Letter from a member of the Revolution Club, L.A.:
Boldly Putting Out “HOW WE CAN WIN” in the Midst of Protests vs. Police Murder of Alfred Olango
October 28, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Alfred Olango, a 38-year-old refugee from Uganda, was shot and killed by police on September 27 in El Cajon (a city in San Diego County, California). Family members say he was having a hard time dealing with the death of a close friend and needed medical attention but instead a brutal pig shot him dead. On September 28, I traveled down to El Cajon with 5 Revolution Club members. We stayed over to do follow up with people in San Diego the next day.
Read the entire HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution HERE
That evening was the largest (as far as I know) protest for Alfred Olango which shut down streets and intersections, I would estimate 500 people (maybe hundreds more). And throughout that day there were people coming and going, groupings and individuals to the site of the murder where a canopy had been set up with candles and pictures of him. When we got there, the freeways were blocked because a smaller march had taken to the streets. We distributed over 1,000 of the pamphlets “HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution” both at the protest that evening in El Cajon and the next day at San Diego City College.
As part of getting oriented on the drive down to El Cajon, we read the new pamphlet “HOW WE CAN WIN,” together with the article “Once More, Lying, Murdering Pigs Run Amok: What Time Is It? Time and Past Time to Get Organized for an ACTUAL Revolution.” I put forward to the Revolution Club a lot of what we’d been struggling over: no “meeting people half way,” no “mass line,” no “populist epistemology.” In other words, we need to lead, we need to start from what people need to know and not from “where they're at” or try to unfold things out of the questions they have. All this was part of fighting to accumulate forces and have an impact for revolution. The Revolution Club was unleashed although the practice was uneven.
Establishing Our Authority
At the site of the murder we established our authority early on. As people began to gather again for another round of protests, a speak-out started. This guy who runs with a Black nationalist group seemed to be in charge, although there were many other forces in the field like members of Black Lives Matter and other political organizations who put forward “identity politics.” The crowd of protesters was mixed, and as it grew bigger, it became even more diverse. Black masses from the area, including people in and around the gangs, young people from different backgrounds (including young white people), people who live in the area and wanted to find out what was happening, students from different nationalities, there were also a few Middle Eastern families and other immigrants (we met a woman from Iraq and some Kurdish youth) that stopped by and took pictures of what was going on. The Revolution Club went up to speak—we lined up next to each other, and I started to do agitation and chants that got taken up by a large section of the crowd.
A lot of what I said in the agitation was taken from the first part of “HOW WE CAN WIN”—that this system cannot be reformed, that we are getting organized to overthrow this system at the soonest possible time, that we have Bob Avakian and the leadership he’s providing and a challenge for people to join the ranks of the revolution now. That America was NEVER great and we need to overthrow and not vote for this system. The chants got taken up by people, including “It’s Time to Get Organized for an ACTUAL Revolution” and “How do we get out of this mess? Revolution, Nothing Less!” And people also liked the “1,2,3,4, Slavery, genocide and war—5,6,7,8, America was NEVER great!” chant.
The Black nationalist guy tried to stop me from talking about BA, and I told him simply that ain’t happening. BA is the leader of the revolution to emancipate all humanity and everyone here has to know that. He backed off and didn’t bring it up again. The next day before we left, I saw him and brought up BA again and he said he used to live in the Bay Area and had looked into the RCP and other groups but took up a Black nationalist program. He said he could not take leadership from a white person. We had a brief but sharp struggle over who BA is (not a white liberal but the architect of a new framework for human emancipation), what he represents, and questions of epistemology and truth.
Getting Out the Pamphlet Broadly
At all times, there were at least 2 or 3 Revolution Club members broadly getting out the pamphlet, including as the crowd got bigger and as newer people kept arriving. There were a handful of people that took stacks of pamphlets to take back and distribute where they came from. A group of social workers said they would get it out to their co-workers, one older Black man said he would get it out in El Cajon where he lives, a couple of students from different colleges were going to take it to their schools, etc.
We would estimate that several hundred (at least 300) got out in stacks of 50 (the pamphlets come tied together in bunches of 50). Others took smaller stacks. And lots of people in the crowd came up asking for a copy, especially after people heard the agitation which at times was going up against and contending with other class forces and programs. For example, during the confrontation with the riot pigs when many of the protesters were doing a “sit in” in the middle of the street there was a Black woman outraged at what the cops were doing but she kept insisting that “we pay taxes so these cops are supposed to work for us” and other similar sentiments. I spoke to this with BA’s quote about the role of the police as front-line enforcers of this system, and immediately people came up to get the pamphlets and find out about who we were. There were other questions I spoke to during the speak-out, at the march and afterwards—infantile posturing from an older Black man in boots and fatigues, to cite another example. But the starting point was really putting boldly what people need to know—which I took from “HOW WE CAN WIN.”
Briefly during the march: it shut down streets and intersections, although cops were really uptight about the freeways so there were tons of cops blocking them. People along the way chanted and took up our chants. Black Lives Matter had a much louder sound system and would sometimes play hip hop and rap and that would attract some protesters. However, they were putting forward a weak program, and their attempts at getting white people in the back or white people to form a line to protect Black people from the cops didn’t really stick. Many people there were attracted to the straight-up communist revolutionary authority we were projecting, and many people there were also much broader minded and rejected the narrow shit coming from some “organizers” and “community activists.” One Black woman who’d taken responsibility for the march kept coming up to the Revolution Club to ask and consult on what to do, which was interesting (many people were attracted to the Revolution Club and the force we were projecting).
Challenging People to Get Into the Revolution
I was on a mission to leave organization behind in San Diego. Everyone I was talking to, I was challenging them to get into the revolution, to join the Revolution Club. We were boldly putting forward what’s in the first part of “HOW WE CAN WIN” (along with the rest of it). We set up several appointments for deeper engagements the following day, but we only ended up meeting with one person, a 17-year-old transgender woman. She goes to San Diego City College, so the Revolution Club went there in the morning and while another Revolution Club member and I were meeting up with her, the rest of the crew posted up with the placards and signs, did agitation and got out more pamphlets to students in between classes (our student friend had suggested a good spot to set up and reach lots of students). We met other students there who also took up small stacks of pamphlets.
The woman we were meeting with considered herself a communist and later I learned she is part of a whole interesting Queer scene in San Diego. She talked about how when she was growing up, she worked in the California farm fields where she got hurt and now has to sometimes use a cane to walk. She told stories of being harassed and beat up when she’s dressed as her gender identity and alone on the train or on public transportation. She was attracted to what was in the first part of “HOW WE CAN WIN” (we need to overthrow this system), but as we talked it was clear she does not have a scientific understanding of how the system actually works, which we got into.
When we met at her school she had read the six “Points of Attention for the Revolution” (POA's) and asked about POA #2 where it says, “We fight for a world where ALL the chains are broken. Women, men, and differently gendered people are equals and comrades. We do not tolerate physically or verbally abusing women or treating them as sexual objects, nor do we tolerate insults or 'jokes' about people’s gender or sexual orientation.” She said she “jokes” around with her friends who know her and feels comfortable and safe with. The other Revolution Club member referenced Bob Avakian’s talk REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! where BA talks about humor needing to be part of our whole thing (our movement for revolution and the society we’re fighting to bring into being) but then goes sharply at the bullshit misogyny from the “comedian” Tosh who had made a rape “joke” during a performance. There, BA makes the point that rape is never fucken funny.
We showed her the “What If...” clip from REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN, and she said she was going to download BAsics and read THE NEW COMMUNISM online. She took 50 copies of “HOW WE CAN WIN” pamphlets to pass out to her Black Studies class, and the next time I saw her (several days later when we came back) she said she got them all out and that people had all kinds of questions she couldn’t answer so she told them to go to the revcom.us website and that she was going to work on writing up what these questions were and send them to the website, together with pictures she’d taken of the protests. We told her the rest of the process of joining the Revolution Club (while she continues to run with it), and she wanted to continue this.
Another person we’d set up to meet was a Latino ex-gang member in his 30s who was out there on 9/28 at the protests. At one point, he was carrying the Stolen Lives poster he got from us and had been all up in the face of the pigs. He recognized our “BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!” shirt and said he had seen our stuff in prison—he had an ankle bracelet and said he was out fighting a case. He took several copies of the pamphlet, and we’d set up to meet the next day but found out that he got taken in by the authorities for being at the protest and allegedly was in violation of some bullshit rules.
I learned a few days later from another protester that this same Latino ex-gang member had been out there marching on 9/28 with a Black guy he almost got in a fight with inside prison but that they put that shit aside to march together against this brutal murder. As an aside, there were a few Latinos and Blacks who were really calling for unity. At some point during the speak-out, I spoke to this from the point of view of what’s needed, what is the problem (this system) and what is the solution (an actual revolution), and challenged people to stop killing each other and to come together in unity to fight the real enemy.
Another person we met was a 19-year-old Black college student. He engaged with the “HOW WE CAN WIN” pamphlet, and after establishing the need to overthrow this system at the soonest possible time he asked “how,” so we read together the section on how to defeat them. As we were reading through this, I talked about the fighting forces being the fish in the sea of the people. He said the fish could not survive without water and said he understood this, the need to build this up now.
Again, we read from “HOW WE CAN WIN” where it speaks to this. He said it would be suicide to get something going now. Later we watched one of the Q&A’s from BA’s Dialogue with Cornel West where someone asks the question about how the people's forces could take on the strength of the forces of the old order, in a future situation. I put the challenge to him on joining the Revolution Club and becoming part of the thousands working on the revolution, and he said he had a lot of questions but took all this very seriously. This was in the middle of shit and our plans for follow-up did not happen (he couldn’t make it). He did take to distribute a small stack of pamphlets as part of his understanding of building up that sea that we'd talked about.
We met up with a Black woman college student who played an important role in the march on 9/28. We met up with her the second time we went to El Cajon several days later. One thing that another Revolution Club member was summing up afterwards on the way back was that our approach was different and she could see the difference, including in how we kept challenging the student that she needed to join the Revolution Club and that it felt like we were actually organizing people into this revolution.
The Club member commented that she saw how in our discussion with the student, we did not start from what her many questions were (we knew coming in she had lots of important questions about “unity” and how to sustain it, etc.) but our starting point was what people need to know—all what’s in “HOW WE CAN WIN” with a strong focus on the first part. At some point we did speak to this question of unity and mainly by wielding the pamphlet where it says that “we need to approach everything—evaluate every political program... according to how it relates to the revolution we need, to end all oppression.” The student liked that.
At the same time as we struggled over what is the problem and what is the solution, we kept coming back to the need to overthrow this system and how this system actually works, why it cannot be reformed. This was challenging her framework, and she said she’s been thinking that it will take more than what she’s been a part of with the protests. She said she is studying to be a social worker—she cares and wants to do good. She bought BAsics, in part from discussing the “Reform or Revolution” essay. We read together the first 3 quotes from the first 3 chapters in BAsics. She also watched the clip from the BA/Cornel West Dialogue that I mentioned above.
She is broadminded and cares about things we told her, the horrors going on in other parts of the world. We brought out the leadership of Bob Avakian and the “contended question” (the point that people love BA for the same reasons that some hate BA, that he’s about real revolution and emancipating all humanity and nothing less than that) and took the offensive on this, which is something else we noted as different than other times. BA was very much at the heart of what we were talking about and she left wanting to read more from BA and learn more about him. She said she wanted to join the Revolution Club and we told her the process and she said she wants to pursue this.
We spoke to a Black jazz musician who recently moved to San Diego. A Revolution Club member I was with thought we challenged sharply his framework (a Jill Stein [Green Party candidate for president] supporter) after walking him through why this system needs to be overthrown and why it cannot be reformed and how dangerous it is to spread the illusions that anything else short of revolution can do any good. We struggled over populist epistemology because he was arguing that most people aren’t with revolution and maybe Jill Stein can help take things in that direction. He kept getting confronted with reality and he was challenged by this—at one point he looked up at the police drone flying above us and doing surveillance and thought about the repression and what we had been arguing for and said, “I keep thinking that we are not going to be able to legislate our way out of this one.” We kept challenging him to get out of that and get into the revolution. He kept insisting that we had him thinking about shit he hadn’t thought about before. What if an opening for revolution emerges and you haven’t been preparing for this... this was circulating in his brain.
There was an older Black man who works with a group called Stop the Genocide—they have a shirt that shows a number of figures dressed half in KKK outfit and the other half as either a cop or a judge or a gang member or a woman setting someone up to get killed... all people, according to the t-shirt, who are contributing to the deaths of Black people. I showed him one of the Q&A’s from the BA/Cornel West Dialogue, and he ended up buying a copy saying, “There’s too much drama going on right here and this is deep shit that requires my full attention so I need to watch this in the comfort of my home.” He told a heavy story of a Latino gang member he was good friends with and used to roll in the same car together but in jail the Latino dude wouldn’t talk to him because of the prison politics. We talked about this, where it comes from, and how to overcome this as part of people coming together in unity and into the ranks of the revolution.
One quick final story: the second time we traveled to El Cajon we ended up having a scene near the site of where the police murdered Alfred Olango, where most of the people I mentioned here were coming up to the Revolution Club to talk, debate, learn more about and watch clips from Bob Avakian while at the same time others who had gathered there also kept coming up asking for pamphlets and to get into conversations. People were really searching for answers because of deep questions they are agonizing over and being attracted to the radical and revolutionary message and force the Revolution Club was projecting.
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