An Historic Dialogue:
Cornel West and Bob Avakian Enlighten and Challenge at a Critical Juncture
November 16, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On November 15, 1900 people packed The Riverside Church in New York City to experience the Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian—REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion. There has never been anything like it.
It was an historic event. It was the first public appearance in decades by Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader and architect of a whole new framework for the emancipation of all of humanity, who spoke directly and in depth to the need and basis for revolution; in dialogue with Cornel West, one of the most important and provocative public intellectuals of our time and who spoke and engaged in dialogue from the perspective of Christian and Black prophetic traditions, and as an uncompromising champion for the oppressed.
Cornel West had promised that the audience was “going to hear agreement & disagreement... transgression & convergence... most importantly, you're going to hear two brothers who are for real..." That happened, and more. With intensity, sincerity, and love, both speakers pulled the audience out of their collective and individual comfort zones—and challenged them to take responsibility for the state of humanity, in stark contrast to and explicitly in opposition to the prevailing morality of “me first.” Bob Avakian began his speech with a loving tribute to Wayne Webb, also known as Clyde Young, a close friend and comrade, and a member of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party who had just passed away—whose life was an inspiring example of how those this system treats as "the worst of the worst" can become the very best that humanity is capable of.
The Dialogue was driven by profound and historic challenges to humanity—at a moment when billions of people live lives of unnecessary misery and the very planet itself is in peril. As Host Committee member Ed Asner said before the event: “If hope and clarity can only come from this dialogue to lighten the dark times we live in, then I would wish this same dialogue will be played throughout the land. We need it desperately.”
The Dialogue was made possible by a diverse and determined grassroots movement, and a Host Committee that brought together an unprecedented range of voices, from academia to the parents of African-American youth murdered by the NYPD. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised to promote the Dialogue. Fundraising continues to cover the cost of a full-page ad in the Thursday, November 13 print edition of the New York Times. Radio station WBAI signed on as the media sponsor for the event.
People came on buses from Ferguson, Missouri; from the South Side of Chicago; and from nearby housing projects in Harlem. They came from elite universities and community colleges and from churches, and classes came from high schools. The audience included long-time political activists and youth who had never been to a political event. The vibe and feeling of the audience was intense, enthusiastic, welcoming, vocal, and eager to get into the questions; the place throbbed with the feeling of something new coming into being. The seriousness of the speakers and the love and respect they had for each other set a tone that people very much responded to.
Differences around the key question of the event—the fight for emancipation and the role of religion—were deeply gone into, as were points of unity. As we said, the determination of both speakers to not only bring out how people today all over the world are forced to live and needlessly suffer and who is responsible, but also to sharply challenge the audience to act against that with courage, came through. People intensely listened to the truth-telling for over four hours. Thought-provoking and soul-searching questions were posed from the audience to Cornel West and Bob Avakian including on the state of popular culture; the morality of violence; the nature of the police and how to get justice; the possibility of actually carrying out and winning a successful revolution; and defining personal experiences in the lives of the speakers.
This event was a great beginning! And now the dialogue continues—between and with people from all walks of life and from a wide range of perspectives. In the coming weeks and months, in different ways, we will be providing coverage of this event and its aftermath here at revcom.us. Tune into the audio re-broadcast, which we will feature at revcom.us as soon as details are available.
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