From a reader:
The Bus Ride Home—Filled with the Spirit of the Dialogue as Song and Poetry, and Debate, Blossoms
January 12, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I rode to and from the Dialogue on one of the two Greyhound buses from Chicago. On my bus, there was a really diverse group of people in ages, nationalities, backgrounds, atheist and religious. It included a large contingent of front-line fighters from Ferguson, Missouri, students from several colleges and universities in Chicago, people from the Chicago Revolution Club, members of the BA Everywhere Committee, other fighters against police brutality, and a handful of veteran revolutionary communists.
While the trip to NYC was nice and there was a good spirit on the bus, the return trip was a profound experience, shaped and inspired by our common experience at the Dialogue between Bob Avakian and Cornel West. It was like taking a peek into the future of the new society and kind of relations we aim to bring into being. Several people on the bus spoke to how they never wanted the trip to end: “I wish life could be like this experience on this bus all the time.”
Almost as soon as the bus pulled away from the Riverside Church, jazz vocalist Maggie Brown stepped into the aisle and announced who she was and that she would open the trip home with a few songs. Maggie appears in the film Stepping into the Future: On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics, A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. She has an amazing voice and is a consummate performer. One song she sang, “Dat Dere,” can be found on YouTube. One of the heaviest pieces she sang is part of her one-woman show, Legacy: Our Wealth of Music—Tracing the History of African American Creativity, also written by her father, Oscar Brown Jr., about a slave auction called “Bid ’Em In.”
As Maggie’s performance was coming to a close, the bus drove right into the glare of light of Times Square, teeming with people on a Saturday night. Our passengers began screaming in delight. Many said they had never been outside of St. Louis or Chicago and they wanted to get off and join the throngs of people in the streets. Everyone’s cell phone was snapping pictures of the scene. Fearing we might lose people in the throngs on the street, a decision was made not to stop. While people were clearly disappointed, they re-focused on why we were here and the amazing event we had just been to. Just a few weeks later, Times Square would be filled with protesters after the grand jury did not indict the police who choked Eric Garner to death. Now we have a living sense of the impact of the protests, having driven through Time’s Square!
As we left Times Square, Maggie Brown culminated her performance with an amazing piece she dedicated to the Dialogue. Also written by her father Oscar Brown Jr., it is called:
A Column Of Birds:
I saw millions of migrating birds flying over today.
Couldn’t tell which was leading and showing the others the way.
But I thought as I watched them sail by, extending for miles in the sky
What a blessing it must be to fly with the column of birds.
They were soaring in search of the source of some almighty force,
All adrift in the drafts of the winds without altering course.
Gripped by gravity here on the ground, I wondered where they might be bound.
Where the site of this search would be found, by this column of birds.
And how did they get it together to take off as one and go race.
This column of birds of a feather off to some better place.
How did they make the connection, how did they come to agree,
To fly in a single direction, though one of them could not see.
They were coming and coming and going and going and gone.
Through the oncoming night towards the brightness of some distant dawn.
As I turned and went back to my plow, to the grind of my grim here and now,
I wished our kind might take off some how,
Like a column of birds.
A column of birds,...
When Maggie’s voice got to the part “a better and distant place,” she alluded to the Dialogue and the world we are working to bring into being.
After leaving the lights of NYC, clumps of people in different parts of the bus broke into intense discussions on various topics connected to the Dialogue. A debate broke out with the college students after someone said that after the revolution, U.S. troops will be pulled out of places all around the world. One young woman wasn’t so sure that was a good thing. “Didn’t U.S. troops keep U.S. citizens traveling the world safe?” She ended up most of the night grappling with others about the role the U.S. plays in the world and in the morning thanked people for opening her eyes about this.
Another grouping grappled with “On the Strategy for Revolution,” parts of which were read aloud by one person as they talked. When one new person asked what did BA mean when he was talking about how to make revolution, a subset of this group got into questions posed in “On the Possibility of Revolution.” He had plans to get his hands on the piece as soon as he returned to Ferguson.
Conversations swirled about religion and atheism and many, many people spoke about how surprised they were to see the love between BA and CW who held such diametrically opposed views on this.
Throughout the bus there was a buzz of conversation.
Interjected into this were a number of performance pieces by young poets from Ferguson. One written a few days after the murder of Mike Brown was called “This Morning My Soul..,Cried.” Another by the same artist was called “Thick Skinned People.” A young woman who said she hadn’t read her poetry aloud much did a poem. Another man from Ferguson performed a searing piece about what it is to be Black in America.
A young white grad student from Chicago stepped forward to read something he had written right on the bus. This piece, MIKE BROWN, appeared in Revolution. In being interviewed after the Dialogue, he made the following points: “BA said something I didn’t expect, but something that touched a very unique chord in my heart. He began talking about the recent comet landing and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake as being just as important as all the arts. This comparison of science and arts, placing them on an equal footing and as interchangeable manifestations of human motivational needs hit me particularly close. I recall at one point trying (with little success) to convince one of my professors that science was also an art. Hearing BA validate those sentiments was refreshing and I wish I could have been as eloquent as him when addressing this professor. The creativity of the human spirit is something that must be allowed to flourish. Without this we can’t be fully human. This is what a revolutionary society needs.”
At night people slept also but once again as the sun rose, the bus was alive with ideological and political wrangling, poetry, and music.
There were two buses and people on our bus worked out for Maggie Brown to do a send-off when both buses arrived back at the starting place in Chicago, so the second bus wouldn’t be so left out. As it turns out, there was also plenty of spoken word on that bus too! As all the bus passengers squeezed into a room at The Overflow Café that Sunday morning, Maggie did a spine-tingling rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” This was an unbelievable ending to a truly life-changing Dialogue and an amazing trip back as we wished our friends from Ferguson a safe trip home.
This experience on the bus was swirling in my mind together with one of the very last questions in the Dialogue from the audience, “What is the role of art in revolution?” that sent us off back into the world.
The exchange on this question was deep and poetic between Cornel West and Bob Avakian that I can only very roughly capture—you really need to watch it to really appreciate it with all of the sweep and nuances. You can find this particular question and answer at 2:53 on the video of the live stream. [Watch the Dialogue here.] Cornel West begins by referencing an essay by BA [“Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?”] that explores awe and wonder and the need to be amazed. Cornel goes on to say how this has everything to do with what it means to be human and what it has to do with art. He is emphatic: art should never be seen as an add-on or decorative. You become an artist of living, not an artist of producing certain products. BA responds “amen” and talks about how art is food for the “soul” and how it is a quality of human beings to be amazed. After critiquing some blues music, that it is great musically but is marred by the constant putting down of women, he goes into how it is not inherent in the blues. At one point, BA says, let’s put it simply, “We need beauty.” BA makes the point that it doesn’t have to be tied directly to how we are struggling at a given time... some of the art should be an expression of that but some of it should just go in all kinds of directions and just give us a sense of beauty. He notes that of course different people think different things are beautiful and ugly, but we still need beauty.
I felt that sustaining beauty and love both in the Dialogue and how it carried over into the bus ride on the way home.
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