Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
Imagine yourself taking a little trip back in time. Not too long ago—50 or 60 years. And not too far—imagine you're still in the U.S., in a southern state like Mississippi or Alabama or Georgia.
A lot of what you see is familiar; yet at the same time shockingly, grotesquely different. Public spaces, like restaurants, bus stations, parks, movie theaters, libraries—even water fountains and restrooms—are marked either "White Only" or "Colored Only." The spaces marked "White Only" are always cleaner, more up to date, more spacious. The "Colored Only" areas are back entrances, alleyways, rusted water fountains, maybe "rest rooms" pointing to a cow pasture.
It has been 100 years since the Civil War ended slavery in the United States. But the economic and social relations all around you bear the scars of the shameful history where Black people were owned by white people and produced much of the wealth for the foundation of U.S. capitalism. The end of slavery supposedly "freed" Black people. But instead, Black people continued to be subjugated as a people, in no less exploitative, oppressive forms. Under the sharecropping system, once again, they were chained to the land and worked like slaves, producing profits for the capitalists. And a whole range of laws and "traditions" codifying all this arose—and were violently enforced by the police and the KKK.
It is 1960 and Black people have not been outright owned by white people for nearly 100 years. But walking through the rural South in 1960, you see poor Black farmers still working the land, barely able to feed their families. And Confederate flags still fly "proud." Everywhere you look, you can feel the threads of history in which white supremacy and the systematic oppression of Black people has been, and continues to be, embedded in every aspect of U.S. society.
The U.S. proclaims it is a bastion of freedom and equality. But every thing around you drives home how an entire group of people are denied the most basic rights, the target of official and mob violence, and subjected to countless, daily, humiliations—because of the color of their skin.
This was the nightmare of Jim Crow America.
"In the eleven states of the Old Confederacy, the separation of the races was regulated from the cradle to the grave. Blacks were born in segregated hospitals and buried in segregated cemeteries. ... Segregation was an idea carried to absurdity. In southern courthouses, whites and Blacks took oaths on separate Bibles, and in most southern states, white ambulances were not even allowed to ferry Blacks to the hospital, however critical their condition. In North Carolina, it was illegal for white school pupils to use textbooks touched by Black hands; in Georgia, it was unlawful for white baseball teams to play within two blocks of a playground where Black teams held games."1
After hearing how white racists murdered a Black 14-year-old for whistling at a white woman, Anne Moody said, "Before Emmett Till's murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black."2
In 1961, 13 courageous people, seven Black and six white, refused to accept all this as "the way things are." They refused to be complacent, to "look the other way," to "be patient." They understood the dangers and threats that lay ahead of them. They really didn't give a damn what "respectable society" thought about them.
Instead, they stepped into a volatile, dangerous situation and began a journey that would change the course of history. On May 4, they boarded two buses in Washington, D.C. They planned a trip that would take them across the South, aiming to end in New Orleans on May 17. Every mile of that journey, they would be in violation of the laws and "customs" of the "southern way of life." They would sit, Black and white, side by side on the bus, with Black people in the front. Black people would enter "whites only" lobbies, restaurants, and rest rooms.
These were the first Freedom Riders.
Despite some legal rulings that nibbled at the edges of segregation, and despite struggles—often heroic struggles, at great personal sacrifice, including death—carried out by Black people and some whites in the decades before, Jim Crow had become, if anything, more entrenched in the South—including in the halls of government power. A Time magazine article in 1959 reported that the Democratic governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, had declared: "The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him. His forehead slants back. His nose is different. His lips are different, and his color is sure different."
At the beginning of 1960, a wave of lunch counter sit-ins aimed at confronting and breaking Jim Crow spread to more than 100 cities and towns of the South. By the end of the year, student leaders at Black universities in the South, and some established civil rights organizations, in particular the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), were looking for a way to confront and challenge Jim Crow segregation across the entire South. The idea of the Freedom Rides was born.
The first Freedom Ride became a two-week drama of escalating racist violence, and world changing heroism. These initial Freedom Riders were all deeply committed to non-violence. For some of them, joining the freedom rides meant dropping out of school, even though they were the first in their family to go to college. And all of them knew they would be risking their very lives by going up against and into the jaws of Jim Crow violence.
All along the way, after facing mob violence, time after time, they decided to continue, even more determined to take a stand against injustice, even if it meant risking their lives.
Early into the trip, several riders were assaulted and beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina when they entered a "white waiting room." Some were arrested and detained briefly in Charlotte, North Carolina and Winnsboro, South Carolina. But the threat of massive violence erupted into ugly reality when the Freedom Rides reached Alabama.
The Freedom Riders were on two buses and when the lead group arrived at the Anniston (Alabama) bus depot, more than 200 angry white people surrounded the bus. The racist crowd banged on the doors and windows with iron pipes and slashed the bus tires. The driver sped away with the mob in pursuit. Once outside the town, the driver stopped to repair the tires. Then someone hurled a firebomb through the bus' rear door. In danger of being burned alive, the Freedom Riders got off the bus, coughing and vomiting from the dense black smoke. The mob then attacked them with clubs and iron bars.
When the second bus of Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston an hour later, it too came under attack. The mob dragged people from their seats, beating them into unconsciousness. Several people who needed emergency medical attention after the brutal assaults were thrown out of the local Anniston hospital when a white mob converged on it.
A gang of armed Klansmen commandeered the second bus, forced the Black riders to the back, and told the driver to continue to Birmingham. When they pulled into the bus terminal, the Freedom Riders had no idea that a trap had been set for them. The Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor had promised the KKK that they could have 15 minutes to commit whatever mayhem they wanted on the passengers. And this is what they did, and did without mercy.
The Birmingham police were working directly with the Klan, and the FBI had several agents and informers embedded within the Klan, often acting as leaders and instigators of the lynch mobs that attacked the Freedom Riders. The FBI had known in advance that the two buses were going to be attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, but did nothing to try to prevent the violence. 3
While the Freedom Riders were in Alabama, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's assistant was told to put a stop to the rides. He pleaded on the phone with Diane Nash, one of CORE's student leaders, to call off the Freedom Ride, saying, "Young woman, do you understand what you're doing? You're going to get somebody—do you understand you're going to get somebody killed?" Nash responded, "You should know, we all signed our last will and testament last night, before they left. We know someone will be killed."
A group of students in Nashville hurried to join their comrades on the front lines in Alabama. In Birmingham, they were arrested and in the dead of night driven across the state line to Tennessee and let go in the middle of the countryside. The Riders were unable to leave Birmingham until May 20, when they finally got a bus and driver to take them on the 100-mile trip to Montgomery. Alabama police escorts accompanied the bus, supposedly for the Riders' "protection."
But when the bus reached the Montgomery city limits, the police escort, including a plane, suddenly disappeared. At the bus terminal, at first, there were only a few people sitting around, along with several newsmen. There was an eerie silence and then suddenly a mob of hundreds of angry racists, with all kinds of weapons, set upon the Freedom Riders yelling, "Get them niggers, get them niggers." One person was paralyzed for life from the beating he received at the Montgomery bus station. Jim Zwerg, a white member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was beaten to bloody unconsciousness, his teeth knocked out. Zwerg later told of how a Black man intervened: "There was nothing particularly heroic in what I did. If you want to talk about heroism, consider the black man who probably saved my life. This man in coveralls, just off of work, happened to walk by as my beating was going on and said 'Stop beating that kid. If you want to beat someone, beat me.' And they did. He was still unconscious when I left the hospital. I don't know if he lived or died." 4
Zwerg did not receive urgent medical attention he needed because there were no white ambulances available for his transport and under segregation laws, Black cab drivers could not take white passengers.
News of this attack spread around the world, and that night about 1,000 Black people from Montgomery, including many children, met at a local church to hear from and support the Freedom Riders and the struggle they had initiated. The church was soon besieged by a frenzied crowd of over 3,000 whites who burned cars, smashed windows, and tried to break into the church. One of the Freedom Riders, James Farmer, recounted: "The streets were full of roving bands of short-sleeved white men shouting obscenities. ... The crowds grew thicker as we approached the church. ... As we got close, they clogged every roadway, waving Confederate flags and shouting rebel yells. ... As we stopped, the crowds grabbed hold of the car and began rocking it back and forth. We shoved the car into reverse, heavy-footed the accelerator and zoomed backwards. ... The only approach to the church was through a graveyard, but we were too late, the mob was already there, blocking the entrances to the church."5
Pictures and stories of the Freedom Rides appeared in news outlets across the country, and around the entire world. People everywhere were shocked and outraged at the scene of burning buses and maimed Freedom Riders. A bus trip of 13 people had become a major international incident—one that caused deep embarrassment to the U.S. power structure.
Photos of bloodied Freedom Riders and ugly white mobs splashed across the front pages of newspapers in many different languages across the planet. And President John Kennedy's overwhelming concern was that the whole world was seeing the ugly truth of the brutal oppression of Black people in the U.S.—right before a summit meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The myth promoted that the U.S. was the "greatest country in the world" and a model to be emulated did not mesh with the indelible images of Black and white people being brutalized for trying to put an end to racist segregation. U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy "indicated far greater concern about the repercussions on the President's upcoming trip to Europe. He believed the Freedom Riders' protest had handed the Soviets a crushing propaganda coup." 6
In a public interview on TV, Bobby Kennedy asked for a "cooling off period" and said he "does not feel that the Department of Justice can side with one group or the other in disputes over Constitutional rights."7 President John Kennedy issued a statement implying that the Freedom Riders were as much at fault as the mobs that attacked them. "I would hope that any persons, whether a citizen of Alabama or a visitor there, would refrain from any action which would in any way tend to provoke further outbreaks."
But once again, in the face of rabid violence, the Freedom Riders were determined to continue their mission. And their numbers were growing. On May 24, two buses, with 27 Freedom Riders left Montgomery for Jackson, Mississippi.
When the buses crossed the state line into Mississippi, they were put under the "protection" of the Mississippi National Guard. James Farmer recalled, "As we rode on the bus, there were Alabama National Guardsmen on the bus with us, about six of them with bayonets fixed on their rifles. There were helicopters chopping around overhead, there were police cars screaming up and down the highway with their sirens blaring, there were Federal, State and County police—so this was a military operation. And that did not, um, ease our fear, if anything it increased it. We didn't know which way the National Guardsmen would point their guns in the event of a showdown, a confrontation."8
There was no seething mob gathered at the Jackson bus station. Freedom Rider Frederick Leonard recalled, "Well, when we got to Jackson, Mississippi we didn't see anybody except the police. Oh, we stuck our chests out then, because we, we didn't see this mob. We walked on off the front of the bus, the police were standing there, said—just keep moving and let us go through the white side. We never got to stop, you know, they just said—keep moving—and they passed us right on through the white terminal into the paddy wagon, and into jail."9
What the Freedom Riders didn't know at the time was that John and Robert Kennedy had worked out a deal for their arrests in Mississippi. One of the most powerful U.S. senators, James O. Eastland (a Democrat from Mississippi and leading white supremacist), said he would guarantee the protection of the Freedom Riders along the 258 mile route between Montgomery and Jackson—but only on the condition that the Justice Department would allow the local police to arrest the protesters when they arrived.10
The Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson were quickly taken off to Mississippi's most infamous prison, Parchman Farm, in the Mississippi Delta, where they were put on Death Row. Frederick Leonard remembers, "the next day after we were arrested, we went to court. The prosecutor got up, accused us of trespassing, took his seat. Our attorney, Jack Young, got up to defend us, as human beings having the right to be treated like human beings. While he was defending us, the judge turned his back, looked at the wall. When he finished, the judge turned around—bam, 60 days in the state penitentiary—and there we were, on the way to Parchman—maximum security."11
Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett instructed prison officials to "break their spirits, not their bones." And in fact Barnett and his minions subjected the Freedom Riders to humiliating, degrading, brutal, and abusive treatment at every turn, and often tried to get other prisoners to attack the Riders. But their spirits and determination were strengthened, not broken, at Parchman Farm. Cordy Vivian, one of the Riders imprisoned in Parchman, said, "the feeling of people coming out of the jail was one that they had triumphed, that they had achieved, that they were now ready, they could go back home, they could be a witness to a new understanding. ... And there was a new cadre of leaders."12
The first courageous group of Freedom Riders sent shock waves around the world and inspired many others to take up their cause. Freedom Riders—mainly young Black students—poured into the South from across the United States. By the end of that summer of 1961, at least 300 people had taken Freedom Rides to Jackson, been arrested, and sent to Parchman.
The daring, heroism, and profound moral clarity of the 13 people who boarded those two buses in D.C. in May 1961—and those who later joined the Freedom Rides—remains a cherished, inspiring, and instructive legacy for all those who strive to overcome the hateful oppression that still today penetrates every dimension of this capitalist-imperialist system. The Freedom Riders initiated a standard of struggle and confrontation that inspired millions, that brought the reality of the ugly white supremacist culture and racist violence that is as "American as cherry pie" to the attention of the entire world, and heightened divisive conflicts within the ruling structures and political bodies of U.S. society over how to do damage control in the midst of this upheaval.
The Freedom Riders' refusal to back down or compromise over their most fundamental principles, and the justness of their cause, influenced countless people to themselves take action to bring an end to the hated reign of Jim Crow. Rita Walker, who became a SNCC organizer, recalled: "I always wanted to work for my freedom, but I didn't know how to go about it. I often heard about the freedom riders on TV and read about them in the newspapers. And I would wonder if they would ever come to Holly Springs. I always pictured them coming in a bus with 'FREEDOM' written on it. I would meet with some of my friends, and we would go up to the bus station and wait for them so that we could welcome them in."13
The Civil Rights Movement during the '50s and '60s went directly up against white supremacy which was so deeply embedded in the economic and social relations in the South. Ultimately, many thousands of people, with great heroism and sacrifice, stepped out in the face of extreme repression. And this struggle paved the way for the radical and revolutionary struggles of Black people in the 1960s and early '70s. This was part of a whole social upheaval that shook the system to its foundations. But the mass struggle of the '60s was not able to go all the way to revolution. Today capitalism remains intact. And there is a new Jim Crow that holds Black people down—the massive incarceration and criminalization of generations of Black youth. The courage and defiance of the Freedom Riders gives example and heart to those who would go up against this new and ugly form of the oppression of Black, and other minority peoples.
Volunteers around the country contributed to research, fact-checking and analysis for this article.
1 Nick Bryant, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality (Basic Books, 2006), p. 19. [back]
2 Ann Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (Dell, 1992), p. 197. [back]
3 Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2001), Chapter 8. [back]
4 Skin Deep, PBS documentary, People's Century series (1999). [back]
5 http://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhis61.htm#1961-7 [back]
6 Nick Bryant, The Bystander, p.265. [back]
7 Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 476. [back]
8 Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985, PBS 14-hour television series/documentary (produced by Blackside, 1987). [back]
9 Eyes on the Prize. [back]
10 Nick Bryant, The Bystander, p. 275. [back]
11 Eyes on the Prize Interviews, Washington University Digital Gateway Texts, http://digital.wustl.edu/e/eop/eopweb/leo0015.0363.061frederickleonard.html [back]
12 Eyes on the Prize Interviews, Washington University Digital Gateway Texts, http://digital.wustl.edu/e/eop/eopweb/viv0015.0233.104ctvivian.html. [back]
13 http://www.crmvet.org/nars/ritaw.htm [back]
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
On Friday, April 29, the campus of UCLA was the site of a remarkable event—a dialogue between Princeton professor and provocative public intellectual Cornel West, and long-time revolutionary and founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), Carl Dix.
The dialogue drew well over a thousand students and others from the campus and the community, requiring 400 to be turned away, after even an overflow room was packed. There was excitement and anticipation among the diverse, multinational audience, a sense that something important and special was about to take place.
The theme of the dialogue—"In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH?"—had struck a deep chord with many who came. It captured a sense of urgency people feel about the future facing today's youth as a whole, and especially millions of poor and oppressed youth; and the search for answers about what to do about it. And people came to hear two perspectives presented by two provocative critical thinkers. The Afrikan Student Union Chairwoman who opened the program captured this well when she said:
Even the title of today's program gives me goose bumps in thinking about how important creating dialogue around these issues is for our community today.... I am honored and definitely thankful to be able to have a dialogue with two important members of our community, Cornel West and Carl Dix.
Right from the gate Carl Dix said this is a conversation that is sorely needed and almost completely absent in this society. And he said those conversations that do take place begin with how the youth messed up, and end with "it's their own damn fault." But tonight, "Cornel and I are not going to blame the youth for the situation that they've been put in by this system. [strong applause] We're also not going to just shrug our shoulders and say that's just the way things are—forget about it. We're going to, from our different perspectives, talk about what created this situation, and what needs to be, and can be done to transform it."
Both speakers began by discussing the importance of having this dialogue at UCLA. Dix explained that young intellectuals like those in the audience have always had "great influence and great responsibility" in determining the future direction of society. He pointed to the crucial roles played in the '60s by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the civil rights movement and Students for a Democratic Society in the antiwar movement, and he pointed out that the founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, were both college students.
Dix said students grapple with complex ideas, and "you can look at and see the gap between the way the world is, and the way it should be." He added that being young, they're not locked into thinking there is nothing that could be done to bridge that gap. And then he told them: "I'm here tonight to tell you that this gap can and must be bridged. And I'm also here to challenge you to get with the movement for revolution that the Revolutionary Communist Party is building because we are aiming to bridge that gap through making revolution and getting rid of this system. Now let's get started!"
Dix got started with searing exposure of some of the most wanton police murders across the country of mainly Black and Latino youth. He went on to show how the NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" program allowed them to stop and search over 600,000 people in 2010, in the process establishing their "right" to treat all Black and Latino youth as potential criminals, guilty until proven innocent. And he showed how the massive incarceration of Black people, accounting for the leap in the overall U.S. prison population from less than 500,000 in 1980 to over 2.4 million in 2008, is a product of the systematic targeting of Black people by the criminal injustice system in its enforcement of the drug laws. Statistics show that while Black youth make up 15% of drug users, they are 36% of those arrested for drug possession, and 63% of those who go to jail.
Here and at other crucial points Dix opened up and read from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. He read BAsics 2:16, the quote which references Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African-American woman shot dead by the Riverside, California police in 1998. This gave people a glimpse of the method and approach of Avakian applied to critical questions, and what it means for revolution and the emancipation of humanity to have this revolutionary leader. And it gave people a sense of the importance of getting their hands on BAsics as a crucial way to get introduced to Avakian and the re-envisioned communist revolution he has brought forward.
At a certain point Dix stopped and said he didn't come mainly to tell people how bad things are, or even why they're so bad. "What I mainly came here to tell you tonight is that things do not have to be this way"—which led to much applause. And he explained how through revolution we could bring into being a totally different and far better way that people can live.
Dix went on to break this down, in the course of it addressing many of the good and important questions people raise that get to how could it be possible to make a revolution—this country's too powerful, and people are too messed up? And how do you know that the new society that is brought into being would be better? He directed people to the RCP's "On the Strategy for Revolution" that is in BAsics, and identified a couple of important aspects of that strategy. First, the centrality of the orientation of Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution. And second, bringing to people the leadership we have in this movement for this revolution in Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party he leads.
Dix contrasted the RCP's approach to revolution with others which ultimately leave this system intact. And he argued that one way this gets expressed is in how people see Obama. He said to those who argue that people should have Obama's back, that Obama is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military that is carrying out wars for empire in the Middle East, and presiding over and carrying forward the torture policies of the Bush regime. Why should we have his back?
Dix also criticized Obama for his Father's Day speech where he talked about how "all these Black fathers are missing in action"...without saying where they are. I will tell you where they are. The criminal injustice system has rounded many of them up and warehoused them in prison. That's part of why they're absent."
Near the end of his talk Dix said, "Now, we have to talk about religion," and Dr. West could be heard saying loudly, "absolutely, absolutely, my brother, absolutely!" Dix shot back jokingly, "Well, what did you expect? You got a communist and a Christian up here dialoguing, we've got to talk about religion!" Dix added, "You might like some of what I'm going to say." He first criticized the Christian fascists who are mobilizing people to oppose gay marriage. And also those Black ministers who are doing the same thing, as well as opposing a woman's right to abortion. And then he described some Black ministers in New York and Atlanta who are working with Christian fascists to put up billboards that say "The most dangerous place for a Black youth is in a Black mother's womb."
Dix went on to say, "We know that Cornel doesn't push religion like that, that's not his religion. In fact, his Christian principles move him to stand with the oppressed..., and that's part of why I love this brother so much." He also said, "And we extend a hand of unity to all religious people who approach things like that." But Dix said there was still the need "to get into some things with folks!" He said some people believe the world is the way it is because of the will of god, and that's not true, because there is no god. And he finished by telling people there are two important quotes from Marx on religion: one is that religion is the opiate of the masses; the other is that religion is the heart of a heartless world. And Dix said that the goal of communists is to make revolution, and to end exploitation and oppression, to end the heartlessness of this world.
Before concluding, Dix urged people to connect to this movement for revolution; to get their hands on BAsics and get started on finding out what this revolution is all about, and to subscribe to Revolution, the Party's paper. And he said another very important part is to join in resisting the attacks that this system is bringing down. He talked about the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. And he said there's a need for a movement of resistance to massive and racially biased incarceration. And then he called on people to "bring to us the battles that need to be waged here on campus around education, around education throughout the state and around the country. Bring those battles to us and let's strategize on how to take those battles forward. Get with this movement for revolution; fight together with us; and learn more about revolution as you fight."
Carl Dix brought his talk to an end by answering the question posed in the title: "This system has no future for the youth: the revolution does!"
Dr. West began his talk with a rich, textured and thoughtful statement about the importance he placed on this dialogue:
It's a blessing for me to be here. Any time I get a chance, to not just be in dialogue, but to have my spirit refreshed by my revolutionary communist brother, give him another hand, give him another hand. We've done a number of these events together, two in Harlem, right? And we're just taken it all over the country. Why? Because even though we do have disagreements, the crucial thing that we decided a long time ago [was] that we were going to look at the world through the lens of precious poor and working class people of whatever color, culture or civilization, with bringing a critical consciousness with a social analysis of structures and institutions and at the same time fundamentally committed to the humanity and the dignity of everyday people, and most importantly, the fact that we have been willing to live and we're willing to die for what we believe. And that's crucial. That's why I love this brother. That's why we'll go down together. We may not agree on everything. I will remain a Jesus-loving free Black man (huge cheering), that's just who I am...but we have deep overlap, that's the crucial thing.
In the course of his talk West drew on and explored from different angles some of the themes introduced by Dix, while also focusing on other vital concerns of his own. He too spoke about the importance of having this dialogue at UCLA, emphasizing the need for contestation and critical reflection to not "end up well-adjusted to injustice." He said "The last thing we need is folks walking around wanting to be the smartest one in the room but cowardly when it comes to telling the truth about poor and working people.... highly sophisticated folk obsessed with their achievement and their accomplishments but they're well-adapted to indifference when it comes to poor and working people."
West set the bar high for this new generation, with the confidence that they could meet it. He spoke to them about the courage it can take just to attempt to tell the truth. He talked about so many spokespersons and leaders that have been willing to be bought by the highest bidder, giving young people examples of persons "who are no longer free enough to say what is in their hearts and minds and souls, because they're so preoccupied with their careers, and their professions, and their attempt to fit in, rather than be a misfit." West said, "I don't mind being a misfit. And I'll say exactly the same thing if I'm teaching at City College, Princeton, if I'm in the White House, a crack house, or my momma's house. I got to tell the truth."
West spoke about the "prison-industrial complex," and the "carceral Marshall Plan," "where $312 billion has been spent on jails and prisons in the criminal justice system in the past 25 years, but we're told we don't have enough money for education; we don't have enough money for housing; we don't have enough money for healthcare; ... for jobs with a living wage—you can see how warped the priorities are."
He described the fact that 21% of the children in this country are living in poverty, a moral disgrace. And the fact that for Latinos it's 39%, and for Black people 38% is a moral abomination. It's in this context that he was challenging the students to ask themselves what their life is going to be about.
West talked about the impact of what he sees as the "militarization of intelligence," saying: "Under George Bush, 45 drones in 8 years; under Obama, 53 the first year, 110 the second year." Then he asked, what happens when you drop the drones... you get the target, but you also get the family... "But we don't believe in collective punishment!"
West talked about "Brother Obama, in the White House, bombarded with corporate interests, bombarded with Wall Street, didn't say a mumbling word about poverty in the State of the Union Address in January, the first time a president didn't do that since 1948. Do you believe that? Black people give a brother 95% of the votes, and almost 45% of our children wrestling with poverty and you can't say a mumbling word..."
Dr. West ended by telling the young people in the audience "There's only one way out—the courage to think critically." He said they had to "learn how to be maladjusted to a mainstream that stays at a superficial level." He added that "... the truths are beneath the superficial discourse; don't find it in a mean-spirited, cold-hearted Republican party dominated by oligarchic and plutocratic interests, you're not gonna find it in a spineless, milk-toast Democratic party, deeply caked by oligarchic and plutocratic interests." He called on them to "look below" and get beyond the superficial. He said it takes courage to do that and "there's a courage deficit in the country, especially among the younger generation, but the younger generation is hungry and thirsty for more." He said they had to muster the courage to think critically, to gain a vantage point that looks at the world from the view of those who are suffering. "And then you put your body on the line."
The dialogue was followed by a rich question-and-answer session which Revolution will report on in the next issue.
• • •
There were points made throughout the evening which resonated very broadly with the audience as a whole. And there were times where different sections of the audience were gravitating in different directions. But even more there was a sense if you were there that something very special was taking place—a liberating atmosphere that night which the audience could feel.
The appreciation and compassion that each speaker expressed toward the other was a big part of it. There was a very different and inspiring approach to the process that was represented by the dialogue between this Jesus-loving Black man and this revolutionary communist, a process that did not—and should not —come to an end when the night was over. It was a new, radical and refreshing mix of ideas and ways to go at bringing a better world into being. It enabled people in the audience coming from different perspectives to embrace both speakers and consider their points of view while maintaining their own. It gave people a sense of feeling welcome, able to come in and be a part of, and even to contribute to this important dialogue.
For many this exchange represented a different framework and approach for how this kind of discourse can and should be carried out and carried on. It gave people a sense of a new way this kind of dialogue could take place, in an ongoing way. A number of people expressed the desire to do something, to get involved. And more generally, people came away energized, inspired, and wanting more.
On his way out, one man said:
I thought the dialogue was so inspiring and they created a spot, a living example of the type of political spaces that are all too few, where we can make [it] happen between revolutionaries and radicals and everybody, like they were saying, who wants to see a different world... I've come to a lot of political events at UCLA, I've never seen something on this level and of this quality. And I was so proud of how many people [came]... It shows the potential. It shows things don't have to remain the way they are. Things can radically change if we get out there and do this.
A third-year Black UCLA student said afterwards:
Amazing. The second thought is Amazing. And the third thought is Amazing as well. I'm just very deeply inspired by the tenacity of the speakers—Carl Dix and Mr. West. I think Carl did a great job of bringing a new light to the idea of communism. It's often painted as this radical thing and we're taught to be afraid of that type of revolution, but I think he did a good job of painting it not only in a positive light but positive in an objective way as well. So yeah, I loved the program. I'm very inspired. Definitely my first time ever hearing him and I'm very deeply impressed and inspired. We're taught to believe in the idea of the "American Dream" in America but the American Dream is also the capitalist dream, I think. And we don't have as many negative connotations to capitalism as we do I guess, [of] communism.
A grad student in a social welfare program commented:
It was incredible. It was good to have their different perspectives on it. I really enjoyed it... wonderful, both of them.
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
On the streets of Harlem
I arrived in New York City late on a Friday night and shortly before midnight I found myself sitting in the upper part of the 125th Street A train station waiting for a friend to meet me. It was cool for early April and periodic rain added to the edge of the night. As I waited I noticed a stream of people—Black, Latino and even some white people, mostly old—enter the station and head to a small area in the back near sanitation closets and sinks. They were homeless and tired. They sought shelter in a spot of light that was a mixed blessing—while it gave them some protection from the violence of the street, it also lit them up for marauding police. In the middle of all this were gentle moments that carried them through the night—falling asleep in the embrace of a friend, a head resting on a friend's shoulder, a hand tucking the edges of a blanket in to capture some heat. An old man caught me watching and waved.
The next morning I met with some revolutionaries out on the corner of 125th & Amsterdam Avenue. They had set up a table in a plaza that was surrounded on three sides by highrise projects. The table was filled with copies of Bob Avakian's new book BAsics. Posters and flyers for the April 11 concert, On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World, were everywhere. People passing by stopped and lingered at the table, picked up the book and began to read. Some just nodded their head or let loose with a quiet "that's right" or "tell the truth." Others were deep in conversation about one or another quote. Agitators on bullhorns read quotes from BAsics and urged people to pick it up. A few quotes were written on sheets of butcher paper and hung up on a fence. People would stop and read the quotes and talk—sometimes with their friends, sometimes with the revolutionaries. A couple of people left their thoughts on a blank poster hanging in between the quotes. One read, "The Black youth are looked at negative, like he said, before they are born. It's hard. They need hope—a mother in the projects." Another from a young woman, a poet from Seattle, ended her comments with this question, "So what's it mean to be a bird, if it can't move its wings? To be human meant to live, but it also meant to die. So what's it mean to be a bird if it can't even fly?"
I was talking to a young Black man who grew up in the projects and still lived there. He bought a copy of BAsics after reading the quotes on the wall. He tutored grade school kids in the neighborhood and said that it all made him understand things like racism and what America is all about. He told me how his guts churned every day, all day because of what he sees, especially how discrimination is so systematically mapped out and how even the welfare of innocent children is ruled by profit. "And then it's evident that racism does exist, because look at the schools that you have in the suburbs compared to the schools right up the street. And it's like it's all being done, it's all mapped out. Everything is area. Everything is placement: where the money is, where the people are, where the people with the money are. You place the most worthless things in the place where there's the least money. Because you expect to scrape up small dollars."
The brother yelled out to a friend across the street and turned and told me how he used to think 125th Street was the world—everything was here, fried chicken joints, the Studio Museum of Harlem, jazz-inspired poetry readings in the back room of the Baby Grand bar and, of course, the Apollo Theater. He talked about how you could hear the news from all kinds of street corner agitators. He knew that world and loved it but now things seemed different. As he talked, an old man I recognized from the night before in the subway station hobbled past us. His feet were purple and swollen to the size of eggplants. He walked on the sides of his feet and each painful step was a precarious balancing act. He stopped and listened to the agitator talk about celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world. The young brother helped the old man cross the street. When he returned he began to talk: "I walk around the world, basically, I'm alone, and I have to protect myself. If I can, if I have the time and I believe someone else is being violated, I will protect someone else. Definitely everybody faces some type of racism, just as there might be a white gentleman that dislikes an Asian, there's an Asian that doesn't like Brazilians. That's the main problem with human beings. They always try to point out the differences. It's easier to point out. Even our parents, they're probably not doing it purposefully, the families at home."
He looked at the first quote in BAsics—"There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth." He shut the book and said he had to head down the block to meet someone. We walked and talked for a while. I asked him if he ever thought about getting out of this system. "I think about leaving this country every day. I'm not a proud American. I just live in America. As far as being an American goes, I was born here. So I'm stamped an American. I have a Social Security number, and that's it. As far as being an American goes, as far as the brave, and the Star-Spangled Banner, that's just a bunch of myths. Just like these pamphlets say, Jim Crow. You've got people who have plans to do other things. Just as Hitler came up with the Holocaust, they have something for everybody. Everybody has a plan for everybody else that has a difference. You've stole, raped and killed, if you're part of America, and they proud of that. I'm not proud of that."
I asked if he ever thought about revolution to overturn this society and build a new world. He stopped dead in his tracks and when he spoke his voice was excited. "Definitely! Every day! I'm a revolutionary soldier myself. When the officer asks me for my ID, I say, 'Wait, what's the problem? First off, you don't need to know who I am. I don't need to know who you are. What's the problem? Oh, you need my ID? I need your badge number.' 'Oh, what do you need my badge number for?' 'You might do something stupid just like I might do something stupid.'
"New York City is the scariest city in the world. Not as far as a bunch of murderers and rapists running around, but as far as these young women and young men walking around the street thinking someone's out to get them. But you can't blame them for that mentality because what do you see every day in the paper? Three girls raped by eight policemen in the police station. A man being dead from being left in the back of a police cruiser. Things like this make you scared. Like I said earlier, you can't be a proud American if you know the people, the government, the people that supposed to be protecting you, are hurting you.
"The government only lets you to hear what they allow you to hear, and see what they want you to see. Now unless you do what I'm doing. I'm actually on the street. I see these things happening every day. I see people getting harassed by the police. I see people getting beat up. I see people shot and stabbed, killed. This happens for real. This is not just movie stuff. This is really actual things, and a lot of people don't believe it. And a lot of time I think that society try to take it and make it a joke, make it seem not so serious. Which is horrible because these are real things that are really going on."
We got to the corner and started to say good-bye. I stopped and asked him what he thinks about the fact that Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party are building a movement for revolution. He smiled and finished off with a quick sentence, "I think that's great. I think everybody needs to wake up. If anything they should create a calling, and those that hear it, stand up."
M. stood and quietly read a poster with a quote from BAsics, "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and order that enforces all this oppression and madness."
A friend introduced us and mentioned that the sister lived in the projects. I asked her what she thought of the quote she had just read. "The thing that attracted me to the revolution is I have teenage sons. I have a 21-year-old son and I have an 18-year-old son. My sons attracted me to the revolution. I have two teenage sons and that's what attracted me to the revolution. I was out here and I saw where they came to the aid of a teenage boy, when they out here when the cops were harassing him. They were harassing him, and they jumped on the boy for no reason as well. And the revolution came in and you know, it was like, 'It's wrong. It's not supposed to happen.' And that attracted me to them because I have sons out in the street also. And they have come to my aid when they're come to my two sons' also. My son was arrested—somebody attacked my son. We actually saw the attack. And the police arrested my son. And the revolution went with me to the precinct for them to release my son. I've seen them—they have been there when I seen people get abused, and they've been there.
"So that's what really attracted me to them. And we have to help our children. See, one of the problems now that's going on in America is, I no longer have to worry about the person in the street taking my kids from me, I have to worry about the system and the police officers taking my kids from me because that's what they're designed to do now. They take our kids as well. And we have no control any more. Therefore, I try to participate as much as I can in the revolution because I feel that there has to be a change! We are losing our children. We are losing our children. Every day I see them go farther and farther away from us. And the system is doing nothing to help us save our children. They're taking our kids from us. And we have to do everything in our power to help save our own children. That's basically my concern."
As we talked, a young man walked past us pretty quickly. His pants were sagging low and the sister yelled out after him, "Did you forget your belt or don't you know what one is?" Without missing a step the young brother lifted his shirt to show a loosely hooked and strategically placed belt. The woman laughed and the young brother waved and kept walking. I must have looked like I was taking it all a little too serious so she laughed and told me that was one of her sons and it's a running gag they have going between themselves. She turned again to talking about the revolution. I asked her if she was familiar with Bob Avakian. "Yes I have. I'm still learning about things. Right now I just bought his book. I just started reading the book the other day. I've read a couple of quotes in the book, and I think it's something to look forward to. It's something to look forward to, it's something to hold on to. Because whenever you have a person that's willing to help you make a change, you have to look at what this person is offering you. Because we can't keep going on the way we are."
She looked at the flyer for the April 11 event and I asked if she was planning to attend. We talked a little about how things could change with this event, even helping people to see a vision of a new world, and feel what it would be like for a little bit of time. She looked at the flyer again and started to talk. "Well, I don't know. I've never been to any other events before. This is going to be my first time. But I think it's a good thing. You have to start getting people to participate, to come out and try to make a change. Right. You tell people, I want to offer you this. You have to show them. There are some people that have to see. And once they see, and see how many people are participating, and how many people really are involved, that gives you a sense of going on yourself."
We started talking about the lies the system tells us and one of the biggest being that this is the best of all possible worlds. The sister kicked in right away. "I totally agree. Because you see, right now, I'm at the point where I'm a mother that's known to the 26th Precinct. This is the area I swim in. I have, like I said, two teenage sons. I am a firm believer in, I'm going to do everything in my power to save my sons from the system. Because I have to. I'm a mother. And I believe that change can be made, and it has to be made. It has to be made.
"A change has to be made. Every time I see something wrong happen, it makes me even more of a firm believer in Bob Avakian and what he's saying. I always have a habit of running into the wrong things. I watched them pull five young boys over at Columbia University, about a month ago. People said they shouldn't be walking through the school. Because, why was that? There's a group of white boys walking through the school. There's a group of Asian boys walking through the school. Why did these ones necessarily have to be the ones doing the wrong thing? Then I watched the police. I came downstairs. I decided to walk down the stairs. Pulled three young men into the staircase and made them drop their pants. The police is the criminal! I mean, who treats people like that? And was all up inside their genitals. You can't treat people like that. That's inhuman. And they've done it more than once. I've seen them do it more than once. I seen them do it to a kid on the bus. Made him drop his pants right on the bus. The police said, 'I know you got the crack down inside your drawers. If you don't drop them we'll take them off you.' Who treats people like that? You don't treat people like that. Then you wonder why our kids act the way they act. But I watched that, and they actually had these young men drop their pants. I couldn't believe it."
Before we parted she opened up BAsics again, re-read the quote and said, "You can't get deeper than that. Because you just don't bully people like that. When I see that on the bus. And then my first thought was, who am I going to tell, because these are the police. The police are the criminals now. Who am I going to tell? You have nobody to go to. There's nobody to go to to say, 'Help me.' "
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World
I'm writing to continue the conversation about "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World," the event at Harlem Stage, New York that took place on April 11. I and my colleague Kyle Goen curated this exhibit as part of the celebration. I think readers of this paper would like to know more about what was on display and how it contributed to a whole evening that was a step into the future.
It is all too rare that people come together to celebrate revolution and it is even more special that this evening was brought together around the publishing of a concentration of Bob Avakian's talks and writings. The artists on stage and on the wall were part of this. The visual artists, like the performers and the host committee, related to this on a range of levels—some had heard Avakian's speeches and know a fair amount about what his vision is. Others knew significantly less about Avakian but when they heard that there was a celebration of revolution, they wanted to be part of this and learned more about him in the process.
In all, twelve artists' works were part of this exhibit: Derrick Adams, Wafaa Bilal, Richard Duardo, Emory Douglas, Skylar Fein, Kyle Goen, Guerrilla Girls Broadband, Steve Lambert, Wangechi Mutu, Dread Scott, SEN ONE UZN and Hank Willis Thomas.
The artists in the show spanned generations, worked in different media, employed different conceptual and aesthetic strategies, came from different countries and show everywhere from major mainstream museums to street corners. The exhibit included photography, silkscreen prints, video and painting. Some of the works starkly confront a world scarred by war and oppression. Other works encourage viewers to imagine how it could be radically different. It is not every day that a mix like this, including artists of this caliber and prominence, comes together in an event with Avakian's writings at the heart of it. This special day needs to be less rare and this event demonstrates that artists and intellectuals can connect with this kind of vision.
While writing is a pale substitute for seeing the work live, it's all there is since the show is over. Hank Willis Thomas is known for using advertising imagery to discuss issues of race, class and history. His Absolut Power (2003), intersects the iconic Absolut vodka campaign with the legacy of slavery by turning the vodka bottle into an image of a slave ship full of Africans being transported to the new world. It is an image that could never be used in advertising as it is a revealingly truthful look at the foundations of America as well as what is often covered over with advertising's calculated use of Black people.
Wafaa Balal's ...and Counting (2010) was a 24-hour performance in which he had a map of Iraq tattooed on his back and had a color coded dot added for each casualty: 5,000 red dots for Americans, 100,000 fluorescent green dots for Iraqis. Audience members read the names of the dead as the tattoo was happening. In this exhibition we presented a 3' x 5' photograph of Bilal's back shot in black light, which illuminates the Iraqi dead and the fresh scars on the artist's body.
Emory Douglas was the Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, and his artwork that graced the covers of the Black Panther newspaper presented iconic views of Black revolutionaries that set a vision during the 1960s of what a revolutionary was. All Power to the People (1969), like most of his well-known work, is a print straight from the pages of the Black Panther. It features a young woman selling the BPP newspaper emblazoned with this slogan and was very fitting in a celebration of revolution.
Wangechi Mutu's Shoe Shoe (2010) is a video full of heart, anger and defiance. A woman pushes a cart up a deserted unknown city street. As she gets closer to the camera she reaches into her cart to pick up a shoe which she then hurls just above the lens and repeats this action over and over as she gets closer and closer to the camera/viewer. For me the video works on many levels and as part of this it evokes memories of Muntazer al-Zaidi who threw his shoes at George W. Bush during a press conference.
Richard Duardo is a L.A.-based master printer and artist who has worked with over 450 artists from Banksy to Shepard Fairey. His vibrantly colored silkscreen prints of rebels include Keith Haring, Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo and James Dean. We were pleased to be the first exhibition of Duardo's latest addition to his portraits of iconic cultural figures and radicals, a pulsating image of Bob Avakian.
The rest of the works in the show were equally thought-provoking and exciting. Guerrilla Girls Broadband is an art collective who challenge sexism within the arts and beyond. Their poster The advantages of No Choice Whatsoever is a savagely humorous view of what women's lives would be like if abortion is outlawed. Looking at history and resistance was a theme that ran through the exhibit and each was concentrated in Kyle Goen's work which visaged Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who at great risk repeatedly went back to the south to liberate other enslaved people. SEN ONE UZN's is a hip hop painting that presents different historical cultural and revolutionary leaders including Malcolm X and Tito Puente.
Derrick Adams' The Root of It All is a black-and-white photograph of what appears to be an unusual cardboard hat modeled on the "all seeing eye" pyramid that is on the U.S. dollar bill. It is awkwardly weighing upon the head that wears it, eyes barely visible at the bottom of the frame. Steve Lambert's letter press print encouraged viewers to contemplate Utopia as a direction to move towards and not a destination. My silkscreen print drew inspiration from an Avakian quote and positioned the text "Imagine a World" over a map that is cropped so that most of America is missing. When looked at closely the audience notices that the words "Without America" are faintly printed and the imagining is given a new twist.
Finally, we included Skylar Fein's impassioned newspaper/youth manifesto that included bold introductory text: "As the reigning order becomes weaker, it will represent itself as more and more permanent." I don't know if Fein knew of Marx's quote "Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice," but when I saw this piece for the first time in March 2010 at an important international art fair, I knew that very interesting things were afoot in the arts.
Taken as a whole, this exhibition both wrestled with some of the big questions confronting humanity and showed some of the ferment and dynamism that is going on in the arts. No art show could comprehend and represent every aspect of Avakian's re-imagined communism, and thinking of art as literally attempting to do that would miss the importance of art in its own right. But art does enable people to see the world in new ways and this exhibit was an important component of the celebration as a whole and it was part of a slice of the future that was envisioned by and embodied by the evening. It gave the audience much to enjoy as well as to think about.
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
One Year Later
One year ago this month, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was spending a special night. Her grandmother was staying overnight, so Aiyana got to stay up late watching TV and to sleep on the couch. This special night was violently interrupted after midnight and turned into a horrible nightmare. A flash bang grenade shot into the house exploded, severely burning little Aiyana, and a gunshot rang out which ended her life.
This murderous assault wasn't carried out by a robbery crew or gangbangers. It was the Detroit Police Department that stole Aiyana's life. The horror didn't end there. The police arrested her grandmother and tested her for drugs and gunpowder residue as part of an unsuccessful attempt to blame her for Aiyana's death. The initial media reports said that the cop's gun had gone off accidentally after Aiyana's grandmother had grabbed it and struggled with him over it. This lie fell apart when the tests on Aiyana's grandmother turned out to be negative.
The horror didn't stop there either. When Aiyana's father came downstairs to find out what had happened, the police forced him to lay face down on the rug that was stained with his daughter's blood. And the cops who ended Aiyana's life were in the wrong apartment. They were serving an arrest warrant for a guy who lived in the upstairs apartment that had a completely separate entrance from Aiyana's.
This entire assault was recorded by a TV crew from a reality police show. The authorities have confiscated their film and refuse to allow anyone to see it. To date, no one, not a single cop or city official, has been punished or reprimanded for this murder.
While the authorities have done nothing to prosecute those who carried this murder out, they have worked overtime to blame Aiyana's family for what their cops did to her. In addition to trying to blame her grandmother, they have demonized and blamed her family. News reports after Aiyana's murder alleged that Aiyana's father may have been involved in the crime for which the guy upstairs was being sought, that there were stolen cars in the yard behind the apartment building where they lived and that the family was "stealing electricity." (By this, they mean their apartment was connected to the city's electricity source, but they weren't paying for the service.) This is both beside the point and sick.
Beside the point because even if someone in Aiyana's home had done something wrong, would that justify cops coming in shooting and blowing away a little girl in the process? Even if there were stolen cars in the backyard, since when is the penalty for car theft murdering your loved ones? And it's sick because the city of Detroit had recently announced a plan to cut off electrical service in sections of the city where the population fell below 20% of its normal level. In these areas, even people who pay their bills will have to choose between leaving their homes, living without electricity or "stealing" it.
The police murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones was a horrific outrage. And it is typical of the way police brutalize and even murder people in the ghettos and barrios across the U.S. They literally get away with murder. This isn't the work of a few rogue cops—it's the police playing their role of front line enforcers for this system. As Bob Avakian puts it in BAsics, "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and order that enforces all this oppression and madness."
It will take revolution, defeating and dismantling the repressive institutions of this capitalist system and getting rid of the economic and social relations it keeps in effect and replacing it with a new revolutionary authority with radically different economic and social relations, to get rid of the brutality and degradation this system enforces on the Black masses, and everything else foul this system inflicts on humanity.
MAY 16TH—TAKE TO THE STREETS TO CONDEMN THE MURDER OF AIYANA
A call has been issued to mark the anniversary of her murder with demonstrations. The murder of Aiyana is typical of the way police brutalize and even murder people in the U.S., and it concentrates the brutality, misery and degradation this system enforces on Black people. This is unacceptable—it must be opposed.
For more information or to get involved: Call (347) 325-7828, or via email write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Facebook (search for "redeem Aiyana's dream march on America")
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
We received this article from a reader:
The fundamental immorality and inhumanity of the Mormon Church once again raised its ugly head when in early March the "official university" of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young University (BYU), kicked one of their star players—one of their rare Black players, one of their rare Black students—Brandon Davies, off of the basketball team for violating one of the tenets ("Live a chaste and virtuous life") of the Mormon school's so-called "honor code." In juxtaposition with the story around Brandon Davies, the media has been full of praise for another BYU basketball player, Jimmer Fredette—the latest incarnation of "the great white hope/hype."
Davies, a young adult, was persecuted by the University for having sex—"pre-marital"—with his young adult girlfriend. An intolerable and reactionary moral culture running like a toxic artery through the society was exposed as sports commentator after commentator upheld "BYU's willingness to damage its own short-term athletic interests in the name of its honor code...,"1 pitting this so-called honorable stance against other universities which will break any rule, overlook any transgression, to win at any cost. 2
To get a little taste of the actually horrible morality exhibited in the moral posturing by most in the fraternity of sports writers, witness Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel [see endnote #2 for article citation] gushing over the Dark Ages3 ideology of the Mormon Church: "How easy would it have been for BYU to do what all other big-time institutions of higher learning would do—sweep Brandon Davies' transgression under the rug and keep right on rolling toward a national championship?...This is why BYU advancing to the Sweet 16 is so remarkable and so refreshing. Here's a program that enforced a rule that many believe is archaic, theological extremism." Jim Rome, ESPN commentator, in his nationally syndicated radio show, upheld the basic immorality of BYU, saying, "Credit to [BYU] for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could've made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament." Rome went on to say, "How many programs would've let a player skate for violating a rule right before the (NCAA) tourney, especially if you're looking at your best season ever?... I respect it. I definitely respect that."4
In a refreshing, voice in the wilderness, counterpoint, Boston Globe sportswriter Charlie Pierce disagreed with many of his colleagues who upheld Brandon Davies' punishment as righteous: "This Blog has grown fatigued with the 'rules is rules' argument, as compelling as a lot of This Blog's colleagues may find it.... It should be stated that the 'honor code' that he has been punished for violating really has nothing to do with 'honor' at all. It has to do with conduct, and control, and a revoltingly retrograde attitude toward human sexuality that ought to embarrass any institution of higher learning."5 (Bewilderingly, Pierce then went on to favorably compare the U.S. military's approach to sexuality with that of BYU's. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the U.S. military's historical and present-day practice of rape and religious-based misogyny, and its role as an upholder of oppression of women, within its ranks and all over the world—but this part of Pierce's statements could not be allowed to stand without any comment.)
Apparently New York Knicks basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire put out a twitter feed blasting BYU for suspending Davies; but the next day, likely after pressure coming from somewhere in the NBA hierarchy, Stoudemire completely reversed his stand, tweeting, "I totally understand the actions of BYU, I totally respect the school and the conduct rules. BYU has a great athletic program." This was too much for some of his followers on the social networking site ("That's quite a retreat," said one. "Man you can't just change your stance like that, that's lame. You can't take back what you said about them...," said another.)
Of course missing from the commentary around this, with few exceptions, were two major social issues raised by this action: 1) the historical persecution of Black people and the institutional racism of the Mormon Church; 2) any exposure of the historical repression of women and the patriarchal (male domination in the society and within the family) outlook and historical practice of the Mormon Church which inform and underlie the so-called honor code of chastity.
The history of the BYU honor code seems to be rooted in the 1960s as part of a mission by ultraconservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radicalism of the times. More on this later—because the first question which must be asked is, how can any university named after Brigham Young make any claim to honor? Brigham Young was a major historical leader of the Mormon Church who in his prophecies stated [below quotes are taken from Brigham Young in Extract from Journal of Discourses, 7: p. 290-291, Brigham Young, October 9, 1859]:
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind." The only thing I can say about the above is that anyone knowing this history (which is not hidden) and who does not loudly condemn the man and the school named after him—and still proudly retaining that name—has the morality of a slaveholder and oppressor.
"The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings." (Note: In Mormon biblical interpretation, Cain was Black and a curse was put on him for killing his brother, and all his descendents, Black people, are also cursed.) Given this interpretation that Black people are the line of humans descending from Cain, is not the logic of Brigham Young's words here nothing more than a religious-based rationale for the extermination/genocide of Black people all over the world?
"This [speaking to the "termination" above] was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed." To be clear, according to Brigham Young all humans are servants of God, so here he is speaking to Black people as servants of white people. This is nothing more than a straight-up religious-based argument for slavery, upholding centuries of inhumane oppression of Black people.
This was not just some theological mutterings of a crazed Mormon leader. In 1852, at the behest of Brigham Young (then leader of the Mormon Church and territorial governor of Utah), the Utah legislature passed the "An Act in Relation to Service" law which codified slavery and gave slaveholders in Utah the legal right to own slaves.
What is this rooted in? First of all, as a matter of record it should be noted that this "virginity" clause goes hand in hand with BYU's social coercion that its students get married—the so-called "marriage culture" promoted on its campuses. Approximately 51% of the graduates in BYU's class of 2005 were married. This is compared to a national marriage average among college graduates of 11%.6 Second, this "chaste" honor code tenet and this "culture of marriage" is rooted deeply in the whole Judeo-Christian tradition of the coerced "virginity" of women before marriage, which historically and today is a patriarchal instrument to force women to be subservient to men.7 Third, it is worth noting that the Twilight series of novels is written by Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon and graduate of BYU. It has been noted that Mormon religious themes strongly inform her novels.8 Her novels are steeped in sexual abstinence: the main female character in Twilight, Bella, is an essentially dependent and powerless "heroine" in an abusive, unhealthy relationship with a vampire.9 Fourth, the particular history of the Mormon Church is that it is rooted in polygamy (a marriage in which one person has multiple spouses) and more specifically polygyny—where a man has more than one wife. Polygamy was fervently fought for by Mormon leaders; this is made very clear in the following from a prominent Mormon elder in the 1800s [from Journal of Discourses 7:226, Orson Pratt, August 14, 1859]:
"Where can you put your finger on a law passed by the American Congress which deprives a man of the rights guaranteed to him relative to the government of his family, no matter whether he takes one wife or many? Undertake to deprive the people of this one domestic institution, and you can, upon the same principle, deprive them of all others.
"Imprison the polygamist for having more than one wife, and you have the same right to imprison a man for having more than one child, or to punish the slaveholder for having more than one slave. The same Constitution [referencing the U.S. Constitution in 1859] that protects the latter [speaking of slavery] also protects the former."
This whole package, which one sees here, is an expression of a religion which is aggressively asserting a very repressive patriarchy as well as upholding other horrific forms of oppression. While the mainstream Mormon Church does not today officially sanction polygamy, it is well known that various Mormon sects still practice this, and the main Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has never repudiated the original underlying theological tenets of polygamy. It is true that in the late 1800s, as a pre-condition to Utah's becoming a state, the Mormons had to repudiate the practice and codification in Utah law of polygamy (some Mormon elder had a talk with god, who told him to give up polygamy!). But this fact notwithstanding, Mormons still uphold and revere the two main leaders of the church, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—both of whom were proselytizers for polygamy and had multiple wives themselves.
Of course, those of the Mormon Church and their apologists will say that this is "history" and that Mormon doctrine is more enlightened these days. Bullshit! It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail exposing the lie of such contentions, but if in fact Mormons today are more enlightened, then the question comes down to this: If Mormons no longer think this way, then why do they still uphold Brigham Young, the successor to the founder of the religion (Joseph Smith) as a central leader of their religion? Why have they not thoroughly repudiated him? Why is their university named after this malevolent oppressor?
It seems that BYU's honor code, as now crafted and enforced, was part of a quest during the 1960s by ultra-conservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radical thinking and upheaval sweeping college campuses during that period. Wilkinson wanted to "make BYU a national resource for patriotic anti-communism" and to "root out problem students," recall historians Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel. This honor code has been used to bait and target gays and liberals and to shut down student anti-war protests. Clerical leaders serving BYU student congregations have been expected to report content from private confession and counseling interactions to University authorities.10
"Too Black"—Get Back!
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black"—that is, in one way or another show their subordination to the system, these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord"—are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e., show any disrespect or rebelliousness, and you will get shot down.
Think of Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay), who became close with Black nationalists like Malcolm X and who refused to be drafted into the imperialist army, declaring he had no quarrel with the "Viet Cong" (that is, the Vietnamese people's army fighting for national liberation against the U.S.). After he was convicted of draft evasion, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and received scorn from most of the mainstream media and sports hacks (Howard Cosell being a notable exception). Jack Olsen, writing years later in Sports Illustrated, recalled how "The noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war. TV and radio commentators, little old ladies..., bookmakers and parish priests, armchair strategists at the Pentagon and politicians all over the place joined in a crescendo of get-Cassius clamor."
Think of one of the greatest basketball players ever, Connie Hawkins, who gave expression in a very exciting way to the "City Game" back in the day (beginning in the late 1950s). Because he associated with some people involved in a point shaving case, he was kicked off his University of Iowa team (1961) as a freshman and then was unofficially blacklisted (the NBA refused to draft him) before being officially banned from the NBA in 1966. (During this time he was blacklisted and banned, Hawkins did play for smaller leagues such as the American Basketball Association. Hawkins fought the NBA ban, and finally did get to play in the NBA for 7 years.)
Think of Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, giving the Black power salute from the victory stand in the 1968 Olympics and then getting kicked out of the Olympic Village by the U.S. Olympic Committee and greeted "back home" by the likes of Brent Musburger, who called them "black-skinned storm troopers." For years they were blacklisted, both of them had problems making a living, while Musburger (who for years refused to call Muhammad Ali by his chosen Muslim name) has never even been criticized, let alone vilified, by the sports establishment, and is still today a prominent sports announcer.
Why is it that someone like Latrell Sprewell, then with the Golden State Warriors, attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during a 1997 practice and was immediately fined (losing millions in salary) and then suspended for a year, while Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight were well known for hitting players, but went for years without being punished (both were for a long time held up as models of success and icons, and were only forced out from the universities where they coached for years when their winning ways started to wane)?
Why is it Barry Bonds, who along with most of the sluggers of his time is alleged to have taken some kind of steroid or growth hormone, is one of the most harassed and hounded athletes in this country, while Ty Cobb, a known racist and all-around asshole, is still feted as a "baseball great"?
Jimmer Fredette, who was the BYU basketball team's star player this year, has been honored by many as college basketball player of the year. Look, Fredette can play basketball. He has developed the coordination and skill of a "shooter" and along with this has developed a style of play which allows him to drive to the basket and make all kinds of shots from very weird and unconventional angles. At the same time, he seems to have a reputation for not being the greatest defender, and it is not clear how well he will do against NBA-level competition where the particular style he has evolved will be challenged every game by more athletic competition than he faced in his college contests.
That being said, the point here is not about Fredette the basketball player, but about "Jimmer" and the great white hope/hype which has been created around him. He has hands down become the "darling" of the sports media: Teams that play BYU are "Jimmered"—his personal biography has been blasted out as "unique and special" (he was groomed from a very early age for basketball by his father and brother, and his mom nicknamed him "Jimmer," and he's a Mormon—wow!...Oh, and most important, he's a white religious boy!). There are YouTube videos of him all over the place. It goes on and on. Even when he performs poorly, as he did when BYU lost to Florida in the NCAA round of 16, he is praised and praised. In this game against a team which was not highly ranked but did have much more athletic players than Fredette normally faces, Fredette scored 32 points, but took 29 shots to do it (and was 3-for-15 from the 3-point arc) and committed six turnovers. Still he was feted. But as Colin Cowherd of ESPN notes, calling out his colleagues in the sports broadcasting "fraternity": "If Allen Iverson gave you that night, you'd call him a ballhog. Jimmer gives you that night? You somehow find a way to call it magical."
This last comment gets to the point of all of this. Why is it that Allen Iverson, who is Black and clearly has been a great college and NBA basketball player, is often a target of derision, both as a basketball player and as a person, while white players who excel rarely receive this treatment and more often are praised and hyped? I think that there are two major reasons: 1) the fact remains that "America," that is, the dominant white supremacist culture in this country, has always done its best to insult and undermine the achievements and character of Black athletes (especially those who in one way or other more represent the inner city in their "game" and swagger), while always on the prowl for the next great white hope; 2) Especially today, white religious fundamentalist athletes who excel are literally turned into "demigods" by the media and by a white Christian segment of this country.
While Black athletes, the majority of whom have a much more dramatic and hard life story than Jimmer Fredette (or football player Tim Tebow), are continually attacked for not being the correct role model types, maybe for just hanging out with the folks they grew up with in the "bantustans of America," white Christian fundamentalist athletes are called heroes for upholding and promoting Dark Ages religious ideologies and religious ruling class institutions which are rife with the most horrific forms of oppression and repression.
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black" and in one way or another show their subordination to the system (these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord") are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e. show any disrespect for constituted authority and any rebelliousness, and you will get shot down. [See sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"]
Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be
Anyone who follows basketball has a sense of how the "City Game" style of Black basketball, which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the '50s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down, has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), that is, meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook.
It is beyond the scope of this article to get deeply into this, but here is a simple breakdown of the two types of games and what is at stake:
The "City Game" style develops offense and defense based on unleashing the talent, athleticism, individual uniqueness and creativity of the individuals playing, meshing all of this into a team; whereas the style favored and promoted by the powers-that-be is one which "molds"/subordinates players' talent and athleticism to fit into a "system" of offense and defense.
One style gives reign to the defiant attitude of Black youth, and the other style is meant to suppress this, and as part of this, to better showcase the type of white athlete (not necessarily all white athletes) who fares better in the more controlled or engineered style of basketball—which represents a pathetic attempt to establish white supremacy in basketball. Coaches like Bobby Knight (University of Indiana) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University) excel at this "suppression" type basketball, and this is the reason they are so feted in the basketball "establishment."
And the sports establishment closes ranks very quickly if anyone dares to expose even aspects of people like Knight or Krzyzewski. Recently, Jalen Rose, now a basketball commentator and in the early 1990s a star player on one of the most influential basketball teams in college history, University of Michigan's "Fab Five," made some critical remarks about the Duke program. The "Fab Five" was the starting lineup of five freshmen recruited mainly from the inner city, who embodied the "City Game" style; in contrast to Duke, which in its style of play and recruiting is known to ooze establishment entitlement and respectability. Anyone with any honesty would have deeply considered and reflected on these comments, given the history of how institutional racism is played out in sports. But no, both Grant Hill (a Black player who played for Duke in the '90s and is now in the NBA) and Mike Krzyzewski issued very snarky, mean-spirited comments (Hill actually responded in a New York Times op-ed article). NCAA basketball announcer Jim Nantz disrupted his play-by-play of the recent Duke/Michigan NCAA Tournament game to actually refer to the "Fab Five" as the "Fabricated Five" and to blame them for ruining the Michigan basketball program (due to a scandal involving pay-offs to one or more members of the "Fab Five," a practice which is widespread in college sports—but is very selectively clamped down on). The suggestion that the "Fab Five" was anything but one of the most exciting college basketball teams, which had tremendous influence on young players and the game (something which is pretty universally acknowledged), only confirms how important it is to the powers-that-be to slander this style of play and to uphold people and institutions which play a role in opposing and in different ways beating back the "City Game" style and what that represents.
It is obviously harder and takes a deeper understanding of basketball and the social forces involved to coach the "City Game," but coaches who have excelled at this, such as Guy Lewis (University of Houston where his "Phi Slamma Jamma" teams of the early 1980s became famous), Nolan Richardson (whose University of Arkansas men's team won the NCAA championship in 1994), or Jerry Tarkanian (who coached the University of Las Vegas men's team to the NCAA championship in 1990), to name a few, are not feted as they deserve to be, and in fact are often maligned because in essence they are being punished for unleashing a certain style of game and in so doing giving initiative to what this "City Game" represents in society.
And all of this has been very concentrated in college basketball, where the "city game" style of Black basketball—which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the 1950s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down—has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), or meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook. [See sidebar "Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be"]
But let's face it, the real hero treatment is bestowed on white boy athletes coming out of and assertively promoting fundamentalist religious backgrounds and viewpoints. There is a direct line to be drawn between the sports establishment's "semper fi"-like acclamation for BYU's "honor coding" of Brandon Davies and its overwhelming gushing over Jimmer Fredette. Or look at the great acclaim bestowed on the Christian fascist football player Tim Tebow (known for exhibiting bible quotes under his eyes). How did the sports establishment react to Tebow's appearing in a reactionary anti-abortion ad in the 2010 Super Bowl? This was typified by ESPN.com sports columnist Jemele Hill: "Tebow's decision to appear in this ad should be considered just as courageous as Muhammad Ali's decision to not enter the draft, or Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 summer Olympics."11 Such a statement is both ridiculous and outrageous, and turns reality upside down: these Black athletes were in revolt against the oppression enforced by the prevailing ruling class structure and its political culture; Tebow's ad was in the service of the oppression of women by this same ruling class and in the service of the ideological expressions of this by reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces which have played the most atrocious role in decreeing and enforcing the most egregious forms of oppression of, and domination over, women. Ali, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy price [see sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"), exacted by the same ruling establishment which they so courageously stood up against; whereas for Tim Tebow, his actions have raised his "stock" among the same ruling establishment. These three Black athletes lost their livelihood (and Ali was handed a felony conviction for refusing to enter the U.S. military, faced years in jail as a result, and was driven out of boxing for many years, when he was in his prime, before his conviction was finally overturned), whereas Tim Tebow's career continues to flourish and be promoted. Which side are you on, Hill, which side are you on?!
While all of this is outrageous and makes it hard to even take a breath in the putrid and revolting cultural atmosphere of this country, revolutionaries and those who want to change all of this must take note: The phenomena spoken to in this article have a tremendous social impact in relation to revolution and counter-revolution, which those building a movement for revolution must take into account. The fascist, jingoistic, white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist social base in this country is pumped up by the ruling class—or powerful sections of that ruling class—while the oppressed, and any who dare to exhibit any of the qualities of non-conformity and rebellion which reflect resistance to oppression—are continually told they are immoral, no good, have no right to voice their resistance in any form. All this is yet another manifestation of the fact that, as Bob Avakian has emphasized, there is howling need for "a radical revolt against a revolting culture," which those of us who understand the profound need for revolution against this whole system must approach and foster as part of building a movement for that revolution.12
1. Eamonn Brennan, March 24, 2011, ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [back]
2. See Mike Bianchi, Sports Commentary, Orlando Sentinel, March 23, 2011 [back]
3. End of 400 to 1000 AD when church rule and repression literally kept humanity in the dark as to understanding the world in its reality, thus holding back people's ability to transform the world and themselves. [back]
4. Quoted in Deseret News, March 5, 2011. [back]
5. See Charles P. Pierce Blog on Boston Globe website, March 4, 2011 [back]
6. Clark, Natalie (2005-10-03). "BYU marriage rates higher than national average." Daily Universe. BYU. http://nn.byu.edu/story.cfm/56823. [back]
7. For a thoroughgoing and materialist understanding of this fact, refer to Bob Avakian's discussion of this in Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World (Insight Press, 2008). [back]
8. See Time magazine, Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008, "Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?" By Lev Grossman [back]
9. See "The Twilight Books: Dear Bella," Revolution #176, September 13, 2009, revcom.us/a/176/twilight-en.html [back]
10. "The Dark Side of BYU's Honor Code" by Joanna Brooks, March 15, 2011, online at ReligionDispatches.org [back]
11. "Laud the Courage in Tim Tebow's Stand," ESPN.com, February 2, 2010 [back]
12. Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon. Part 2: Building the Movement for Revolution," at revcom.us/avakian [back]
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
We received the following from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
I am a prisoner in the state of Texas who lives in a very dark and lonely world. I have been in administrative segregation since August 23rd 1990 more than 20 years ago. So naturally I do an excessive amount of reading. And out of all the publications I get, I find yours to be the most interesting and informative. My hero Bob Avakian calls it like he sees it and that's why it's so important for me to read his book titled BAsics. So will you please send me a copy as soon as you possibly can? You cannot imagine just how much I would appreciate it!!!
Very Truly Yours
P.S. I truly do look forward to hearing from you soon!!!
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
From a Revolution Books staff member
In thinking back to the April 30-May 1 weekend of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, I first thought about a conversation I had a few days later on the bus with a young woman who had a beautiful baby girl. After helping her out with her stroller, she began to tell me she was heading to her mother's. Without getting into details, she told me something that struck me. "You know it's just one of those struggle days." Only then did I realize what was in the stroller: a large bag and food all packed into this small stroller. I could only begin to imagine her personal situation. This had me thinking of the countless other mothers and their children and the people of the world and their suffering which doesn't get counted in days but what feels like an eternity under this capitalist system. And the worst thing of all is that it doesn't have to be this way. This fact, so little spoken to, is one of the points that came across to people that weekend as we introduced people to Bob Avakian and BAsics.
For two days, staff and friends of Revolution Books / Libros Revolución helped spread the word about BAsics to some of the 140,000 attendees, through distribution of the palm cards, enlarged quotes from BAsics that decorated our bookstore booth and our carts of materials, and Revolution newspaper. The festival crowd is of course made up of book-lovers and lots of critical thinkers, yet this did not make it any less of a challenge to get BAsics into people's hands. But overall it was exciting and lots of fun, and we sold quite a few of the book. We had an opportunity to connect up with all sorts of people from high school & college students to teachers and professors, from artists to peace activists, attracted to the vision of a better world captured in the Revolution Books booth. Many people were introduced to this movement for revolution for the first time, while others had heard about the cultural evening in New York on April 11 through friends, or had attended the dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix at UCLA a few nights before and heard Carl Dix read from BAsics.
The breakthrough in getting books sold was using the book itself, literally placing a well-marked BAsics into people's hands, allowing the quotes to connect and provoke people. We also used the quotes in the May 1st issue of the newspaper to give people a sense of what's in the book and encourage them to get a subscription. The internationalism of BA's leadership compelled people from different parts of the world to get a copy.
Often times and for good reason with genuine excitement we should have lots to say, yet in this case one quote can take it much further. Whether it was excitement in learning something new or appreciating how concrete and concise the BAsics quotes were, people wanted more. In one conversation a Black high school student was excited about what she just read from Chapter 1 but didn't have the money to buy it. Her friend, noticing her disappointment, told her she would buy it for her. Another friend then said, "I need a copy, too!" They plan on reading BAsics together and sharing it with friends at school.
A Chicano couple stopped by to check out the booth. It turned out that he's in the military, but doesn't think the U.S. should be in Iraq or Afghanistan. We showed them quote #5 in Chapter 1 about the military serving the other 1%, the capitalist-imperialists. They really agreed with that, and came back later and bought the book. Other people felt suffocated looking at the destruction of the environment, with Japan as the most current example, and seemingly no means to end it. But some checked out what was said in BAsics, both about the system not fit to be the caretakers of the earth (Chap. 1, #29) and the vision of a new world in Chap. 2, and also picked up the book. A college student said she considers herself a communist, but didn't like the "cult" of Bob Avakian. We talked about Chap. 6, #4 about leadership, and she agreed on the importance of recognizing such leadership, and her questions turned to how future society will be run. She ended up getting the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), and her brother, also a very politicized student, bought BAsics.
One thing I found helpful was connecting the book to building a movement for revolution. Many people who came by wanted a solution, an alternative, to the way things are and saw BAsics as a much-needed contribution toward that goal. Some were glad to also be given ways to further contribute by becoming a distributor or donating toward a copy for a prisoner. One person wanted to know how BAsics would contribute to making revolution and asked if it would be by getting the truth out and if the main point of BAsics was that it was true. I asked him to open up the book and read. After reading a quote I asked him if he thought it was true. He answered, "Yes! Yes it is." He was surprised and drawn closer to getting the book with my reply. I explained that while I would say that what's in this book is true, the main point, as I opened it up to Chapter 4, was that the book from beginning to end shows BA's method and approach that "is both thoroughly and consistently materialist and thoroughly and consistently dialectical." I also had him read quote #5 because I said, "We are trying to get somewhere with this."
There were others who thought they didn't need BAsics because they said they knew all they need to know about communism through reading Marx and Lenin. Here I got to use the quote from a prisoner about BAsics─"Word is you're nothing unless you have a B.A. degree." One example I'll use to show the importance of going directly to BAsics was in a conversation with a father and son. The father said, "We don't need that. I taught him Marx and Engels." They had also read books by Bob Avakian and heard the 7 Talks. I asked them both to take a minute and read the quote we had enlarged in our booth (Chapter 1, #3): "The essence of what exists in the U.S is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." The father turned to his son and began to tell him that this is what he has been trying to explain to him about this system. They both turned to me and asked, "How much is the book?," and picked up their copy.
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Revolution #233, May 22, 2011
The wave of popular uprisings that have shaken the Middle East swept up to, and momentarily into Israel on Sunday, May 15. On that day, thousands of Palestinian and other protesters throughout the region marched up to and in some cases across the borders of Israel. Mainstream news media are reporting that Israeli troops killed a dozen protesters.
Revolution will have more news, background and analysis in our upcoming issue. But from the picture that is emerging, this is an important and positive development. Until now, the whole issue of Palestine has been all too absent from the overall positive upsurges in the Middle East. Yet Israel is a crucial and pivotal bulwark of imperialist domination in that region. And the Palestinians have suffered an all-out murderous war against them in which hundreds of Palestinian villages have been obliterated and massacres of civilian populations have taken place. They have been exiled from their homeland and subjected to an attempt to write their very national existence as a people and culture out of existence. For generations they have been penned in and confined in refugee camps, living under military occupation in the few territories that they managed at first to hold onto. They face constant humiliation, daily aggression and murder, savage political repression and torture, and periodic murderous military assaults.
* * *
May 15 marked the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba—the terrorist ethnic cleansing that drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. This was a defining event in the establishment of the State of Israel.
Protests took place on the borders of Israel and Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank. Other protests took place in cities in the region, and around the world. The following accounts of protests at the Israeli border on May 15 are drawn mainly from pro-U.S. (and pro-Israel) mainstream news sources:
Resources on Israel
"EGYPT 2011: MILLIONS HAVE HEROICALLY STOOD UP...THE FUTURE REMAINS TO BE WRITTEN," A Statement By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. Published in Revolution #224, February 14, 2011. Available online at revcom.us/avakian/Egypt/Egypt2011-en.html
"The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?", Revolution #213, October 10, 2010. Available online at revcom.us/israel/israel.html
"Revolution Responds to Question on Nature of Holocaust," Revolution #215, October 31, 2010. Available online at revcom.us/a/215/holocaust-en.html
Bringing Forward Another Way, by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. RCP Publications, 2006. Available online at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway/.
"After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel." Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. Available at revcom.us/a/213/back_cover-en.html
In the wake of the protests, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that "The leaders of these violent demonstrations, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but over the very existence of Israel, which they describe as a catastrophe that must be resolved."
First it must be stated calling unarmed protesters "violent" while killing at least a dozen unarmed protesters is the height of obscenity. But it is a fact that the Nakba has been a catastrophe ("catastrophe" is the English translation of "Nakba.")
A special issue of Revolution—"The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?"—provides a concise picture of the Nakba: "During the Nakba almost a million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured and killed. To ensure that there would be nothing for the Palestinians to return to, their villages and even many olive and orange trees were thoroughly destroyed. When the Nakba ended, there had been 31 documented massacres—and probably others.
Between 400 and 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed in this reign of terror that, by any legal definition is illegal ethnic cleansing, and by any credible moral code was barbaric. The Nakba—terrorist ethnic cleansing—was foundational and essential in the establishment of the state of Israel. It created the conditions, and set the stage, for other initiatives like the purchase of Palestinian land and diplomatic initiatives.
As we go into in depth, from different angles, in the special issue of Revolution, the Nakba, and the State of Israel, have been a disaster, not just for the Palestinians, but for the people of the entire world—including Jewish people. We encourage readers to themselves study and widely get out that special issue online and where possible in print at support demonstrations and in the midst of controversy over the past days' events.
Israeli officials blamed Iran and other repressive regimes in the region for coordinating the protests, even though the New York Times reported that Israel "offered no evidence" of this. Whether or not, and to what extent, repressive regimes in the region may have seen the May 15 protests as a chance to divert public anger from their own role as oppressors, the essential question is the nature and role of Israel and its oppression of the displaced Palestinian people.
Beyond that, while we are not in a position to know or evaluate different forces and programs involved in the May 15 protests, they clearly reflected widespread grassroots anger at Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people, and in many cases, anger at the collaboration of other reactionary regimes in the region with that oppression. Palestinian activists and others organized for May 15 as the beginning of a "3rd Intifada" (uprising). They gathered more than 300,000 members at their Facebook before it was taken down in March by Facebook administrators. In Lebanon, posters went up on Lebanese highways reading, "People want to return to Palestine," taking off from the slogan made famous in Egypt and Tunisia, "People want the fall of the regime."
Revolution will have more reporting and analysis in our upcoming issue, including regarding the nature and role of the State of Israel, and how and why that country plays a critical role, on a level far beyond that of any other repressive pro U.S. regime (or anti-U.S.) regime in the region, in enforcing a world of oppression and suffering for people in that region—and beyond.
But what can be said right now that these developments represent a potentially historic moment. And that the future—and where this story ends—is far from written.
We strongly encourage readers and distributors of Revolution to let us know of any protests, forums and other actions in response to these developments, and to get the special issue of Revolution on Israel out at these events.
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