Revolution #273, June 24, 2012
Getting Down to BAsics With the People of Sanford
In late May I joined the BAsics Bus Tour as it rolled into Sanford, Florida, the town where Trayvon Martin was killed. The tour brought the work and vision of Bob Avakian and his book BAsics into Sanford and I spent my time in the Black neighborhood of Goldsboro talking with the people about their lives and digging into the deep questions of how to change things. This series is dedicated to the people of Sanford and to the crew of volunteers on the tour, whose enthusiasm for spreading the work and leadership of Bob Avakian and for fighting to build the movement for revolution inspired everyone they encountered. See Revolution #272 for "I Couldn't Put It Down."
For more on the BAsics Bus Tour, go to basicsbustour.tumblr.com.
Trees! That's what struck me the most about the look and the feel of Central Florida. After living in L.A. for a long time I'm like a kid in a candy store when I come up on a whole lot of big, full on oak and cypress trees, their branches and leaves throwing up a natural canopy to help you get through the humid and way too damn hot days. And then there's the Spanish moss hanging down off of the branches of these trees like silver grey beards. And when tiny flowers start to bloom on the moss, little red specks in all that grey—kind of like…blood... that's when it hits me. Trees carry with them a whole different meaning for Black people in Sanford and other parts of Central Florida. When a soft wind passes through these trees it's not the soothing whooooshhhh sound of the surface of leaves gently passing over one another they hear. Instead, it's more like a brittle clacking, the sound of dried bones that have been hanging there for centuries banging into one another. After all, as Bob Avakian has so sharply pointed out, "The 'Bible Belt' in the U.S. is also the Lynching Belt." And all these great beautiful trees, draped in Spanish moss, are also lynching trees.
In the Goldsboro neighborhood of Sanford, one of the historic Black neighborhoods, it's striking how many people have a lynching story. Samuel is a middle-aged, middle class Black man living with his family in a well-kept little house, with a well-kept lawn in Goldsboro. Samuel teaches in a local school. He's a striver in a terribly downpressed town. He has a rock-bottom belief that the system works—or at least it works for those who know how to work the system. Samuel believes that things will get better once Black people get into the system and learn how to work it.
He stands at his door wearing a green and black striped polo shirt, neatly pressed pants and slip-on shoes. Samuel moved to Sanford from another part of Central Florida a little less than 10 years ago. When I approached him to talk with me, Samuel looked out at the BAsics bus and wanted to know what it was and what all the commotion was about. We talked for a few minutes and as we stood there I noticed a Black man about Samuel's age riding past the bus on an old 1960s-style cruiser bike, not once but a few times, carefully checking everything out. On his last pass-by he looked over, nodded and rode off in the opposite direction.
Samuel commented that we were attracting attention and soon the conversation turned to the murder of Trayvon Martin. I read Samuel BAsics 1:13, the "No More Generations" quote that's a big part of the message this tour is carrying with it. Samuel started talking about his thoughts on what was behind the murder of Trayvon and how it has been handled by the authorities. "It was just a litmus test to see if they could get away with a modern-day lynching. Because in Central Florida, lynching been taking place for a long time. And a lot of the lynchings that have taken place in history have been done by law enforcement. It's been done from as long as I can remember. And one of the most notorious lynchers was Sheriff [Willis] McCall over in Lake County."
Samuel got quiet and tense, took a deep breath before he went on with his story. "I was six years old. I didn't go to school that day because I was sick. I was dropped off at my grandmother's house. My grandmother had to go to work, so I was with my grandfather. He was picking fruit at that time, so we drove out to the area where he worked and he pulled up into the orange grove and he stopped. And when he stopped it was more like a pensive stop. He saw police cars there. He basically knew something was wrong. He got out the car. He told me, he said, 'Whatever you do, do not look out of the car. Get in the back and stay down regardless of what you see or hear.'
"So I knew that something was wrong, and then he started yelling, 'Strange fruit! Strange fruit!' to the other workers that were around. When I peeked over the back of the station wagon window, I saw that Sheriff McCall and his deputies had hung a Black man. And I know he told me not to peek, or not to look and to stay down, but I looked and I saw what was going on. And I also saw Sheriff McCall brutalize my grandfather and the workers that were out there and told them that 'you better not say nothing, nigger, or else. That was the warning that we all heard, and we all grew up with."
Samuel's face was tense, he took a minute to pull himself together again and then brought things back to the murder of Trayvon. "Yes. I told everybody. This was the litmus test to see what they can get away with. And what I mean by they, I'm not talking about just the police force. But I'm talking about white men in general. Because everybody that was in charge of that investigation was white: the state attorney, the chief of police, the detective that was on duty at that time. Even though he wasn't a homicide detective, he was a narcotics detective. A homicide detective didn't respond to the shooting. It was a narcotics detective, which was wrong in the first place. Because if you have a shooting and there's a death, it should be a homicide detective that responds.
"Any time that there is a shooting involving somebody Black, it's always assumed that drugs are involved. Exactly. So normally they just roll out a narcotics detective because they assume that it's criminal mischief involved in the first place."
I asked Samuel when he saw that lynching. He said it was in 1968 and lynchings were still going on in Central Florida. To drive home his point, he told me that the "Coloreds Only" signs weren't removed from the water fountains in the Greyhound bus station until the late 1970s.
I looked over toward the BAsics bus and one of the volunteers was on the sound system reading BAsics 1:13, breaking down and talking about revolution and communism and why people have to be checking out Bob Avakian and becoming part of this movement for revolution. Samuel stared at the bus for a bit and listened to some of the agitation. Then he turned to me and said, "I think you're asking for trouble here in Seminole County. Because this is the area where it's the good ole boy system, and if you buck against the system you're going to be hurt."
I pointed out to Samuel that people in Sanford had stood up when the system justified and tried to sweep under the carpet the murder of Trayvon. I commented that it's not just the color of your skin or the "good ole boy" system but the bigger system of capitalism and imperialism that is built on the foundation of white supremacy that's the problem and what we have to deal with. Samuel responded quick: "Because we're tired of it. We're tired of it and we're not going to stand for it any longer. You're right. Like you said, it's more than just the color of your skin. Because not all white men are evil and not all Black men are good. So you have to think about where do we go from here? We have to get people who are going to let their words mean something, where their yea is yea, and their nay is nay. You have to have people that are going to let their words mean exactly what they say."
I talked with Samuel about the tour and why it's called the BAsics Bus Tour. I talked about how we're spreading the word about the vision, work and revolutionary leadership of Bob Avakian and why that's so critically important today. I asked Samuel if he ever thought of revolution. He hesitated for a minute and then replied: "No, I haven't thought about revolution. I've thought about change. But as far as revolution is concerned and about changing the system, I think the system works, but it works for people who know how to work the system. I think we can change things. But the change has to come not only with our vote, but with our way of thinking. Knowledge is powerful." It was coming up on dinner time and Samuel's kids were kind of insisting that he come in so they could eat. As he stepped back into his house, he turned and said that he doesn't "buy into" communism because as far as he could tell it hasn't worked. And with that he was gone.
I saw Samuel the next day as we started to march through his neighborhood down to the speak-out at the Sanford Police Department. Samuel was watching and listening and as he was heading back into his house, he came over and asked me if I had any more of those cards with BAsics 1:13 on them. He smiled and said he wanted to think about that [BAsics 1:13] for awhile.
Bicycles are a popular way of getting around in Goldsboro. It's flat and a relatively small area so people take advantage of it—lots of old cruisers with big fat tires and fenders. As I walked towards the bus after my conversation with Samuel, the man on the bicycle passed by again. This time he stopped to read the banners on the bus before heading off deeper into the hood. I was watching him and almost walked into another bicycle rider on the street. I jumped when I heard a young woman yell "Excuuuuuusse meeeeeeeeee!" in total frustration with my not watching where I was going. She stomped back on the pedal brakes and stopped an inch away from my leg. Her name was LaLa and she quickly let me know that I was gonna get run over if I didn't pay attention. I apologized and she asked if I was with the big old RV on the corner with all the banners and the sound system. I said I was and explained who we were and what we were doing there. I asked her about her thoughts on what happened to Trayvon Martin.
LaLa twisted her lips before she spoke. "I think it's cruel. I think that it's selfish. I feel like they not really doing nothing. I think they're just letting it go just because of his [Zimmerman's] mother and his father and what they're known for. He's a judge, and she's work at the courthouse. I feel like if you have money you can do whatever you want to do basically. That's what I feel about the whole situation."
I read BAsics 1:13 to LaLa and she took the card to read for herself. "I feel the same way that he feel and not only for Trayvon, but I feel it for the other people that's in the community that got killed by the police." LaLa thought hard for a minute, it was like she wanted to be certain she would use the words she needed to use to make her point. "I'm glad that—not that somebody would lose their life, but I'm glad that they're picking up on it. People starting to understand, and people are getting more understanding, and there had to be a 17-year-old boy that get killed for something to happen. But my boy was 16 years old. He got shot from behind. He was driving a stolen car or whatever. He was leaving and the security guard shot him from behind, and he died. He died and there's nothing we can do to bring him back. There's nothing that we can do. But we can try to speak for him, but not to say just because we speak I'm feeling that justice will be served."
I showed LaLa the photo collage of the "We Say No More" banner with BAsics 1:13 on it and told her how many people all over the country were stepping up to stand with the people of Sanford. I told her that hundreds had signed this banner and, before I could finish, LaLa proudly said, "And I'm one!
"It feel good to have somebody behind you and to have somebody, you know, that feel the same way that you do. If you by yourself, then you by yourself. No one'll hear you. But with a thousand more people, a lot of people gonna hear you. So it feels good to have somebody by your side that'll help you through it. It does. See, I'm glad that all this is going on, I really am, because I'm just 23 years old, and I'm sick of all this that's going on in Sanford, that I done seen in the 23 years of my life. I'm tired of it."
It was getting close to the time we had set to leave the neighborhood and LaLa said she had things to do. I wanted to ask LaLa if she ever thought about revolution and being part of the movement for revolution. She said she hadn't but she thought that it was kind of like everything happening today is in the Bible. We kicked religion around for a bit and LaLa was really intrigued by the idea that religion promoted a slave mentality that would keep people in chains. I asked LaLa again what she would say if she was asked how she could be part of this movement for revolution. LaLa got a huge—but suddenly very shy—smile, and said, "I'll be trying to get ready. I'm just happy that the movement is going. I'm real happy that the movement is going." Her friends called out from down the street and LaLa reached out for a handful of the "Join Us! Twelve Ways That You Can Be Part of Building the Movement for Revolution- Right Now" cards. She took off down the street on her bike, yelling out the longest "Thannnnnnnnnk youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu" imaginable and then letting loose with a loud, long laugh.
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