Revolution #276, July 29, 2012
BAsics Bus Tour
Connecting BA with People in New York
The BAsics Bus Tour hit New York City in mid-July, and volunteers—women and men of different nationalities and ages, from across the country—have been going out to neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn, connecting people with the vision and works of Bob Avakian and the movement for revolution he is leading. The following is a report on the first week of the bus tour.
It was a hot and humid Sunday morning in the Bronx. Two dozen volunteers piled into a social club without air conditioning but still full of energy. This was the orientation day for the BAsics Bus Tour volunteers. People in their 20s, 40s and 60s all meeting each other for the first time. As we gathered in a circle, the person leading the orientation asked everyone to look around at each other—these are the faces of the people who have come here on a mission, and each person here represents the contributions of people all across the country—the musicians in the midwest who played their music to raise funds, the youth on the west coast who pulled together for yard sales and picnics, the professors and professionals who contributed, and the dozens in Harlem who pooled together their penny jars to raise over $400 and counting. We were gathered in this room because of all their efforts. And we also represent the hopes and interests of people all over the world, the people groaning under the brutality and misery brought by this system. We are here representing the future.
The volunteers all looked around with smiles in their eyes and their heads held high. And the volunteers were also all coming from different cultural backgrounds as evidenced in their style of dress or manner of speaking. You could hear the variety of regions in the voices—a Black youth from the South speaking at a rushed clip, a pensive woman in her 40s who speaks with a clear directness, a Latino youth from the West Coast who speaks with energy despite the tired in his eyes, but takes his time through the words, revolutionary veterans of different nationalities who have a fire in their belly for revolution and people new to the revolution who have more recently discovered Avakian—through pieces like All Played Out or his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond—and want others to get into his work too. Some of the volunteers were impelled into revolution through their own bitter life experience—relatives murdered by the police, women still wearing scars—physical and emotional—from sexual violence perpetrated by men who are supposed to be their intimate loved ones. Others impelled because they learned about how most people live in the world, and learned there was a way out… that we don’t have to live this way, and could not look away from that, wrangling with their own responsibility to this reality.
People were very glad to meet each other, to get down with the people they’d be changing the world with. Breakfast and lunch time buzzed with people talking about what brought them there and what they thought they might expect.
In the orientation, the person leading laid out three key points of orientation, points which the volunteers could keep coming back to, to themselves assess how we’re doing:
- Are we putting BA directly in people’s hands, introducing them to the leader of this revolution, and learning their response to his work?
- Are we involving people on the spot to the maximum degree possible, and through this really building organization?
- Are we letting people know, and proceeding ourselves from, the fact that this is part of a strategy for revolution… to build up the thousands today to influence millions and to lead those millions for revolution when the conditions come into being to make that possible?
The folks filling the two different RVs split up into two groups to talk about the overall orientation and make initial plans…. I can’t capture here all the discussion that went on, but one volunteer, a young woman who sits with a straight-backed assertiveness and doesn’t waste words, put it well: “this whole BAsics Bus Tour is an all-out assault on people’s sense that another world isn’t possible.”
A few days in…
A few days later, I got a chance to hear from the volunteers on how it’s been going. A collective enthusiasm filled the room, different people finishing each other’s sentences or telling similar stories from different angles, a camaraderie with people checking in on each other, getting each other food and sodas… a stranger would’ve had no idea this crew had, just a few days earlier, been strangers to one another.
The first person who spoke—a veteran of the last BAsics Bus tour—started by saying that he should maybe let someone else start, but he’s just so eager. That spoke to a common characteristic of all the volunteers—eager. Even among those with a history of reticence, there is a pushing-each-other-forward eagerness to connect up Avakian’s work with people forced to the bottom of society and locked into that situation. And a lot of discussion and wrestling with the need and the forms to build a movement for revolution for real, including the need to leave behind organization in these neighborhoods—Revolution Clubs which the people they’re meeting now have to take responsibility to pull together in different ways.
There are so many different stories to tell, which the volunteers will probably tell better when they slow down to write in to the BAsics Bus Tour blog, but I’ll share some of these here now.
There is the openness among the people they’re meeting. Not everyone wants to talk and definitely not everyone agrees but the ways these volunteers are stepping—with a 30-foot decorated RV, marching and singing and chanting, listening and struggling and putting Avakian’s work directly into people’s hands through BAsics and the Revolution talk—is opening people’s minds to something they’ve never seriously allowed themselves to consider. And people are pouring forth with their deep questions and their own bitter experiences at the hands of the authorities, and most especially in the neighborhoods they’re rolling through, this is the experience with the police. Stopped and frisked, young men and women sexually molested by the police, arrested on bullshit charges… brothers, sisters, sons, cousins, uncles… everyone has a story.
This is something one of the younger volunteers remarked on. This is a loud, unabashed woman… who at one point apologized for maybe going on too long and then said, in an aside full of attitude and a small switch of the head, “Well, I could keep going, because I do love to talk.” This got a knowing laugh out of all the other volunteers. She talked about how she’s read about how people in the ghettos are forced to live, she knows the statistics around mass incarceration and police brutality, but being in this neighborhood at dusk as waves of police descend on the area, and hearing the young kids talk about how the police treat them… she said she’s learning on a much deeper level how people are forced to live in this supposed “best of all possible” worlds, what’s the painful reality of that.
And there’s how seriously the volunteers are taking themselves and are being taken by people in the neighborhood. Different volunteers can talk about the impact connecting with BA had on them, and why they’ve come to understand the need for revolution, the world historic significance of Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and the need to initiate a new stage of revolution. There are varying degrees of understanding in all this but it’s what has brought them all here. They came here on a mission and while not all deciding what their whole lives are going to be about, threw in for this two weeks—giving it everything they can.
One person—the one who talks at a faster clip than most New Yorkers you’ll meet—talked about the first time he read BAsics. He said he opened to the first quote and then just got in deeper. He felt like Avakian put together all the pieces for him—tapping into the shit he knew but also challenging him to understand the full problem and the full solution. He said since he first read BAsics, he’s been down with this revolution and he saw a particular importance in bringing this to the ghettos of New York City—where there’s so much repression but also where things can really reverberate out from.
He told a story about one young man who got BAsics, someone who is clearly influenced by gangster culture but has aspirations beyond that. Someone who knows he’s been lied to but wrongly sees the problem as the Illuminati or something short of the whole capitalist system. But when he grabbed a hold of the book, he didn’t stop reading for several pages. The volunteer said he could see himself in this youth, the way he just got so quickly immersed. When this youth got to the quote in BAsics about how the U.S. stole land from Mexico to expand the slave system, he looked up and asked, “So that means I got the same enemy as the Mexicans?” They got into all this more deeply, including the actual nature of this enemy and what it means that it’s a capitalist system. Though this youth really wanted the book, he only had $3. They decided to give it to him and also went about raising funds in the neighborhood so they could make up the difference, “We got to make revenue,” said the volunteer, “because we won’t have a big enough impact if we’re not raising the kind of money required.” This bus tour is a part of BA Everywhere… a campaign to raise big money to project BA’s vision and works into every corner of society. The youth said he would show the book to all his friends, and began right there giving out some of the palm cards with BAsics quotes.
Another story—which had all of us rolling—was about how quickly some people can change, when they’re both challenged and given a way to contribute to the revolution. There was a group of what the volunteers have come to call old timers, all sitting in a circle. A couple of the revolutionaries were rapping with them about Avakian, talking about BAsics and what this bus tour was about. One guy, we’ll call him James, kept challenging every volunteer who walked by, asking if they were serious about revolution, if they even knew what the word meant, why they had to call it communism. James had a different question for everyone who went by him and while he was listening, seemed unsettled by the whole thing. James was sharing his circle with someone who turned out to be very religious; he asked a volunteer whether he thought Jesus was Black or white, and when the volunteer said he was an atheist, that god doesn’t exist and we need liberation without gods, this guy nearly flipped his lid. He started to walk away, turned back around and aggressively gave back the palm card, making clear he was done talking. But a woman next to him, who may have been his partner, leaned in to a volunteer and said, "I can’t say much right now, but you all are doing the right thing and don’t stop.”
Later, the volunteer who told this guy he was an atheist saw a different volunteer talking to James. He was surprised as he thought everyone had seen this unfriendly exchange but James was looking through the book and seemed to really be listening. When the volunteer walked by, he saw James had a stack of palm cards he was handing out to folks and he hollered out, “See, I’m doing my part for the revolution.” The volunteer summed this up, “Damn, now that’s what we mean by transformation.”
Reflecting on this, another volunteer talked about how you can’t dismiss people ahead of time. We have to put out this revolutionary line and leadership very boldly and then let people find their relationship to this, including keeping our arms wide open to let people into this process. There’s a lot of motion and change in people’s thinking, and even a lot of people who don’t all agree were excited the revolutionaries were there… and wanted to be part of meeting the needs of the tour—taking up the 12 ways they can be part of the revolution, helping with food and housing, and contributing funds.
There are also ways this transformation is taking place among the volunteers—where they’re listening and learning from the people they’re talking to in a deeper way. One of the young women, new to this kind of neighborhood, talked with another young woman. Upon reading the BAsics quotes on the palm cards, she responded, “That’s powerful, I’ll vote for him.” The volunteer told how before she would’ve launched into a whole struggle about the elections but she realized she should hear this woman more deeply, and that really wasn’t the main point she was making, so the volunteer clarified that he wasn’t running for elections, he was the leader of a movement for revolution, but then also asked why she felt BA should be in a position of leadership. The young woman answered, “he sounds like he’s got a lot of dedication, and he’s telling the truth.”
Then there was the joyful telling of the rec center where they watched the Revolution talk with about 40 camp kids ages 6 to 15. A volunteer described this whole experience as “deep, very deep.” They had scheduled ahead of time to show clips of the Revolution talk in this rec center in the housing projects. (The housing projects are something a lot of the volunteers are commenting on… how it’s just block after block after block of grimy brown housing where it feels like people are being literally warehoused and contained.) At first a few camp counselors came in to check out the video, the volunteers talked with them about what BA gets into and if it wasn’t too graphic for some of the younger kids. One of the older counselors (in her 20s), said one of the girls had just done a project on slavery, and anyway, this was a history the kids needed to hear. So, they all piled into this room and watched Avakian tell the painful truth of the history of this country, a history of lynchings and the celebration of lynchings. They also showed the video about the last BAsics Bus Tour and the kids were attentive and quiet the whole time.
When the video was done, one of the counselors and a volunteer went back and forth, further explaining this history. Talking about who Emmett Till was, and then who the Black Panther Party were who fought against all this. The volunteer got into how BA came out of those times, but has since never given up on revolution and how he’s about freeing people all over the world today. This same volunteer said he’s been trying to pay special attention to making clear who BA is, and what his history is, that people need to get to know this leader in full. The kids then asked a bunch of questions about why people were lynched back in the day, what that means about their lives—including drawing connections to the way the police treat them and their families. After this, they broke into a bunch of small groups and did projects with the kids. They wrote two quotes from Avakian which are being featured this month: “American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives” and “Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First.” Because… And worked with the kids to write their responses. They wrote things like “harmony” and “freedom is everything.” Someone else wrote: “They are not the only ones in the world and everyone is great, smart and perfect for the world and that is the BAsics.” Or one of the older kids wrote, “Everybody in the entire world is important. Not just Americans! If people really believe that Americans are more important, it would be like a type of racism. Not racism judges by the color of your skin, but racism on the country in which you are from. Peace, justice, happiness.” Another wrote: “I think that everyone’s lives are equally important. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses but no one is best at everything.” This was signed Shantel and was surrounded by pictures of butterflies. One of the volunteers showed a couple of the kids pictures from Revolution newspaper of kids just like them, but born in different parts of the world, they thought about this and wrote things like: “the people of the world matter and some do not have food to eat. Also people are really important to me. But some people, I do not like it when people are mean.” “I learned that so many people die. People matter. When they don’t eat and drink, they die. We respect each other with knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We love people who passed away. We will always love.” Or “we want to change the world, because we want to stop danger that we are putting into the world. And we want to stop the system that is racist.”
This was an incredibly moving experience for the volunteers and the camp counselors thanked them for sharing all this. As they were telling this, I could hear BA’s voice in my head about what this system does to the beautiful children in the world… how their parents have to worry about their kids as they grow older in a system that corners them at every turn—trapping them to lives of misery and brutality, “even before they are born.” And what’s on us—the volunteers here with this tour, and all those who are stepping into be part of this revolution in all kinds of ways, big and small—to make good on Avakian’s pledge of “no more of that.” These same youth can be part of building a whole new world which we, which all of us, have to fight to bring into being.
As an appreciation, the camp gave a bunch of food to the bus tour, more than they could carry. This is a real need for the volunteers spending days in the hot sun, which people all over the city have stepped forward to contribute in different ways.
A poignant thing for me in hearing the volunteers tell it was the mutual admiration they had for each other as well. One volunteer said how impressed he was at how a couple of the other volunteers handled themselves, that they were able to break down these complex ideas for these kids and hold their attention while being real about revolution and bringing out who BA is.
An important observation from several volunteers is how much they’re sensing a seething anger from people they’re meeting, and a real desire for political resistance. They’ve got plans next week for speakouts and marches in the neighborhoods, applying a core element of the RCP’s strategy: fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. This is also an important element of the Revolution Clubs they’re aiming to build.
There’s so much more to tell… of a street theater they did in the neighborhood capturing how the pigs treat the youth every day, about Carl Dix speaking and calling on people there to be part of this, about the two young women who offered to do a bake sale to raise money for the bus tour, and about what they are learning as they talk with people about the Revolution Clubs, and calling on them to be part of it—again, in all kinds of ways big and small. And what they are learning as they are walking through the statement "On the Strategy for Revolution" with people. Getting into their questions which are spoken to in that strategy statement about how “'the powers-that-be are too powerful, the people are too messed up and too caught up in going along with the way things are, the revolutionary forces are too small.’ This is wrong—revolution is possible.” And they’re getting down with people about why and how… and how this tour is a part of that. The volunteers are also wrestling with how to get more copies of BAsics and Avakian’s Revolution talk in people’s hands. This is the glue of whatever organization they are fighting to leave behind. They’re getting into it with people about why “you can’t change the world if you don’t know the BAsics!” as the back of the book says and why they need to dig into BA’s work themselves. How this book concentrates 30 years of Avakian’s work and concentrates the essential questions of revolution and human emancipation. They’re also seeking out collective forms where people all go in for a book and reaching out to stores and barber shops in the area to set up things like a neighborhood lending library. People reading this can contribute to these efforts which will also make a real difference. Find out how to give at basicsbustour.tumblr.com/donate
I’ll end—for now—with one more reflection from the volunteers. In different ways, they talked about how people in this neighborhood feel rejected and abandoned. And how many people they met talked about how the politicians will just roll through peddling bullshit and poisonous promises. People wanted to know if the revolutionaries were going to come back. They said they would. That they were heading to a couple of surrounding cities and they’d be back next week. But this bus tour is over at the end of the month… and the movement for revolution has to exist beyond where all the communists can be all the time. And we do have to put to people: BA is a tested revolutionary leader, and the Party he leads is a serious Party and a revolutionary Party, it’s not going away or selling out. At the same time, to paraphrase BA, if you want to be emancipated, you’re going to have to emancipate yourself. Ain’t no savior going to do it for you. And we have to put before people all the ways they can contribute to this. As the statement on strategy says: “For those who have hungered for, who have dreamed of, a whole different world, without the madness and torment of what this system brings every day…those who have dared to hope that such a world could be possible…and even those who, up to now, would like to see this, but have accepted that this could never happen…there is a place and a role, a need and a means, for thousands now and ultimately millions to contribute to building this movement for revolution, in many different ways, big and small—with ideas and with practical involvement, with support, and with questions and criticisms. Get together with our Party, learn more about this movement and become a part of it as you learn, acting in unity with others in this country, and throughout the world, aiming for the very challenging but tremendously inspiring and liberating—and, yes, possible—goal of emancipating all of humanity through revolution and advancing to a communist world, free of exploitation and oppression.”
There is a little over a week left in this leg of the BAsics Bus Tour… and this is a tremendous opportunity to spread this all over the country. For the enthusiasm and energy of the volunteers bringing the revolutionary line and leadership of BA to the neighborhoods of New York City to be a catalyst in making a big leap in building the movement for revolution… in this city and beyond.
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