happen if this system is not overturned. And these things don't just stay the same. It's not just more of the same. Trayvon Martin is not the same as Emmett Till. And what's happening today with women is not the same as the '50s. And what's happening with the environment is not the same.
These things—even with advances through struggle, with people rising up against them, which is some of what we saw—the heroism of Emmett Till's family, the heroism of Black people at that time—even with the invaluable lessons learned through this struggle, the reality is that so long as this system remains intact, the oppression—the workings of this system grind on. Things get even more twisted, even more grotesque, even more horrific.
57 years ago, the Supreme Court felt compelled to make the Miranda decision—forcing police to read people their rights when they are under arrest, and give them the right to remain silent. But yesterday the Supreme Court said the cops can strip search you for any offense no matter how small. It can be for a traffic violation or violating a leash law. The pigs can take you in and strip search you and humiliate you, says the Supreme Court.
And then we have to come back to the purpose of this evening—the specific outrage that has called us together—the murder of Trayvon Martin. And everything that has been written over the last weeks, and this week in our newspaper—Revolution newspaper—about this case, about the outrageous lies, the cover-ups, about the way people's righteous outrage has been twisted and people try to spin a sympathetic story about Zimmerman and demonize and criminalize Trayvon Martin. Everything that has been in this paper is true. As the discussion, and this is what has gotten more twisted over the years, this is the discussion in the paper over how much confusion has been sown. How much internalization of this oppression has happened among Black people themselves, in a situation when the outright segregation that we saw with Emmett Till has been overturned. But this ending of formal legal Jim Crow has just led to further disorientation in the face of deepening racist terror and oppression—and all the ways this plays out in people's lives and their thinking. The analogy was made that there was no young Black man living in the time of these lynchings that wasn't traumatized by the fear of being lynched—and the translation today that there is not a Black youth in this city or this country that has not grown up traumatized by the fear of being brutalized by the police. The expectation that it's more likely they will end up in prison than in college or with a career. And the trauma and the fear of Black parents, including Black mothers…just like Mamie Till had to school her son about how to act when he went down South, today you have Black mothers, giving the talk to their children, their sons in particular, how to dress, how to act with authorities, how not to make sudden movements because they could be deemed a target, a criminal. And how even that doesn't save their lives because this system does what it does to people. So really, the question of this evening as we go through our discussion is—and as we reflect tonight and beyond tonight and into action tomorrow morning and the days after—is what we saw 60 years ago and what we have been living through is intolerable. And, is this going to be the case for another generation and the generation after that?
Each of us has to ask ourselves that. From the young people here who are seriously considering and checking out this revolution and weighing what they are going to do with their lives, to the people who are new and just hearing about this, and, yes, including the veterans who have been in this struggle for years and even decades. Everybody has to ask themselves are you just going to do a little something because it is going to make you feel better? Because you couldn't live with yourself if you let this go on without doing something? Are you going to continue to fight the good fight for as many years as you have left? And let it roll on, and let people after you fight the good fight as well? Or are we going to give everything we have, engage as deeply into the questions of where this comes from and what it's gonna take to end it and fight with everything we have, no matter how new you are, no matter how old you are, no matter how much experience you have in this? Is every ounce of our being going to be to make sure that in 10 years and 20 years and 30 years and 60 years this is not what people are living through and worse.
The truth is the world does not have to be this way. Revolution is possible. Revolution and a whole different system. A whole different way that people can live and relate—a system where people can live and they are not constantly terrorized, degraded, exploited, oppressed. A world where Black mothers don't have to school their Black children over how not to be shot by some cop or some wannabe cop. A world where one out of four women doesn't live with the trauma of having been raped. A revolution is possible, and anything short of revolution—if the last 60 years have taught us anything—anything short of a revolution to get rid of this system is not going to cut it. And that's what we have to be about.
Now there's a lot of reasons people will give you for not getting all the way into the revolution. People will think of their families, their careers, their possible careers. They'll think about the risks to themselves, including to others that they might struggle with or lead into this revolution. They'll think about how scary it is—not just the sacrifice that you might have to go through but how scary it is ideologically to confront the implications of having to discover that everything you've been told about the way this system works is a lie. And it's scary to confront the dauntingness of how a revolution could actually be made. And how the system that rules over people could be defeated. And how people who today are not into revolution, and including people who today need this revolution, are into some things that are pretty messed up. The dauntingness of struggling and daring to fight with people who need this revolution to get out of a lot of bullshit and get into this revolution.
A lot of this weighs on people. Let's just be honest, a lot of this weighs on people, and then there are those voices that come in your head, too—that say, "Yeah, you could do some good while doing some good for yourself too. You should go this path and contribute a little." No one should contribute something they are not convinced of. But no one should look at this and not confront the actual implications.
Until this system is done in and done away with and something better is brought into being, this is going to continue to go and people need to actually confront that and act accordingly. And again—revolution is possible. It's been done before. There have been revolutions that have been successful and they've accomplished tremendous things and they've gone a great distance before they were defeated, and now we have someone who has figured out a way—building on that experience and interrogating it deeply—who has deeply summed up what was done right, what was done wrong, what was the framework that led to that, and what's changed in the world since and what's been learned more broadly. We can make revolution again and we can do it even better and we can go even further. We have somebody who has done that work; that's Bob Avakian. And he is actively leading a party—the most precious thing the masses of people have is a party that is founded on that new synthesis of revolution and communism and fighting to bring it into being. And as I said, a big part of what Avakian has brought forward is a strategy for how we break through—and how we fight in normal times and also how we fight when we are in times like this when the true nature of the system is being revealed to people and people are thrust into outrage and political life and there is a moment that can be acted upon.
All that is laid out, among other places, in this book BAsics—which people should get—at the end of the third chapter, in the Statement on Strategy for how to make revolution.
And this is something we are going to talk about tonight. But we are not going to talk about it like "we always talk about our strategy because that's what we do around here"—we are going to talk about it not in a routine way—which we should never do—but we are going to talk about it informed by everything we've seen and everything that is invoked in that question of where are we going to be in another 60 years?
And so people here, as we talk about this, have to think themselves and decide—are we going to engage this very deeply and in a very living way? You know, with Obama, four years ago he put up signs all over the place that said "hope"—and today he's pretty much putting up signs all over the place that say "fear." That's not what we are saying, we are saying "engage"—check this out, get into it. I'm not saying to take this revolution and this strategy and this new synthesis of communism and what Bob Avakian has brought forward on faith—but I am saying to engage it and to transform on that basis.
So I want to read something that Bob Avakian has written recently, and it's an invitation if you will—to people who over these last few months to a year have come forward to throw so much into things, fighting the power and resisting in different ways. And it's also an invitation to everybody, no matter how new you are—if this is your first night here.
"Let's go on a crucial journey together—full of unity against oppression and lively struggle about the source of the problem and the solution. Pursue your own convictions—that the outrages that move you are intolerable—to their logical conclusion, and be determined not to stop until those outrages have been eliminated. And if this, as well as learning about other outrages, and ideas about how this all fits together and flows from a common source—and how it could all be ended, and something much better brought into being—leads in the direction of seeing not only the need for bold and determined resistance, but also the need for revolution and ultimately communism, then don't turn away from that because it moves you beyond your comfort zone, challenges what had been your cherished beliefs, or because of prejudices and slanders. Instead, actively seek to learn more about this revolution and its goal of communism and to determine whether it is in fact the necessary, and possible, solution. And then act accordingly."
So that's the challenge. That's the challenge to people who are coming forward, but also the challenge to each of us. Because again you have to ask yourself—do you really want someone else to be here 57 years from now having to figure out what we are going to do about all these outrages? And that has to frame what we are doing and what we are discussing tonight and how we are going forward in the coming weeks. There are people out there that want leadership. There are people responding to this who want leadership. I am going to read a couple of the quotes from the centerfold of this week's copy of Revolution newspaper, which I hope a lot of people have read but it's worth it to really listen to what people are saying in these quotes.
"You think if I shot some white kid walking down my street they'd say I was just standing my ground? I'd be in jail, we all know that. Actually, I'd probably be dead. But it seem like more of this is coming to light than they want. Zimmerman had a big ass gun. A gun meant to kill people. They got a whole system set up to protect this kind of shit. But a lot of shit has come out into the open they don't intend to be out in the open. And people don't like it."
—A veteran in his 60s who has lived in Florida his whole life
"This [the murder of Trayvon and the police cover-up] could be like what they were doing to people in Germany, for all we know."
—A young man taking a course in world history in high school
and had studied Nazi persecution of Jews
"Young people like Trayvon can't keep getting killed for no reason. I'm ready to look at anything to try to figure this out and come up with some answers."
—A young woman from Florida A&M who organized
and participated in protests on her campus
Listen to what these people are saying. They need leadership–they are crying out for leadership, and these are not lone voices. This is representative of a deep, deep felt outrage that has come to the surface with this murder of Trayvon Martin. So one thing about the strategy that I was referencing–that's in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—and is part of the strategy that he has led in developing—is that it involves acting in an increased way in moments like this.
In moments like this, our efforts are multiplied. You are up against forces giving different solutions; everybody's in motion—from Congresspeople of the day, to Al Sharpton, to all kinds of people trying to tell you what this issue is and is not about, and offering shortcuts and offering detours, offering all kinds of solutions and non-solutions. But this too is a good thing because if we get in there, and we engage this and we take on these other arguments, this is a process through which people can learn a tremendous amount. Because people are trying to figure out if there is a way out. And we've been out there. I know a lot of people in this room have been out there, and side by side with people who are standing up and struggling. And we've called for a big day of outrage on April 10. Because if people don't fight the power we are not going to get anywhere. And we know that the Stop Mass Incarceration network has called for something on April 19. And that they are fighting to make this a very powerful day.
And we have a tremendous opportunity heading into May 1, which is the international holiday, the revolutionary holiday, the communist holiday, the holiday for people all around the world who dream of and are fighting to get free. And it's a day when Occupy has called for mass protest across the country—and we've got an opportunity in this to let people know about the leadership that we have. And the fact that revolution is real. And that Bob Avakian has both developed a new synthesis and how that could be made real in the world and he is actively leading a party and a movement. And this is something people need to come to know and in a moment like this we can make profound leaps, we need to and we can make profound leaps in making that known. And letting people get familiar with the path to move forward.
And we've got the BAsics Bus Tour coming up in early May, which everybody here should be thinking about applying to. This is a bus tour that's going around with the book BAsics and it's going into small towns and big cities, and on college campuses in the big cities and it's going to be going through areas where a lot of outrage around this Trayvon Martin case has been felt very deeply and this is going to take revolution right into the midst of this—take revolutionary leadership right into the midst of this moment. People here should be thinking about volunteering to go on this bus tour for a week, for a weekend, for a month—changing your schedule and changing your priorities and helping get this revolution on the map in a whole greater way. Just this past weekend I've been told that $350 was raised in this area to help fund this bus tour, opening up a way for people to come into this revolution. And this fundraising effort throughout this whole month needs to go to another level too. It's a way that people can both learn about this revolution and contribute to its impact being projected. So all of this, making leaps and leading people in a moment like this to Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution, posing a challenge to the legitimacy of this social order and this state, and posing a different pole and revolutionary pole as a competing legitimizing force in society, of making major leaps in projecting Bob Avakian, and getting people here more deeply engaged in his leadership and the strategy for revolution and much more broadly in society at a moment like this where people are saying we need some kind of change.
So I want to read a section of the Statement on Strategy to help us have this discussion and in a moment open this up for us to engage this:
In order for revolution to be real there must be: a revolutionary crisis, and a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and led by a far-seeing, highly organized and disciplined revolutionary party. Clearly, this is not the reality now. So, how can this come about? And what is the strategic plan?
The potential for a revolutionary crisis lies within the very nature of this capitalist system itself—with its repeated economic convulsions, its unemployment and poverty, its profound inequalities, its discrimination and degradation, its brutality, torture and wars, its wanton destruction. All this causes great suffering. And at times it leads to crisis on one level or another—sudden jolts and breakdowns in the "normal functioning" of society, which compel many people to question and to resist what they usually accept. No one can say in advance exactly what will happen in these situations—how deep the crisis may go, in what ways and to what extent it might pose challenges to the system as a whole, and to what degree and in what ways it might call forth unrest and rebellion among people who are normally caught up in, or feel powerless to stand up against, what this system does. But two points are very important:
1) Such "jolts" in the "normal functioning" of things, even if they do not develop all the way to a fundamental crisis for the system as a whole, do create situations in which many more people are searching for answers and open to considering radical change. The work of building the movement for revolution must be consistently carried out at all times, but in these situations of sharp breaks with the "normal routine" there is greater possibility, and greater potential, to make advances. This must be fully recognized and built on to the greatest degree possible, so that through such situations, leaps are made in building up the movement and the organized forces for revolution, creating in this way a stronger basis from which to work for further advances.
2) In certain situations, major events or big changes can happen in society and the world and can come together in such a way that the system is shaken to its foundations...deep cracks appear and magnify within the ruling structures and institutions...the raw relations of oppression are more sharply exposed...conflicts among the powers-that-be deepen, and cannot be easily resolved, and it becomes much more difficult for them to hold things together under their control and keep people down. In this kind of situation, for great numbers of people, the "legitimacy" of the current system, and the right and ability of the ruling powers to keep on ruling, can be called seriously and directly into question, with millions hungering for a radical change that only a revolution can bring about.
There's more in the Statement on Strategy, but I want to highlight this point: there are times when the normal functioning breaks down and people are open to looking at and acting in ways and resisting things that they normally don't look at or feel powerless to resist. So I want to open up the discussion with people—we are going to talk about how do we understand this outrage of the murder of Trayvon Martin and the refusal of the authorities to arrest Zimmerman? And the outpouring of outrage amongst Black people against this? And the need for even more? And frankly the shameful non-response of huge sections of white people and other people, and the challenge that needs to be put to this, as well as the openness among some that needs to be worked upon, so people can learn things and be moved to act in ways that they didn't want to act a week ago or a month ago?
What do we need to be doing not only to lead people to respond to this but so that the forces for revolution, the forces that are actually devoted to making sure that there are not meetings like this in another 57 years, and there's not a need for meetings like this in another 57 years, so that the forces for revolution can take people as far as they can go in this next period and through that build up the strength of the revolution as a contending force?
So I want to discuss how are we understanding that and how are we going to do that? And there's stuff laid out in the newspaper this week about May Day coming up. There will be a whole week of activities, four major days of activities around May Day, to get BA Everywhere. We should discuss the day of action on April 10—to lead people to resist and fight the power against this murder of Trayvon Martin. And we should discuss how all this fits together—not in "fighting the good fight," but in making real leaps in bringing people forward to fight against this outrage and get as close and as far into this movement for revolution as they can. That's what the moment calls on us to discuss.
So I'd like to open it up to people's questions and have people's reflections on what we saw, reflections on this question I've been posing and some real wrangling in a living way with this question of straining against the limits and striving to transform the conditions among the people with the strategy for revolution. I know people have been out there and they have been doing some of this, but this should help. Our experience should infuse and inform the discussion, but then we should make leaps in our collective understanding of this and in our collective determination and sense of what's the best way to work on this contradiction to hasten and to develop, as far as we can, a revolutionary people.
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