Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
We are now midway through the Raymond Lotta speaking tour. Lotta has spoken to audiences of a little over 200 at University of California at Berkeley and New York University (NYU), a majority of them students. Two more engagements remain, the UCLA this Tuesday and then at the University of Chicago on November 11; additionally, there is the potentially very significant symposium on China's Cultural Revolution at Berkeley next weekend. It is with the spirit of marshaling the lessons learned thus far to maximize these last engagements—and, more important, the overall impact and import of the tour as a whole—that we are contributing this initial summation to "Spreading Revolution and Communism."
It's important to return to the editorials announcing this tour—"Bringing Revolution to the Campuses—A Strategic Mission of Any Revolution Worth Making" (issue 174) and "The Raymond Lotta Campus Tour: A Very Big Deal Indeed" (issue 177)—in assessing these initial results, and planning for the rest of this tour. The latter editorial opened with an unvarnished assessment of the state of the campuses: a real communist and revolutionary alternative is essentially not contending—anywhere. Yet the campus is critical to making revolution in the larger society. On the basis of that understanding, and of the larger urgent stakes we face, we set out to make this Raymond Lotta campus tour a means to "crack open mass debate and ferment on the campuses on the questions of socialism and communism."
At the same time, there is an important relation between this tour and the overall objectives of the campaign around "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have." This campaign aims to really put revolution—THIS revolution—before millions; to make Bob Avakian a household word; and to draw forward a core, even if relatively small at first, on a mission to fight for this line and make it a reality. Changing the overall atmosphere on campus, and beginning to draw forth a number of students as part of that core, contributes to that in a necessary and powerful way.
Those working to build this Tour need to constantly step back to those strategic goals as the framework for what they are doing. In that light, we cannot look at the different stops of this Tour as more or less "self-contained events." The effort at each campus has to build on and amplify what's gone before, and those working to make these events "a very big deal" on a particular campus have to understand it as important, yes, for the scene on a given campus—but even more so for the impact that it can have more broadly. The "very big deal" editorial made the point that we are aiming for a "mix of ferment, mass debate and intellectual excitement that is simmering and bubbling...and where that situation, even on several campuses to begin with, spreads to other campuses and to society as a whole. We're aiming at getting a whole different dynamic going, on campus and in society overall."
By this point, as we have gotten a deeper sense of the trends and currents in students' thinking, we've developed different materials. In addition to the quiz on the history of communist revolution with which we began this, there has been the open letter to the liberal anti-communist NYU professor Tony Judt from Raymond Lotta; Sunsara Taylor's open letter to students at NYU (now also up on Youtube); an unpublished op-ed piece written for the student paper by an NYU student; a new flyer that speaks more directly to the concerns of students and gives a sense of the questions that will be addressed and argued out; etc.
There has also been some debate sparked: initial coverage in the campus paper at NYU, followed by an all-out op-ed attack on Lotta's speech, and Lotta's response to that attack. But these should not be seen as particular to NYU; they should be utilized on every other campus—they are all very relevant. They don't have to be "replicated;" Tony Judt, for instance, in many ways stands as a symbol of the liberal anticommunist professor, and the letter to him can, with an introduction, be used with many professors and intellectuals, wherever they teach or work. This letter to Tony Judt in a very powerful way poses the provocative challenge called for in our editorials; it needs to get out there.
Similarly, students at every campus will be able to see themselves in the open letter/youtube by Sunsara Taylor ("The Furthest Thing From Your Minds"). And the controversy generated by the Lotta speech at NYU—the attack and reply—should be seen as part of the controversy we are trying to build nationally, not as an isolated thing.
To be sure, it would be very good if students and professors at other schools join the fray with their own e-mails, letters, youtubes, etc. It would be excellent if there were point-counterpoint debates at these universities, either leading up to or in the wake of the speech. Those building the tour at UCLA and University of Chicago (and in a different way, people working on the symposium on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution coming up at Berkeley) will be learning new things, and should definitely both write to this site and rush into print otherwise. But materials like the ones mentioned here actually reflect some of what has been learned thus far, and really should be widely and very vigorously used, now.
The more that we learn about, reflect on and more deeply understand the ideological terrain, and the more that we effectively speak to the questions on that terrain, the deeper will be the engagement with students. This can be seen in the questions from the NYU event, which are now part of the main flyer. But to do this well, we need to do more than just stand out in the plaza flyering, or even giving announcements in classes. We need to become much more part of the feel and flow of campus life—going to movies on campus, to club meetings, to programs, and not just flyer but stay to listen, learn and wrangle. Sometimes, it's important to just listen and ask questions. At other times, you will be able to make connections between the content of the event you are at and the overall campaign around this tour. The point is to become more a part of things, while still bringing this unique thing we are bringing—this speech, and everything that goes with it.
There are people interested in this—this we have found. But sometimes those working to build the tour end up asking too much of people who are in fact just getting acquainted with these ideas—and as a result it begins to feel like too much of an all-or-nothing proposition to them, and they drop away. Conversely, all too often we have stepped over ways that people can contribute, even if they are beginning or modest ways, because they don't fit in to what we think we need to do (or really do need to do). It is a challenge—and one we have to do much better at—to enable and facilitate the means for increasing numbers of people to be involved in the campaign in ways that correspond to their level of understanding and unity at any given time. And yes, there should be struggle with people (and not only [or mainly] over how much time they will devote to this or how far "out front" they will get on this); but this should take place in an atmosphere where they have room and "air" to learn and where, through their own experience, combined with good leadership on our part, they can deepen their understanding and commitment. On this point in particular, those of us building the tour need to devote much more systematic attention at doing better. Right now, this requires special focus.
Here we want to turn to what should be another major component of this: the leadership of Bob Avakian. When you take the measure of the heavy odds we are facing, and when you turn to draw up a list of what the people have going for them in the face of that, the very first thing on that list is Avakian's leadership—what he's brought forward in the realm of theory, how he leads this party politically, and what he models in regard to method and personal example. The DVD of his major speech Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, And What It's All About, as well as his memoir From Ike To Mao...And Beyond should get out much more broadly onto the campuses, in different ways. The fact that this DVD is now on the net should be made widely known. At the same time, there is tremendous potential importance for Avakian's book Observations On Art And Culture, Science and Philosophy to make a big impact on campus and among intellectuals more generally.
Another important element in this whole mix: Raymond Lotta himself actually is a "very big deal." Working in the framework developed by Avakian, Lotta combines a unique and far-ranging scope of knowledge on the history of socialist revolution with a very good understanding of Bob Avakian's new synthesis of the communist project; that is to say, what has been accomplished (and the facts about what are the real, as opposed to invented, errors), as well as how humanity can do better the next time that there is a successful communist revolution. In line with this, we should be looking for openings in the media for Raymond Lotta as part of this tour, and we should understand that there are more than a few professors who can be won to recommending this speech to their students (as has already been shown to be the case, even in a beginning way).
One real weakness thus far has been use of the net. We have only begun to break this onto Facebook, for instance. Nor have we really penetrated the blogosphere. We need to learn in this realm, and draw people forward who can teach us...and who, on their own, can be unleashed to spread this, in different ways.
A critical arena for advance: fund-raising. For example, there are plenty of professors who complain a lot about the state of today's student body. Okay, they may have a point. But they also have a responsibility: what are they going to do about it? Are they going to support a tour that is actually beginning to crack open the atmosphere, to get out the truth, to generate debate and controversy and bring in some oxygen? Whether they agree with everything Raymond Lotta says or not, are they going to back up someone with the courage to go against the accepted wisdom, to live a life of rigor and honesty and revolutionary commitment, and set that kind of example? Well, not if we don't challenge them to! And the flip side is that people can feel very happy and unleashed to participate in supporting the revolution in this extremely important way. Every group of people working on this tour should be setting goals, and developing projects, to raise funds.
In all of this, people should be creative and innovative. Develop—and send in—your experiences with street theater, talks in classrooms or at big meetings, use of materials already developed and ideas for new materials. There are only a few weeks left, at this point—but there are plenty of "very big deals" that have happened that have come from nowhere, in less time than that. There are very real ways in which this idea—communist revolution, at a time when people yearn for something different but have, in very real ways, been kept away from this powerful idea and any real knowledge of this amazing historical experience—can connect in different ways and on different levels with many, many more people. There is a very great necessity to connect it, in all those ways and on all those levels.
It is up to us to do the hard thinking, the scientific summation, the creative and daring innovation and the hard (but imaginative) work to make it happen. The revolutionary movement can be in a significantly better place by December—depending on what we do.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
October 22, 2009
"The justice system is taking our children's lives every day. They are either jailing our kids or killing them."
—Natasha Williams, whose 17-year-old son Corey Harris was killed by an off-duty cop on September 11, speaking at the Chicago October 22 rally
"The Champaign police need to be stopped. They can't mess with us just because of what we look like or where we at. They can't kill us. We are not going to let them."
—Friend of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington, killed by police on October 9, speaking at October 22 protest in Champaign, Illinois
Across the U.S. on October 22, people took to the streets to march, rally, and demand a stop to police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a whole generation of youth. Revolution is still learning about all that happened in various cities and towns—we encourage readers to send in letters and photos about the day (send to firstname.lastname@example.org). In the centerfold of this issue are some of the photos we have received, which give a sense of those who stepped forward and the spirit of October 22 this year. The following are some snapshots from the protests.
Oakland—After downtown rally of 200 people, a march took off to protest at the Oakland Police department. Later, there was a significant convergence in the East Oakland neighborhood where Brownie Polk (killed by police in August) lived.
Chicago—The downtown Federal Plaza rally opened with a dramatic reading of 25 names of just some of those killed by the Chicago police since summer 2007. Among the speakers was Pastor Melvin Brown, who has played an important role in the protests demanding justice for Mark Anthony Barmore, a 23-year-old Black man killed by cops in Rockford in upstate Illinois. Students came from a number of high schools, including a full bus load from one school. Later, people rededicated a South Side park, where Corey used to play ball, as the Corey Harris Memorial Park.
Los Angeles—In a city with sharp divides between different nationalities, Latino youth from East LA and Santa Ana mixed it up with Black people from the Florence and Crenshaw area, where the march began. A Black woman carried a picture of her brother, killed by San Diego police in August; the family of 13-year-old Devin Brown, killed by the LAPD in 2005, took part; students from a nearby charter school marched from their school. Later people rallied at Leimert Park, a center of Black culture in LA.
New York City—Following the Washington Square Park rally, over 150 people marched through the streets. A dozen students from New York University (NYU) joined the rally and march, and the protest was covered prominently in the Washington Square News, a student newspaper at NYU (article and photos online at /nyunews.com/news/2009/oct/23/police/). Later the auditorium at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Center was packed for an evening of "Voices Against Police Brutality"—including performances by musicians and spoken word artists and families of police murder victims speaking bitterness. (See "Fighting Back: A Reporter's Notebook on October 22nd" from NYC.)
Significant convergences were also held in a number of neighborhoods of the basic masses in major cities.
As we go to press, Revolution has received word about other October 22nd protests in Albuquerque; Atlanta; Cleveland; Houston; Seattle; St. Louis; Athens, Georgia; Champaign, Illinois; New Haven, Connecticut; Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Fresno, Humbolt/Arcata, and Santa Rosa, California.
The youth today, especially youth of oppressed nationalities, face extreme police brutality, intimidation, and repression on a daily basis. The NYPD are on a pace to breaking their own record, set last year, of nearly 550,000 "stops-and-frisks"—mainly of Black and Latino youth, and more than 9 times out of 10 not even involving any alleged crime. On October 22, people building for the protest in New York City went out to one high school. They reported, "One girl had a telling story: a few weeks earlier the NY Civil Liberties Union distributed cards at their school outlining their basic rights when confronted by police. But she said when the students pull these out to claim those rights, the police take them and tear them up!"
And then there are the outright police murders: 23-year-old Oscar Grant, shot in the back by transit cops in Oakland as he lay face down this New Year's Day; Corey Harris a star athlete at a South Side Chicago High School, shot in the back by a cop in September, and others.
Given this atmosphere of official terror, intimidation, and violence, it was very significant that people around the country—especially Black and Latino youth who are most targeted by the cops—took a stand on October 22, calling out the crimes of the police in a powerful and visible way. While the resistance is not yet nearly on the scale that it needs to be, there was a real sense of people beginning to step out in the spirit called for in "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have," the declaration from the Revolutionary Communist Party: "The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world...when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness...those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
In Cleveland, Rebecca Whitbey, a 23-year-old college student who was severely beaten and unjustly charged with multiple felonies earlier this year, refused to be silenced—and instead actively built for October 22nd.
A reader in Houston reports: "At the local high school, people grabbed posters and copies of Revolution, along with black armbands. One youth got on the bullhorn to call on people to join in, and said white and Black people should come together to fight police brutality. Several youth have recently been jumped and cuffed by the cops inside the school."
In East Oakland, one young man said that all his friends were afraid to come to the march and rally..."But I'm not."
At a time of incredible pain and tragedy, Natasha Williams spoke out in Chicago against not only the killing of her own son, Corey Harris, but against how youth more broadly are stalked and brutalized by the police. She described how the cop who shot Corey in the back had opened fire into a crowd of 20 to 30 youth fleeing the scene of a fight on a street corner.
And in different ways, the day brought out the dynamic between building resistance and spreading revolution and communism. People want to see real answers to the terrible situation they face—at the same time they are constantly hammered with the message that things can not fundamentally change. When the possibility of radical, revolutionary change start to become something real, this has tremendous attractive force. A reader in Houston reported, for example, "A speakout took place in the parking lot of an apartment complex... One woman took the initiative to step up to the mic and kick things off. She spoke passionately of people killed by the police, and shouted out, 'We need a revolution.' People not only came to the speakout themselves, but brought others. Many said they would check out the revcom.us web site and Bob Avakian's Revolution... talk online. There was one point when people were literally waiting in line to sign up to be in contact with the revolution."
Many people have seen the video of the fight among students at a Chicago high school which led to the death of Derrion Albert. This has been used by the authorities as an excuse to bring down even harsher repression in the schools. So it was very important that some youths at the Chicago October 22nd spoke to this, as reported by a reader: "One poignant moment in the rally came when a student from Fenger High School, who grew up in the same home as Derrion Albert, spoke about how the police had stood by and watched the fight where he was beaten to death. She called on the youth to stop fighting each other and to join together in the fight against police brutality."
Among the family members who stepped out on October 22 were those who have been fighting for justice for many years and have long been active in the October 22nd Coalition: Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by Bronx cops in 2000 and who has been the target of intense police harassment for her outspokenness; Margarita Rosario, whose son Anthony and nephew Hilton Vega were killed by NYPD in 1995; the family of Mark Garcia, murdered by San Francisco police in 1996; relatives and friends of Leonard "Acorn" Peters, murdered by authorities on the Round Valley Indian Reservation; and others. There were also those who have seen the police steal the lives of their loved ones just in the past few months.
At the New York "Voices Against Police Brutality" event, Margarita Rosario recounted how she and Anthony were watching the news together about the NYPD killing of another youth, Anthony Baez. Her son said, "You see mom, it's like I said, the cops are racist." She tried to cool his anger, afraid that it would get him into trouble. He told her, "You know mom, if I were a family member of that boy, I wouldn't stop, I would take it all the way!" Two weeks later, Anthony himself became a victim of police murder. When this happened, Margarita vowed, "OK, Anthony, I'm gonna take it all the way, I won't stop."
Later that evening, the mother, brother, and uncle of Jahqui Graham took the stage to tell people about how Jahqui had been arrested by the police in East Orange, New Jersey, in July—and then ended up dead in his cell three days later. Tawanna Graham said that the police claimed her son had died of seizures, but would not let her see his body for several days—and then when she was finally able to see the body, it was covered from head to toe with bruises.
While the presence and the voices of those most oppressed in society were at the center of October 22, there were also people from different walks of life who took part and supported the protests. An example from the Houston correspondent: "In another part of town, all the employees organized to wear black at a popular pizza restaurant in a traditionally countercultural neighborhood. This included waiters, kitchen staff, and the manager. People had made signs in English and Spanish, and while the waiters usually wear white aprons, on October 22nd they wore black aprons."
An Atlanta reader's report gives a sense of the positive mix on October 22: "Over 125 protesters joined the rally at Woodruff Park in the middle of downtown where a long speakout took place. Many victims of police brutality and family members of victims, including Iffat Muhammad, whose brother was gunned down in cold blood in DeKalb County by pigs in 2006, and Felicia Kennedy, who had recently been assaulted and arrested by police for videotaping their brutality on her street in southwest Atlanta, spoke bitterness about what they experienced, and students and community activists voiced their stand with those under the gun.
"They were joined by a walkout of over 30 students from Georgia State University who had staged a speakout in the quad beforehand and marched through classroom buildings chanting 'Death is a reality, stop police brutality!' Students from several other campuses, including Morehouse College, Emory and Kennesaw State Universities also joined the rally.
"The owner of a gay bar in Midtown Atlanta, which had recently been raided by police, voiced his support."
The massive imprisonment of Black and Latino youth was on many people's minds on this day. In at least two cities—Atlanta and Cleveland—marchers went to prisons where they were greeted by prisoners banging on walls and raising fists in support.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
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If the police have... sweated you at school
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Get the Word Out... Get Ready...
Last issue we announced the upcoming issue of Revolution on prisons and prisoners. This special issue (#183) will be published on November 9, 2009.
This issue will expose the horror that prisoners face behind the penitentiary walls and in the jails across this country. The United States now has five percent of the world's population, but nearly twenty-five percent of its prisoners. There are literally tens of thousands of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement. There are more women prisoners in this country (per capita) and in absolute numbers than in any other. One in eight young Black men in this country is imprisoned. And across this country, there are hellhole detention centers which incarcerate, in the most inhumane conditions, immigrants whose only crime is crossing the border to survive.
But this issue will not only expose the horrors, but demonstrate how a section of prisoners are fighting back and transforming into emancipators of humanity. As a centerpiece of this issue, we will feature letters from prisoners themselves. Prisoners who have written in response to the call from Joe Veale ("The Revolution Needs You," Revolution #173, August 16, 2009) to respond to the statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," and to consciously and actively join the struggle to initiate a new wave of communist revolution in the world. Listen to two:
"And those who can fight their way through this madness out in society as well as the 2+ million held in concentration camp like dungeons supermax gulags and endure the psychological torture and not only 'stay strong' but go past that and learn the history of this country's vileness as well as the theoretical sciences that can change the political landscape and the relations we have today. Our revolutionary spirit can flourish in even the most draconian deprivation tanks—this is dialectical materialism! Marxism in action. Those of us in prisons need to manipulate our confinement to build revolutionary minds! We cannot sit around waiting for the state to help us understand how to struggle for liberation, we must find ways to teach ourselves and then teach others!
"As the article says 'fight the power and transform the people for revolution.' Well what this means is the power is the ruling class, the imperialists, transforming the people is changing this bling bling society, the slave mentality, the heavy chain of religion, the self destruction that is planted in our minds as youth from this society, the defeatism all this needs to be shown to the people and not only telling them 'that's wrong' but showing them why that's wrong thinking, and then showing them what a better more revolutionary way of going about it is needed. Where does this culture come from? And who benefits more out of it? These questions need to be grappled with so the people can see the truth, the righteousness of where you're coming from and in this way you will transform the people so that revolution is possible.
"In the article it speaks of 'for a revolution, there must be a revolutionary people among all sections of society but with its deepest base among those who catch hell every day under this system...'"
"I might be imprisoned, but the mind & soul are eternally free to imagine, express and influence the physical realm. And in society and in prison, there is a fear, a tendency to avoid tapping into and developing our unlimited power and potential...
"I was once told that, 'when something does not change, it does not grow.' We must awake others to change our ways of thinking, to finally give ourselves a real/true chance to grow. A small mind will always think that something is impossible. Our mind is the tool to make choices in this life, but many fail to see how crucial their turn is away from the true way by the personal biases in their minds, and the individual warps in their vision. Our vision is what keeps us out of the dark, we are defenseless without it. It's not much to ask that we push perseveringly down our own pathway, instead of capitalism/imperialism that is leading us down this dark tunnel of destruction, and castration!"
These are men and women who brave what might seem to be insurmountable odds to speak out from the dungeons where America has locked them up and locked them down. These are human beings who refuse to be destroyed, mentally and physically—and grapple with the biggest questions of the revolution. And who put pen to paper in order to communicate with each other, and even more, the world. And these are voices which need to be amplified and heard everywhere. No one should underestimate the impact it can have—and what it means—for people of all classes and strata to read and hear what these prisoners are writing. As one Black woman who came to a recent fund-raiser for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) said, "This is amazing. The prisoners are so smart and thoughtful and write so well. These are our people saying these beautiful things. It gives me hope."
This issue of Revolution needs to be spread far and wide. It needs to reach out to and inspire youth in the ghettos and barrios who are trapped in that dog-eat-dog kind of thinking and need to get up out of it. The reality of what America does right here in this country to millions of people—and the ways in which they refuse to bow down to all that—needs to impact students on the campuses. This issue needs to reach out to clergy and professors, to prisoner support organizations and lawyers. It needs to find its ways into the hands of the families and friends of prisoners who line up each week and travel long distances to visit their loved ones. This issue needs to reach out to veterans of the '60s and remind them of the heroism of prisoners in those years, and compel them to revive their hopes and/or come out of premature retirement. And it needs to reach far beyond these groups of people to others whose views of those incarcerated have been colored and poisoned by watching the endless news and cop shows which degrade and criminalize a whole generation. And the dynamic which will be unleashed between all these different forces can greatly maximize the revolutionary message of this issue.
The prisoners who read and write to Revolution have a crucial role to play in speaking to the many thousands to whom we are bringing "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" (Revolution #170, July 19, 2009). The publication of this issue on prisons and prisoners is an integral part—and a nodal point—in mounting this campaign. Beginning now, we must actively and broadly get out the word of this coming issue and raise funds so that many thousands of papers can be distributed across this country—and as we do so, organize and build up networks of people who will actively take up the distribution of this paper. Think creatively! And, pay special attention to seeking out lawyers, prisoner support groups, clergy (especially those who minister inside the prisons) and community organizations which can and should be unleashed to support and distribute this paper! Get the word of this issue out on radio shows, including those which prisoners listen to.
Revolution newspaper—and the writings of Bob Avakian—are now a lifeline to hundreds of women and men in America's dungeons. And there are many hundreds more who write to us requesting literature. Many hundreds more who could—and should—be joining in and finding the ways to contribute to this revolutionary movement, writing to our paper and inspiring others to stand up and join the revolution. As we go out broadly to enlist people in this effort, we should also be winning them to contribute generously to the PRLF.
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) is an educational literature fund that fills requests from U.S. prisoners for revolutionary literature.
The main requests received by PRLF from those behind bars are for complimentary subscriptions in Spanish and English to the weekly newspaper Revolution* and for revolutionary and other books, including ones highlighted in the newspaper. Through providing this literature, PRLF provides an educational opportunity for prisoners to engage with world events and key political, cultural, and philosophical questions of the day from a unique revolutionary perspective, including discussions of morality, religion, science, and the arts. Every week prisoners can delve into the urgent and lively news and debate about unfolding political and social struggles, and can critically think about and dissect the current state of society as well as search for an alternative.
PRLF works to counter increasing censorship that seeks to deny prisoners access to Revolution newspaper and the other revolutionary literature requested.
* published by RCP Publications (www.revcom.us)
PRLF is a project of the International Humanities Center, a non-profit public charity exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code (www.IHCenter.org.) Checks should be made payable to IHCenter/PRLF and mailed to:
To volunteer or reach PRLF, please write us at the Chicago address, call us at (773) 960-6952, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
An Open Letter to NYU Students From Sunsara Taylor
I came to NYU in hopes of finding those among this generation who want to change the world. Those who came with hopes and dreams brimming over, ready to fill your minds with the biggest ideas and the most fascinating discoveries. People with a passion for life and with imagination and ambition not just for yourselves but for the world around you.
And I met you and I listened. You told me shocking stories of deep interpersonal cruelty. And I learned that while the crimes of this system are truly monstrous—the global poverty and the wars of aggression, the torture of innocents and the global sex trade and the danger to the environment—that even the seemingly smallest of your individual agonies, many of which take place on the most intimate and unexamined landscapes, bear witness to the emptiness and cruelty of our times...
One evening, I sat in a room full of Black students and listened to a young man tell of being followed by security at age 9—only a child, but already a suspect—and of watching as his father pleaded for respect, but in a voice laced with fear. The kind of memory that never goes away. Then, here in the elite halls of NYU, I watched as almost every Black hand in a room of 120 goes up when the speaker asks if anyone has ever been profiled by police. Is it any wonder that rhymes invoking the slave whip still resonate in this crowd? When I stand to talk about revolution, people snap their fingers and murmur assent, but when I then speak of communism I get the feeling that it's the furthest thing from their minds.
Days later, I am standing in the brilliant sun with a young Black woman who I've begun to get to know. All of a sudden she spills out the story of her brother, pulled over and humiliated on his 21st birthday, in front of his friends, taken down to the station over nothing. Again, the kind of experience that stays with you for life. She begins thinking about prominent people who can shine a light on this epidemic and I am eager to encourage her, but I also think, damn, this has to change where communism is the furthest thing from her mind.
Not long after that I had a chance encounter with a young white woman I had previously met on the street. She is studying feminist theory. And over coffee she tells me of first leaving home, striking out in a foreign city, no barriers existing on what she could achieve... at least that's what she'd been told. Until she found herself in an unfamiliar space with a man taking off her clothes, ignoring her objections, and demanding, "What else are you here for?" This world never taught her an answer to that question that does not involve getting fucked and tossed back out onto the winter streets of a foreign city, 4 am, hurt, humiliated and feeling the fool—and worse. It is hard for her to talk about this and she tells me she almost never does, but that she's learned this same sort of thing happens to maybe half of all women and she wants to do something about it and I am encouraged by this, even thrilled about it, but disturbed that communism is also the furthest thing from her mind.
A day or so later I am catching up with this freshman who is sweet and thoughtful and makes me laugh as he talks about his weekend with his visiting parents. He'd come to school seeking answers, hoping to find others with the ambition to understand the world and to change it, who looked out at the disparity on this planet and felt the same nagging feeling that this is something we, in this most privileged of all countries, have a responsibility for changing. He came with a curiosity as to whether the world could be different, and uncertainty over whether it had to be different. And when he got here, he couldn't find that part in others. So, our conversation wanders and he begins telling me how he can't figure out how to be friends with guys in his dorm who call women "cunts." He is alienated and wants to fit in, but very righteously doesn't want to fit in with all that.
And I am starting to understand why communism is the furthest thing from your minds.
All of you are suffocating. You traverse a wasteland in your intimate spaces, in your dorm rooms, in the cruelties and callousness of the authorities that go unacknowledged. You wade daily through the spiritual excrement of this torture state, of this country birthed in the blood of slaves, of this planet where women are so despised that it doesn't even make front page that half of us will be assaulted or raped in the course of our lives.
But you are told that's just how it is, and you're taught that these are the parameters of the possible, and maybe you even begin to tell yourselves "it's not so bad." You face each other every day like you can live like this, like this is normal.
Except that all of this is totally unacceptable. And none of this should be accepted.
These are not just a collection of individual agonies, burdens of misfortune or happenstance. Society is not merely the totality of individual interactions that somehow, by chance, add up to this matrix of overlapping and reinforcing cruelties. It is the other way around. This society and this world has a structure that took shape before you were born, a structure that provides a framework and gives dimension to your lives and to the lives of those around you. Yes, you have individual choices and particular personalities. But you live in a world where your wants and desires—and your means for pursuing those wants and desires—are shaped by structures of society that are bigger than you. It is these larger structures and forces that need to be—and can be—radically changed.
As much as many of you long to change the world, you are fighting and thinking and learning and dreaming with both hands tied behind your back. This is because you have been lied to. And not just about some incidental matters. You have been lied to about the things that matter most of all. You've been lied to so systematically and from so many angles—and those lies have been repeated to you, including by people you trust and by people who should know better—that even as you struggle for things that only revolution and communism can even begin to deal with, let alone solve, you remain convinced that communism should be...the furthest thing from your mind.
The truth is, every idea you have, every hurt you experience, every dream you come up with is taking place inside a prison of these lies—these lies that say, this is just the way the world has to be, that all this is just some outgrowth of an unchangeable human nature, that any attempt to really change it, especially in any radical way, especially in a revolutionary and a communist way, can only lead to disaster. (Just pause and consider how damning it is of today's political and intellectual climate that the word "radical"—which only means getting to the root—is deemed scary and "beyond the pale!!")
They tell you that communism may sound like a good idea, but it will never work. And you believe this, even though no one has ever really proven it to you.
The fact is that the real revolutions of the 20th century accomplished tremendous things. When it comes to education, to decent living conditions, to emancipating women, to overcoming the oppression of minority peoples, or even in the realm of bringing forward new and liberating culture and art—the socialist revolutions achieved unprecedented advances. But all this has been buried and lied about. Yes, these revolutions—these first steps to a whole different and far better world—were turned back and defeated, and no, they didn't do everything right and yes, the world has changed since then. But goddamn it this world gets grimmer every day—and the need to open up honest debate and discussion over the strengths of those revolutions and their shortcomings, the need to open up real engagement over what lessons should be drawn from that experience and what lessons should not be drawn, is more urgent than ever.
But you have never had the chance to hear any of this put forward in a substantive, comprehensive and compelling way. To be honest, with most of you, hearing what you think of communism has been like listening to someone talk about the Civil War and Reconstruction—when their entire opinion of that experience comes from watching Gone With the Wind.
This is why I am urging you to come hear Raymond Lotta this Monday, the 26th, at NYU. Lotta is an expert on the socialist revolution that took place from 1917 to the mid 50's in the Soviet Union and the more advanced revolution that went on from 1949 to 1976 in China, under the leadership of Mao. He has wrestled with the lessons of what was accomplished and what were the errors—and he will bring this alive so that you can start to wrestle with it too. Even more important, he will bring alive the "new synthesis" on revolution and communism developed by the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian—a further development of, and in important ways a different model of, socialist society, one that can enable humanity to go even further and do even better the next time revolution is made.
This is a rare opportunity—and it comes at a time of great stakes. Be clear: the oxygen is running out in this prison of lies. Each year the dreams get smaller; each week the horrors escalate. We need the space for big and daring dreams, we need visions of a world that is fit for human beings... we need this in the same way that we need food and air and water. We need, right here and right now, to forge new communities of defiance and resistance to all of the abuses and outrages, and to the ways of relating that this world puts on us. And we need to be seriously grappling with the question of why things are the way they are, whether and how they can be fundamentally changed, and what to really learn from those who have gone before.
I've listened to you. I've learned from you. I am not going to forget what you have told me. And if I could tell you one thing that could speak to your haunting stories, that could show you a way out or a way forward, it would be to come out on Monday night. Skip class, call in sick to work, bring your friends...but don't miss this.
Because just shrugging and getting on with things, just accepting the unacceptable, just going through four years and never once hearing, from someone who really knows their shit, a vision and understanding that has everything to do with your future and the future of humanity...THAT should be the furthest thing from your mind.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
The Ray Lotta Campus Tour:
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
The Ray Lotta Campus Tour:
Lipman Room, 8th floor of Barrows Hall on the UC Berkeley campus
NYU, New York City
Cantor Film Center- NYU
UCLA, Los Angeles
Broad Art Center at UCLA,
University of Chicago
Kent Hall, Room 107
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Art and Politics, Lived Experience, Legacies of Liberation
A three-day symposium November 6-8, 2009 UC Berkeley
FEW EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY are more deserving of rediscovery than China's Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Few have so challenged traditional notions of what human society can be. Few have been as distorted and demonized.
Want to know what revolutionary socialism was really like? From people who lived it.... and loved it?
Hear from youth who went to the countryside to work and learn from the peasants....artists who set out to create revolutionary art....women who struggled against feudal tradition....people who look back at this period as some of the best years of their lives. And learn from scholars whose work brings to life a crucial and vital legacy of liberation.
Lincoln Cushing: Historian and archivist of social and political graphics, co-author, Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Bai Di: Director of Chinese and Asian Studies, Drew University; co-editor, Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up During the Mao Era
Dongping Han: Professor of History, Warren Wilson College; author, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village; farmer and manager of a collective village factory during the Cultural Revolution
Raymond Lotta: Set the Record Straight Project; Maoist political economist; writer for Revolution newspaper; editor, Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism
Ann Tompkins: Lived and worked in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution; co-author, Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Ban Wang: Professor of Chinese Literature and Culture, Stanford University, author, Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China (Cultural Memory in the Present)
Robert Weil: Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute, author, Red Cat, White Cat: China and the Contradictions of "Market Socialism"
Sponsored by Revolution Books. Co-sponsored by Set the Record Straight Project* and UC student club Friends of Revolution Books
* A program of International Humanities Center, a nonprofit organization under Section 501(c)(3).
Full schedule available at revolutionbooks.org. For more information call: 510-848-1196
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
It's the night of October 22 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center in lower Manhattan. A middle-aged Black poet named "Saint" has just kicked off a visceral and inspired poem about the continued onslaught of police violence against the people. "Remember Rodney King?" Saint asks, rhetorically. "Not guilty!" Then he practically screams, "They tried to beat him to death!"
Saint pauses for a moment, and explains to his audience that reading this poem is an emotional experience for him. He adds he is very moved to see everyone who has turned out for "Voices Against Police Brutality," an evening of hip hop, reggae, poetry, spoken word, and other forms of art exposing and denouncing the crimes of the police.
Then Saint continues: "How long must we deny our eyeballs? Our hearts?"
Well put, indeed. Because those who still wish to dispute that the police in this society systematically harass, brutalize, and kill the masses—especially Black and Latino men— have been left with very little recourse other than to deny their eyeballs, their hearts, their ears, their brains, and any sense of humanity they might have left. Just look at what happened in the roughly three months leading up to October 22: July 4, East Orange New Jersey—Jahqui Graham, a 21-year-old Black man, is celebrating "Independence Day" when the pigs arrest him, take him to jail, and beat him to death; August 14, New York City—the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) issues a press release reporting that the NYPD stopped-and-frisked more than 273,000 innocent people in the first six months of 2009 alone, the overwhelming majority of them Black and Latino; August 24, Rockford Illinois—Mark Barmore, a 23-year-old Black man, is executed by police in a daycare center, in front of several terrorized children; September 11, Chicago, Illinois—Corey Harris, a 17-year-old Black youth, is running to escape the scene of a shooting when cops shoot him in the back, killing him.
Once white robes and ropes, now blue uniforms and bullets. The result is the same: Black and Latino blood. And yet, a system that threatens "no excuses" for Black men now that Obama is in office will offer any excuse to justify police murder. You should have pulled your pants up, Black man. You shouldn't have run. In fact, you shouldn't have flinched a finger. You shouldn't have acted funny. You shouldn't have scared that cop. You shouldn't have asked questions. You shouldn't have talked so loudly. You shouldn't have talked back. In fact, you shouldn't have talked at all. Then maybe you would have lived—maybe.
And how eager far too many people in our society are to accept these excuses rather than confront the ugly reality in front of their faces. "Stop breaking the law, and there won't be police brutality," advises a 30-year-old white lawyer, after watching the October 22nd march against police brutality pass by the NYU library.
"Generally, if you behave, you stay out of trouble," a 23-year-old white student agrees a few minutes later.
Both of them defend the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices—even after the statistics from the NYCLU report are quoted to them—on the grounds that if people have nothing to hide, they shouldn't mind being questioned and searched.
Well, FUCK THAT! On October 22, as part of a National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, roughly 150 to 200 people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds take to the streets, and/or the LGBT performance space, to deliver a statement: Police brutality has gone on for far, far too long, cannot be justified, should not be accepted, and must be stopped.
Around 3:30, a crew of revolutionaries arrive at Union Square with a banner and copies of issue #179 of Revolution newspaper, whose centerfold screams "NO MORE STOLEN LIVES!" and includes images of people resisting police brutality all over the country. As two of the revolutionaries begin agitating, a rotating crowd of about 15 people gravitate closer to hear, while others in the park listen from where they are sitting. Many people get copies of Revolution. One young Black woman in the crowd holds up the newspaper and then relates the experience of her brother, who was harassed by cops on his birthday. She connects this experience to the whole "set-up" of society, in which—despite the end of literal slavery—people are nonetheless forced to "slave away," and in which some people experience police brutality and harassment every day while others are not even aware of it. She ends up marching with the revolutionaries down to Washington Square Park, site of the day's main demonstration, as does at least one other person—a Black man who appears to be in his 40s.
As the feeder march proceeds towards NYU, it grows considerably in size, thanks in part to a large contingent from the New Jersey-based People's Organization for Progress (POP), which had mobilized in particular around the Jahqui Graham murder. Upon arriving at the NYU campus, and before heading to Washington Square Park, the crew marches along the edges of the park, sometimes stopping by key campus buildings, as they chant, "Join us! Join us! Stop police brutality!"
At the park, a crowd of about 125 people—a group that includes African-Americans, Latinos, whites, Asians, revolutionaries, relatives of police victims, activists, anarchists, students, youth, and the elderly—gather for a rally, many of them dressed in black.
Interviews with several protestors illustrate the diversity of people and circumstances that have coalesced on this afternoon. Steve, a middle-aged Black man from Brooklyn, says that he had simply been walking in the park when he saw the gathering, and wasn't sure what was happening at first. When he learned the content of the rally, he was inspired to join in.
"I found it interesting," Steve says. "The police have a history of being brutal and abusing their so-called power and authority."
A minute later, he adds, "We have to ask ourselves a question: Why is this? Why is this continuing?"
When Revolution asks Steve how he would answer his own question, Steve replies that police have internalized the idea that they have authority, and that a "culture of brutality" has developed among police. But when we explain the perspective of Revolution newspaper —that police brutalize and harass people because they are enforcing a system of imperialism that systematically subjugates entire groups of people, particularly Blacks and Latinos—Steve agrees.
"It's true," Steve says. "That's been the case from day one. America was founded through imperialism. Imperialism was at the root and imperialism is still at the root, no matter who they put up front to appease the people."
Yes, Steve says, when asked for clarification—the "no matter who they put up front" remark is a reference to Barack Obama.
As with Steve, there is an element of chance in the circumstances that lead Brandon, a white freshman at Pace University, to attend the demonstration: Brandon had found a leaflet for the National Day of Protest on the ground, and thought to himself, "Why not show my support around here?"
Brandon says police brutality is an issue he has researched extensively. He points out that this brutality is given a stamp of approval by the courts.
"I feel that they have the legal system behind them," Brandon says, "so that even if we do catch the people who commit these atrocities, they still walk."
Brandon says that he feels this is the main factor behind the epidemic of police brutality in this country. As was the case with Steve, though, when Revolution asks Brandon for his thoughts on the perspective of revolutionaries—that police act the way they do because they are enforcing a system of imperialism—Brandon, too, concurs, drawing parallels between what police do to people in this country and what the U.S. military does on an even larger scale around the world.
We also ask Brandon what it is like to hear from parents of victims police brutality at the rally, and to be among such a racially-diverse group of protestors. "It's eye-opening," he says. "You hear about it [police brutality] on the news, but when you get out and hear the people's stories, you feel connected to them."
Chanelle, a 27-year-old Black NYU graduate student, says that hearing Sean Bell's widow Nicole speak on campus a few days earlier, together with getting an email about the October 22nd rally, had propelled her to Washington Square Park. Chanelle says that while recent high-profile cases of police brutality like the Sean Bell and Oscar Grant murders have given the impression that there is a recent resurgence of police brutality, in fact this brutality has been going on "for a very long time." When Revolution asks if Chanelle has personally been the victim of police harassment or violence, she replies, "I have actually been blessed to never have a negative experience." But she adds that she has friends in the LGBT community who have been harassed.
"It's systemic," Chanelle says of police brutality. "You can't just say all these different cases are isolated cases." She refers to the Stolen Lives book featured at the demonstration, which documents thousands of cases of police murder since the 1990s.
As our conversation with Chanelle winds down, Carl Dix—a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party—is addressing the crowd. Dix mentions the enormous rates of NYPD stop-and-frisks.
"This is illegal," Dix says. "It is unacceptable. It is outrageous. And it must stop."
Dix drives home that it will take a revolution to finally end police brutality and harassment and get to a society where security forces would sooner risk their own lives than steal others, and he ends his speech by urging—to applause from many protestors—both youth and those who are "more experienced" to work for revolution.
As the rally finishes, the crowd of protestors—by this time numbering between 150 and 200—assembles, marches out through a park that is quite busy on this early autumn evening, and heads for the LGBT Community Center for "Voices Against Police Brutality."
Among a group of three students sitting by the fountain and watching the protest depart, there are divergent viewpoints. David, a senior, complains that the protestors had earlier disturbed him while he was studying at the library, and he suggests that NYU is not the best location for the demonstration; he wonders aloud if the demonstrators are "faux liberals" who are just trying to make a spectacle. But Sarah, a sophomore, disagrees, chiming in that college campuses are the right place to "get things going." As Revolution speaks to the three students, she reads a flyer for October 22nd, which she describes as "powerful."
Brian, also a sophomore, says that while he doesn't think people should have a "vendetta" against cops, they also shouldn't "absolve" police when they step over the line. Brian says NYU students tend to be socially conscious, and agrees with Sarah that it made sense to hold the demonstration on campus.
The march up to the LGBT center is loud and defiant. Chants include "Fuck the police!" and "We don't have to live this way/stop police brutality! We don't have to live this way/we need a revolution!"
As the march approaches the LGBT center, it attracts the attention of a young Black man standing outside. "It was really loud coming down the street," he says. "I just thought it looked pretty intense."
Outside the center, participants in the march reflect on the day of action and the factors that had compelled them to take part.
A woman of color who gives her name as "War Cry," said that she is a friend of Brad Will, an American journalist and activist murdered in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 while filming a protest against the government; while a man named Juan Manuel Martinez Merino is in prison for the murder, many people—including Will's family—strongly suspect that Mexican police forces murdered Will and covered it up. Will, who War Cry says was himself a fighter against police brutality, captured his own murder on video.
"It's just such an incredibly important issue," War Cry says, "and people have to overcome their fear and confront the horror of police brutality."
Sarah, a 27-year-old white woman, expresses similar sentiments. She describes being brutalized by police during an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. on October 5, and also says she witnessed several friends being beaten—some to the point of being hospitalized—during the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh last month. The fact that many of these protestors were committed to non-violence and non-destruction, Sarah says, had not spared them from abuse. She describes the scene in Pittsburgh as a "police riot," and adds she is still shaken up by images of tear gas and the sound of deafening cannons police used on protestors.
"I guess I'm looking forward to the day when enough people wake up and take action in the street," Sarah says. "And the day will come. It's just a question of when and how."
Sarah's words mesh well with the spirit of angry and exuberant defiance that characterizes the "Voices Against Police Brutality" event inside the community center. As young poets of color read poems about refusing to back down in the face of horrific police brutality, the packed room—which consists of many youth of color—cheers uproariously.
The Mahina Movement, a folk trio, sing a song memorializing Sean Bell, which includes the lines: "Justice does not live in America," and "The system that we have in place is a disgrace."
Margarita Rosario, the mother of Anthony Rosario—whose life, along with his cousin Hilton Vega's, was stolen in 1995 when NYPD cops shot him in the back as he lay face down—chokes up as she describes her tireless quest for justice in the face of constant threats and intimidation by the NYPD, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and others. Rosario recalls watching a news report with her son a few weeks before Anthony Rosario was killed, about the police murder of Anthony Baez. "If I was related to that young man," Margarita recalls her son saying, "I would take it all the way."
A few days later, Margarita was forced to endure the horrible site of her own son in a coffin, and had the same thought: "I'm going to take it all the way."
Rosario receives a standing ovation from nearly the entire audience.
One of the most stirring moments of the entire day comes when the family of Jahqui Graham takes the microphone, demonstrating tremendous courage as they recount the sickening police beating of Graham back in July—a murder that has received essentially no coverage in the mainstream news. Jahqui's mother, Tawanna, describes how Jahqui had been enjoying this past 4th of July, and how—like so many other people on that day of the year—he had had a few drinks. Jahqui was laughing and playfully ringing the door bell of his home in East Orange, New Jersey. Police came and arrested him, and took him to jail—where they proceeded to beat him to death.
"He yelled and screamed for nine hours for them to take him to the hospital," Tawanna Graham tells a horrified audience.
Graham says that her son's body was scarred from head to toe, and that it has been hidden for several weeks to cover up the crime. She says there was still blood in the jail cell where her son was killed, and that police show that cell to others whom they arrest, in order to terrorize them.
"It's not just East Orange, New Jersey," Graham says. "It's all over. And it's sad that our mothers have to go through this over and over again."
Sunsara Taylor, a writer for Revolution newspaper, tells the audience that Tawanna Graham could be a mother in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan. "This is America," Taylor says. "And it's not just a few bad apples."
And just as people have been lied to about America and about this system of imperialism, Taylor says, they have been lied to about the history of communism and revolution. Referencing the Revolutionary Communist Party's statement "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," Taylor tells the audience: "The wretched of the earth have made revolution before."
Taylor invites people to Raymond Lotta's speech at NYU on October 26, "Everything You've Been Told About Communism is Wrong."
She then unleashes an energetic call and response chant that could be a theme not only for the evening performance, but for the entire National Day of Protest: "We don't have to live this way/another world is possible!/we don't have to live this way/we need a revolution!"
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
A couple of hours driving out of New York, we got a preview of the energy, spirit and youthful character of those headed for the National Equality March in Washington, DC. At a rest stop along the highway we ran into a bus full of students on their way to the protest. At first glance it seemed like a typical school field trip. But looking closer, you could see, these kids were definitely edgy, out to make a statement against the mainstream. And they exuded a kind of excitement and anticipation that reminded me of what it was like to go to your first big demonstration.
The call had gone out for people to march and rally in Washington, DC on October 11—to demand: "The United States must end its system of inhumane segregation that continues to discriminate against LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) Americans..." The message had crisscrossed the country, through Facebook, Twitter, e-mails and more. Especially on campuses, it struck a chord: "To remain silent is to endorse hatred. So we add our voices to the increasing millions who demand justice, freedom, and equality for America's LGBTQ citizens... We urge our students, no matter their sexual orientation, to organize buses, planes and trains, so we may express our unity and unwavering commitment to freedom and equality. Now is the time to speak out against this outrage and now is the time to march side by side in a powerful show of force in the struggle for freedom."
So the buses came from up and down the East Coast and beyond. And others came in carloads, on trains and planes, from as far away as California. Many tens of thousands converged on Washington, DC to stand up and fight for basic civil rights: "Equal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now."
As people streamed into McPherson Square, it was striking how young the crowd was. There were clearly many veterans of the gay movement, those who have filled the streets to demand gay rights over the last two decades. But a big and significant part of those who formed up today were probably in elementary school when the last national gay rights demonstration happened in DC in 2000.
The first group I talked to were from Silver Spring, Maryland. When I asked them why they came, they were clearly anxious to get to the march. But they gave me a few minutes. The first to talk was a young woman who said she was there because she supports equality and feels strongly that "the role of allies are just as important as the role of activists within the LGBT community." She said, "We need to show that we're here not because of a personal issue but because this is a human rights issue." An older woman in the group quickly interjected, stepping up to my microphone to say: "Well, I'm here for a very personal issue. My son is gay. So my awareness of his opportunities in life has been heightened. I run the GSA at the high school, the Gay Student Alliance." When I asked her where she thinks the gay rights struggle is at and what people should be doing, she pointed to her son standing next to her and said, "You should ask him." He added a few quick thoughts: "I feel like it's reached the point now where the public attitude is just at that point where it's beginning to shift more. So I think this is at a crucial point when we could actually get more public support on a lot of issues and it could cross over to a very mainstream thing, for people to see it's not odd—because it's not, it's everywhere."
Under this system, LGBT people are denied many basic legal rights and several people I talked to compared the gay rights struggle to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s—which in part, was a fight for Black people to have basic rights they were denied by law.
This view, that gay rights is an issue of human rights, of basic civil rights, was something I heard throughout the day. For many, especially those of the post-'60s generations, this seems like something that should be as simple as a, b, c—the idea that we're all human and should all have the same rights. But then people feel a real disconnect to what they see in society: This is supposed to be a country where we have gotten past prejudice and discrimination, where every one deserves certain basic rights. So why is there such condemnation, denial of rights and outright assaults against those who just want to be with the person they love?
The current struggle for LGBT equality is, in fact, part of a larger battle over the whole direction of U.S. society. And for all those who hate discrimination and oppression—and especially from the point of view of revolutionaries who are fighting for a world free of all oppression—this march and this cause were very important to support and join. And we have to seek to make this a powerful struggle that exposes and goes up against this system.
Overall, the march and rally had a real feeling of celebration and pride. There were gay people from many different walks of life. There were older gay couples who have faced discrimination for decades. One couple carried a sign that said: "Beaten by cops in 1965—still waiting for equal rights." Lots of straight people came to express their support. A contingent from Princeton marched, all wearing orange T-shirts, carrying a sign in their school colors that said, "Even Princeton." There were student groups from Amherst, Ohio State, Florida, Georgetown. I talked to gay youth who had come by themselves, on their own from far away, conservative places—to stand up and be in a crowd where you are accepted and don't feel harassed, condemned and threatened.
A group of students who organized a bus from Vassar agreed to be interviewed. One woman told me, "Vassar is really accepting, we're with a group that focuses on political aspects of things, we got it together, sidewalk chalk stuff, activism. The group has over 100 people. I support gay rights, I'm straight but feel strongly about this. I wanted to show that Vassar is very open to everyone, so I came here in support." Another student in the group voiced a sentiment I heard from others—that one of the reasons they came was because they were looking at this march in an historical context and wanted to be able to say they were here.
I heard Judy Shepard speak at the rally—this was the 11th anniversary of the death of her son, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student who was tortured and murdered for being gay. And today, LGBT people still face the terror of knowing that they could be beaten or killed just for being gay.
The article in the issue of Revolution we were distributing talks about how LGBT people are forced to live in fear and told they should live in shame; how transgender people face particularly extreme attacks, and the high rates of attempted suicide among gay youth. The article points out, "The fact that millions of youth, and people of all ages, live under this kind of constant terror, and that this system creates a situation where over sixty percent of all LGBT students feel unsafe in school is a profound indictment of the system and the oppressive morality and relations it engenders and enforces." (See #179, "Washington, DC October 10-11: Gay Rights—A Just Demand! Support, Join the March for Equality," #179, October 15, 2009.)
The Friday before the march in DC, a gay man, Jack Price, was viciously attacked in Queens, New York. A shocking video on YouTube shows this brutal beating—two men taunted Price and yelled anti-gay slurs before punching and kicking him. Price, who suffered a broken jaw, fractured ribs, a lacerated spleen, and the collapse of both of his lungs, was in a medically-induced coma for almost a week.
The continuation of such attacks was certainly on the minds of many people at the Equality March. But at the same time, there wasn't a lot of urgent anger and condemnation. More, people felt like the guy from Silver Spring, that we still need to struggle, but things are headed in the right direction.
One woman told me, "I love the idea of social justice, fighting for all kinds of different rights, the idea of being here and knowing that we could be making a difference with what we're doing, even though it might be a small step, it's still a step toward a greater good. It's just a really good feeling." I asked her what she thought it will take for people to get equality and she said, "It's going to take time and understanding and what we're doing here, speeches, making other people feel how we feel, teaching people, things like this will help. What else can we do, support by marching, non violent actions. As a student I feel like going to these types of things is my way of supporting, the more that we show how much we care, then hopefully politicians, people who can make a difference in politics and things will change. I hope that will happen, that's why I'm here."
A Black student from NYU told another Revolution reporter, "I think the march is going to show Obama and the rest of the U.S. government, how much it is that we need to stop it now, how urgent of an issue this is instead of something that needs to be dealt with at some point—not eventually, it's a now issue." Another student told me, "It will take time and showing that a lot of people are behind the cause. The number here is astounding. I wasn't expecting this many people. If we just keep on showing that this many people are behind the same cause then eventually we'll get there."
There were more than a few people who expressed real frustration, doubt and in some cases anger at what Obama is and is not doing around the issue of gay rights. But a lot of people said they believe that this big show of support would be heard in the halls of governments and that Obama would have to listen. There was a widespread sentiment of hope and optimism—that I have to say, is framed by pretty low sights—and a lot of illusions about the nature of this society and what can and cannot be achieved under the economic and social relations of capitalism.
I had several people tell me they thought things were improving in this country, "step by step" and "little by little." Only a few days earlier Congress had moved toward including attacks on gay people as part of the legal definition of what a "hate crime" is in this country. This is like the government passing a law today saying it's illegal to lynch Black people (which they didn't do until almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War)—and getting people to think this is a "step in the right direction." And meanwhile, Black youth are being gunned down in the streets by the police and hundreds of thousands are being warehoused in prison.
I couldn't help compare this lack of a larger vision to the times when, not that many years ago, youth took to the streets militantly demanding an end to globalization and chanting slogans like, "we demand a better world."
There were people I interviewed who were clearly very unsatisfied with the state of the world and had clearly done a lot of thinking, trying to understand what it is about this society that gives rise to systematic inequality and discrimination. For example one woman, who told me she considers herself a revolutionary, offered this explanation: "There has to be a scapegoat in every era and we happen to be it. Minorities historically have undergone oppression, this is our turn, and so it is our time to reach equality... women were originally property and the whole concept of the family is created around the CEO of a corporation, which is a male." I sold her the copy of Revolution with the article that talks about how male supremacy/patriarchy arose with class society and today stems from and is perpetuated by the very nature of the capitalist system. When I asked her what she thought about this she said she thought capitalism, although it isn't a good economic system, actually helps in terms of the struggle for equal rights. She said "Corporations are becoming more open to diversity because this group of people creates revenue. Like unions have the power to regulate. Same thing with gay people—buy gay, promote gay, we have our own subculture so you have to go ahead and sell it to us and accept us because you know we won't buy from you. So capitalism in a way works to our advantage."
In general people saw this struggle as working within the current setup—trying to change the government and the thinking and culture in society so that gay people are accepted into the mainstream. Some people expressed this as part of the overall struggle against oppression. For example, one young guy said, "Whatever form of oppression we may have, sexism, homophobia, or racism—we're all connected and we all have to come together and understand and try to combat this problem. Although we had the Civil Rights movement in the 50s, racism still exists, we still have problems with racism, African Americans are not hired because they are African Americans, even though no one says this."
And there were also many in the crowd who include in this the struggle for gay people to be allowed to be part of the U.S. military. There was a contingent of gays in the U.S. military, marching in uniform. And the rally featured a U.S. soldier who had fought in Iraq, calling on Obama to get rid of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
So it was very challenging for people when we said not only that people should not enlist in the U.S. military—which tortures, rapes, and kills in the service of global empire—but that what we really need is a revolution to get rid of this whole capitalist system. We united with people's desire for a society where human beings treat each other with respect, where there is no longer discrimination of all sorts. And people listened to what we had to say about how this will only be possible in a socialist society based not on profit, but on mobilizing the masses of people to build a whole new society aimed at getting rid of classes and emancipating all of humanity.
In this whole mix, people were very open to hearing what we had to say about revolution and communism. We talked with people about the need for a completely different kind of society and got out the RCP statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." And we had some interesting discussions with people about what it will really take to get to a place where people are not discriminated against because of who they love—or because they are a person of color, or because they are a woman.
In some ways, people recognize that even if the people win some concessions, like legal equal rights—this won't change the fact that we will still be living in a country that wages wars around the world, turns everything and everybody into a commodity, is destroying the environment, has no real future to offer the masses of minority youth and is deeply patriarchal. And I hope the people who got a copy of Revolution at the march will read and grapple with the article about gay rights, especially where it says: "The capitalist-imperialist system we live in rests on a foundation of exploitative and oppressive economic and social relations. And the male-dominated traditional family both mirrors and enforces these relations, as well as all the backward ideas and values that reflect and promote all this. Patriarchy, traditional gender roles and traditional thinking about men and women all stem from and prop up the oppressive property relations in this society... And for those who rule over society, shoring up the traditional family is part of a whole package of imposing and enforcing a whole set of 'traditional values,' like racism, women being subjugated to men, and hatred of immigrants."
One of the last people I talked to at the end of the day told me, "We can't focus on one issue to the detriment of all others. Everything is connected. If you care about women's rights in America, you should care about women's rights in Afghanistan. And if you care about what's happening to gay people here, you should look at what's happening to gay people in Iraq. And we need to be aware that there's a huge racism that happens when police are tasering people and we're calling it a non-lethal weapon and we're using it mostly on young Black men. And one third of young Black men in this country are incarcerated. It's completely ridiculous. These aren't separate issues, they're completely connected."
This is a good place to start a real conversation about what kind of real change is and isn't possible in this system of capitalism-imperialism. And what kind of change—what kind of world—we need to really put an end to all the different forms of oppression the people face.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
October 12, 2009. A World to Win News Service. People who are looking to the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference or some other international body of today's capitalist states to save the planet should consider the death sentence the European Union may have just issued for the Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The Atlantic used to be full of bluefin, but they only bred in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean. Now, with their numbers greatly depleted, the Mediterranean has become critical for their survival as a species. Yet the European Union has refused to back a plan to cut the yearly bluefin catch to a level where they could escape extinction.
The bluefin tuna is one of the most magnificent of the world's fishes. (The tuna most people eat from cans is a different species.) Because of their unique metabolism, muscular structure and almost perfect hydrodynamic shape, they can push their great size (up to four meters [13 feet] long, and weighing as much as three-quarters of a ton) from one end of the Atlantic to the other, cruising at several kilometers an hour with bursts of up to 80 kph [49.7 mph], and diving half a kilometer [1,640 feet] deep. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered them beautiful and fascinating. Since then they were considered good for nothing but sport fishing until only a few decades ago, when the global market got hold of them. Now just one can be sold at the price of an ordinary car, and a big one at the price of a Rolls Royce.
High in a healthy kind of fat, many people believe that their red meat tastes particularly delicious raw. But don't blame anyone's ancestral tastes for the popularity that may prove to be fatal for this species. Noble Japanese used to agree with their American counterparts that this fish was not fit for their consumption. The market demand for them has been socially determined, involving, it is true, the fact that people can acquire a love for their flavor, but also the bluefin's iconic brand status as one of the world's most prestigious foods amid the boom in luxury consumption in the home countries of the imperialist (monopoly capitalist) world economy. In fact, the development of the productive forces played a more decisive role in developing today's taste for open-ocean fish than any age-old cravings, since it was only with the spread of household refrigerators in rich post-war Japan and elsewhere that the common people could eat much raw fish at all. Modern fishing equipment and refrigerator ships made it highly profitable to catch and transport bluefin tuna by industrial methods and in industrial quantities. With these conditions met, the market manufactured the popularity of this commodity by introducing it to sushi or sashimi (Japanese-style raw fish dishes) menus that, thanks to their profitability, have taken the better-off countries by storm.
Today, with the number of full-sized adult bluefin greatly reduced in the Mediterranean, fish crews generally catch them while they are young and small, and then put them in ocean pens to fatten them for a few months before driving a nail into their brains and selling them on ice. For some years the idea was promoted that this kind of capital-intensive fish farming could save the species, but in fact it made the problem worse, because the number of fish left to grow to reproductive age has dropped drastically and the bluefin has not bred in captivity.
The numbers are so clear that you'd almost think that they alone would settle the argument. The quota for the world's total bluefin catch was 22,000 tons this year. The real amount taken in is thought to be two or three times as much, because there's not much checking-up on catches declared by registered fishing vessels, and illegal fishing by unauthorized boats is rampant. If the quota were set at 15,000 tons and enforced for a sufficient length of time so that the fish population could recover, then according to the prominent fish NGO [non-governmental organization] Oceana, about 45,000 tons of bluefin could be harvested every year indefinitely. That would be a sustainable level, and is about the amount of bluefin regularly taken in a decade ago.
Yet the EU refused to back a proposal that the international body in charge of such things set the quota at that sustainable level.
That body is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), nicknamed, by the exceedingly pro-business publication The Economist, "the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna" (October 30, 2008) because it really represents the global fishing industry countries. The EU itself split right down the line you'd expect: the tuna-catching countries along the Mediterranean took a stand for the freedom to fish (including France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy had recently made a speech posing as the tuna's new best friend), while countries like Germany and the UK, whose waters have been emptied of bluefin, were in favor of the new quotas.
This is not just the result of pressure from commercial fishing companies, although there's plenty of that. The nature of capital and the workings of the market, above and beyond anyone's will, is the deeper explanation.
First of all, there's the question of timeline: bluefin live for decades and may not be able to reproduce until the age of eight or more; right now they are often caught when only a year or two old. So rebuilding the stock would take some time. Secondly, because there's so much money to be made in cheating, quotas might not be enforceable. This factor interpenetrates with another one: capital is nationally rooted, and every government would be under pressure to look the other way and let their fishing fleets do as well as those of the next coastal country. Maybe only a total ban, including on marketing bluefin, would work. Long-term reduced quotas would be very good for fishing, but the question of "saving the fishing industry" is not a question of saving some abstract industry. The undeniable fact is that today's fishing companies would be thinned and shrink at best, and the capital invested in them might never be recovered.
Thirdly, for capitalist production such questions are considered "externals": the cost to society and the planet of not reducing fishing quotas—or of not preventing other kinds of damage to the environment—is enormous, but that cost is not necessarily borne by any individual capitalist or capital formation. From the point of view of profits for fishing companies and the banks that finance them, and the various national monopoly capitalist economies in which this industry operates (injecting the capital obtained by profitable fishing into the larger circuits of capital by purchasing boats and other equipment, etc.), the most rational thing is to fish bluefin until there are no more.
This short-sighted approach is insane even from the point of view of capitalist profit in the long term, let alone the interests of the people and the planet. The Sunken Billions project of the World Bank and the UN's FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] points out that the more capital invested in fishing, the more fish are caught and the less fish stock is left, requiring even more capital (more boats fishing for longer periods, etc.) to catch them and reducing the overall profitability of the industry, although they fail to point out that this does not necessarily apply to the profit of any particular company, which can thrive by swallowing competitors. "If fish world stocks were rebuilt, the current marine fisheries catch could be achieved with approximately half of the current global fishing effort," the report concludes. In fact, one reason why the fishing companies require government subsidies to keep up their profitability is because there is too much capital invested in fishing. (Other reasons include global warming, a problem not unrelated to the dictates of profitability and the market.)
Ocean fish are part of the productive forces, like land, raw materials, machinery and technology, and people and their skills, that produce wealth. They have the unusual particularity of being the common property of mankind (sometimes called "the commons"), just as land once was before the development of class society and especially capitalism.
Fish have the potential to be an enormously important source of high-protein nourishment for humanity, and for its pleasure as well. But "the commons" and even more the collective labor of people all over the world cannot be used for the benefit of humanity and its planet as long as the monopoly capitalist system based on private profit prevails and the monopoly capitalist class holds political power.
The problem lies in what capitalism requires—what capital itself requires, which is antagonistic to the interests of humanity and the planet. The governments must respond to the dictates of profit or economic chaos will result. The politicians who represent capital may or may not want to save the bluefin but there are far more powerful forces at work than their individual consciences. Even where laws have been passed to save locally beloved species by restricting catches (eels in Holland, king salmon in Alaska—both, significantly, involving low-capital fishing), the international character of fish lifecycles and the overall environmental effects of capitalism and the global market have limited the success of such efforts.
As Karl Marx's close collaborator Frederick Engels wrote in Dialectics of Nature, "Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first...
"And, in fact, with every day that passes we are acquiring a better understanding of these laws [of nature] and getting to perceive both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. In particular, after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realize, and hence to control, also the more remote natural consequences of at least our day-to-day production activities. But the more this progresses the more will men not only feel but also know their oneness with nature...
"[B]y long and often cruel experience and by collecting and analysing historical material, we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our production activity, and so are afforded an opportunity to control and regulate these effects as well.
"This regulation, however, requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production [capitalism] , and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order."
When it comes to something as complex, long-term and truly global as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and beginning to deal seriously with the threat of global warming, then the fate of the bluefin, which, after all, is just a fish, should serve as a warning.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Revolution Books NYC Theater Benefit Evening:
"I am a fugitive slave. I live under the Hollywood Freeway and the Brooklyn Bridge... somewhere under the rainbow ... kept warm by blazing barrels of trash scraps from the cane fields and the fast food establishments. . . "
When Roger Guenveur Smith takes the stage in his one-man play, Frederick Douglass Now, the first person you meet is this current-day fugitive, a wise and jumpy individual who bears witness to an empire that's been built on the enslavement of a whole people. His stories punch an opening into this unspeakable history...Henry "Box" Brown, the famous slave who mailed himself north in a wooden box (arriving with "the first flat top" because he made the trip mostly upside down)...and its continuing penetration into the present...the pizza parlors in Brooklyn where "20 years after the film Do The Right Thing, they still love Black music but they hate Black people."
Roger Guenveur Smith's Frederick Douglass shows up a little later dictating a letter into his cell phone to one Henry Auld. Douglass was an abolitionist who began life as Auld's slave. He would later escape and become a pre-eminent writer and speaker who woke up millions to confront what it actually meant to live life as a slave on an American plantation. In the theater the audience experiences it up close, as Douglass graphically pictures for Auld how it would be for the slave owner's daughter to exist under the absolute control of another human being—the precise condition of Douglass' own sisters and brother at that very minute.
Most vivid is Douglass' recollection of when he learned that his aunt and uncle had actually escaped. Smith delivers this as a moment of pure joy. It is something you don't see too often on the stage: an authentic sense of human possibility—people consciously breaking inherited shackles they've been told are natural and forever.
For the month of October, Frederick Douglass Now played at the Irish Arts Center's Donaghy Theater in repertory with another play about Douglass, The Cambria, which recounts Douglass' four-month exile to Ireland. On October 21, Roger Guenveur Smith and the Donaghy Theater contributed a portion of the proceeds from the evening's performance to New York City Revolution Books' $100,000 Fund Drive.
That night the filled theater included friends of the store, activists, students, and others. And over the course of the performance you could feel a growing connection with Roger, an actor who in one moment can make you feel the horror of a forced march on foot to a New Orleans slave auction, and in the next the rage at seeing an (unnamed) Oscar Grant shot point-blank on an Oakland train platform.
Nothing arrives as you'd expect in this one-hour tour de force. At one point Smith's Douglass stands at attention for three minutes listening to the Star Spangled Banner sung by Marvin Gaye at a 1983 NBA all-star game. Gaye's warm and frankly sensual version is periodically interrupted by eerily disembodied cheers. The full and chilling irony is slammed home a moment later as Smith swings into Douglass' still-shocking "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" speech: "To [the slave], your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; ....your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages..."
In an interview with the Amsterdam News, Roger Guenveur Smith said the play is "an attempt to get to the relevance of this man's work to this time." Douglass was the most radical of bourgeois democrats, a critical player in the Civil War, the massive conflagration required to complete the 90-year-delayed bourgeois revolution in the U.S. The goals Douglass fought for have not been (and cannot be) fully achieved in the framework of capitalist/imperialist America. How this will be resolved hangs provocatively in the air throughout the evening, but Douglass' stinging exposure of the barbarity of slavery, and the sickening hypocrisy of those who did not get out of their comfort zone to stop it, have a current relevance, to say the least.
A related paradox runs through the evening. In a country where millions are still hoping against steadily decreasing hope that Obama will be the leader who saves the people, or at least does a few decent things, Roger Guenveur Smith—like Douglass—continues to pose the contradictions that confront the people of the planet, soberly looking at reality and sticking to principle.
In the play's finale, Smith's modern-day rapping commentator returns and serves up another of the painful legacies of the slave-past: the unending slaughter of Black youth by other Black youth on the streets of this barren and heartless land. "Black on Black on Black on Brown on Black...." The character spits out the words as he gives and takes the blows. Then suddenly, "Oh, and don't forget..."—he snaps into an infantryman salute, marching in grim cadence and reciting the long list of countries where soldiers (many Black) have recently been sent to kill and die for American Empire.
As the tempo quickens, Roger Guenveur Smith blurts out the new last line of the play: "Where my peace prize at?"
* * *
Roger Guenveur Smith is well known for his earlier one-man play, A Huey P. Newton Story, which was made into a film by Spike Lee. He also appears frequently on TV and in feature films including Spike's Do The Right Thing and Get On The Bus, and more recently American Gangster.
In the talkback after the play, Roger Guenveur Smith spoke about why he did the benefit for the store: "It's important to support independent bookstores, and Revolution Books is very, VERY independent. It's no amazon-dot-com over there, it's revolution-dot-com.... It is a pleasure to do this evening's performance of Frederick Douglass Now for Revolution Books. And in a certain sense, every performance is for Revolution Books."
Smith introduced Andy Zee from the store who tapped into the play's profound impact: "This is why theater, why history, why art matters. It can make you see the world as it is in new ways and imagine how it could be." Speaking about the store's $100,000 fund drive, he said: "...Revolution Books is more than a store, it's a cause...an essential part of breaking through the suffocating atmosphere...fostering a new spirit and atmosphere of critical thinking, radical discourse and engagement with revolutionary possibility."
He challenged the audience to model what Roger Guenveur Smith had done—to find the ways to spread the campaign, to support the store financially and to contribute with their art, their work, their homes, their time—to keep Revolution Books open and help catapult it further into the public square as an essential center of radical and revolutionary ferment.
* * *
At one point late in the play, Douglass is interrupted by a cell phone call from Harriet Tubman. It is one of several scenes where the agonies of past and present collide to produce an unexpectedly funny moment. Harriet apparently has a lot to say, as does Douglass—comparing notes and news as we all do, only they're talking about underground railroad stops and swimming rivers. As the chatter halts, there's a silence, then "Good-bye, Harriet. We love you so much." It felt like one beating heart in that theater.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
[Spoiler warning: The following letter reveals crucial plot points about the October 23, 2009 episode of Law & Order.]
I don't regularly watch the TV show Law & Order, but when I saw that it was planning a show modeled on the killing last May of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion lunatic, I thought I'd tune in. The article announcing this made the point that very few shows that directly deal with this topic actually get onto TV.
Perhaps foolishly, I hoped for something that might have shed even a little light on what had happened to Dr. George Tiller and why. It is true, of course, that—with very few exceptions—progressive and even radical artists stay away from this topic. But a drama showing something about why Tiller had chosen this high-risk life... or one bringing to life the toll exacted on him by the constant threats and actual armed assaults... or a program shedding light on the milieu that spawns and encourages the anti-abortion lunatics to murder doctors, including the ways in which people like Bill O'Reilly have in fact been given the platform of national television to carry out lynch-mob style agitation against him—any of these would have been powerful "ways in" for a TV drama. After all, TV movies like If These Walls Could Talk, or the thought-provoking recent article in Esquire magazine on Colorado doctor Warren Hern ("The Last Abortion Doctor," by John H. Richardson, August 5, 2009) had shown that moving, insightful art or journalism could be created on what has become, unfortunately, a subject full of real-life drama about moral choice and standing for principle in the face of murder. Plus, I had heard from reliable friends that a recent Law & Order episode had fairly honestly rendered the controversy surrounding John Yoo and his complicity in torture.
Unfortunately, the Law & Order show modeled on the killing of George Tiller merely demonstrates that it is possible to assassinate a person twice—first in physical fact and then in terms of his reputation. It sheds light only on the fact that it is possible to twist this murder into an argument against the right to abortion, and to frame this in oh-so-liberal terms.
It would take pages of this paper to unravel and dissect the ways in which this episode crudely distorts reality and manipulates the emotions of its viewers. To begin with, only two minor characters are allowed to put forward anything even approximating a position defending abortion. First, there is the intake nurse at the clinic of the murdered doctor—though this very brief defense takes place very early in the show and even this nurse grounds her argument in the assertion that "most of the women who come here want to be mothers" but face disastrous pregnancies and that the rest are victims of child-rape. The other minor character who unambiguously defends the right to abortion is a doctor called to the witness stand. He says that he would continue to provide abortions to women who needed them "even if fools and hypocrites" succeed in making it illegal. The character played by the actor Sam Waterston—who seems, to this very occasional viewer, to be the "moral center" of the show who cues the viewers as to how they are supposed to think and feel about what they see—then immediately remarks that this principled and actually courageous statement shows that "there are extremists on both sides."
Almost all the major characters, by contrast, continue to mouth lines throughout the whole show either about how at one point they were pro-choice but things have become much more complex and now they are not sure, or they are portrayed as having been anti-abortion but willing to go ahead and prosecute the killer of the doctor. Typical and outrageous anti-abortion arguments are put into the mouths of sympathetic characters and are refuted only half-heartedly, if at all.
But the crudest distortion—an invention that is outright slanderous—comes with the major plot turn of the episode. Midway through, we are introduced to a nurse formerly employed by the murdered doctor who claims that she quit his clinic because she witnessed him kill an actual baby. Let's leave aside for a minute that a) this nurse's claim—for which no physical evidence of any kind is ever even hinted at—is never challenged (and any halfway competent lawyer would immediately try to figure out if indeed she was telling the truth), and b) even if this claim were true there are no grounds on which any halfway competent judge would allow her to be put on the stand to introduce this totally unsubstantiated and utterly irrelevant claim into evidence. To my understanding, no one—not even a certified professional liar like O'Reilly—has ever alleged that Dr. George Tiller ever did anything like this! But now millions of people are going to walk away from this show—whose social function does seem to be at least in part to give its audience a certain context or framework through which to understand high-profile current events—"knowing" that abortion providers (and Dr. Tiller in particular) also kill live children!! And if you think I'm underestimating the ability of the so-called American public to distinguish TV fantasy from truth, I'm sorry, but there are still millions and millions of people who remain convinced that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction.
This, I am told by a friend who watches more TV than I do, is nothing unusual for today's shows. In show after show, the value of women is reduced to their ability to bear children... and their worthiness as a human being to their acceptance of that as their principal role in life. Indeed, the pivotal plot turn in this Law & Order episode only comes to light because of what we are supposed to view as the "ethical choice" by the female assistant DA (a former believer in the right of women to abortion now wracked by doubt) to track down this nurse and reveal her assertion to the defense—in total violation of doctor-patient confidentiality.
It is true that by the end of the show, the viewer is supposed to think that the murderer of the doctor was wrong—and he is found guilty of first-degree murder. But this is only because the DA makes as his trump card argument the idea that violence can only legitimately be carried out by the state or else there would be "chaos"—and that, after all, is the highest moral standard of the ruling class.
This is one small but hardly insignificant example of how the morality of a society is massaged and twisted to accept the murder of doctors... and the outlawing of abortion and subjugation of women. It should fire everyone who understands the centrality of the right to abortion to women's emancipation (a concept never even broached in this show!)—and who thinks that what another friend of mine calls "the very new and fragile idea that women are actually human beings" is true—to find the ways to challenge and change the terms of this debate.
— Toby O'Ryan
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
On May 31 of this year, Dr. George Tiller, a caring, dedicated abortion doctor whose mantra was "trust women," was gunned down in a church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was murdered by someone they call a "pro-life activist"—a reactionary, woman-hating lunatic.
The murder of Dr. Tiller was a watershed moment in the great societal chasm over abortion rights. In the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder, small numbers of activists took a determined stand in defense of his life, his clinic, and his work. But the nationwide eruption of urgently needed protest and outrage did not happen. And among those in Congress and the White House who are officially pro-choice, and who in some cases issued quiet statements of dismay, not a damn one went to Wichita for Dr. Tiller's funeral, much less called on people to take to the streets to demand an end to these murders of abortion doctors.
Now comes an episode of the TV cop show Law & Order with an obscene verdict on all this. The Law & Order episode that aired on Friday, October 23, was a transparent commentary on the murder of Dr. Tiller: the Law & Order team investigates the case of a murdered abortion doctor who was a provider of late-term abortions (as was Dr. Tiller); who had been the victim of repeated threats and even been shot before (as was Dr. Tiller); and who is gunned down by an anti-abortion fanatic in church (as was Dr. Tiller).
And through this, the episode promotes a false and deadly equivalency between the assassination of a caring, late-term abortion doctor... and performing abortions.
Framing the episode is a defining incident that is a profound distortion of reality: An abortion doctor accidentally delivers a live baby, and then purposely kills that living baby (with the consent of the mother). Through this manufactured and untrue incident, a false equivalency is supposedly defined between abortion—late-term abortion in particular—and murder.
The key players in this episode of Law & Order act on and promote the lie that abortion is equivalent to murder. A woman district attorney, who declares that she was inspired by Roe v. Wade, is scripted as being so repulsed by the actions of the abortion doctor that she refuses to prosecute the murderer. In fact, she basically undermines the prosecution's case through turning over evidence to the defense (this on a show that week-in, week-out, promotes "bending" the constitutional rights of defendants by justifying illegally acquired evidence and withholding evidence from defense lawyers).
In a closing argument to the jury, another DA preaches that those who believe "life" begins at conception (or "viability") and those who believe "life" begins at delivery, must share common values. But conflating "life" in general, with human life, is a moral fraud. All "life" is not the same. All of us, every day, destroy millions of lives when we wash our hands, weed a garden, eat a meal, or have surgery. Human life is a particular and precious form of life, with particular moral implications. And it has a distinct starting point—the birth of a human baby that is no longer a fetus, dependent on a woman for its existence.
The reality is that for millions and millions of actual, living women in America (yes, millions), abortions have allowed them to have a life—or at least as much of a chance of a life for women as there is in this society. And conversely, where abortions are not legal, available, or affordable, or where women are physically and psychologically prevented from having an abortion, not having the option of an abortion means dreams of careers, school, relationships, lives... ruined.
In a closing message, at the end of the episode, the Sam Waterston character (DA Jack McCoy) says that he used to think that people's moralities were coherent—that "right to life" people would oppose war, and that pro-choice people would support the human rights of the unborn. But then, he sighs, there is no such moral consistency here.
This is a false and extremely harmful moral equation. Yes, the "right to lifers" are complete hypocrites. These are people who claim to care about the lives of babies, but who think it is treasonous to argue that poor children in this country have a right to medical care, or to oppose the slaughter of children by U.S. drones and troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But it is not hypocritical, in fact it is completely consistent to support the basic rights of living humans, and as part of that, the rights of women to have abortions—to choose whether or not to bear a child.
The moral relativism over abortion promoted with a vengeance in this episode of Law & Order, regardless of intent, is not just false. It is very dangerous. It impacts only one side of the culture war on abortion. Christian fundamentalists who happen to catch this episode of Law & Order are unlikely to be thrown into moral angst by Sam Waterston's character's musings on the incongruity being "right to life" and pro-war. Their morality does not have to withstand such tests of formal logic (it doesn't have to make any sense). Nor does it have to withstand the test of reality, and the interests of humanity. It is based on a literal interpretation of the draconian and oppressive strictures of the Bible: "The Bible says it/I believe it/That settles it." The way people will be pried out of this lunacy is direct intervention with reality and truth.
But while this moral relativism falls on deaf ears among the anti-abortionists, it has a paralyzing impact the other side of the culture war over abortion—criminally immobilizing those who should have been in the streets after the murder of Dr. Tiller, and who should be in the streets now defending the courageous abortion providers who risk their lives to serve women.
* * *
This episode of Law & Order aired at a time when Barack Obama calls for conciliation and "common ground" between woman-hating killers and those who support a woman's right to an abortion.
That conciliation has led to a situation where, as Revolution newspaper has put it: common ground is killing ground.
What is urgently needed, instead, is moral certitude, passion, and determined resistance to attacks on abortion.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
It began nearly two years ago when American Apparel—one of the largest garment manufacturers in the U.S.—received notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that it was facing an "I-9 audit," a government inspection of the documents all workers must provide to their employers to prove they are legally authorized to work in the U.S. American Apparel turned records over to ICE agents who combed through them looking for fraudulent documents, or for social security numbers or Alien ID numbers that did not match the names held by the Social Security Administration or the Department of Homeland Security.
A year and a half later, ICE sent American Apparel formal notice that 1,600 of its workers did not have the necessary documents to work in the country and that ICE could not verify the eligibility of 200 more. There was a temporary reprieve while company lawyers negotiated with ICE officials and the corporation gave the workers an opportunity to come up with acceptable paperwork. But late last month the hammer dropped, and American Apparel announced that the 1,800 workers, one quarter of its workforce, were being fired.
Over 300 companies had received audit notices at the same time as American Apparel, but almost all the news coverage has focused on American Apparel. Dov Charney, company founder and CEO, is an outspoken advocate of changing U.S. immigration policy, speaking out in support of the company's Legalize LA campaign and challenging the morality of standing silent while a whole section of human beings are persecuted. Charney is also infamous for American Apparel ads that are even more degrading to women than most, and for an atmosphere of sexual harassment of women employees—but that is not why the government is going after him. The American Apparel factory officially shuts down every May 1st and the workers march in their thousands in annual immigrants rights protests in downtown L.A. As the American Apparel website says: "Why do we support immigration reform? Simple answer: Humanity." It seems likely to many that American Apparel was targeted specifically because of Charney's stance on immigration and his open opposition to government persecution of the undocumented.
Some argue that American Apparel is not one of those "unscrupulous businesses" taking advantage of immigrants and should not have been targeted, pointing to the fact that the company pays higher wages than most garment workers receive, provides health insurance, even offers workers time off to attend on-site English classes. And Charney did protest the results of the I-9 audit. But there are larger forces at work—as with all capitalist businesses, profit, and not "humane treatment of workers," is the "bottom line" for American Apparel. In the end, when ICE presented Charney with "an offer he couldn't refuse"—fire the workers or face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and possibly being forced out of business altogether—Charney went along with it, and 1,800 workers are now out on the street.
Many of the fired workers had been at the company for up to a decade. The New York Times spoke to Jesús, a 30-year-old originally from Puebla, Mexico, who started at the company 10 years ago as a sewing machine operator and eventually worked his way up to an office job as coordinating manager. "I learned how to think here," he told the Times. He said that several job offers from mainstream garment makers were withdrawn once he was asked for documents. "I guess I'm going to have to go to one of those sweatshop companies where I'm going to get paid under the table."
Multiply that by 1,800, then add in cancelled health insurance, bare dinner tables and, until a new job can be found, the threat of homelessness. And just to make sure the message is delivered, ICE director John Morton said that the agency won't rule out going after and arresting workers proven to be in the country without authorization.
Some argue that the I-9 audits are a "humane" way to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. But the fired workers and those around them see the real impact. Msgr. Jarlath Cunnane, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in the Pico-Union area, where many of American Apparel's workers live, underscored that the mass firing at American Apparel "is going to put all these families under terrific pressure, and who's going to pick up the pieces?" He added it would be "crazy to think that people are going to go back to their homelands when they've married and have American-born children in school here."
From the point of view of the Obama administration, the operative issue is "effective," not "humane." The administration says it is putting emphasis on I-9 audits because they can more effectively reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the country; if that seems to be working, we can expect many more firings. At the same time, the administration is looking at beefing up all the tools at its disposal: Where it thinks workplace raids by armed ICE agents will be effective, those raids have been and will continue to be carried out. ICE continues to deploy its "Fugitive Operation Teams" that hunt down and arrest people who have failed to report for deportation, along with grabbing up anyone else in the home who appears to be undocumented. The Obama administration is continuing and even expanding the 287(g) program which trains and authorizes local police and sheriffs departments to enforce immigration law, resulting in racial profiling, roadside checkpoints and sweeps through immigrant neighborhoods. In short, ICE under Obama has not eliminated anything that the Bush administration developed; it is instead emphasizing different programs and policies while adding some new twists.
Important sections of the ruling class have been arguing for years that I-9 audits and other forms of employer verification of workers' eligibility to work in the U.S. must be put at the center of the fight against "illegal immigration." They contend that pressuring employers not to hire undocumented immigrants will reduce the economic "pull" that leads immigrants to cross the border. The U.S. economy is highly dependent on the cheap labor of vast numbers of undocumented workers—there are an estimated 8 million in the U.S. labor force. At the same time, the presence of as many as 12 million or more such undocumented immigrants in the country exerts pressures that can tend to undermine the strength and stability of American society, and there is widespread agreement in the halls of power that something must be done to keep the undocumented population from growing even larger.
Despite the doubling of the number of Border Patrol agents since 2001... despite the construction of 670 miles of border walls and the installation of remote controlled TV cameras, motion detectors, communication towers and other surveillance equipment along hundreds of additional miles... despite the factory raids, highway check points, "Fugitive Operation Team" assaults, and other round-ups leading to the deportations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year, the U.S. government has not fundamentally been able to put a dent in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Seventy percent of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico and Central America. It is no surprise—U.S. penetration into the economies of those countries has driven tremendous numbers of poor peasants off the land and into urban slums where there are no jobs. Millions have made the dangerous trip to El Norte in hopes of finding something better. Economic conditions back home are so depressed that the possibility of working even one or two days a month at $8 per hour in the U.S. is better than many of these workers can do in the countries they came from. So long as there are jobs for them in the U.S., undocumented immigrants will continue to risk their futures and often their very lives to make their way across the border.
Thousands of children travel alone from Central America and Mexico, making the harrowing journey to the U.S. on top of freight trains coming north. Watch the moving HBO documentary Which Way Home or read Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. The children are in search of mothers or fathers who came to the U.S. years earlier; they believe they will find work to help support families back home, or they simply come dreaming of a new life. The Border Patrol catches thousands of children a year traveling alone trying to cross the border into the U.S., while many perish along the way—falling off trains, or dying in the sweltering heat of the deserts of the U.S. Southwest.
The Obama administration is putting I-9 audits to the test to see if they will reduce the pull of jobs. Three months after Obama took office, ICE issued an internal memo, "Subject: Worksite Enforcement Strategy," that says:
Enforcement efforts focused on employers better target the root causes of illegal immigration. An effective strategy must do all of the following: 1) penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal workers; 2) deter employers who are tempted to hire illegal workers; and 3) encourage all employers to take advantage of well-crafted compliance tools. ("Immigration Agents to Turn Focus to Employers," by Ginger Thompson, New York Times, April 30, 2009).
In June 2009, the same month ICE made clear to American Apparel that the 1,800 workers had to go, ICE announced 652 new I-9 audits and promised more before the year is out. John Morton, the head of ICE, said, "Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door." The goal, he said, is to create "a truly national deterrent" to hiring unauthorized labor that will "change the practices of American employers as a class."
In short, ICE's rigorous enforcement of immigration laws at the workplace will not only compel employers to change who they hire, the employers themselves will be coerced into playing the role of immigration police.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Check It Out:
The October 20 edition of the PBS network's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer included an 8½-minute report on the controversy at the University of California, Berkeley over the demand that Boalt Hall law professor John Yoo be fired. Yoo was one of the key lawyers in the Bush administration who wrote memos giving legal justification for the use of waterboarding and other torture against prisoners held by the U.S. The report includes interviews with people taking opposing sides in the controversy, including Boalt Hall dean Christopher Edley, who defends Yoo, and Stephanie Tang of World Can't Wait, which has been playing a leading role in the struggle to get Yoo fired. Check it out!
The streaming video of the NewsHour report is at: pbs.org/newshour/video/share.html?s=news01s332aqc19.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Sunsara Taylor challenges...
Sunsara Taylor has been on tour over the past year speaking to diverse audiences on the themes addressed in Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. In July Taylor accepted an invitation to speak to a meeting of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) on Sunday, November 1, on the theme "Morality Without Gods." Now there is an attempt to prevent her from speaking. Suddenly, some members of the program committee spearheaded by a professor from the University of Chicago, took action to force through a vote to disinvite her, completely distorting her views and claiming that her talk would be of no interest to their membership.
Here are some of the things in the description of her talk that provoked these efforts:
"We live in a time of moral crises. These crises are NOT, as the Christian fascists like to consistently insist, because of 'abortionists, the ACLU, homosexuals, and science instructors who teach evolution.' These crises exist because the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization. Around the world: massive global migrations, the rise of a transnational sex slave trade consuming millions of young women and girls, the wars and widespread use of torture by the U.S., and the increased disparity between the obscenely wealthy and the billions who have been cast into desperation, poverty and disease with no hope of a decent life.
"Why have these changes led to a resurgence of reactionary fundamentalist religion here and all over the world?
"How do we counter that with a secular morality of our own?
"...In this talk, Taylor will bring alive many of the themes spoken to by Avakian in Away With All Gods! to answer these questions and to explore communist morality as a real and viable alternative: a morality rooted in, and serving as a guide to get to, a world without men oppressing women, without a handful accumulating vast wealth at the expense of the many, without white people lording it over people of color, without one country trying to run the whole globe, and a world where critical thought and the scientific pursuit of the truth, as well as artistic and intellectual ferment and the flourishing of individuality, are fostered."
Hearing about the attempt to cancel this talk, many of the people with whom Taylor has appeared speaking on these same questions, as well as others who respect her work, wrote to the EHSC to attest to the positive nature of the programs she has done and of her approach to opening up debate and controversy in an extremely principled way. Others in the EHSC who have been apprised of this have expressed their strong disagreement with disinviting her, have begun to challenge the ethics—and motives—of those who are so adamantly trying to keep her from speaking and have called for this decision to be reversed. Taylor has challenged this unprincipled distortion of her political views and has insisted that she still plans to fulfill her agreement to speak to the meeting of the Society. (See Sunsara Taylor's open letter to the Program Committee, Members and Friends of EHSC, which gives a clear picture of how this developed and what the real terms of the dispute are, online at revcom.us.)
According to the EHSC's Mission Statement:"We value the importance of living an ethical, responsible, and joyful life. We promote intellectual, philosophical, and artistic freedom, avoiding dogma and rigid creed."
But what kind of ethics and intellectual and philosophical freedom is being promoted if a chilling atmosphere is allowed to take hold in centers like the Ethical Humanist Society, giving in to attempts to censor voices that challenge the dominant thinking in society and propose an ethics grounded in striving for a better world?
As Sunsara Taylor put it in her letter to EHSC: "This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from an organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing."
If those in the EHSC behind this are successful, not only will they have deprived their own membership, and the public who is invited to their meetings, of the opportunity to hear a different perspective on burning questions of the day; much more importantly they will have put the EHSC objectively in the camp of a whole group of intellectual gatekeepers who engage in promoting false verdicts and lies about the history of communism, and about the viewpoint and goals of communists today.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
October 20, 2009
Last July I was extended an invitation by the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago to speak on the topic of "Morality Without Gods." I accepted this invitation in good faith, arranged my schedule to be in Chicago on November 1st, and I plan to honor my commitment to speak on November 1, 2009, 10:30 am at the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago, 7574 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie, IL.
Sunday night, October 18, less than two weeks before the program, I received an email letter from Anil Kashyap notifying me that some in the program committee are trying to cancel my talk.
I am appalled at the discourtesy of this, especially from a society centered around ethics. Never in my years of public speaking has anyone canceled a scheduled talk.
I have spoken on these same issues—of morality without gods and morality to change the world—to very diverse audiences in many different venues and forums. My talks have been sponsored by university departments such as the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA, the Humanities Department at Columbia College [Chicago], the African American Studies Department at Cleveland State; by secular student groups at schools such as New York University, Stanford, and Georgia State; by bookstores, high school assemblies, conferences such as the Atheist Alliance International Conference. I have spoken on my own as well as on panels with scientists, priests, Buddhists, Ayn Rand Objectivists, Black liberation theologists, and more. Many of my audiences include biblical literalists and because I posit a morality that speaks to their concerns and I have strategic confidence in their ability to change, if presented with the truth, we can have a positive engagement.
Again, the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago is the first to have some individuals try to cancel a speaking engagement.
This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from an organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing.
The letter from Anil Kashyap that justifies his decision to attempt to cancel contains gross mischaracterizations of my views. If for no other reason, this alone would be reason enough why people in EHSC should have the opportunity to hear my views and analysis without a distorting lens. It certainly makes me wonder, did any of these individuals even listen to any parts of my talks or writings which are available on line before trying to cancel this presentation?
In any case, I feel it necessary to set the record straight. Kashyap wrote:
"On the first point, we are an inclusive humanist group. A talk that dwells on 'Christian fascists' and characterizes the leading moral problems facing the U.S. as depending critically on "an influx of immigrants from around the world, [and] the entering of women into the workforce in the last generation" is not what we were expecting."
In fact, the description of my presentation clearly says we live in a time of moral crisis because "the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization." I give examples of these huge fast-paced changes and instability in people's lives here and around the world as part of what is giving impetus to a resurgence of reactionary fundamentalist religion as people seek something solid, familiar and absolute in a time of such upheaval and change. Kashyap has pulled a snippet of my talk description out of context to imply that I blame society's moral crisis on immigrants and women joining the work force when my actual meaning was clearly just the opposite, including to counter the scapegoating and backlash that a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism engenders against these sections of our population.
Kashyap then objects to my use of the term "Christian fascism" as if this reflects some kind of blind rejection of all religious people on my part. Quite the contrary, using those two words together is precisely a way of specifying that I am NOT referring to all Christians. My use of the words "Christian fascism" is well considered, though it hardly seems that remarkable when describing far right-wing Christian dominionists who murder abortion providers and impede women's access to birth control, apply biblical literalist interpretations to their excoriation of gay people, speak of illegal wars of aggression as god-ordained crusades, deny the solid scientific fact of evolution, and wish to impose Old Testament Mosaic rule as the law of the land. Further, I am hardly alone in describing this phenomenon this way.
If anyone in the Society has sincere doubts as to whether this description fits, please attend my talk as I have reported live from some of the hottest flashpoints of the Christian fascist offensives in this country for years—from Terri Schiavo's hospice to stadiums filled with Christian youth being trained as shock troops by Bush appointees and Navy SEALS to Dr. George Tiller's besieged clinic and funeral and beyond.
The description of my talk clearly states that I will explore countering this with a secular morality. My views on this are informed by my experience and study of how society could be organized differently, by a vision of a world without oppression, mass ignorance, or exploitation, and by a communist morality "rooted in and serving to get to a world without men oppressing women, without a handful accumulating vast wealth at the expense of the many, without white people lording it over people of color, without one country trying to run the whole globe, and a world where critical thought and the scientific pursuit of truth, as well as artistic and intellectual ferment and the flourishing of individuality, are fostered."
This is the farthest thing from the bigoted anti-immigrant, anti-woman picture Prof. Kashyap implies as a reason for prohibiting this talk.
As a second reason to try and cancel my talk, Prof. Kashyap writes
"Second, instead we had been hoping that you could help us think about how moral, ethical behavior need not depend on a theistic outlook. We did not anticipate that a discussion of this question would look anything like the description you sent. I understand that you have thought further about the talk and not seen any obvious way to adjust it while staying true to your beliefs."
In fact, the title and focus of my presentation is "Morality Without Gods." Clearly this is about morality that does not depend on a theistic outlook.
Prof. Kashyap is not correct in saying that I was unwilling or unable to adjust what my talk was about.
In exchanges with other members of the program committee over my talk we discussed whether the focus of my presentation could be shifted to "human nature" but then agreed to stick with the original title on Morality without Gods. In the course of this we clarified that this was not a talk on the topic of Revolution and Communism. As I wrote committee members:
"Obviously, while focusing on morality without gods, human nature will come up, it would be wrong to bill something as covering BOTH with real substance. So, I went back to what we had originally arranged—and this title 'Morality Without Gods' is exactly that, a talk about morality without gods (not about communist revolution)."
"The only reference to communism in the description is in regards to my orientation—not in terms of what I am explicating in this discussion."
At the very last minute, on the basis of these and quite a few other mischaracterizations of the facts, on the basis of fear that was whipped up on an unprincipled basis about my presentation and the supposed harm it would cause EHSC, some people have tried to cancel the speaking engagement. This is not an ethical way to handle disagreements.
This leads me to conclude that what this is really about is that some people don't want aired certain views with which they disagree, and they are doing everything they can to suppress those views.
In my experience, and exactly because we live in a time of moral crisis where religious fundamentalism is on the rise, people do hunger for discussions of morality that explore both broader themes as well as how they apply in this particularly acute historical juncture and how we shall live morally in it.
I find it hard to believe that the majority membership of the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago finds this "uninteresting" or finds the suppression of this conversation tolerable. And I certainly doubt they care for contributing to the broader chill in society, the atmosphere where critical thinking, dissent, and thinking outside the dominant narrative is marginalized and suppressed.
Prof. Kashyap's letter states:
"In light of all this, our committee does not want to proceed with this presentation. I understand you have many groups who wish to hear you speak. It makes no sense to bring you to speak to an audience who will not be interested or enthusiastic. (I gather that others in the society were trying to set up a workshop but, as far as I can tell, no one had signed up for that either.)"
In fact, there are people at EHSC and others from the broader community who have expressed interest in this program on Morality Without Gods and are enthusiastic about it, once they have seen the description of what it will be. Based on my experience with such a wide range of other audiences, I expect it will be lively and invigorating, with lots of different views, disagreements and depth to the engagement. Those who are truly not interested can stay home, sleep through that part of the Sunday platform, read a book, or plug their ears if they wish. Those who vehemently disagree can come and say why. But it is not right to keep others from being part of this—and not right to treat a speaker with such disrespect, either. I hope everyone, including Professor Kashyap, will come and raise their toughest questions. That I welcome and look forward to.
The Saturday workshop on "The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of Humanity" is going forward as planned (2 pm to 4 pm, at the Ethical Humanist Society, 7574 N. Lincoln Ave, Skokie). The letter is correct in stating that this is being organized by others (outside the program committee); it is not correct in implying there is no interest. I encourage everyone to join me.
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Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
Inaugural issue now online! demarcations-journal.org
Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic seeks to set forth, defend, and further advance the theoretical framework for the beginning of a new stage of communist revolution in the contemporary world. This journal will promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. Without drawing sharp dividing lines between communism as a living, critical, and developing science serving the emancipation of humanity, on the one hand, and other perspectives, paths, and programs that cannot lead to emancipation, on the other—whether openly reformist or claiming the mantle or moniker of "communism"—without making such demarcations, it will not be possible to achieve the requisite understanding and clarity to radically change the world. Demarcations will contribute to achieving that clarity.
In the wrangling spirit of Marxism, Demarcations will also delve into questions and challenges posed by major changes in the world today. The last quarter-century has seen intensified globalization, growing urbanization and shantytown-ization in the Third World, the rise of religious fundamentalism, shifting alignments in the world imperialist system, and the acceleration of environmental degradation. Demarcations will examine such changes, the discourses that have grown up in connection with them, and the ideological, political, and strategic implications of such developments for communist revolution. Demarcations will also undertake theoretical explorations of issues of art, science, and culture.
The inaugural issue of Demarcations opens with an extensive original polemic against the political philosophy and thought of Alain Badiou.
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