Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Celebrate Revolutionary May 1st, 2011
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
The Revolution We Need...
The Leadership We Have
A Message, And A Call, From The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
This Is NOT The Best of All Possible Worlds...
And We Do NOT Have to Live This Way
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"The land of the free, and the home of the brave." "The leader of the free world." That's what they always say about this country. But this is a Big Lie.
The truth is that we live under a system that, from the start in this country, built up its wealth and power by enslaving millions of Black people, stealing land from Indians and Mexicans through war and genocide, and working many people, including children, literally to death. It is by such murderous means that this system has expanded "from sea to shining sea" across this continent—and around the whole world.
It is a system of capitalism-imperialism...a system in which U.S. imperialism is the most monstrous, most oppressive superpower...a system driven by a relentless chase after profit, which brings horror upon horror, a nightmare seemingly without end, for the vast majority of humanity: poverty and squalor...torture and rape...the wholesale domination and degradation of women everywhere...wars, invasions and occupations...assassinations and massacres...planes, missiles, tanks and troops of the USA bombarding people in faraway lands while they sleep in their homes or go about their daily lives, blasting their little children to pieces, cutting down men and women in the prime of life, or in old age, kicking down their doors and dragging them away in the middle of the night...while here in the USA itself the police harass, brutalize and murder youth in the streets of the inner cities—over and over again—and then they spit out their maddening insults, insisting that this is "justified," as if these youth are not human beings, have no right to live, deserve no respect and no future.
Throughout the world, as a result of this system, a billion people or more go hungry every day...with many facing the threat of starvation. Hundreds of millions of children are forced to work like slaves and to live in putrid slums, in the midst of garbage and human waste. Waves of immigrants, unable to live in their own homelands, travel the earth in search of work—and if they find it, they are worked until they can hardly stand and are forced into the shadows, with the constant fear that they will be deported and their families broken apart. Growing numbers of people cannot find work at all now, with many losing their homes as well as their jobs, while others are worked even more mercilessly. Everyone is lured and driven to consume more and more, at the cost of ever-mounting debt and the loss of any sense of larger purpose or meaning to life or any deeper connection with other human beings. Many are being pushed to the edge...growing numbers are going over the edge, often lashing out in crazed desperation.
Young women in the millions are traded like cattle and forced into sexual slavery, shipped across countries and continents, while women everywhere are degraded, demeaned, and brutalized in a thousand ways—beaten and raped in huge numbers, treated as objects of sexual gratification and breeders of children instead of full human beings. The idea of an intimate loving relationship with another human being is made into a sick joke, perverted into a property or commodity relation, weighed down by repressive patriarchal tradition and denied or restricted for people of the same sex.
The environment and human destiny itself is being taken to the brink of disaster.
All this because of the dictates of this system—because of its stranglehold on humanity. All this while technology and wealth exist on a scale and in forms never before imagined—technology and wealth produced by millions, billions, throughout the world who are nameless and faceless to the powers that be—technology and wealth that could and should be a resource belonging to humanity as a whole and used to meet the needs of people everywhere for a decent and ever-enriched material, intellectual and cultural life.
Look at what this system is doing to youth right here in the USA. For millions in the inner cities, if they are not killed at an early age, their likely future is prison (nearly 1 in 8 young Black men is incarcerated, the prisons are overflowing with Blacks and Latinos, and this country has the highest rate of incarceration of women in the world). This system has robbed so many youth of the chance for a decent life and has got far too many living, dying and killing for nothing—nothing good—nothing more than messing up people and murdering each other on the streets of the cities here...or joining the military, being trained to be murderers on a mass scale, massacring people in countries across the globe. A system which offers millions and millions of youth no greater purpose, no better fate, than crime and punishment, or to become a mindless killing machine for the system itself—that alone is reason enough to sweep this system from the face of the earth!
And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some "elite" schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in "non-conformist" ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people's sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible.
Look at the lies they constantly tell us—with all their honeyed words about "democracy" for the people and "human rights," while they are ruthlessly dictating over people, with force and violence, all over the world, and right here at home. Oh, and now they come on with Obama...to make us think they will be bringing some kind of change for the better. But Obama represents this system, and all this system can bring is more of the same: more torture and torment, more oppression and brutality, more war and destruction.
Some say this is all "god's will" and we just have to "put it all in god's hands." But it was not some god that got us in this situation...and it won't be some god that will get us out of it. The truth is, there are no gods...and we don't need them!
It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
This revolution is both necessary and possible.
This capitalist-imperialist system is in crisis...This system is bankrupt...This system is rotten to the core...This system is based on ruthless exploitation...This system commits so many monstrous crimes, and causes so much unnecessary suffering. We do not need to be sacrificing even more to "rescue" this system. This system needs to be swept aside...its crimes against humanity stopped cold...its institutions dismantled, and replaced by ones that empower people to build a new society free of exploitation and oppression.
The biggest lie of all is that there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing toward communism, have brought about something even worse. The wretched of the earth have made revolution and started on the road to communism—first in Russia and then in China—and they achieved great things in doing so, before they were turned back by the forces of the old order. We are here to tell you that not only has this been done before, but we can do it again—and even better this time. This is the truth that is covered up and lied about, but we have the facts and the analysis to back this up—tremendous historical experience has been summed up, scientifically, and is there for us to learn from and build on.
It is up to us: to wake up...to shake off the ways they put on us, the ways they have us thinking so they can keep us down and trapped in the same old rat-race...to rise up, as conscious Emancipators of Humanity. 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.
"But people are too messed up. It's just human nature for things to be this way, and it can't be changed."
Yes, it can. It has happened before—when people have risen up to make revolution. It can and must be done again—and it can and must go even further. We, in our millions and millions, can change ourselves and fit ourselves to rule and remake society in the interests of humanity—but we can do this only as we fight to change the larger conditions, to throw off oppression, as we join with others, throughout the world, to change the whole world. This is what our Party means when we say: Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.
"But we are not in a position to make revolution in this country...they are too powerful, and they will never let us get that far." No one is more aware than our Party of the difficulties, the risks and the dangers, in making revolution. We are out here working for this every day. We know the price that has to be paid...and we know it is worth it, and that giving our lives to this is more rewarding than anything else. We know that they want to stop this revolution—crush it and bury it before it can really get going again...but we also know that a fight can be waged, and that we can have a chance to win the fight, to make this revolution real. And, yes, it is true—now is not yet the time, in this country, to go all-out to seize the power away from those who rule over us and to bring a new power, serving our interests, into being. But now IS the time to be WORKING FOR REVOLUTION—to be stepping up resistance while building a movement for revolution—to prepare for the time when it WILL be possible to go all out to seize the power.
Revolution can be made when there is a revolutionary situation, an even greater crisis in society as a whole: when people in greater numbers come to deeply feel and understand that the present power has no legitimacy...that it serves only a handful of oppressors...that it uses lies and deception, corruption and completely unjust force and violence to keep this system going and "keep the people in their place"...when millions see the need to fight to break this power and establish a new power that can bring about the changes that people desperately need and want. 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...people who are determined to fight for power in order to radically change society, to get rid of oppression and exploitation. But the point is this: we cannot, and we must not, sit around and wait for "one fine day" when this revolutionary situation comes about and a revolutionary people comes on the scene. No, we must—and we can—work to bring a revolutionary people into being...to enable people to see why they should put no faith in this system, and should not live and die in a way that keeps this system going...but instead should devote their lives to resisting oppression and building up for the time when we can get rid of the cause of all this oppression. Using our Party's newspaper, Revolution, as the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for this whole process, this is what our Party means when we say we are hastening while awaiting the revolutionary situation, preparing minds and organizing forces...for revolution.
All this is not possible without leadership. But the thing is...There is leadership.
In Bob Avakian, the Chairman of our Party, we have the kind of rare and precious leader who does not come along very often. A leader who has given his heart, and all his knowledge, skills and abilities to serving the cause of revolution and the emancipation of humanity. Bob Avakian came alive as a revolutionary in the 1960s—taking part in the great movements of those days, and especially working and struggling closely with the most advanced revolutionary force in the U.S. at that time, the Black Panther Party. Since then, and while many others have given up, Bob Avakian has worked and struggled tirelessly to find the way to go forward, having learned crucial lessons and built lasting organization that could continue the struggle, and aim to take it higher, while uniting with the same struggle throughout the world. He has kept on developing the theory and strategy for making revolution. He played the key role in founding our Party in 1975, and since then he has continued the battle to keep the Party on the revolutionary road, to carry out work with a strong revolutionary orientation. He has deeply studied the experience of revolution—the shortcomings as well as the great achievements—and many different fields of human endeavor, through history and throughout the world—and he has brought the science and method of revolution to a whole new level, so that we can not only fight but really fight to win. Bob Avakian has developed the scientific theory and strategic orientation for how to actually make the kind of revolution we need, and he is leading our Party as an advanced force of this revolution. He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world. The possibility for revolution, right here, and for the advance of the revolution everywhere, is greatly heightened because of Bob Avakian and the leadership he is providing. And it is up to us to get with this leadership...to find out more about Bob Avakian and the Party he heads...to learn from his scientific method and approach to changing the world...to build this revolutionary movement with our Party at the core...to defend this leadership as the precious thing it is...and, at the same time, to bring our own experience and understanding to help strengthen the process of revolution and enable the leadership we have to keep on learning more and leading even better.
If you have not heard about this—if you don't know about the revolution we need and the leadership we have—that is because those who now hold power do not want you to know...they keep this from you, or lie about it when they can't keep word of it from getting out. And it is because our Party itself has not, until now, been consistent enough and bold enough in getting the word out, and acting on it.
BUT WE ARE CHANGING ALL THAT—STARTING NOW.
We must spread the word to every corner of this country...giving people the means to become part of this revolutionary movement, and organizing into this movement everyone who wants to make a contribution to it, who wants to work and fight, to struggle and sacrifice, not to keep this nightmare of a world going as it is but to bring a better world into being.
We mean what we say, and we will not back off or turn our backs on what we have started, on the people who need this revolution. We will keep coming back and digging in, to strengthen this movement for revolution, to build up the bases, spread the influence and organize the forces we need to make revolution. We will not be scared off, backed down or driven away.
A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD, A MUCH BETTER FUTURE, IS POSSIBLE. WE HAVE WHAT WE NEED TO FIGHT FOR THAT WORLD, THAT FUTURE.
IT IS UP TO US TO GET WITH IT AND GET TO THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING THIS HAPPEN.
As our Party's Constitution says: "The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
The Revolution We Need...
The Leadership We Have
A Message, And A Call, From The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
This Is NOT The Best of All Possible Worlds...
And We Do NOT Have to Live This Way
"The land of the free, and the home of the brave." "The leader of the free world." That's what they always say about this country. But this is a Big Lie.
The truth is that we live under a system that, from the start in this country, built up its wealth and power by enslaving millions of Black people, stealing land from Indians and Mexicans through war and genocide, and working many people, including children, literally to death. It is by such murderous means that this system has expanded "from sea to shining sea" across this continent—and around the whole world.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
A Reporter's Notebook on April 11 in Harlem
by a reader of Revolution newspaper
I begin these thoughts on the morning of April 12. I have just returned from a walk in a steady, soothing rain falling over newly blooming blossoms. The scene was beautiful and serene, but my thoughts of springtime come not only from the morning, but also from the night before.
April 11. Harlem, New York. "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World."
I have just witnessed a night that could only be described as spectacular. Hundreds of people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and political perspectives came together in one place for an evening of jazz, funk, soul, rock, theater, dance, poetry, visual arts, commentary, and film. All of it aching for, giving voice to, and infused with the possibility of a radically different world than the maddening planet we live on now. All of it unleashed by—and cohered around—the occasion of the publication of BAsics, a comprehensive yet succinct new book of quotations and short essays by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, with much of the evening's performances flowing from and a large portion of it explicitly inspired by the life and the work of Avakian.
An evening of such breadth, height, and depth cannot be fully captured in words alone. I have tried instead to provide a mere flavor of the evening; some initial recollections, snapshots, sights, sounds, words and impressions. Due to limitations of space, it is not possible to mention all the elements or performers that were part of this special night; and those that are mentioned can only be characterized briefly. But every person who took the stage at Aaron Davis Hall on this evening was part of a historic whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
And now, a look back at April 11...
It's a few minutes before 7 pm. I am standing in the lobby of Aaron Davis Hall, taking in an exhibition of visual arts that is much like the evening that awaits: Vibrant. Defiant. Diverse. Angry. Hopeful. Joyous.
The Guerrilla Girls Broadband have submitted a poem entitled, "The Advantages of No Choice Whatsoever," which deploys bitter irony both to condemn the escalating assault on a woman's right to an abortion, and to envision the future (or lack thereof) for women if that right is taken away. A painting by Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, depicts a woman wielding the Black Panther newspaper. The painting proclaims: "All Power to the People." Hank Willis Thomas' work "Absolut Power" displays the familiar image of an Absolut Vodka bottle—except the inside of this bottle is a slave ship, with the infamous and horrifying visual of so many human beings packed together in tight, suffocating, unspeakable conditions. Dread Scott has taken inspiration from Bob Avakian's quote that begins, "If you can conceive of a world without America..."; Scott's print features the words "IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT AMERICA" printed on a map of the world. Kyle Goen's print of Harriet Tubman shows the abolitionist standing tall and proud, her hands clasped, her expression conveying: "I dare you to fuck with me." And Richard Duardo has contributed a beautiful, radiant color image of the person whose new book is the occasion bringing all of these artists—along with a broad range of performers and hundreds of attendees—together: Bob Avakian.
As I imbibe these various works of visual art, the sound of William Parker's bass line and Avakian's words—from the new version of Avakian's spoken-word piece "All Played Out"—are audible in the background, above the din of conversation of those waiting to enter the auditorium.
The words ring out, and I head inside.
A diverse crowd—perhaps more than half of whom are people of color, a large number of them Black—wait for the evening to begin. Many in attendance are middle-aged, but there are also youth and students on hand, as well as the elderly. By the time the night is over, the crowd will have expanded to reach nearly 400 people.
The lights dim. The celebration begins. Only the silhouette of saxophonist Moist Paula Henderson is visible as she plays behind a curtain, ushering in the night. Next, Cornel West appears on a video screen, and the first part of his comments are nearly drowned out because of cheers from the audience. West tells the people in the auditorium he is sorry he couldn't be there in person, but that they are right where they belong. He expresses his love for Bob Avakian because of Avakian's commitment to the poor, working class and oppressed people of the world, and speaks of the significance of BAsics being released into the world.
"There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth."
The very first quote from BAsics flashes across the screen. This heralds the first act of the program: "Roots."
Singer Maggie Brown, the daughter of the singer, songwriter, playwright and activist Oscar Brown Jr., steps to the stage and delivers some of the more beautiful and poignant opening lyrics ever written: "I was born by the river/in a little tent/oh, and just like the river, I been a-running/ever since." The lines are from Sam Cooke's song, "A Change is Gonna Come." After singing the first two verses in a manner both soulful and serious, Brown transitions to Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." Cheers of recognition spring forth from Aaron Davis Hall. Before long, the audience begins clapping in rhythm to Brown's vocals as she dances and twirls around the stage. I am moved to tears, both because of the beauty of the song, and because hearing it reminds me of the very poignant conclusion to Avakian's filmed talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, in which Avakian references Simone's piece in talking about how, for a time all too brief in past socialist societies, humanity had experienced what it truly meant to be free and how humanity could again reach—and even exceed—these previous heights.
Brown finishes by switching back to the final verse of "A Change is Gonna Come."
Next up is an excerpt from the film They Say They Will. In that excerpt, Joe Veale talks about how, in the days of the Black Panthers, Bob Avakian was the only white revolutionary to share the stage with Panther leaders such as Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver at the Huey Newton birthday party. This is followed by a clip of a young Avakian speaking at a May Day rally in 1969. In it, you get a sense of the fiery impatience and intolerance with the horrors of the capitalist-imperialist system—and the passionate determination to bring a much better system into being—that were already defining characteristics of Avakian, even at that relatively early stage in his political development.
"Let me say one thing to the white people in the audience," he says in the clip, going on to explain that the fact that the Panthers did not take the stance of hating white people did not mean that white people were somehow exempt from the struggle against racial oppression and the system that produces it...
Abiodun Oyewole, a founding member of the veteran radical artists The Last Poets, steps to the stage and sums up the evening thus far with a question: "Is this the '60s?" He then explains that he is about to read a poem that was not allowed to air on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. The piece begins: "America's a terrorist!" Oyewole's poem is full of righteous fury, as he masterfully weaves this refrain through condemnations of the brutal history of the United States and its violent, savage oppression of entire peoples here and around the world. The poem touches on lynchings, the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia carried out by local police and the FBI, and the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that killed four young Black girls, among many other crimes of this system. "Teach!" one woman yells in appreciation, as Oyewole recites the poem. After Oyewole concludes, the crowd responds with sustained, thunderous applause.
Tap dancers grace the stage next, performing "Excerpts from Tapsploitation." Dressed in all black (including their matching berets), the trio concludes an inspiring and liberating tap-dance routine by facing away from the stage and raising their fists...
Appearing across the screen:
"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives."
Act 2 has begun. Henderson returns to the stage, once again supplying her saxophone to background a young woman's reading of Avakian's quote from BAsics that begins, "Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world," and proceeds to viscerally and comprehensively condemn the many different forms of exploitation, degradation, and abuse that women face here and across the globe.
After the quote is finished, Henderson jams out for several minutes by herself.
The comedian and writer Aladdin is up next. Fusing the comic and the tragic in a way that would make Richard Pryor proud, he performs a portion of his play Indio, which will debut this fall at Joe's Pub in New York City. Aladdin's narrator recalls visiting and developing a precious bond with his cousin, who lived in Bangladesh amongst tremendous poverty. His reading is accompanied by a young man playing the tablas, or Indian drums. Both because it is very difficult to do justice to this performance in a limited number of words, and in the interest of not giving away too much before the premier of Indio, I will not say anything more...
A bit later in Act 2, Aladdin returns to the stage. He is one of several people to read letters written by prisoners to Revolution newspaper expressing appreciation for Avakian and BAsics. The letters share in common a deep appreciation for one particular quote: The one from the "Morality, Revolution, and the Goal of Communism" chapter of BAsics, which starts: "If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life..." and proceeds to sharply and poignantly contrast the bankruptcy of seeking to enrich oneself at the expense of others with the far more uplifting choice to contribute as much as one can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world. The readers very creatively weave together—and alternate between—excerpts from the prisoner letters and the portion of Avakian's memoir from which the "profoundly different roads" quote is drawn, before transitioning into a full reading of the part that is in the actual BAsics book.
Immediately before intermission, Outernational, a young band that draws inspiration from The Clash— from rock, punk and many other forms of music—takes the stage, reading in Spanish and English a quote from the "Making Revolution" chapter of BAsics: "There is nothing sacred to us about the USA, as it is presently constituted, or about the borders of the U.S., as they are presently constituted. Quite the opposite."
Outernational then launches into an exhilarating and infectious performance of their song "Qué Queremos." Trumpet players make their way through the aisles of Aaron Davis Hall up to the stage, playing as they go. What follows is a superb, extended jam session that brings the house down.
By now, it is already extremely apparent how incredibly rare this evening is. And we're only at halftime. Somewhere around this time, veteran journalist Herb Boyd, who co-emcees the evening with Revolution newspaper writer Sunsara Taylor, sums it up well: "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
"The truth will not set us free, in and of itself, but we will not get free without the truth."
This quote from Chapter 4 of BAsics—"Understanding the World"—kicks off the second half of the evening:
In a video submission, Richard Duardo says he is very honored to have designed the image of Bob Avakian that appears in BAsics. He explains that in working on the image, he paid particular attention to creating a visual that would be particularly magnetic and eye-catching for the youth.
Following Duardo's message, the audience is treated to the clip "A Better World is Possible," from Avakian's filmed talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. In this clip, Avakian uses history and humor to expose the absurdity and needlessness of the oppressed masses striving to get theirs within a system of vicious exploitation and oppression—which inevitably involves seeking to get over on others—rather than joining forces and raising their sights towards the total elimination of this oppression and exploitation. In bringing this point to life, Avakian references the scandal at a prison in California in which it came to light that guards were deliberately provoking fights between prisoners and then betting on the outcome. He uses this sickening episode as a metaphor for the way that oppressed people and groups are turned against one another more broadly. Later in the clip, the crowd laughs appreciatively when Avakian responds to those who claim to be "regulating" their corner by saying: "You ain't regulating shit." Avakian then compares this outlook to a situation in which a man is going around with a club in one hand and a knife in the other, breaking everybody's leg; and then says to the people that instead of trying to be the "baddest broke-leg motherfucker," the oppressed masses need to come together to stop the motherfucker breaking everybody's legs! The crowd erupts in cheers and applause.
Act 3 closes with a duet between bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp—widely considered two of the hottest contemporary jazz musicians around.
Scrawling across the screen as the final act commences: "...Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution..."
Former Black Panther Richard Brown steps to the microphone. Brown, a member of the San Francisco 8—a group of eight former Black Panther Party members and supporters who in recent years have been viciously railroaded by the government—says he has come to "pay his respects" to Avakian, a "bad-ass white boy." Brown notes that he has been in the revolutionary struggle for decades and says he hasn't been alone: Avakian has been there too. In rousing and defiant comments, Brown says that he is not discouraged but is impatient—and determined to help bring about a revolution. He implores young people in the audience, in particular, to get and study their copy of BAsics.
Sunsara Taylor takes the stage and prepares to introduce the evening's final speaker: Carl Dix, a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. She urges the audience to become part of the movement for revolution in two major ways: by donating generously to cover the cost of the program and other expenses, and by leaving their contact information in order to get plugged in.
Dix then takes the stage and reads a quote that cuts to the essence of Avakian's re-envisioning of revolution and communism and, more specifically, the critical role of artistic experimentation and ferment in relation to each. In light of this, and in light of everything and everyone that has preceded Dix, the quote—from Chapter 2 of BAsics, entitled "A Whole New—and Far Better—World" could not be more fitting:
The quote begins: "Let's imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this 'bitches and ho's' and SWAT teams kicking down doors...."
There are murmurs of assent—especially from women in the audience—when these lines are read: "Enough of this 'get low' bullshit. And how come it's always the women that have to get low?"
After Dix finishes the quote, he tells the audience: "Get In. Get Out. Get connected," explaining that he means people should get deeply into the content of BAsics; get this new book out everywhere in society; and get connected to the movement for revolution.
Jazz prodigy David Murray steps forward. He does not speak. Correction: he does not speak with words. He lets his tenor sax do all the talking.
Here is the best way I can think of to describe the next few minutes: If Jimi Hendrix were still alive, and if he played the sax instead of the guitar... enough said. Later, a revolutionary and jazz enthusiast tells me it may be the best solo he has ever seen.
The program is over? Damn! But not quite yet. Maggie Brown returns, as do many other performers, speakers, the evening's two emcees, and others. Brown leads them in a stirring rendition of McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." Many people in the audience stand, clapping in rhythm and dancing along.
The program ends with lengthy, boisterous applause and cheers. But the night is hardly over.
The crowd files back into the lobby, which buzzes with conversations. Masses of different backgrounds and strata, volunteers from Revolution Books, and some of the performers are mixing it up and talking with one another.
"Fabulous!" an older Black woman tells me when I ask for her impressions of the event. She adds that she is leaving with a "a book and a T-shirt."
Many people carry copies of BAsics; 73 copies had been sold during intermission or after the program.
One volunteer from Revolution Books says that people told her they were inspired to learn more about Bob Avakian after the program. Another volunteer says there is a sentiment among those who attended—reflected explicitly in the comments of some—that "maybe this is it." I ask her what she means, and she says there is a sense among masses who attended that "maybe revolution is possible after all."
By the time I exit the Harlem Stage, it is roughly 11 o'clock; nearly four hours after the celebration began.
I believe that those who—heading into this celebration—were unfamiliar or barely familiar with Bob Avakian received a fantastic introduction to this leader, his decades of pathbreaking work, and the concentration of that work embodied in BAsics. Through film clips from back in the day, as well as those more recent; through readings of Avakian's quotes speaking poignantly, powerfully, and provocatively to a broad array of topics; through thoughtful and heartfelt comments from a very wide range of people explaining why they treasure Avakian; the evening vividly illustrated his burning hatred for oppression and exploitation... his longstanding and unwavering commitment to eliminating that oppression and exploitation... his comprehensive understanding of the world we live in... his inspiring vision of a whole new way humanity could live... his humor... his poetic spirit.
And I further submit that those, such as myself, who entered the auditorium already deeply familiar with and appreciative of Avakian experienced him in a new way on April 11. Never before has such a diverse and supremely talented group of performers come together—on one stage—around Avakian's words and for the purpose of celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world. The result was a night characterized by the very sort of artistic expression, experimentation and exuberance that Avakian has identified as critical to the process of making revolution and transforming society.
In other words: the evening provided a glimpse into one key aspect of the future that Avakian has envisioned, and is fighting to bring into being. In this sense, anyone wondering—with sincerity or sarcasm—just what it is that is new about Bob Avakian's vision of communism need only to look to the night of April 11.
It is not often one can say they have been part of something truly historic; something they will remember and carry with them for the rest of their lives. But as I walk out into the night, I have no doubt that I just have.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
"It was great; it was beautiful. I really liked the eclectic mix of different types of art, different types of artists, different types of expression; I especially liked the saxophonist [David Murray] going crazy, almost blew my brains out. It was amazing, it was a beautiful show of revolutionary artists and revolutionary expression out here, definitely a motivating night. Keep moving forward in the struggle." (A young Black man, artist/police brutality activist/educator interviewed in Revolution about the April 11 event: On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World).
April 11 was a night that punctured the air with a radical celebration of a whole other way the world could be. As evidenced in the interviews excerpted in Revolution newspaper, the mix of performers and Bob Avakian's words moved the audience in different ways: feeling a sense of "immense hope," wanting to engage Avakian's work further, feeling "really, really motivated ... to take responsibility myself to get active..." and more. This was a night that will stay with people.
Right now there is an important challenge to meet: While the night was an overwhelming success, it did not fully pay for itself. Revolution Books is approximately $4,500 in debt. And, event organizers are aiming to raise at least $10,000 for a high-quality film of the event.
If you've been moved by the coverage of this event and want word of this celebration of revolution and the vision of a new world to spread... Please give generously and encourage others to do so as well!
Send contributions to: Revolution Books, 146 West 26 Street, New York, NY 10001 and earmark it for the April 11 event. You can also give online at revolutionbooksnyc.org.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Join actions and celebrations around the country on Sunday, May 1st
12 noon: A celebration of internationalism and the vision of a new world. Gather at 125th and Amsterdam Ave. Radiating out in the Harlem neighborhood from this hub with readings from BAsics together with open mic. Dinner to follow. Check bookstore web site for details.
2 pm: Join the Revolution contingent in the May Day immigrant rights march. Look for the big red flag at Union Park, Washington and Ashland. 6 pm: After the march, come to an evening of celebration at Revolution Books that includes music, poetry and food.
12-4 pm: Join the staff of Revolution Books to take BAsics and Revolution out to the May Fair in Harvard Sq. 4-6 pm: Celebration at Revolution Books of this revolutionary holiday with food, music, discussion.
12:30 pm: Hook up with Revolution newspaper distributors at the beginning of the immigrant rights march, corner of S. Ingersoll and 20th Ave S. Look for the red flags or come to the Revolution Books table at Memorial Stadium (end of the march).
4-6 pm: Take revolution and communism to the streets, then get together in the evening for food and music (check bookstore web site for details).
2 pm: Join the Revolution crew at the May 1st Stand Up for Justice march and rally for immigrant rights which jumps off from Bellaire and Renwick. Look for the Revolution distributors with BA T-shirts and red flags.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Millions of Egyptian people from all walks of life, drawing inspiration from the people of Tunisia, have heroically risen up, defied the hated regime of Hosni Mubarak and forced Mubarak to resign. This has shattered the notion that "things can never change." It is a powerful demonstration that there is no permanent necessity to the existing conditions under which the great majority of humanity suffer so terribly. Oppressed people and people who hunger for an end to oppression, in every country all over the world, have deeply shared in the joy and hope of these massive uprisings. And the stirrings of revolt continue to spread.
At the same time, while Mubarak has stepped down, the same basic forces that have so cruelly ruled over and exploited the Egyptian people remain in power. And, despite their honeyed words of praise for the masses of youth and others who have risen up, despite their promises of "freedom" and "democracy," in reality they are determined to bring about a "transition" that will ensure that there is no fundamental change—that whatever new arrangements are engineered in the political process will still keep the masses of people in Egypt, in Palestine, and other countries of strategic importance for U.S. imperialism, in unbearable conditions. After all, the armed forces in Egypt—which are now supposed to carry out this "transition"—are the same armed forces which for decades faithfully and brutally enforced the rule of the Mubarak regime, while the heads of this military enriched themselves through becoming major exploiters of the Egyptian people; and the imperialists of the U.S.—who fully backed Mubarak and his cronies and kept them in power for 30 years, without any regard for the suffering of the people—are the very same imperialists who are now seeking yet again to call the shots and give the ultimate orders in terms of what the "transition" in Egypt will be.
The plans and designs of these oppressors and exploiters are NOT what the masses of people desperately want and need. Theirs is the cry of "freedom," and the struggle must be carried forward until real freedom is achieved—freedom from the rule of the imperialists and their local henchmen and junior partners, freedom from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Freedom from both the outmoded forces which would enslave women, and the people as a whole, in medieval darkness and oppression—and from the outmoded forces who would enslave people in the name of "democracy"..."freedom"...and capitalist-imperialist exploitation marketed as "progress."
It has frequently happened in history, as has been the case in Egypt (as well as Tunisia), that the domination of imperialism and the rule of local exploiters has taken a concentrated form in the regime of a "strong man" butcher. This was the case, for example, in Iran, with the torture-chamber rule of the Shah, in the Philippines with the tyranny of Marcos, and in Indonesia with the long monstrous reign of Suharto—all brutal dictatorships put in power and long kept in power by U.S. imperialism. In Iran in the late 1970s, in the Philippines in the 1980s, in Indonesia more recently, massive uprisings of the people forced the U.S. imperialists to throw aside these hated tyrants and to allow some changes. But in every case, the ultimate result was not one which led to real "freedom" for the people—instead they have continued to be subjected to cruel oppression at the hands of those who replaced the old, hated rulers, while these countries have remained within the overall framework of global imperialist domination and exploitation. But historical experience has also shown that the continuation of oppressive rule, in one form or another, is NOT the only possible outcome.
In Russia, in February 1917, another brutal despot, the Czar (absolute monarch), was overthrown by the uprising of the people. Here again, the U.S., British, and other imperialists, and the Russian capitalists, tried to continue the oppression of the Russian people in a new form, using the mechanisms of "democratic rule" and elections which, while allowing for some broader participation of different parties, would still be totally controlled by the exploiters of the people and would ensure their continuing rule, and the continued suffering of the masses of people. In this case, however, the masses of people were enabled to see through these maneuvers and manipulations, to carry forward their revolutionary rising, through many different twists and turns and, in October 1917, to sweep aside and dismantle the institutions and mechanisms of bourgeois dictatorship and to establish a new political and economic system, socialism, which for several decades continued to advance in the direction of abolishing relations of exploitation and oppression, as part of the struggle throughout the world toward the final goal of communism. The crucial difference was that, in the uprisings in Russia, there was a core of leadership, communist leadership, that had a clear, scientifically grounded, understanding of the nature of not just this or that ruthless despot but of the whole oppressive system—and of the need to continue the revolutionary struggle not just to force a particular ruler from office but to abolish that whole system and replace it with one that would really embody and give life to the freedom and the most fundamental interests of the people, in striving to abolish all oppression and exploitation.
Even though the revolution in Russia was ultimately reversed, with capitalism restored there in the 1950s, and today Russia no longer seeks to disguise the fact that it is a capitalist-imperialist power, the lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917 hold valuable, indeed decisive lessons for today. And the most decisive lesson is this: When people in their masses, in their millions, finally break free of the constraints that have kept them from rising up against their oppressors and tormentors, then whether or not their heroic struggle and sacrifice will really lead to a fundamental change, moving toward the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, depends on whether or not there is a leadership, communist leadership, that has the necessary scientific understanding and method, and on that basis can develop the necessary strategic approach and the influence and organized ties among growing numbers of the people, in order to lead the uprising of the people, through all the twists and turns, to the goal of a real, revolutionary transformation of society, in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people. And, in turn, when people massively break with the "normal routine" and the tightly woven chains of oppressive relations in which they are usually entrapped and by which they are heavily weighed down—when they break through and rise up in their millions—that is a crucial time for communist organization to further develop its ties with those masses, strengthening its ranks and its ability to lead. Or, if such communist organization does not yet exist, or exists only in isolated fragments, this is a crucial time for communist organization to be forged and developed, to take up the challenge of studying and applying communist theory, in a living way, in the midst of this tumultuous situation, and to strive to continually develop ties with, to influence and to ultimately lead growing numbers of the masses in the direction of the revolution that represents their fundamental and highest interests, the communist revolution.
In my writings and talks, in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, a Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and in other major documents of our Party, we have striven to draw as deeply and fully as possible the critical lessons from the historical experience of the communist revolution and the socialist societies it has brought into being—the very real and great achievements, and the serious errors and setbacks—and to learn from the broader experience of human society and its historical development, in order to contribute all we can to the advance of the revolutionary struggle and the emancipation of oppressed people throughout the world. As the Constitution of our Party states:
"The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has taken the responsibility to lead revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast, as its principal share of the world revolution and the ultimate aim of communism....
"The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives."
It is in this spirit, and with this orientation and goal in mind, that I extend heartfelt support and encouragement to the millions who have risen up. To all who truly want to see the heroic struggle of the oppressed masses develop, with the necessary leadership, in the direction of real revolutionary transformation of society and genuine liberation: engage with and take up the emancipating viewpoint and goals of communism, and the challenge of giving this organized expression and a growing influence and presence among the struggling masses.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Driven from the villages and slums of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, millions and millions of people each year are uprooted from their homes to seek work in the United States. In the "land of the free," they are demonized, terrorized, and criminalized. Forced into the dirtiest, most dangerous, worst paying jobs, their sweat and blood yields super-profits for capitalist exploiters.
There is nothing sacred to us about the USA, as it is presently constituted, or about the borders of the U.S. as they are presently constituted. Quite the opposite.
Bob Avakian, Revolution #84, April 8, 2007
Always forced to live in the shadows, the conditions for immigrants have become much worse in these days of economic crisis, and a fraying social fabric. Comparisons to the persecution of Jews as Hitler came to power in Germany are inescapable as state after state copies Arizona's vicious anti-immigrant law that requires police demand proof of legal residency from anyone they "stop, detain or arrest" if police suspect that person is an undocumented immigrant. Under Barack Obama, "hope" means deportations have gone to record levels—a 10% increase beyond the numbers deported under Bush.
• • •
Why do people come here from around the world? Take Mexico—although you could take any one of a hundred countries that have been plundered and subjugated by capitalism-imperialism. Driven in large part by the demand for land of the expanding slave system, the United States stole a large part of Mexico 160 years ago through war—including what is now Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. Then, throughout the 20th century, U.S. capital expanded into and increasingly dominated the Mexican economy. Institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—dominated by the U.S.—pressure the Mexican government to promote farm crops that can be sold on the world market. Land, resources, and people have been forcibly ripped away from producing food for people to consume to live—to instead grow low-cost food for the world market. And in the maquiladoras (sweatshops) on the border and elsewhere, super-exploited Mexican labor produces low-cost goods for export to countries like the U.S.
In every sphere, the Mexican economy has been warped and distorted to serve the demands of international capitalism-imperialism. And as a result, hundreds of thousands of peasants, manual laborers, professionals and others have been forced to leave their homes in a desperate quest for work in the United States, where they work in low-wage factory and field jobs, or find their college studies are only good enough here to drive a taxi or sweep floors. They live in fear every day that they will be fired because they are immigrants, or deported as a result of ICE raids or any encounter with local police.
The 12 million Mexican immigrants in the U.S. provide cheap labor power, and remittances (money sent back to Mexico) have historically helped stabilize Mexico—something that is coming undone as the flow of remittances is drying up. But even as they exploit them, the imperialist ruling class sees immigrants as a threat to the social stability of their whole setup.
But this mass of immigrants in the U.S. is a positive thing for the revolution. The stand of the movement we are building for revolution is clear: to welcome such immigrants as brothers and sisters... to insist on equality of nations, including equality in culture and language, and to learn from and take joy in cultural exchange... to stand with them as they oppose repression... to draw on their desire for revolution and their experience living in countries oppressed by imperialism, encouraging them to get into the movement for revolution and to take up and spread the word on the leadership of Bob Avakian.
Why DO People Come Here From All Over the World?
Now I can just hear these reactionary fools saying, "Well, Bob, answer me this. If this country is so terrible, why do people come here from all over the world? Why are so many people trying to get in, not get out?"...Why? I'll tell you why. Because you have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you have done in this country. You have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries as part of gaining your riches and power.
Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About,
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
One Year Anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 22, the Deepwater Horizon sank. The accident killed 11 workers, and eventually spewed over 200 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tons of methane into the surrounding water. To this poisonous brew, nearly two million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants were added to break up the oil and hide it from the surface. As the oil gushed for three months, BP and the government continually downplayed, lied about, and suppressed real scientific investigation of the spill rate and every other aspect of the disaster from day one.
The ecosystem of the Gulf was already very damaged and fragile from many years of abuse before the spill hit—including many smaller oil spills, a massive seasonal dead zone, many channels dug in the Mississippi delta to facilitate oil drilling and transport, etc. Now, one year after the blowout, biologists are still only beginning to understand the full impact of the disasters on the Gulf. Many scientists note that after the massive spill from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska in 1989, the local herring population collapsed three years later, after it initially seemed that the fish had survived the disaster. In the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the Deepwater Horizon blowout happened when many species of marine life were spawning. Oceanographer Edward Chesney of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium told Scientific American magazine (April 20, 2011), "We undoubtedly lost a lot of those fish and egg larvae—they can't move and are highly vulnerable to oil toxicity." Toxins from the oil can pass up the food chain—scientists have found evidence of oil in plankton, tiny animals that are at the base of the food web. Entire generations of young marine life may be lost—and this can have impact up the food web, as species that feed on the ones that are lost are hit themselves.
And there are many impacts on human health. The five million barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico were toxic—and the use of chemical dispersants on the surface and in the deep sea magnified that toxicity. The Scientific American article notes "The oil itself sports an array of so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—benzene, toluene and the like that are known to cause cancer. NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] testing found more than 800 oil-related compounds in the water during the spill."
The impact of the oil gusher devastated the communities of people who depended on the waters of the Gulf coast for their livelihood from fishing and in other ways. There have been determined efforts by scientists, activists, and people in impacted communities to expose the causes and to fight the many dimensions of immediate and long-term damage from the oil disaster. But powerful voices of the system moved months ago to attempt to suppress all that and declare the spill and its effects "over." They declared it was fine to eat seafood from the Gulf, fine for people to go back to the beaches and into the water—even when globules of oil were still coming in with the tide and the ocean bottom in places had been turned into a dead zone. (Go online to revcom.us for a report from the Defend Science website on recent findings by scientists: "Thick Layer of Oil From the BP Oil Spill Deposited on the Gulf Sea Floor: Government Tries to Evade and Ignore Crucial Scientific Findings—Restarts Deep-Sea Drilling in the Gulf.")
One sharp expression of the battle over the impact of the disaster is the contention over the estimates of the animal death toll from the spill. In a study released in mid-April, the Center for Biological Diversity said that official government figures of animal deaths drastically underestimate the real toll. The Center estimated by using scientific multipliers that five times as many sea turtles, 10 times as many birds and 200 times more marine mammals were injured or died than official estimates. The Center argues that the true death toll of the spill on wildlife is "more than 82,000 birds; about 6,000 sea turtles; nearly 26,000 marine mammals, including dolphins; and an unknown, but no doubt staggering number of fish and invertebrates may have been harmed by the spill and its aftermath."
The 2010 Gulf oil disaster was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, and one of the largest ever on the planet. The disaster has been devastating to the people and the environment of the Gulf—and we do not even know its full impact yet. Has this forced the government, the oil corporations, and the system as a whole to stop the kind of drilling that led to the BP blowout? No, just the opposite. High-level commissions have issued reports, Obama has promised that things will change, and government bureaucracy has made some minor reorganizations in how permits for deep-water drilling are granted. But in reality, it is truly outrageous how little actual change there has been in the way the kind of drilling that led to the Gulf disaster is approved and carried out and the kind of safety measures available in the case of an accident.
Obama has already lifted the temporary ban on deep sea drilling, which had been put in place in the midst of the spill. Permits are being issued. The first permit after the lifting of the ban went to Noble Energy Inc. for work on a deep-water well off the coast of Louisiana. BP is not the operator, but it has a 46 percent stake in the well. And BP and others are in negotiations with the Department of the Interior to restart deep-water drilling.
The past year has seen two environmental "mega-disasters," the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. Beyond those catastrophic events, there continues to be an on-going worldwide environmental emergency, including the increasing destruction of ecosystems around the world and global climate change. According to the World Health Organization, global warming already kills 150,000 people every year from worsening droughts, storms, flooding, heat waves and parasitic disease. From 2000-2008, greenhouse emissions (gases like carbon dioxide and methane that cause global warming) rose by 29 percent, and the rate of their build-up has been increasing. The world's governments have proven themselves utterly incapable of responding to this emergency in even minimal ways.
It is not simply a question of developing new technologies to deal with the environmental problems. Many such new technologies already exist, and there is tremendous accumulated knowledge from scientists and others about how to solve many existing environmental problems. And it is not simply a matter of changing bad policies. The root of the problem lies much deeper in the very nature of the capitalist system.
Under this system, capitalists, or blocs of capital, privately own the means of production—the machinery, land, technology, and so forth. These capitalists sometimes cooperate, but at bottom they confront one another as competitors who are compelled to expand their profits. When BP got into trouble in the Gulf, rival oil corporations were, according to the New York Times (June 8, 2010), "licking their chops" at the prospect of devouring BP. This is not fundamentally because these corporations are greedy and cutthroat—they are, but under the "rules" of the system, the capitalists are compelled to seize on any advantage and undercut their competition—otherwise, their competition may undercut them and drive them under.
This basic underlying dynamic is what drives the actions of individual capitalists. It is the reason why capitalism, as a system, cannot deal with the environment in a sustainable and rational way, even if an individual capitalist or a group of capitalists somehow actually wanted to. At the heart of capitalism is the reality that the measure and motivation of all production is profit. As Raymond Lotta points out, "To capital, nature is either something to be seized and plundered, or a gift to be taken for granted, exploited and poured into profit-based commodity production." Capitalists are not just unwilling but fundamentally unable to cope with the effects of their own production, such as pollution. They cannot plan for future generations. (For a deeper discussion, see the article "Why Capitalism Cannot Solve the Environmental Crisis," which is part of the special Revolution #199 on the environmental emergency, online at revcom.us/environment.)
What all this poses is the need for very radical solutions. What is urgently required is the uprooting and revolutionizing of the foundations of how society is organized and how production is carried out on a global scale—nothing less will even begin to deal with what we are facing. This future is possible. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, sets out a framework for a vibrant, emancipatory socialism that would take the protection of the environment as a crucial part of the foundation of society. We urge everyone to check out this Constitution at revcom.us/socialistconstitution.
Everyone who is serious about stopping the environmental catastrophe needs to deeply confront the reality of today's nightmarish world—and work to bring this radically new society into being.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
The following is an article that appeared recently on the website defendscience.org
Less than a year ago, April 20, 2010, the world watched in horror as the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded resulting in up to 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) of oil per day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for several months. BP and the government proved unable to stop the gusher of oil for months. At the time of the spill the Obama administration put a temporary halt on off-shore drilling and promised it would not begin until a full assessment of the impact was done and until if was proven safe to resume.
The impact of this massive spill on the environment in reality has only just begun to be determined. Many scientists have warned that the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill (which by comparison spilled up to 750,000 barrels) are still being felt more than 20 years later.
Since the spill was finally capped, the consistent message coming from the federal government has been it's all behind us and by 2012 all the remaining oil will soon be gone. First there was the "Oil Budget" report published by NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in August 2010 which (paraphrasing) claimed "it's all but over, we've accounted for most of the oil, most of it's gone and what's left is disappearing fast." (for more details on this report, see www.defendscience.org/gulf_oil_report.html) Around that same time Terry Hazen from Berkeley National Labs published an optimistic report about the abilities of oil-munching bacteria to quickly consume all remaining oil (see Deep-Sea Oil Plume Enriches Indigenous Oil-Degrading Bacteria).
But just recently, a team of researchers led by Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia reported disturbing findings at the annual meeting of the AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science]. Joye's team used a deep sea submersible and collected over 250 ocean floor core samples over an area of the Gulf covering 2600 square miles including at the Macondo well site where the spill occurred. A large number of those core samples showed a 4 inch thick layer of oil deposition.
Her talk included photos of dead marine creatures from the sea floor soaked in thick oil: dead crabs and brittle stars—starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also spoke of tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.
Joye's team also provided an explanation for how this oil ended up on the sea floor—and it directly involves the bacteria which attack and eat oil. Their data suggest much of this oil may have rained down from the sea surface, fostered by what scientist Samantha Joye calls "microbial spit."1
Kenneth Feinberg, the federal government oil compensation fund czar had stated that based on research he had commissioned he believed the Gulf would almost fully recover by 2012. In response to this, Samantha Joye stated: "I've been to the bottom. I've seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It's not going to be fine by 2012"... "You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion."2
Speaking to Hazen's earlier prediction that microbes would rapidly consume the oil, Joye said: "There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading." At a press conference with Joye and Lubchenco, Hazen did not contradict Joye's findings—saying that his research differs from Joye's because they looked at different places at different times.
Bottom line: massive amounts of the BP oil spill are still there on the sea floor killing marine life crucial to the whole Gulf eco-system. So what is the current policy on deep-sea oil drilling in the Gulf?
These crucial findings are not being widely publicized and are not being taken seriously as they should be with the fate of massive eco-systems at stake. They can't be entirely suppressed so they are instead being evaded and ignored. In the driver's seat instead guiding government policy is a systemic compulsion to expand deep sea oil drilling. This same compulsion is distorting how the government presents to the public the reality of what is happening in the Gulf and leading to these attempts to deny and evade crucial firmly grounded scientific findings.
On February 28, 2011, barely a week after Joye's findings were released, the Interior Department announced that deep-sea oil drilling was resuming in the Gulf. A company called Nobel Energy has already been granted a license to begin drilling again in 6500 feet deep waters and more license approvals are not far behind in the approval pipeline.
Unable to ignore Joye's findings, NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, representing the Obama administration, tacitly acknowledged and at the same time attempted to downplay and muddle the significance of these results stating: "it's not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there." No—there is a massive amount of oil out there and it is having a devastating impact on marine life.
And what new measures are in place to insure that such disasters don't occur again? Essentially none. Instead several companies and a new consortium of oil companies are preparing spill response systems similar to those which finally capped the BP well: means to try to cap the next spewing well, means to try to siphon oil up to surface ships and use of dispersants like Corexit. (See for example, Marine Well Containment Company Launches Interim Containment System.)
But Joye's findings show that the use of dispersants, while they may help cosmetically hide the oil from view, have not stopped huge amounts from collecting on the sea floor and devastating marine life.
1. Joye shared underwater images depicting eerie strings of bacterial slime—mucus streamers that ranged from one millimeter to almost two meters long. The key ingredient of the slime is what she terms bacterial spit, a material that, like laundry detergent, helps break apart large oil globules. Such surfactants are secreted by many oil-eating bacteria and render the oil easier for them to digest.
As the sticky slime picks up cells and other debris from the water, it becomes heavy and sinks.
Or that's what appeared to be happening, Joye said. To investigate, her team went back to the lab and added a milliliter of oil from the BP well to a liter of surface seawater that her group had collected from an oil-free part of the Gulf.
After just one day, naturally occurring microbes in the water began growing on the oil. After a week, the cells formed blobs, held together by spit, that were so heavy they began sinking to the bottom of a jar. Two weeks later, large streamers of microbial slime and cells were evident. Brown dots visible inside the mix were emulsified oil.
"This is the mechanism that we propose deposited oil to the [Gulf's] bottom," Joye said.
In September photos taken in areas that had encountered BP oil, these streamers of microbial spit "were all over the place," she said—from the top of the water column to the seafloor. "The stuff we're seeing in the lab forming from the addition of oil is very similar looking to what we see on the bottom."
The mucus streamers are also very clearly distinct from oil chemically dispersed with Corexit. Use of the commercial dispersant by cleanup crews created an oil-water emulsion that "looks like chocolate mousse under water," Joye observed.
When she and her colleagues extracted cores of sediment from the Gulf's spill-impacted zones, the top sediment layers often showed signs of what appeared to be the microbial spit. That layer also was devoid of living animals, forming what Joye called an "invertebrate graveyard." See www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/70043/title/Gulf_floor_fouled_by_bacterial_oil_feast. [back]
2. Here are two recent interviews with Samantha Joye:
New York Times, Revisiting The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (3/21/2011); see www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/science/22conversation.html.
Clip from University of Georgia Video—Samantha Joye/Steve Bell Interview; see www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/8246266-study-says-gulf-bottom-dead-oil-still-present/video/73442579-samantha-joye-steve-bell-interview-clip-mp4. [back]
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
An Urgent Exchange:
Wednesday, April 27 6:30 pm
Tishman Auditorium, The New School, 66 W. 12th Street, New York City
Click to download flier. Invite your friends via Facebook.
Revolution received this notice of an important conference on April 27 in New York. A conference like this, at a time when people are beginning to feel constrained by the status quo and the "choices" offered by the current political landscape, and are beginning to search for other roads, can be of great importance.
A diverse group of artists, scholars, and political thinkers including Wafaa Bilal, Laura Lee Schmidt and Sunsara Taylor, will engage the question:
"If you are troubled about the state and direction of the world…if you are repelled by both the arrogant assertion of empire by the government and leaders of the U.S. and the fanatical backwardness of Islamic fundamentalism, what should you be doing?"
Uprisings in the Middle East have given renewed hope to many. But the U. S. continues to rain down death on the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and occupy Iraq, seeking, with its European allies, to dominate Libya through military intervention. Islamic fundamentalism, presenting itself as an "alternative" to Western domination, puts a brake on the radical aspirations of people, especially women.
Come and be part of the conversation about alternatives to these two unacceptable options – in a world crying out for fundamental change.
Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal, an Assistant Arts Professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, is known internationally for his on-line performative and interactive works provoking dialogue about international politics and internal dynamics. Bilal's work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the "comfort zone" of the U.S. and his consciousness of the "conflict zone" in Iraq.
Laura Lee Schmidt is the East Coast Assistant Regional Coordinator for the Platypus Affiliated Society and an editor of the Platypus Review. She gained her master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and will continue her graduate work as a PhD student in Harvard's History of Science program.
Sunsara Taylor is a writer for Revolution Newspaper, a host of WBAI's Equal Time for Freethought, and sits on the Advisory Board of World Can't Wait. She has written on the rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these crimes, and takes as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob Avakian.
Sponsored by The Platypus Affiliated Society & World Can't Wait
Call (866) 973-4463 for more information.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Article from Readers:
We Revolution distributors in Atlanta want readers to know about the recent ugly attacks on immigrants by the Georgia state legislature...and the beautiful resistance of the people. As these attacks have unfolded and organizers have brought forward growing resistance, we've been joining with the resistance at every opportunity, to "Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution," bringing Revolution newspaper and the works of Bob Avakian into the mix. Here is a brief account of what's been happening:
On April 14, after months of organizing, protests and rallies by thousands of immigrants and their supporters—including some very heroic acts of civil disobedience—a vicious and reactionary bill escalating legal attacks on undocumented immigrants was passed in Georgia. Opponents of this new "Arizona copy cat" law prepare to continue protests the day Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signs the new bill and to make plans to continue to fight this cruel and unjust law.
This law, House Bill 87, is said to be one of the most extreme of the anti-immigrant bills that lawmakers in over 30 states are trying to push through. It will increase the number of raids and deportations that tear families apart and punish immigrants for the conditions that imperialism has put on them, making it necessary for them to leave their homes and come to the U.S. in any way they can, to try to live and support their families. It would make local police agencies take on enforcing the unjust and punitive immigration laws as if they were all deputized "la Migra" agents. Racial profiling would be even worse than it is now, and justified if anyone "looked" illegal—you don't have to guess what that "look" is!
Along with targeting undocumented workers, a parallel attack is being waged against undocumented students in the state university system. There are many students who came to this country with parents or other relatives as babies or small children, went through school in Georgia, and have earned the right to scholarships and entry into state colleges and universities. Just like the lie that "immigrants are taking away our jobs" is spread to scapegoat immigrants and blame them for the massive unemployment caused by this system itself—these students are accused of "taking away funds and space" in the most competitive universities in the state at a time when tuition and fees are rising for all students, education budgets have been slashed and enrollment restricted. In a very ugly move, the state legislature required universities to go through their student records and identify how many undocumented students were currently enrolled at each school—reminiscent of the purging of Jews from the universities in Nazi Germany—and disgustingly, the campus administrators complied.
The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition are two organizations that have taken the lead in organizing much of the resistance and have been forging broad support for immigrant rights. There is participation among student organizations, progressive churches and clergy organizations, civil rights groups, trade unions and other progressive groups in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Since last year there have been a number of marches and rallies, vigils and petitions against this legislation. Many of the people involved hope to see immigration reform like the proposed "Dream Act" become law so that they can become citizens. Others hope to return someday to their home countries, but want an end to living in fear, of being swept up and ripped away from their jobs, friends and families.
The night the bill was passed, hundreds rallied on the steps of the state capitol, staying into the night with a candlelight vigil as the legislators "worked" inside to reconcile two versions of this racist bill. Some of us were there with Revolution, getting copies of the statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have" out into the crowd. There were dozens of banners and signs and many people took turns helping us hold a banner that stretched across the wide steps reading "Immigrants are not criminals, the system is!" in Spanish and English. Well over half of the vigilers were Latino but there were also multi-national student groups—including a class from Georgia State University who marched up together with their teacher, chanting "Immigrant rights are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!" There were civil rights activists, progressive religious forces, and others. One especially moving speaker—a young Latina raised in Georgia—talked about how her family was driven here after the farm they had worked and owned for generations was lost because of NAFTA. She spoke about her determination not to give up the fight against this unjust law. And, when the word came that the vote was over and it had passed, a haunting image—a Latino family with three young children, all weeping openly and embracing each other with anguished faces—brought home just how cruel the impact of the law will be.
Leading up to the vigil that night there have been a number of inspiring and determined actions opposing this law and rallying support for immigrant rights. On April 5, this was taken to a whole new level: a well-organized and courageous act of civil disobedience by undocumented young people took place called "Undocumented and Unafraid." This included a rally and march of over 150 people in the streets and parks around Georgia State University (GSU is an urban university spread out in the middle of downtown Atlanta, only a few blocks from the Capitol building). The protesters, immigrants and their supporters who were mainly youth and students, listened to compelling "testifying" from one undocumented student after another. Each one told their story—describing what they had gone through coming here and being "illegal" and why they were stepping out now and refusing to live in fear anymore.
One of these undocumented students, a young Latino, challenged the many Latino youth in attendance not to be politically passive and to "come out of the shadows." Several civil rights veterans talked about the critical role Black students played in the 1960s and told the crowd "your time has come." After a spirited march, a huge banner was unfurled and laid down in the middle of Courtland Street—a major artery downtown. It said "We will no longer remain in the shadows" and the people who told their stories at the rally sat down while hundreds chanted in support. They blocked traffic for over an hour before they were arrested. This marked a step beyond the first action of civil disobedience back in November (then, five activists heroically stepped into the street and blocked traffic in front of the Federal Courthouse until they were arrested; they included documented immigrant activists and African-American civil rights activists and clergy). The April action was the first protest here by people who openly declared their undocumented status, risking both arrest and deportation, to challenge the unjust and immoral laws that declare some human beings "illegal" for just trying to work and survive.
Another large and defiant demonstration, "No Human Being is Illegal: Rally for Truth," took place just a little over a week before the "undocumented and unafraid" rally and civil disobedience action. This was in late March and was significant for the large numbers, over 6,000 people, who rallied and protested for hours at the Capitol against this law. The crowd was overwhelmingly Latino but there were many, many others opposing this racist bill. Speeches were translated into both Spanish and English for the crowd. The Indigo Girls performed their song "Shame on You," accompanying themselves with guitars—this was also roughly translated afterwards by rally organizers with bullhorns. The variety of signs that people brought with them reflected the different ways people were thinking about this issue: "Immigrants Make Georgia's Economy Stronger," "God didn't put the borders there," "Let us prove we are good citizens and not criminals," "Immigrant rights are human rights," "Stop racial profiling," and one heartbreaking sign held by a small girl, "Don't take my Daddy."
Revolution Books Outlet (which was an endorser) and a small team of Revolution distributors got out thousands of the Message and Call, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have" (in Spanish) to the crowd and the palm cards for the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). We also sold Revolution #226, "On the Strategy for Revolution," and 70 CD copies of "Why Do People Come Here From All Over the World?", an excerpt from Bob Avakian's talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About.
We had our "Immigrants are not criminals, the system is" banner and from the time we first arrived and unfurled the banner, people stepped forward to help us hold it, so that our small team would be able to distribute the materials to the crowd. The banner was very popular—there was a continuous stream of people taking pictures of it or having their pictures taken beside it.
Now that the racist bill has passed and will certainly be signed any day by the governor, organizers are calling for ideas for continuing this fight with the goal of rolling back these attacks. Some proposals are calling for a general boycott of Georgia from conventions, businesses, entertainers and tourists. Others include legal challenges to the constitutionality of the law with the hope that the federal courts will block implementation. We look forward to joining with others in continuing resistance in creative ways and involving more and more people, and we will continue building the movement for revolution in the midst of this fight.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
From a reader:
Like many others, I am thrilled to have in hand this major ideological tool with BAsics. Getting this book by Bob Avakian out there for people to wrestle with is going to be important and fun, and I think even game-changing, giving people a sense of what's possible that this system and its rulers have ruled out of order, taking on all the outmoded ideas which this system has instilled in people, holding so many folks back from seeing the world as it is, and on the basis of that changing the world through revolution. This I think will be both situation- and life-transforming. I know a little bit about this since there was something that came out that was situation- and life-transforming for me and hundreds of millions around the world.
I want to take people back to a time when revolution was in the air—the '60s—and what it meant to have a popularly written and accessible-to-all tool—the Quotations from Chairman Mao; popularly known as the Red Book. In our city in the mid to late '60s we had a China Books store where people could literally pick up cases of the Red Book in different languages and sell them for 25 cents for the miniature version (which had all the quotes but was even smaller than pocket size), and the pocket size version which was sold for 50 cents; afterwards we would bring the money back to China Books and get more. When I was first introduced to the Red Book I was in my junior year in high school, and I read it as if my life depended on it. What caught me was how radical it was, taking on my own limited assumptions about the world and how much this leader—who was hated by my government like he started the bubonic plague—so loved the people. I had seen the movie Spartacus a few years prior, and I thought this Mao was the present-day Spartacus, but only Mao won a revolution and was spreading his ideas throughout the world for people to do likewise.
Everyone in the peace group at my high school purchased one from me, and I even got a couple of them to come to demonstrations with me to sell it. I would agitate in the demos around the Vietnam War, the Black liberation struggle, telling all how this Red Book actually had answers to the problems we are facing in our own movement.
In 1968, I attended a very conservative college and met a few people who were into revolution. While we had our own radical newspaper, in our office we had boxes of the Red Book at all times, and even on this campus we sold hundreds of copies of them, including to the president, dean, and head of security of the college, in many cases the same people we lambasted in our radical school newspaper. I remember the head of security stopping me in the hall admitting "Okay, maybe this IS what they needed in China, but it would never work here." Most importantly we went to the students and professors, and we would have knock-down drag-out ideological arguments with them, always with the Red Book ready to pull out of our back pocket asking people if what he is saying in it is true or not.
People should know that even though revolution was in the air, it was still among a tiny percentage of students and youth and it wasn't the currency more broadly, and we too had to take on a whole lot of backward ideas: e.g., men's attitudes toward women, Americans' attitudes toward other peoples like the Vietnamese, and Black people in this country, could things really change through revolution. Showing students what this communist leader said about youth was quite eye-opening, and they would think about and contrast what authorities—many times their parents—would say about "the damn drugged-out, flag-burning hippie youth who are ruining our country" with what Mao said in the Red Book in a whole section on the youth. The love and confidence young people got from Mao was quite moving, especially his talk to youth about going against convention. We had a couple of students answer what we were doing with the Red Book in the mainstream college newspaper saying how crazy were these Maoists on campus and writing their own critiques. We got written critiques from the president of the college, as well as the head of security. But the effect was electric. This started all kinds of debate in the quad of our school. Out of this many people joined our collective and a significant number of us found out about an organization called the Revolutionary Union through the publication of Red Papers that started in the Bay Area of California by this guy Bob Avakian who also loved Mao Tsetung. WE WERE NOT ALONE!
I sold around 2000 Red Books during this period of high tide of radical struggle, and it really was a thing of protesting and demonstrating all day and meeting, debating strategy and reading all night.
So today revolution doesn't have the same social approbation like it did in the '60s, and no one has gotten a handle on that contradiction better than this leader Bob Avakian—"it is what it is and it can be transformed, through struggle," which is why BAsics is so important for us. Look at the essay in BAsics on "Reform or Revolution: Questions of Orientation, Questions of Morality," where Avakian addresses this social approbation point. Think about all the backward ideas that are holding young people back today which are addressed in BAsics; think about what these same youth are confronting and can't get a hold on WHY everything is so fucked up, and then think about what it will mean to meet a leader who has been the best listener and challenger of these same youth, opening up possibilities for a different future.
And then think about all the ways BAsics can be utilized: there shouldn't be a demonstration against the government where BAsics is not at; there shouldn't be a major campus that doesn't know about it—where possible going to tables in cafeterias getting into the content with students and having major readings of it in college quads; there shouldn't be a project that doesn't get it (maybe driving in a car in certain neighborhoods with a loudspeaker announcing, reading from and then selling it); and the most important factor are those among us now who understand what we have here in Bob Avakian, making him a household name, always on the lookout for those who want to join in now and be part of this movement for revolution we are building. Here's a great introduction to how you can take part.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
When Cornel West and Carl Dix entered DeNeve Auditorium on the UCLA campus Friday evening, April 29 to begin their dialogue, the anticipation that had been building for days burst into a boisterous standing ovation.
Word of the event had criss-crossed the campus and beyond in a matter of days, carried across many different social networks, through faculty e-mails and student organizations' Facebook pages; through announcements in classes, flyers posted on bulletin boards and passed out on campus at Bruin Walk and other locales; through ads in the Daily Bruin, UCLA's newspaper, and radio announcements on Pacifica's KPFK.
The excitement and anticipation from diverse sections of people was a clue that something unique was happening; that this event was resonating with a wide breadth of people who shared a thirst and hunger for answers to the question posed in the title of the dialogue—"What Future for Our Youth?"—and more fundamentally, why the situation today is the way it is, and how it could be changed.
UCLA students and many others lined up hours before the start of the program, determined not to miss it. By the time the doors opened and people were let in, the atmosphere was electric. The 700 or so seats in the main hall and overflow rooms could not hold all who'd come, and an estimated 400 people had to be turned away. The bulk of the audience was UCLA students, with some faculty, staff and alumni, and people from the community mixed in. More than half of those who heard the program were Black students and Black people from the community, along with many Latino and white students and others.
There were brief introductions by the Chairwoman of the African Student Union; the Associate Vice Provost Charles Alexander; and by Darnell Hunt, Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. And finally, two UCLA students came forward and each did a spoken word piece. The second one so powerfully and dramatically touched on all of the questions that would be addressed it brought the audience once again to its feet and added to the electricity in the room.
For the next three hours the audience found itself wrestling with the same questions the speakers were grappling with, coming away amazed, angered, challenged, and inspired by what they heard and learned from these two speakers, and by what it meant to have been a part of it. Carl Dix characterized the challenge before the two speakers this way: "...coming from our different perspectives, talk about what actually created this situation; and what needs to be and can be done to transform it."
This was principally an audience of university students, and both presentations spoke directly to the challenge before their generation to step forward and build resistance to the crimes of this system. Dix explained that "young intellectuals as many of you are here, have always had great influence, and great responsibility, for determining the direction of society. Young people, and young students, can play this role 'cause you grapple with complex ideas, and you can look out and see the gap between the way the world is, and the way it should be. And being young, you ain't yet locked into thinking there's nothing that can be done to bridge that gap." The students responded knowingly as he spoke about the powerful movements of the '60s and the crucial roles played by SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee); SDS (Students for a Democratic Society); and the BPP (Black Panther Party), which was founded by two college students—Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
Dix powerfully exposed the brutality of the system towards millions of Black and Latino youth, from police murder to the way in which the drug laws have been consciously used to criminalize and incarcerate, and essentially write off an entire generation of inner-city youth.
Many people after the program said they had been deeply affected by learning about the blatant racism expressed in the statistics about the relative rates of incarceration for white youth and Blacks and Latinos, and the use of the stop and frisk laws in New York City to intimidate, threaten, and criminalize Black and Latino youth.
Dix said his principal message was that things don't have to be this way; that revolution is both urgently necessary, and possible. During the rest of his talk he spoke to what people need to be doing today to make revolution. He explained how "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" was an important aspect of the Revolutionary Communist Party's strategic approach to building resistance to the crimes of the system, transforming conditions and people. To give concreteness to this, at one point he drew from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), contrasting the educational system today with the way it will be when we have state power.
At crucial points Dix opened up and read quotes from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. This gave people a glimpse of the method and approach of Avakian applied to critical questions, and what it means for revolution and the emancipation of humanity to have this revolutionary leader. And it gave people a sense of the importance of getting their hands on BAsics as a crucial way to get introduced to Avakian and the re-envisioned communist revolution he has brought forward.
For most of the students this was their first experience hearing Carl Dix, or any revolutionary communist. You could tell by the applause, the laughter, the shuddering at the crimes of the system, that the audience "felt" him on it. When he took on the reactionary nature of theocracy, patriarchy, and the attacks on gays and lesbians, a number of African American women students clearly welcomed it. At the same time you could tell that people's low dreams were being challenged, as when he said the crimes against the youth were reason enough to make revolution, though far from the only reason to want to do so.
Woven through West's speech was a powerful and poetic critique of the "lies and mendacity" of this system, and the way in which it has marginalized and written off "poor and working people," and especially the youth. He has become even more critical of the way in which Obama has ignored the worsening conditions of Black and Latino people, while catering to the powerful financial interests. People gasped when he said that Obama's recent State of the Union speech was the first time poverty had been completely left out since 1948!
West's presentation really went after the question of morality—in struggling with the students before him. What kind of morality, what kind of society do you want to live in? While expressing his deep feelings towards them, he challenged them to see that "there's only one way out—the courage to think critically." He said they had to "learn how to be maladjusted to a mainstream that stays at a superficial level." And that they were not going to find the truth beneath the superficial by going to either the Republican or the Democratic parties.
He challenged them to recognize their responsibility to be a part of building resistance to this system's crimes; and to resist being bribed and bought in the pursuit of a career.
There was controversy as well, especially when Carl Dix read the quote in BAsics that "Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved and oppressed" [Chapter 4, #1], and said bluntly, "There is no God," while Cornel West describes himself as a "Jesus loving Black man." West and Dix come from different starting points; and they have clear differences over certain questions, like religion, and Obama. But there is a deep appreciation, and love, they have for each other rooted in the "heavy overlap," as West described it, of their common dedication and determination to challenge the way things are, and to change the world. And that was in full evidence throughout the evening.
The audience came away with a deep appreciation for both speakers. There was no "lobbing volleys" at each other, but instead they were deeply engaged with what the other was saying.
After their presentations the audience had its chance to engage the speakers. People were wrestling with the theme, and the answers provided by the speakers. Dix was asked to elaborate on the idea of "daily resistance" to the system. Another student asked "how do those of us with callings and majors that do not lend themselves to political discourse and revolution, for example engineering, mathematics, etc., contribute to these necessary changes?" Both speakers were asked about their position on the right to marry someone of the same sex, and their responses were welcomed by the crowd. And then the question was posed by someone who is gay—"Do you think it's fair when people in the gay and lesbian community compare our struggle for equal rights with that of Black folks?"
There is something about this dialogue that made it possible to come out of it with something really different; changed. There was a way in which it punctured the toxic atmosphere that is so prevalent on the campuses. One student said afterwards, "Being in a university setting, these are the kinds of things that you hope to be hearing on a regular basis but unfortunately that's not the truth. It's not what you hear and it's not what we're reading."
* * * * *
A graduate student said afterwards, "It was incredible. It was good to have their different perspectives on it. I really enjoyed it. They were wonderful—both of them."
One of the things you couldn't help noticing as the evening unfolded was a feeling of excitement and growing confidence people were getting at discovering that they were in a room full of like-minded people. Afterwards, a student who'd traveled a long way to get to this dialogue remarked: "I was really excited about the reactions that I was hearing to the dialogue. Because oftentimes it's hard to identify other individuals that might be of like minds. So to be able to attend an event like this, which like I said was maximum capacity and then some, and to know that the majority of the people here share the same hope. Not how hope is regularly perceived, but as defined by Dr. West this evening. I think that's a beautiful thing. It's beautiful for humanity. It's necessary."
* * * * *
A significant aspect of this event is that it punctured the atmosphere that is strangling students and faculty who refuse to accept the "official narrative" about this country's history, and its dominant place in the world. It gave you the sense that people who have been suffocating were able to come up for air. And it has contributed to changing the discourse, a process which needs to build on what has been accomplished through the work to bring this event to UCLA.
There is still a great deal more to learn about the impact of this event from those who attended, and this needs to be taken up in a systematic way. Many students expressed that this evening had changed them. And some came up to the speakers asking how to get involved, and to learn more about how to actually organize resistance. There is an opportunity now to build on what was brought forward and in a beginning way transformed, and to discover together the forms to "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Interviews from "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World"
April 11, 2011—Harlem Stage, NYC. It was a night like no other. The Host Committee for "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World" promised a taste of a new world, a few precious hours in the future. From the sense of camaraderie in the lobby and the stunning exhibit of visual art all the way through to the closing jam of Ain't No Stopping Us Now that had the audience dancing in the aisles, the promise was more than fulfilled.
Something very special came together, you could feel the electricity afterwards as people poured into the lobby, talking, reliving the night and looking to the future. A woman from the projects in Harlem who I met the day before, rushed me after the concert, gave me a big hug, and with an ear to ear smile said, "I thought it was fabulous. I thought it was fabulous and for me being a new person, dealing with the revolution, actually I've been listening to the revolution, reading things about Bob Avakian and the revolution, and I'm a firm believer now. The system has to change and Bob Avakian and the revolution is the ones who are offering our children a change. Without them we have nothing."
But it was more than that. I've been to a lot of concerts and talked with a lot of artists over the years. The whole scene on April 11 stands out. I had the opportunity to talk with many of the artists who performed that night. Here too was a taste of a new world. Celebrating revolution and a vision of a new world gave everyone a different kind of high. It meant different things to different people. Many were deeply moved by what they saw in Bob Avakian and his work—they talked about a sense of hope and possibility—and they wanted to get this out as far and wide as possible. Others were plugged in on and coming from a broader tip, wanting to pierce the clouds with loud and joyous shouts for revolution. And running through it all, there was a shared sense of purpose and community—among the artists and with the audience—and a gut deep hope that this was just the beginning.
The following are excerpts from interviews I did on this amazing evening with artists and others who participated in the program.
I'm a comedian, actor, writer, playwright. And I am here on the celebration of revolution and a vision of a new world celebrating the premiere of Bob Avakian's book BAsics, and more than anything, I think, raising consciousness about the reality that revolution and the need for a new world is tangible. So I'm just here lending my talents in supporting and rallying everyone here to join the cause.
MS: You were talking earlier about how you got into this, and you said you usually talk pretty blunt, and you were looking at the situation in the world today as, how do you wake up the dead? How do you see this event fitting into that?
A: I think everyone in the era of Barack Obama, we have burn-out in that we feel that hope has not been achieved. So you're trying to talk revolution to the disenchanted, and when you speak of revolution, people are just going to dismiss you. So to try and make the cause of revolution to be realistic, is to kind of really have a game plan. And each time I speak to everyone at the bookstore, it's always, "What is the plan? What is the plan?" And one of the things that I really believe, what moved me through the arts, is that when you have an event, the event really inspires. An event can really just catapult people. It's not going to necessarily change the world, but what it does is a good way of agitating the complacent.
And what I think we're trying to do tonight, is to kind of inspire people to look at another way of attacking a situation that may seem dire, but there is a way out. And I think revolution, and a lot of what Bob Avakian speaks about, is realistic, and isn't, you know, radical in that it seems like something that's just unrealistic. I think on the other hand, I think it's very realistic. So I think what Avakian is talking about is the kind of direction we should go towards, which is question the corruption, and give the voices of people who aren't heard a chance to be spoken.
MS: In this show tonight, to be frank, there are a lot of people who have just heard of Bob Avakian, or have a passing familiarity. And then there's others who have a deep familiarity with him. And you're someone who actually has been involved with getting Avakian's voice out for quite some time now.
A: I always make the joke that I don't know anything about communism. I can't even spell it. But, you know, when Avakian talks about challenging corrupt governments and corrupt systems, and helping out the poor, and find a way for the people who are poor and the prole who are working class to come and mobilize and fight for their rights, that's a cause I, as well as I'm sure many would be a part of. So when Avakian speaks of these things, it caught my attention. I just feel like most of the leaders in America, their agenda really isn't to help. It's for personal power and, you know, alternative reasons.
I think with Avakian, you can kind of sense that he's very sincere. So I don't know the man personally, but I felt that what Avakian, and what the people who have surrounded him in this movement are trying to do is help those who are being oppressed and to really rally and try and fight for justice. And being that I totally support that, I think it's a movement that you don't have to be of any denomination or any group. You just have to believe that people are suffering and you want to join this cause to help them. It's really that basic—no pun intended [Laughing].
It's really as simple as helping people who are suffering and trying to assist them and give them help wherever they can and support them. It's really as basic as that. No pun intended! [Laughing again.]
MS: This program has brought together a tremendous mix of artists. What do you think about all of this coming together?
A: I've always felt that art really is a way to inspire people. The beauty of art, whatever the genre, whether it's music, theater, film, dance, spoken word, art has a way of just really connecting with an audience, especially live performance. Live performance, the audience is really sharing that moment with the performers. Tonight is a very diverse, eclectic group of performers. And I think one thing these performers have in common is that we have a burning desire to really communicate with our audience and really express their frustration, and the pain and the suffering. And all good art really comes from that. So to really have a group of artists come together to express that is—it's amazing!
MS: There's the other aspect of this, which is the vision of a new world. To me that's a critical point. People may get a taste of what it's like to live in a whole different place.
A: Yeah, I think the key of tonight is saying that the world is at a place where it may seem as hopeless, but we're offering you something that's beautiful. We're offering the audience to feel that there is hope, that there is a way out of this, that it doesn't seem as dire as it is. I think what Avakian and the rest of the people involved in this movement are saying is there is a game plan. There is a way to approach the situation. And by acknowledging that it is corrupt, and by acknowledging that our leaders, whatever they are doing is not working, that's the beginning. And then I think we go to a place where we say, "You know what? The people are the ones that can really make the difference. The people are the ones that can really voice their opinions and challenge the corruption."
I think it's really as basic and simple as that. The history of this country is that it has been based on exploitation and corruption, but the people have mobilized and overcome. Every uprising has come through the people. And I think today's movement is basically a continuation of that, that it's really in the hands of the people and that there is a way out of this dire situation.
MS: Anything else?
A: I hope people will continue to support what Avakian is all about and support the bookstore definitely. It's the best bookstore on the planet, Revolution Bookstore. And just keep on questioning, keep on believing.
MS: What would you like to see come out of tonight?
A: Oh, wow, what I would like to see is a lot of especially young people really look at the world differently and not feel that they're powerless, to feel that they can come out of tonight and feel like their voice and their words and their feelings and their actions really, really can inspire and really make a difference. And that we all united can really challenge the corruption and revolution is something that is possible.
I'm a singer, songwriter, actress, activist, spiritualist in many ways. And I'm here representing truth and love with my beautiful brothers in the struggle, Outernational. I'm playing some guitar, and I'm singing some music.
MS: What made you want to participate?
BB: Because I feel in my heart and soul I've always been a revolutionary, and I feel more connected to that movement than to most other things that are moving. Although at times I feel like I approach things from a more spiritual standpoint in terms of evolution, and revolution in the spirit self, self-evolution, I believe it's really important to question everything and I really respect people that take action and keep people aware, that want people to be aware and have information and be educated about what's really going on in the world.
MS: Do you know much about Bob Avakian or the RCP?
BB: I actually don't know a lot about him. I have heard him speak. I think he's very visceral and raw and inspiring. I wouldn't say that I'm a Bob Avakian supporter. I don't know enough about him to truly take that standpoint. But definitely because my friends are so involved, I always love talking to them about it. But I love people's desire to question and to change the way the world is.
So if it's about positive change then I'm about it. It's like, I'm for anything that is truth and justice.
MS: What do you think of the lineup?
BB: Well, I think art is revolution. And I think art molds and takes the shape of many forms, with words, with music, with dance. And I think that the people like reg e. gaines, here tonight, who I've met over the years. Actually I don't know all the other people who are on the list tonight because I haven't seen the program yet. I'm being real straight up. See? I told you I was for truth.
I think it's really exciting to be involved in anything that is artistic and revolutionary, because that is where I believe the revolution begins, is in our art and our expression.
MS: What do you hope to come out of tonight?
BB: I guess tonight is to build a stronger community... And I love Revolution Books, and I think for me it's to inspire me again to really be more involved. I'm happy to be here because I've always wanted to be involved artistically. I've never liked the dogma of being a speaker and like—but my attention is to create unity through music. So for me being a part of something musical and communal in this way. I feel to inspire myself again, to stay on the path.
I've been on tour with a band called Scissor Sisters, and we've been opening for Lady Gaga for the past month and a half. So I've been in the machine. I've seen the machine. And she promotes a lot of really positive things. And my band that I'm with is a fantastic, fantastic group of individuals that really promote self-love, self-awareness, gay rights, all that really great stuff. But it is definitely a part of a bubble. I've been in a bubble. I've been in a world of great privilege, although we are on a tour bus a lot of the time. I wouldn't call that privilege all the time. But I'm taken care of in the world and I know so many people aren't. In my heart and my travels, every day that I'm on the road, in my spirit I always feel like I need to be giving back more, I need to be giving more. And so being here is a renewal of that, and to inspire others, of course, but we have to take ourselves into account first. Before we can feed others, we gotta grow arms.
I'm the trumpet player, keyboard player, accordion, glockenspiel, tin whistle and everything I can get my hands on for Outernational.
MS: What brought you here?
Dr. B: Well, there's a few reasons that brought me here. This is going to be a long answer. First of all, two and a half years ago I joined the band Outernational and those guys kinda turned me on to the paper and Avakian. I had not previously known anything about that—kind of what modern communism was. I didn't really know that. So I'm kind of here to insure that what that man has to say be like a part of the discussion in the world. Like I guess I feel that the media is very left- and right-sided and there's nothing else coming out that is like radically different, and I feel like this country and the world will need extreme radically-different change, not just like band-aiding the problem. We'll need real change if we're actually going to survive as a human race. That's what I believe.
MS: Avakian playing into that?
Dr. B: For me personally, I'm not really sure. I guess I feel really strongly that I want to meet the man, and that I can't make any decision about him until I meet him. I've read some of his work. I like Away With all Gods! That was one of the things I really liked about Outernational. It was like, "Wait a minute! You guys don't believe in god either? You're not down with god?" I really do feel like religion holds back humanity as a whole. Like that is preventing us from evolving as a species. Like I just think it holds us back.
MS: What about tonight's theme: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World?
Dr. B: I guess I feel like, if we continue the way we are, as a society, it seems like there's only one way we will go, down. You know what I mean? Many people will die in unjust wars. Many people will die of starvation. We kind of need to figure out a way where we can all get along that doesn't involve profit all the time, that isn't always about who's the richest or who's got the most this, but more about, hey! no one on earth is starving. That's an accomplishment. Not like, "We have several i-devices you can purchase." Not that there's anything wrong with those. Those are cool. They help people listen to the music I make.
I am a musician, percussionist, writer, singer, songwriter, electronic artist working in various domains and projects. My good friend Mike Ladd contacted me through AD and she let me know about it. I started kind of researching, asking some questions.
MS: What do you mean researching?
GB: I was really kind of intrigued that Matthew [Shipp] and William [Parker] and Mike were all people I worked with before a lot in various different ways were a part of it, and other folks that I kind of respect were at least lending their voices to it. So I was kind of interested to hear more and see what's going on here. I feel like I have some questions, and I'm always open to new perspectives about the way the world is or what different ways things can happen in the world and new ways of thinking, unlocking doors and locks and crossing boundaries. I'm way into that so I'm always wanting to be part of a discussion and check things out.
MS: What else attracted you to this event?
GB: I feel like there's just a big question about what's supposed to happen in the world right now. And just from my perspective as an artist and performer trying to make a living and trying to think about the future, or just living day to day, the day-to-day challenges. Maybe there's several other possibilities for figuring out a way to live and a way to be. So that's kind of why I'm here. Just to kind of hear other voices, to be inspired, to learn to see some different perspectives, to disagree and to kind of hash it out: another chance to hash it out and hear and be part of something and get in touch with an energy, of people who I don't know and then some people who I do.
MS: You've captured something about the purpose of the event.
GB: It's just about being open for me, right now. I'm not a follower of Bob Avakian, I'm not a follower of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I'm a human being living in the world today, trying to do my part to be able to be a positive force in the world, a positive force for change, and a positive force for understanding and supporting other humans and being part of a larger system that's beyond me. So I'm here to be part of the discussion.
MS: What do you hope will come out of tonight?
GB: I hope that I learn and I hope that I'm inspired and that I can inspire others. I hope that we get some clarity on what needs to happen and maybe some more ideas or some light bulbs go off about what I can do and what others can do and what we can do together to change things just a little, step by step.
I am a singer, a vocalist, a performing artist, a little songwriting. I'm an educator, though. And I think of myself as an activist, using my voice and my art and talents in order to change things. There was a quote that Bob Avakian said about, c'mon let's stop this BS, this is ridiculous all this "ho" music. This is absolutely ridiculous. And we should stop. I have this lyric that says, "What if the words we say led to a better way of being certain our future's a brighter day?" That's what to talk about today.
That's what we should be about. That's what we should use our art and our cultural expression to uplift, to solve problems, to make it better. We need to write lyrics to increase an atmosphere of peace: make our expression bring solutions to the thing. So that's why I'm here, because I want to see a change. And I have a lofty goal of wishing I could change what we accept as entertainment in America. Because it would change how people accept it around the world.
MS: Your opening performance tonight was incredible.
MB: It was an honor, I was really glad to have been asked... please come sing, "A Change Is Gonna Come." I said, "OK, cool. I love that song." So then in our emails, it's like, yeah, it could be "Change Is Gonna Come," or "I Wish I Knew How It Feels." I've recently even done "I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free," so I said, "Oh, man, I want to find a way to do both. So that's why I kind of medlied it and made it so one song came in the middle of the other, but we ended back with "Change Is Gonna Come." And you could tell by the audience, it was a nice way to slip it in.
MS: What grabbed you about this event?
MB: Really, I'm fairly easy. The person who asked me, I know what he's into. So I knew it would be deep and heavy. And then I got home and I spoke to the representative and I said, Sure, I can do it. And then I got the book and I saw what it really is about and what it's really based around. And I said, OK, deep waters, high cotton I'm stepping in, but OK. One thing my dear old dad did teach me was you can't cave. You've got to have courage. So maybe you don't always understand, or to get a certain frame. Because I came up in the time where communism was such a horrible thing and we were fighting against the Soviets and the communists. And when you hear that dogma all the time, and nothing in school is countering that. Unless you go out and get it yourself. Luckily I did have some influence because of my father and other people around him and people in my community in Chicago. That I know better than to just look at it like, "This bad. This good. Only way."
...There was something about seeing Bob Avakian speak [on video], and I never had. It's one thing to read the person's words on page. But to see them, it brings it alive. I guess there's something humanistic in seeing this man speaking.
There's just something—it's heightened, you know what I mean? I don't know if there's a sense of compassion, of human relation you feel by seeing him on screen saying the words beyond just those black letters on that white page. They jump off, they get you. You say, "Yeah, man, I feel like that. Wow he put it so articulately. I'm glad he said it like that, let me remember that, let me write it ten times so I can be able to say it." So it has such a concise meaning.
So that was one thing. And then, yeah, you know seeing people from—just diverse people and playing different types of music, and hearing what little of the poetry and stuff that I did get to catch. We need more of this. It's like we're so inundated on a daily basis with BS that's supposed to be—it's like entertainment for the sake of amusement. I don't think that's the best use of our time. I really don't. And we do have to become deeper thinkers. And we know that. After the 60s, the thinkers haven't been being raised. They've been getting us ready for consumerism, to just kind of accept things and to buy things and to pay for things and to go along with it. And they've been pretty effective in the media that has now become as mass as it is. It has a hold on us. Not just here in the United States.
So it's a tough battle but like you said, we got to do this. What are you going to fight for? I love the cancer analogy [referring to quote #18, chapter 6 in BAsics]. The fact that no, it's not cured. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth fighting against, that it's not worth seeking a cure, seeking a way of life that eradicates its existence. But the first thing is to imagine that's not the way to be, being a capitalist and feeling like, "We're America and they're not doing something over there, so we have to go in and we have to control them, and if it means killing a bunch of people with all these bombs that we've made you guys pay for and you can't even have health care, hey, that's just how it is, you know? Because we have to do this. We're protecting the world and our own interests."
But what is your interests? To be greedy. To be so greedy that you'll sell us all this shit that just poisons minds for the sake of you making money. Really? OK.
MS: In your wildest thinking, what do you hope comes out of tonight?
MB: In my wildest thinking, that there'd be a way for this to almost be like a blueprint at least for it being produced in other places, all around, kind of all-the-time-ish. That's lofty because we know what it takes to produce something like this. There could be a big one in the Midwest, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast and just to start galvanizing people. And yes, of course, the follow-up of the emails and keeping in contact with people and letting them know what's happening. But it is lofty. I think about how things got done in the 60s during the Civil Rights Movement when somehow, without nearly the technology and stuff we have now, people came together, bus boycotted, marched on places, and really made their voices heard or sometimes just stood up against the hoses. Golly, can you imagine people doing that right now in America? I don't know. I don't know if they're willing to stand up and die for stuff. But that is what it definitely calls us on the map on that stuff.
I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm here in New York. I was invited to participate in the celebration Monday night the 11th, the Bob Avakian event. I'm a former Black Panther, a community activist and just a servant of the people. That's what I learned back in the 60s when I joined the Black Panther Party was to be here and to serve the people and that's what I still do today.
MS: What brought you to the event?
RB: Actually the fact that it's about revolution. It's about bringing people together. It's about uniting. It's about doing away with the system. Which must be done in order for people to be free and to be happy, not only here in the United States but throughout the world.
MS: What do you think about replacing this system?
RB: That's one of the things that BAsics, this book, BAsics, I'm reading that and I'm more interested in it. All I know is that people have to be emancipated, the whole world. I've always believed in freedom, justice and equality for everybody and we just have to struggle in order to bring that about. I'm not going to be the one to decide what the new world will be. In fact, that's the youth. They're going to be determining what the new world will be. I just want to make sure that it's free and that they have an opportunity to build something better.
MS: What do you think of BAsics so far?
RB: I think it's great. I have to admire Bob Avakian because of his intellect, his deep thoughts and the fact that he's been around so long doing this, just like I have. There's something to be said about people who are consistent in trying to bring something about. And he has definitely been that. I don't know if he remembers, but I think I met him back in '69 it may have been in San Francisco. Well, I saw him. We were in the same room together with a few people. We didn't actually get introduced. But he has been a person who has been consistently on the side of the people all these years, so I'm on his side. Anybody that's for the people, I'm for them.
MS: You were part of the San Francisco 8?
RB: Yes. I had the fortune and misfortune to be part of the San Francisco 8. Eight of us were indicted in 2007 for a crime that had been committed in 1971. And in New Orleans in 1973 several Panthers were tortured for four or five days, horribly, and forced to confess and implicate other people, myself included. And because they were tortured the judge threw it out. What was illegal, though, in 1973, because of the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security, nowadays there's a question. They tried to bring back the confessions that were obtained through torture and they actually arrested us in 2007.
Because of the support of the people, not only in the Bay Area but nationwide, and internationally, we were able to beat them back and beat them off and today I'm a free man standing here today talking to you. And continuing the struggle. All power to the people!
I'm a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and I'm a co-host of tonight's "Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World" happening on the occasion of the publication of BAsics, a new book by Bob Avakian.
MS: What's the relationship among the different aspects of the show?
CD: I think there's a very close relationship. First off, in today's world with many, many people here and all around the world dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, and wondering what if anything can be done to bring into being a different and better way of life for people, a celebration of revolution and a vision of a new world is definitely something that needs to be celebrated and projected much, much farther out in society. And the publication of BAsics, a new book by Bob Avakian, comprised of quotations and short essays from his writings, over the past several decades is definitely the occasion to celebrate revolution. Because this book concentrates more than 30 years of work addressing everything that stands between humanity and its complete emancipation. And it does it in ways that make it more accessible to a broad array of people. Students in colleges, high school kids, people in the projects, intellectuals can dig into this, begin to grapple with what he's bringing forward in short and concise ways, and it can be an on ramp for people to go more deeply into the kind of work he's been doing.
As somebody that was part of the generation of revolutionaries who were reared on Mao's Little Red Book, I see Avakian's BAsics having the potential to rear and sustain a new generation of revolutionaries.
I'm really eager to experience tonight's events and to help spread its reverberations to begin to realize that potential to reach out to and bring together a new generation of revolutionaries and provide them the sustenance to do what's needed, and that's transform the world and emancipate humanity.
MS: What do you think of the mix?
CD: This is just amazing. I was in the green room. You know, you've got tap dancers, you've got spoken word artists. You've got rock bands, jazz musicians, all kinds of people. You've got mostly professional artists and there are a couple people who just came in who auditioned in the projects and got a slot on this program. It's going to be an amazing evening. Some of the people are more familiar with some of the kinds of art we're going to see, but they're also going to be wowed by the other kind, and by the ensemble of it, how it all together impacts you and gives you a glimpse of a different kind of world—a different kind of culture, but also a different kind of world, that could bring into being different art, different culture, different relations among the people and even transforming humanity itself. So this is just cool.
MS: What do you hope will come out of tonight?
CD: Well, I hope to come out of tonight with a few things on a couple different levels. I hope to come out of this with an event whose reverberations can spread not only here in the New York area, but across the country, and to project out this celebration of revolution, and to project the book, BAsics, which provided the occasion, and the author of that book. I also hope to come out of this with more relations among the people who came together to put it on: The artists who are doing the event tonight, the activists, artists and educators who put it together, who worked to make this happen, and who threw in, including dealing with last-minute emergencies. We've been working together in ways that we hadn't before, and I don't want this to be that we have fond memories of a great event, but the actual beginnings of forging more of a solid core with a lot of elasticity around celebrating and promoting revolution and the vision of a new world.
MS: Also having a chance to set foot in that world.
CD: Yeah, because I'm choosing a quotation to read tonight that actually talks about imagining a different world and different art and culture. And after tonight you won't have to fully imagine it because you will have had a brief experience of it. And that can actually help motivate people to go out into this world with all its madness and degradation and BS, but work to transform it and work to bring the world that you got a little taste of tonight, into being.
MS: What compelled you to be a part of this?
reg: Well, because in a way, I don't do enough, 'cause I know this. I'm not twelve years old. I know what's going on. I seen the Panthers, I seen the Nation of Islam, I seen racism and police brutality up close. I was alive when John Kennedy got shot. I was alive when Malcolm X got shot. I was alive. Those were my wonder years. So I don't do enough. I should do more. So any time that I can do something like this, and it's based around art. Like I want to be around these people first of all. I want to hear—Oscar Brown Jr.'s daughter, right? I want to hear Matthew [Shipp]. I want to hear Mike [Ladd]. I want to hear Miles [Outernational]. I ain't seen Miles in a while, but I want to hear Miles.
So, part of it is experiencing the brilliance of the artist. You got a serious bunch of artists up in here. It's really dope because everybody's all like blasé, blasé. Then there's all the drama—where's my green room? It ain't the drama. I'm worried about trying to get me one of them sandwiches so I can take it home with me. So it's real. On top of everything else, everybody in here is real. And to see the army that's upstairs, and directing traffic, and sitting by the door. So there's an army here. So that's a positive feeling, too. So to be a part of that is wonderful, and like, do I have anything to say that could lead somebody to read that book?
So what am I going to say? So I'm like going to read a poem I constructed many years ago, alright. Because I thought it was time for me to start talking about solutions. So, for tonight, the first word that we need a) reconstruction. That's how I started the poem. But tonight I'll switch reconstruction with revolution. We need a revolution, we need a new deal, we need another flag minus stars and stripes replaced by a spoke and wheel so we can turn this thing around. I'm ready to roll.
And my sister's singing, and my sister's going to be singing "People Make the World Go Round," by the Stylistics a capella, and we gonna try to blend it and meld it together. No rehearsal. She was, "Reg, we gonna rehearse?" No, we don't roll like that. Then I go sit in the audience while Matthew and William are sound checking. They didn't rehearse, and they up there just like, boom! Four bars and they're in it. And I'm like, that's what I'm talking about. So everybody here—not everybody, I can't speak for everybody—but most of the artists here, like Miles said he got something constructive for this. Kind of like something that's really going to speak to the issues and what this event's about. But the improvisational aspect of it is all based on emotion of us being here doing this event. It isn't so much about, OK, I'm going to be brilliant tonight here, or she's going to sing this, and they're going to play that, it's going to be brilliant. But it's like, are your emotions being fueled by the theme? Can you comment on the theme in a way that's more beautiful than it is in the real world? Because that's what we're supposed to do as artists. So can we talk about revolution, each one of us in each one of these vignettes that we are involved in, can we speak about revolution in an artistic/cultural way that opens somebody's mind in the audience who's like, wait a minute, that's kind of dope. I know that song "People Make the World Go Round." I don't know what he's talking about. I kinda hear the words here and there in it, but there's got to be a connection. And it'll make them listen. So Shelly singing—if she just scatted, she would tell more of a story than I'm ever going to tell saying my words—so I'll ride the crest of her... That's what it's all about.
MS: What do you think can happen in the audience as a result of all this?
reg: People could be moved to create. Somebody who's not even calling himself an artist could leave here and go like, whoa, let me create something, paint something. Let me write something. Let me whistle a melody about us needing to get together. 'Cause if you ask me, the most powerful aspect of tonight would just be people walking out of here like, yo, let's do this again. Which means creating community, creating family. Let's do this again. Let's get together and do this soiree again. But on a bigger scale. We can do this on a bigger scale, because for all the hard work that's been done to put this together, and when I walked in here to sound check, and I'm looking at—because I've done stuff here, I directed Miguel and Amiri's Mongo Affair in here, a couple years ago. And I walk in here, and it never dawned on me then when I was directing, but I walked in and said, "The place is too small."
When I walked in I was like, there's not enough seats here. Because so many people should be up in here I'm thinking like, it may not be filled with people, but I'm saying, but even if it's not, it's still too small. It's too small for the message. It's too small for people not to come hear Matthew and William Parker. It's too small for people not to come hear all these artists—Cornel West's video, whatever, it's too small.
So what do we do, put it on the airwaves? So I'm thinking right now, when I walk through the door, this should be on TV. This should be on cable. This should be a show, an HBO show or something. They're always trying to do something that's supposedly on the cutting edge. This is cutting edge. It's definitely artistic and entertaining, not entertainment. It's not no knee dance or no wilding out. But it's entertaining because these people are all brilliant at what they do. So why wouldn't HBO kick in some money which then could go to what this is all about anyway. So how come people aren't thinking, how can we get HBO to fund this, cause they need us for their air space. Give up some money, and then the money could go to the revolution.
That's what I thought when I came in the door. There should be HBO or Showtime that's paying for this and then the money, boom, then you got some real money. And it don't take but one or two of those.
I am thrilled to be included in this exciting lineup of my fellow musicians and artists here at Aaron Davis Hall. And we've been invited here to celebrate the launch of Bob Avakian's new book BAsics. I'm getting the sense that a lot of people have traveled a very long way to come here. So this is very exciting.
MS: (theme of evening) What does that mean to you?
MPH: Revolution and a new world is to me taking whatever you have and using it to effect some kind of change. Just like moving past the status quo. So it could be like a little thing or some people devote their lives to revolution and it's a really big thing. But it can be little things too. I think I operate more on the little things level, but I definitely like to feel that in my life as a performer have been able to explode stereotypes, gender stereotypes as to who does what. I'm an instrumentalist, and sadly people still find out I'm a musician and they say, "Oh, you're a singer." and I'm like, "No, I'm not a singer." I'm a terrible singer as we just heard. I can't sing. But just on the way here I was walking to the subway with my instrument on my back and some guys on the street said, "Oh, you play that!" And of course I had to turn around and say, "Why do you think I'm carrying it on my back up a hill in the heat. I'm not carrying it so some man can play it. Yes I play it."
That's not my motivation to play it. I don't know where my motivation comes from to play this thing. It came in my life magically and I've never been able to stop so far. But that is wherein it's relevant to what's happening here at Aaron Davis Hall I think. Because at the time that I began doing this in the early 80s, there were only a handful of women playing instruments in rock bands. It was a radical thing then. It's considerably less so now, but it's still 27 years later, a little radical. And I long for the day when that's no longer the case. It's not like I'm trying to push for that. It's something I notice, that it's still an anomaly.
MS: Are you familiar with Avakian's work?
MPH: I have been given a copy [of BAsics] and I have flipped through it and it's on my pile of books that I'm struggling through to read. These days I don't read books like I used to, but it's there. I'm familiar with who Avakian is through someone I met socially and he told me about Bob and gave me the Revolution newspaper. So that's why I know who it is. And then I was invited to be part of this and heard about what it was. So I was able to say I know who that is. I know what he does. I have a general sense. I'm not deeply familiar with his work or accomplishments or writings. But in a general sense I know what he's about. Which is why I'm here because I wouldn't come if it was something that I felt that I wasn't supportive of in a general sense.
MS: You have here both people who are really familiar with Avakian and that are just finding out.
MPH: BAsics is a great book for that reason. It's introductory for a lot of people. A lot of people are not really up for starting in deep and getting overwhelmed by a lot of ideology or material. But this is kind of like pretty easy. Some of what I saw, I opened it up, looked through it and it said a lot of things that I already know to be true but that I don't really think about every day. I don't take them for granted—I don't take my life as it is for granted. I'm very caught up in music. So that's where all my energy and thinking goes. I'm not involved actively in politics, other than I go around carrying this 40-pound instrument [baritone sax] on my back, and go play it in clubs.
MS: What do you think of the mix of artists here tonight?
MPH: I was very attracted to the assortment of musicians because I'm familiar with most of them and I respect them a lot individually, the ones I know, everyone. So I was very honored to be included. And it's very impressive. I guess I wasn't really surprised that any of those were here, because it's kind of like you know who's on your same page and who's not in a basic way I think, you know, in life. So there were no surprises for me really, as for who's on the bill. And these are people I know a little bit. One person I know very well, but I don't know what their points of view are on a lot of subjects, but I'm not surprised that those guys are here. We all go through the same kind of thing and we're coming from the same planet or something. So I wasn't surprised to see who was here and like I said, they're esteemed musicians and I'm very flattered to have been invited.
MS: What do you hope to see come out of this?
MPH: Definitely the spreading thing. I feel like, as a musician who's involved in this, this is an opportunity for me to connect with these other musicians in some like-minded situation where we're all having this experience together and, you know, there is no musician on this bill that I would not be thrilled to work with in the future. And so there's a spreading kind of thing. One thing that I do always hope, I think at an event such as this is not such an issue, but one thing that I hope is that I can always reach people. It happens a lot at less specific gatherings. But it occurs to people that—I love it when someone comes to me and they say, Oh, I never saw a woman playing a saxophone before. It still happens all of the time which is kind of incredible to me but I'm like, well, women can play saxophones. You know, like there you go.
So I'm always hoping that I can change the way that somebody thinks just by being in front of them doing what I do. But I can feel like, we've been here for a couple of hours and everybody's very nice, and cool people and like connections and tomorrow we'll all be on Facebook tomorrow [laughing]. Except for the ones that are too clever to be on Facebook because it's probably some imperialist evil machine that's going to shut us all down anyway. But it's always good to meet new people and find out what they're doing and then the world world grows in that way, or one's world grows.
I'm all about making anything more fun. This is fun. So I kind of predict that everyone who's concerned is going to have a positive experience here tonight. And that will affect whatever happens tomorrow, next week, three months from now, as far as we're all concerned. I feel like a lot of serious political issues, movements, are devoid of celebration and so they get a bad rap in the world because it just seems like a drag, you know, honestly. And it doesn't have to be. People are people are people and everyone all over the planet likes to laugh and sing and dance and have music and like, you know, that's a real human thing. Throughout the ages of the human race everywhere. This thing, celebration. And maybe it's important to consider that it should always be included as the flip side of like more serious thought, as well. Because we are all humans. Everybody needs to like enjoy whatever is available to be enjoyed. Here it's so much. We're having a good life here. So I feel like it's my responsibility because it's available to me to enjoy it. I have to be out there walking down the street at night if I want to because I can. You know, that sort of thing. So I try and take advantage of all the freedoms I have and luxuries I have because I don't think that just it's a given in life that everyone just gets—I know that, obviously. It's not a given in life that everyone gets that. So I'm into spreading that, whatever I experience because of that, like if I can just kind of convey that through music and someone hears it and it makes them feel good well then that's kind of a motivation to me.
I'm the father of Nicholas Jr. Nicholas Jr. was a 13-year-old honor student from Brooklyn who was shot and killed by a New York City Housing Police officer September 22, 1994. Nicholas Jr. was playing an innocent game of cops and robbers with about seven other young children. They ranged in the age of seven to thirteen. He was shot and killed by a housing officer who was basically a rookie officer. He was supposed to have been on a 911 call from what they was telling me, men in the building with guns. He responded alone. They say that he, when he reached the landing where the kids were at he said that the stairwell lighting was dimly lit and that Nicholas came out of the darkness of the stairwell and he shot Nicholas once in the abdomen after hearing a clicking sound.
This was all told to me and basically to the public by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes who closed the case based on those findings. About two years later in a deposition that was done on the officer, the officer made statements in that deposition that he was not on a 911 call, that the stairwell lighting was not dimly lit, and that things did not happen in a split second. All those new findings were basically Charles Hynes' reasons for closing the case in the beginning. That's why I continue my pursuit in trying to get Charles Hynes to reopen and re-investigate this case. In the deposition also the officer basically stated that he watched Nicholas jump up and down the stairs before firing his shot.
It's just been kind of critical for me these last sixteen years. I mean, this happened 16 years ago but it still seems just like yesterday, I guess because it still happens across the country. There's just too many innocent people getting gunned down by the police.
MS: What compelled you to be on the host committee?
NH: When I really look at the world. I'm 53 years old. I been around for a little while, and I've experienced quite a few things in this world myself and after actually witnessing and being around a lot of other family members who were victims, or their loved ones were victims to police murder, it just saddens me that these elected official and the system as a whole can allow this to continue in the manner in which it does. These officers are not being punished. They're getting away with murder and they're getting away with brutally beating innocent, unarmed individuals. And I listen to what Avakian is talking about. He speaks with truth and he basically backs it up with facts. He's not just someone who comes out and just say this or say that. Whatever he says out of his mouth he's ready and he's willing to back it up.
And when I look at the world, these elected officials constantly saying that we're living in this great country, and democracy is so great, but when you really, really take a look at what's going on in this world, I mean all across the world, people are suffering, suffering very badly. And I can't understand how you can have so many rich billionaires, which are basically only like 10% of the population and the mass majority of the people on the planet are poor. And it's been like that for thousands of years. It don't make no sense to me. It just doesn't.
I read a lot of Avakian's work, and he really sends a positive message and, I mean not only involving the government, the system as far as the government is, even in religion also. I be feeling a lot of the truth that he presents to the people. That's basically why I decided to be a part of this today. I mean, I really give a lot of support to them. You know, and I'm ready, as far as the new world order, and stuff like that there, I think Avakian has a better world appearing for us than these supposed-to-be people who are running the world right now.
MS: What do you think of the lineup?
NH: I think that is just great. A lot of them, the artists that are here today, I mean I really, I applaud them. I really, really do, for giving support for Avakian and the change for a new world. I really give support to them. I really wish that a lot more artists will come out in support of this. Because I always, when I speak from time to time, I would always try to reach out to the more well-known artists like Jay Z and P Diddy and guys like that there. Because I think that, you know if they would just try to give more support to the people who are really trying to make change for their people in this world in a whole, that it would be a bigger and more stronger message—artists really have a powerful message in their voice. These guys that's out here today, I just really give them a lot of support and applaud them for what they're doing.
MS: What comes out of tonight?
NH: I hope that people who are not completely sure on what Avakian is about or what he's trying to do for the mass majority of the people, that this could be a bigger eye opener for them, in that they would realize that this is really the reality for the people for a better world. That's what I'm really hoping, that they really come to terms with themselves and can really see that Avakian is the man to give their support to, as far as making a better and a positive change for the world in a whole.
I'm from the band Outernational. I'm here at the BAsics celebration, performing, gaining inspiration and try to invite as many people to come along.
I think a lot of people understand that the world is in a very bad place right now, and I don't think we have to discuss that right now. What we need to discuss is what do you do about that? Is there a way out? How does that look and what is that? I've looked at a lot of different things and Bob Avakian's ideas make more sense in the world more than anything I've ever heard before.
MS: What does the event look like to you?
LM: I hope to see the ideas in the book kind of spelled out, acted out and even felt out if I can say that, through these performances and the speakers. I know that there's jazz musicians. My group is playing. Poets, experimental music and I'm hoping that they all take the content of the ideas and weave it into their performances so that we can really have something where we get to experience it, even for a moment.
MS: Tell us about your performance tonight.
LM: We're going to perform our song "Qué Queremos?" It's a bilingual song. And for the first time we're going to be performing it as a very large collaboration with other artists dear to us. You're going to see different instruments, you're going to see and hear different sounds coming together. We're going to have surprises. We're going to have men and women together. We're going to have a lot of voices. It's really going to allow the meaning of the song to take flight and I think it's going to be—we're going to leave people something to feel, not just something to think about.
MS: What about the audience?
LM: I want to see the barriers between the people breaking down tonight. I want to see it happen in the room and I want it to happen when people leave.
MS: What do you hope will come out?
LM: I hope to see a wave of understanding and inspiration around revolution and Bob Avakian's ideas, and a whole other world and a whole way things can be different that's really understood by people as something to work towards and as something worth living for and going after.
I'm here to support the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, who's a kindred spirit. I don't know him personally, but after reading his book, you know, things he was talking about are similar situations that I experienced in the same area in Berkeley, California. It was also interesting that he's actually from Fresno. My people are from Fresno, too. So we share that in common. I've just seen a lot of common things with him and myself, the Bay Area, and the TOC [Tournament of Champions, a high school basketball tournament], the fact that he liked basketball, and football. He talked about the football program at Berkeley High, which I experienced a lot. Me and my brother were pretty good athletes. And the whole thing about Cal, and the whole thing about racism in Berkeley and all of that. I experienced all of that just a few years after him.
MS: You grew up in Berkeley itself?
MS: What was the scene like then?
DM: The thing that he talked about in the book, he was talking about People's Park. When People's Park happened, I was at Willard Jr. High School. The thing that was phenomenal about that was, at that time, Ronald Reagan was the governor. A friend of mine had gotten shot in the foot with one of these buckshots. They were using buckshot on people. And there was an incident that happened where they called in the county sheriffs, and they came in, they marched in our school. They tear gassed our whole school.
And they made a big mistake, in fact. People's Park is like four blocks up Telegraph towards Sather Gate from Willard Jr. High School. And the baseball field might have resembled People's Park. So what happened was, we were out having lunch, kids out in the baseball field part of Willard Jr. High School, having lunch. They tear-gassed us from the sky. We were like 12-, 13-year-old kids. You know, seventh and eighth graders. And they thought it was People's Park. They missed. And this really pissed us off. I was the president of the student body at that time. So we were talking about, well, hey, OK, they tear-gassed us, the school, we're going out to People's Park now. We had an excuse. We were all, our eyes crying.
We became revolutionaries because they struck us first. And we're kids. My son is the same age now. And I can't imagine him being tear-gassed by some county sheriffs that are so fucking stupid that they're trying to teargas People's Park, which is fairly up the street, my friend, but they get the Jr. high school. I think they turned us all into revolutionaries at that moment.
MS: You've always seen your music as having some connection with how you're shaping the world.
DM: You look at titles. That's why I think that titles are so important. Every time something would happen in the world, I would write a song. Like I remember when those Hanafi sect of the Muslims, they took over this building in Washington and I wrote a song called "Holy Siege on Intrigue." I did a little suite for that. I remember when Dart Man was on the streets of New York, I wrote a song called "Dart Man." I was always going to be writing songs anyway. So I always looked for a very intriguing title that would represent whatever was happening socially at the time. When I lived in New York especially. I don't do it so much now. But events always seem to shape the music. Because I'm going to be writing music anyway. I always thought that once I wrote a song, or once I was in the process of writing a song, something would be happening to make me start thinking about it. And then that thought process, I'd go to sleep and wake up.
It's like the way painters work. You dream what that thing is and next thing you know you find the right ways to express what that tune is, you find the right notes to express what that situation was. Next thing you know it comes together and it becomes a song. And it actually does relate to social events. I think that's important because I always thought that musicians, if we're honest musicians, we should be able to kinda be a semaphore of the times that we're living in and represent. If somebody were to come and hear a capsule of our art, music, they would know. Our music might reflect the social ramifications of what was happening in the world.
I always felt like, that's the kind of thing that I could channel through me, not particularly in a spiritual or a revolutionary way, but whatever it comes out to be, it ends up coming out to be that anyway. So it's just natural. Revolution is a natural for me. That's what I told the young people. If young people don't protest about something, then they're not even—they're like some kind of Yuppie kids or some shit. They don't have no voice. As a generation you've got to get mad about something, other than your parents.
MS: When you were invited to take part in the celebration, was there something that made you think you had to be part of this?
DM: Like I said at the beginning, what made me want to do this, is my kinship that I feel with Bob Avakian even though I don't know him. Maybe it's because of things he talks about in this book about the Bay Area [Avakian's Memoir]. I related to every word. Every word is me. I've been feeling these things for a long time, and he expressed them. And even though I don't know him, I'd like to know him, and maybe one day I'll meet him.
MS: What would you like to see come out of tonight?
DM: That people hear each other's views, and we accept each other on different terms. Everybody's valid in their way of expressing their form of revolution. I live in France. It's a country where people go in the streets and manifest. That's what they do. Me, I personally don't want to be around there because they get pretty violent up there. But I'm with the young people. We may not see it in our lifetime but maybe we're going to come up with a good idea.
I'm one of the Last Poets. I'm here mainly because for forty years, my poetry has tried to inspire and motivate a serious change, a real change, a revolution. One of my most famous poems that's known all over the world is, "When the Revolution Comes." It's a famous poem, but we haven't had that famous activity happen yet. But things are so bad now, and everybody is feeling the crunch. I think this is a great time to try to waken some people who are trying to sleep, and I think to support those who understand we need a change.
So when someone came to my house and talked to me about it, I had no choice, because I'm about the same thing. People say, "Oh, are you still Black against white?"
I say, "No, I am humanity against inhumanity. And if you're about being inhumane, I don't care what your color is, you're my enemy. There's no doubt. So, being here, having a chance to share and hang out with some other human beings who care was something that I looked forward to. I know that we got a lot of work to do. But, I'm very happy that we got some people who are willing to do the work. So let's hope it spreads.
MS: The atmosphere today is one in which this discourse, this idea of revolution—for a lot of people up in Harlem, there hasn't been a lot of talk about that, so when they saw this event, they were really moved by this, the idea that this revolution and a vision of a new world would be in the mix. Then when I showed them the list of the artists that were performing, they were really blown away. What do you think of that?
AO: It's necessary. That's basically it. It is absolutely necessary, for not only our survival, but for our living. Things are so bad in this country and other places, artists—all your art with a consciousness is like a revolutionary army. So I don't care if you're a dancer, or a singer, a poet, whatever you are, these kinds of events, all the aware artists should be at it because it's necessary. We need to show a show of strength, that we're not going to take it lying down. And the artist is the best one to articulate what the problem is, to offer solutions, and to fire you up.
MS: What do you hope comes out of tonight?
AO: Knowledge. A certain feeling of accomplishment. And I hope that it sparks some more things like this. You see, a lot of our young people are acting crazy now because it's the absence of a movement. We don't have a movement. Everybody's about self. So if we can kinda take something like this, and recognize we are all in the same pot together. And we start thinking about each other, working together, having committees, study groups, all kinds of stuff like that, it can make a very big difference. So I hate to see stuff blow up like this and then just disappear. So I hope that's not the case with this. I hope that there's a follow-up.
MS: I've been talking to people about revolution, and their reactions are a mixed bag, but I think something like this can have an effect of bringing that to people.
WP: This event should be repeated monthly, as quick as it takes to refuel and come back out. I think that events like this should take place in every neighborhood. They should have different locations to do it, to bring out the message to different people. Because the thing is that people right now, they're on automatic pilot and they're asleep. That old expression, the get up and go has got up and went—that's the way it is. So people need to wake up to what's going on. And this is the beginning of a consciousness raising. Because that's what you really need, everybody be able to stand on their own two feet and to raise their consciousness and get involved in figuring out what they can do. To make some changes in the world.
MS: What compelled you to take part?
WP: The idea of bringing on revolution in America. Now we speak of political revolutions, social revolution, cultural revolution, all of these things are a part of it. Because the idea is that people have to just, even on a small level, begin to make changes. Whether you're going to make a change in your diet, whether you say I'm not going to support these corporations, whether I'm not going to watch this TV, I'm going to go support live music, whether I'm going to stop so much internet and start talking to people and reading books. These are all little drops in a big pot that are eventually going to lead to some kind of larger revolution, but in order to do that, you really have to have everyone's consciousness and senses at a high level, working at a high level. And every way in their life that they can, they're supporting the idea of change.
MS: What in your mind would a new world look like?
WP: Well, a new world could basically look like this world. It's just the idea that the world would not be run by corporations and run by rich people. And people who are in this underdevelopment nations and all the victims of imperialism, who've had a foot on their neck all these years, will be given the right to not be punished for being themselves. They'd have jobs, they'd have their needs taken care of and they'd be able to live to search and follow their dreams, whatever those dreams would be. Right now it's just about money, money, money, money, money. It's just about rich people who, again, run the world, doing what they have to do, about oil, about starting wars, about destroying countries and then the people who destroy the country, they rebuild the country because they own those companies too. You know, the same people that make the bread make the bombs.
So it's just about making some kind of change where leaders become responsible. And a democracy is where we have a vote. If somebody says, OK, I think we should go to war, but I can't go to war, which is mostly an invasion nowadays, not a war, without the consent of the people. So if we elect somebody, we should be asked, do we agree with the policy? And we're never asked. We're told. We turn on the TV and we're told, well, the president said this today, he's doing this, or he cut this. They never ask us anything. We have no say-so. Therefore it's really not a democracy. So if just some of these things can be addressed. And I think it can only be addressed if people wake up and begin to exercise their rights and say we can't take it anymore, we're not going to live like this anymore. The focus of the world has to change, on what people do, or power do in the world, it's got to begin to change.
MS: What do you think of Avakian and BAsics in relation to a vision of a new world?
WP: I think people should read the book. And again, it's a stimulator. It has a lot of historical facts, information, not so much just blaming, but it sort of inspires you to begin to investigate. Now, you don't have to read the book and say, "OK, because Bob Avakian said, this is true." He's mirroring what happened. He's mirroring a tale. He's mirroring an idea. So you can say, OK, imperialism. So what is imperialism? Bob Avakian says imperialism is the cause of all the troubles in the world. So you investigate it. And then you find out what he's saying is true.
So the book is very important, that people read this book, and if they're not into that, they have to read something. They have to do their own research, they have to do something. But the book is a start as a platform, springboard to jump on to find themselves, to find what's going on. To be enlightened, to awake their senses.
MS: This is putting revolution out in a way it hasn't been out.
WP: And it's including everybody. You have all kinds of music, all kinds of poetry, all kinds of art involved, the visuals, the books, the poetry. And it's important, because we're beginning to include everybody. One of the things wrong with the government is that there's no representation. When you look at the Congress, you should have some plumbers, you should have some electricians, you should have some musicians, you should have some people in coveralls, not just guys who look like penguins in suits, all white guys in suits representing us. They don't know anything about me, they don't know anything about people's grandmothers, or little kids. So this event is beginning to include everybody. And that's how it's got to be. Because everybody is affected. It's not just Black people, it's not just Chinese people, it's not Korean people, it's not people from South America or Mexico. Everybody who lives in America is affected by the policies, so everybody has to be included, because it also begins to move in the direction of brotherhood and sisterhood. And that's so important to begin to go in those lines.
MS: That is important. What do you hope to see out of tonight?
WP: I hope people come away after experiencing this, that they come away with a buzz, they come away uplifted. So that tomorrow they'll think about maybe quitting their job. They'll think about what they're going to do. They'll think about how important everything they do in life is, and they'll begin to read some more of the book. And they'll read another book, and then read another book, and then start beginning to put the string through the beads in this necklace, and string it together and then make a commitment, and not really believe what they're handed down.
I'm sure there's some people here who are already initiated. But hopefully there are a lot of people who are uninitiated and they're just waiting to get a kick, to get a boost, to get a jump start to try to get into these things which will lead them to themselves becoming a light so that they begin to tell people about what's going on in America, and begin to stimulate others. So you have this kinetic thing, magnetic thing happening from an event like this. So that the next event there's more people and people start planning their own little events. Anything can happen from it, but the initial thing is that everyone is inspired and stimulated to do things. About change in the world.
I'm a visual artist, revolutionary artist. Some people might have known some of my work from my history. Back in 1989 I had a work called "What's the proper way to display a U.S. flag?" that became the center of nationwide controversy. George Bush the First publicly denounced it. Congress denounced it as they passed legislation to outlaw it and a whole lot of people dug it because it was giving them the opportunity to talk about and think about and wrestle with what is this empire and what is its flag? So I'm a visual artist.
MS: What are you doing here?
DS: I am here joining with a bunch of people that are celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world. I curated along with a friend of mine, Kyle Goen, a show of visual art that's part of this celebration of revolution and a vision of a new world on the occasion of the publication of BAsics.
MS: Let's talk about BAsics and Avakian.
DS: I think it's sort of a mind-blowing book. I've read Bob Avakian's work pretty consistently over the past 20 years. But having a chance to sort of step back and see some of the breadth of what he's written particularly over the past seven or eight years. It's kind of incredible that somebody has thought this much about how you would make a revolution, what kind of revolution it needs to be, who would participate in it, the shortcomings of past revolutions and come up with a theory that actually make revolution and communism both viable and desirable for the 21st century. He's really given his heart to the people.
You read the book and even if you've read a lot of his stuff, it's incredible what it is, and then you know the way it's written, some of it's really simple and basic—not simplistic, but simple. The first quote is "There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery." That's a simple and basic truth, and it's like, well, that's simple and basic, but a lot of people don't know that or wouldn't agree with it in a certain sense. And then there's stuff that's longer and more complicated.
It's the kind of thing that even if you don't read a lot, people can get into and people in this country where the schools are just messed up, there's a real opportunity for people to engage that, whether you've got a PhD in critical studies, or whether you struggle to read a paragraph at a time, this is a book, if you want to know how to change the world, that you can actually get to know how to do it through this book.
MS: Let me ask about the content of the visual art show. Tell us a little about the pieces that are up here now.
DS: There are twelve pieces in the show and the show kind of embodies the breadth of the program overall. Some of the artists that are participating are typically thought of a street artists or graffiti artists. Some of them are performance artists. Some of them are very, very well-known and prominent and show in major galleries. But it really ranges. Some of them are from foreign countries who were either born there and came here quickly or came recently. Some of them are native born. There's diversity in terms of generations. It's got a piece by Emory Douglas who was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, and then most of the people are a lot younger than that. Some of the pieces, there's a piece by this artist Wafaa Bilal, who's an Iraqi artist. He came here shortly after the first Iraq War. And his piece is really heavy. It was inspired a bit by his brother who continued to live in Iraq and he was killed by U.S. so-called "collateral damage." So Bilal's got this piece where he had his back tattooed with a map of Iraq, and then he had a pin-point put for every U.S. soldier killed and every Iraqi killed. The U.S. soldiers were in red and the Iraqis were in florescent green. So there were 100,000 dots on his back from all the Iraqis killed, and 5000 for the U.S. soldiers. Then as the performance was happening he had people start reading the names of the people he knew. So this happened over a 24-hour period. There was an audience watching him get tattooed. So the piece is just a shot with blacklight so basically his scarred body is lit up just after this tattoo happened. It's a really heavy piece to look at just what the effect on the body of U.S. imperialism is, even from someone who didn't literally get bombed.
There's a piece by this Kenyan artist, who lives here now, and has lived here most of her adult life, anyway, Wangechi Mutu. It's a video piece and it's a loop that has this woman on a sort of deserted nighttime street, a cosmopolitan street. Nobody else is on the street. She's pushing this cart and you don't know what's in the cart. And she reaches in and throws a shoe right toward where the camera is, which is sort of the perspective of the audience. And then she reaches into the cart repeatedly and gets more and more shoes and just starts throwing them. And you think of the guy who threw the shoe at Bush. I don't know exactly what she meant, but it's very evocative of that. There's a real defiance in it. The woman may be beaten down, but she's not broken at any stretch.
There's work that looks back at slavery by Kyle Goen and by Hank Willis Thomas. Hank Willis Thomas has a piece titled "Absolut Power," sort of riffing on the Absolut ads. It's got a picture of an Absolut bottle that's turned into a slave ship. Kyle Goen has this piece that's just a portrait of Harriet Tubman. It's sort of like two different sides of how to look at that past which is foundational to America. There's a piece by Richard Duardo which is a sort of stunning portrait of Bob Avakian. Richard is known for doing portraits of sort of cultural icons. He's done people like Keith Haring and Duke Ellington and Che Guevara and people like that, Grace Slick, people who are defiant. So he includes Avakian in that pantheon of people that he's known for doing.
There's a lot of other incredible work.
MS: What about your piece?
DS: I've got a piece called. "Imagine a world without America." As I said, I've been reading Avakian for a long time. He wrote a statement which became important to me when I had the controversy around my flag work, and it started out, If you could imagine a world without America, then you've already taken a stride toward becoming a proletarian internationalist. And he goes on, if you can get beyond the wars and the rationalization that justifies that, then why would you want to lower your sights to anything less, and why wouldn't you want to give your whole life to actually bringing that world into being?
So about 18 years later, I'm thinking about that quote, as I'm thinking of a work to make, and so I come up with this piece that is, "Imagine a world without America." It's a world map; it's a square map, and Europe and Africa are in the center, and if you grew up in Europe or Africa it would be anyway, but as Americans we think America's in the center. The way it's framed, most of the United States is kind of cropped off of it. You get to see like, Florida and Alaska, but everything else just crops off, so you get this de-centered world that has no borders, and the map is the reverse of red, white and blue: It's orange, black and green. Then the black text just says, "Imagine a world," and very, very faintly it says, "Without America." So I do want people to trip out and imagine a world. I think there's not nearly enough imagination in the world these days and I want people to literally just do that. It's a conceptual work in that way. And then in a complicated and provocative way, without America. So the piece is literally showing a world without America.
MS: What do you hope to see tonight and coming out of tonight?
DS: Tonight I hope that there are a lot of people that have an experience they've never experienced before. I hope their minds are blown in the best and most fun way. I hope people have big smiles, hear great music, hear great poetry, can have it in the mix of writings from prisoners talking about what Avakian's works mean to them, have some of his readings in there and seeing some amazing art and just having a joyous, wonderful, exciting, uplifting step into the future. So that's what I hope people experience, and I hope to experience part of that myself.
Then I hope coming out of this people feel the renewed capacity in connection to each other and the capacity to lift their sights and actually really go forward in a range of complex ways building a revolutionary movement, a movement for revolution. A lot of people coming are not activists in that sense. But those people have a lot of understanding that's important and a lot to contribute, whether it's giving a lecture in their high school class, whether it's bringing somebody in to talk to their college students, whether it's baking cookies in the housing projects, whether it's coming into Revolution Books to hear a talk, whether it's making some art or maybe some collaborations will come out of it from some of the musicians.
There's a lot that can come out of it, but hopefully I feel people in multi-layered ways feel more capacity and desire to help humanity get to a whole radically-different and far better future, and connect with Avakian as part of that.
I'm a pianist and a composer and I'm here to play music with William Parker tonight in a duo situation and to contribute to the awareness of a global outlook for a better world and looking past the oppressive systems that hem us all in.
MS: What did you grab onto in the theme of revolution and a better world?
Shipp: I come at it from a little different angle, but what impressed me about Bob's work was an openness and a non-doctrinaire attitude. He always talks about a firm center and elasticity, and the fact that he talks about how revolutionaries have to have a poetic spirit. So I think freeing imagination is one reason we go into music, poetry, dance or whatever, and I really feel that the way he approaches things leaves a lot of things open for all kinds of possible syntheses and things to happen that you can't maybe pinpoint, but if we have a situation where people's imaginations can be unleashed, lord knows how things can evolve and come into being.
So basically all that is to say that what I really liked about his work is that he approaches things in a non-dogmatic way. And at the same time he recognizes all the failures that have happened in revolution in the past. We have to learn from all the mistakes in the past but that should not close your mind to the fact that something better can emerge in the future.
MS: I think the solid core with elasticity and the poetic spirit are important points, and that's one reason there is such a diversity of artists coming together.
Shipp: Watching the first half, that's what captivated me. So many different angles, through rhythm and dancing and through spoken word, which actually, even though poetry has an abstraction, so it's actually concrete language. And also I'm really touched by the letters from prisoners, because that's getting to the heart and soul of what the system can do to people, and how people can see some hope at the end of the tunnel or not, and what we're trying to speak to. So that type of letters from the prisoners is its own special type of poetry.
MS: These are people being judged to be the worst of the worst in society. That one quote, you can either do something with your life or do nothing with your life.
Shipp: Yeah, it was very heavy. Especially the cancer part, too. That was very, very interesting. Bob is definitely very fascinating. I don't know a lot about him, but I know a little about him. I've read some of his works. Again, I'm myself kind of in the spirituality of a certain sort.
MS: I want to explore that some more.
Shipp: Like a lot of jazz musicians, I live a post-Coltrane psychological space, not that my music sounds like that, because it doesn't, but if you come out of that head space and that's how you got into music, there's a quest for a universal language in music that—for instance if you look at Coltrane. I mean he grew up in the Black church, but his musical vision is more kind of universalist. And his wife, Alice, is actually a practicing Hinduist. She has albums, Om Namah Shivaya, which is a Shiva Hindu chant.
So, he's using music, Coltrane is using music in a kind of ecclesiastic way to almost get back to—theoretically, if you take the myths in the Bible, if before the Tower of Babel, because in that story there was one universal language before that and they tried to build a tower up to heaven and then the so-called whatever it is, Jehovah—James Joyce called him "Daddy Nobody"—up in the sky confused their tongues so they all had different languages. So when I hear Coltrane's music, I hear him in a quest with musical language to get back to that kind of universal language. That universal language could be like physics, actually. You could conceive of it in many different ways, which is another thing about Bob's work, getting back to him. He tries to synthesize everything. I was reading one of his books and he was referring to a lot of things in modern physics and it's just interesting to see somebody take a very scientific approach to Marxism. I found that interesting, that somebody approaches it as an actual science. I was like, wow.
So my way of coming at it is meditation, silence, and I don't believe in the anthropomorphic god that traditional religion believes in, but I do believe in an invisible energy source that is the whole and that kind of powers everything. It's unfortunate that we have to have this word god, it's a three-letter word. It's a stupid word. It's been misused. It's been used for a lot of horrible things, but I don't define myself as an atheist. I'm not in the Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, that type. Because that to me is a religion also. I know Bob's approach is definitely the matter in motion approach. But the thing that's interesting about it is his approach allows my approach. That's what's so interesting to me, I read his books and there's a few things he's kind of dogmatic about, and I actually agree, I would agree. As I said, I don't define myself as an atheist. I would actually agree with 80% of the stuff in a Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins book, actually, especially about organized religion.
But what I found so interesting about Bob is that even though there's some differences in how I approach it, I can see myself operating in that realm of trying to bring about transformation in the way he is. And it would be no problem. And I know people in his circle, and got to know them. I mean, they actually approached me and I was just like, OK, I see certain things this way and they don't, but it was just no problem, because the general world view allowed that.
MS: What would you like to see come out of tonight?
Shipp: The word get around about Bob's writing and a lot of people checking it out.
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
A three-judge panel of the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal—for the second time and this time unanimously. Previously, in 2008, this same court had ruled 2-1 that the death sentence on Mumia had been obtained by unconstitutional misleading instructions to the jury. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that finding and sent it back to the 3rd Circuit for reconsideration. But the 3rd Circuit has again ruled that the instructions used to get a death sentence voted on Mumia were blatantly and unconstitutionally illegal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the best known political prisoner in the world facing execution. He has now spent almost 30 years in isolation on death row, after being railroaded in a manifestly bogus trial. Yet despite mounds of new evidence in his case, the federal court system has refused to grant Mumia a new trial. As a revolutionary and a former Black Panther, he remains the special target of a ruling class vendetta bent on snuffing out his life as an example to all others who would refuse to bow down before the system.
Even if this newest decision is allowed to stand by the Supreme Court, the state of Pennsylvania would still have a chance to execute Mumia. The state has the option to convene a new jury and re-do the flawed penalty phase of his 1982 trial. That is, a new jury would be instructed that Mumia was found guilty of first degree murder and the only thing they are to decide is execution or life imprisonment. This constitutes an utter outrage, given what we know today about the original trial and all the exculpatory evidence that the jury was never allowed to see. In fact, Mumia himself was removed from the courtroom for much of his own trial because he righteously continued to object to the court's refusal to allow him to act as his own attorney in place of a court appointed lawyer.
Although it occurs in this overall situation of flagrant injustice, the technical decision returned by the 3rd Circuit is an important one for prisoners in capital cases. This court continued to uphold a well-established principal of law that there should be no restrictions on what mitigating circumstances (things in the defendant's favor) individual jurors can consider in a death sentence. In Mumia's trial, a written verdict form presented to jurors clearly implied that jurors could only consider those mitigating circumstance that they all unanimously agreed would apply.
Because of the infamous Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (signed into law by Bill Clinton), Mumia can make no more appeals in the federal court system. But his legal team is pursuing a new appeal in the Pennsylvania state courts based on a report from the National Academy of Sciences that discredits the type of ballistic evidence that was presented in Mumia's original trial.
A mass movement, reaching far and wide in society and around the world, was a crucial factor in stopping the rulers of this country from executing Mumia Abu-Jamal in the 1980s and '90s. It is ever more important that people must come together behind the demand to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
* * * * *
For Revolution earlier coverage of Mumia's case go to:
Supreme Court Pushes Mumia Abu-Jamal a Step Closer to Execution
by C. Clark Kissinger
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
Supreme Court Rejects Mumia Appeal
by C. Clark Kissinger
Revolution #162, April 19, 2009
New Developments in Ongoing Railroad of Mumia Abu-Jamal Revolution #138, August 3, 2008
Federal Appeals Court Continues the Mumia Railroad
Revolution #125, April 6, 2008
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
We received the following from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
I am a prisoner in the state of Texas who lives in a very dark and lonely world. I have been in administrative segregation since August 23rd 1990 more than 20 years ago. So naturally I do an excessive amount of reading. And out of all the publications I get, I find yours to be the most interesting and informative. My hero Bob Avakian calls it like he sees it and that's why it's so important for me to read his book titled BAsics. So will you please send me a copy as soon as you possibly can? You cannot imagine just how much I would appreciate it!!!
Very Truly Yours
P.S. I truly do look forward to hearing from you soon!!!
To donate to send copies of BAsics to prisoners, send money order or check to:
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
Letter from a Prisoner about the Japan Earthquake
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund received the following letter from a prisoner:
Greetings from the Texas gulag! I was listening to CNN yesterday on my radio (we can get television by shorting out the tuner) and tuning in to the terrible news about the earthquake & tsunami that devastated the coast of Japan when the announcer made a special point of assuring his audience "no Americans had been harmed."
To get a real flavor for the obscenity of this bigoted mindset imagine this had happened in San Francisco and the announcer reassuringly declared no white people had been harmed; or perhaps no men.
This announcer meant no harm: He was simply voicing the values he'd been taught (actively & passively) all his life: Americans are more important than the natives of any other country; whites are more important than people of any other skin color; and, of course men are far more important than women. This is the 800 lb. gorilla in the living room of our collective psyche we must all do battle with if we are to survive as a species.
As a white American male I can call out this horribly obscene gorilla of ignorance & bigotry and not be accused of rating the grapes sour simply because I'm being denied a share of the spoils.
We simply must bring into being a revolutionary communist world devoid of prejudice & bigotry if we are to survive; the alternative is this capitalist death-dance of self-annihilation.
Yours for the revolution,
Send us your comments.
Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
We received the following from A World to Win News Service:
April 25, 2011. A World to Win News Service. Binayak Sen, the Indian medical doctor and advocate for tribal peoples sentenced to life in prison at hard labor in May 2007, is free on bail.
Sen was arrested in 2007 shortly after he exposed a massacre of tribal people in the state of Chhattisgarh, where he and his wife Ilina Sen have been active for three decades.
He was charged with sedition and waging war against the state. He was jailed for two years, ordered released on bail in 2009 by the Supreme Court of India, and then tried, convicted and imprisoned again by a court in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in December 2010.
On April 18 the Supreme Court of India ordered the lower court to release him on bail. This does not mean the charges against him have been dropped, only that the sentence has been suspended pending appeal. He was required to surrender his passport and post a substantial cash bond to ensure his appearance at further legal proceedings.
The Supreme Court did not issue a statement explaining its decision. But it did throw doubt on the grounds his conviction was based on. The judges reportedly remarked that possession of literature produced by a banned "Naxalite" organization—in this case the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—does not constitute sedition, nor does sympathy with such an organization constitute a crime. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that membership in a banned organization is not a criminal offense in itself.
A graduate of one of India's leading medical schools, Sen had been working in the state of Chhattisgarh since 1981. He and his wife Ilina Sen trained rural health workers in Adivasi (tribal) and poor peasant areas, organizing rural clinics and promoting campaigns against alcohol abuse and violence against women. Their work substantially reduced the deaths of children due to diarrhea and dehydration, helping to bring down the overall infant mortality rate in the state. This made Sen one of India's most prominent public health specialists.
As a senior member of People's Union for Civil Liberties that works for the tribal poor, he earned the wrath of the Chhattisgarh authorities because of his political advocacy for Adivasis and his vocal opposition to the Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed to fight the Maoist-led revolutionary movement among them.
The CPI (Maoist) is leading a revolutionary upsurge centered in broad rural areas in northern and central India that is now the target of Operation Green Hunt, a military campaign launched by the central government.
Sen's cause was taken up by intellectuals, human rights activists and doctors throughout India and the world. A petition signed by 40 Nobel Prize winners called for his freedom. He was given the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights for his work, and the prestigious international medical journal The Lancet called for his release so that he and his wife could continue their work.
But Sen's co-defendants, Narayan Sanyal (said to be a senior Maoist leader) and Piyush Guha, were not granted bail and remain in prison. Sen is accused of passing letters from the imprisoned 74-year-old Sanyal, whom he visited in his capacity as a physician. The letters were allegedly found on Guha.
On the occasion of his release, the Coalition to Free Binayak Sen said, "We will continue to fight for the release of tribal rights activists and political prisoners and the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere. Falsely accused of offenses under draconian laws, these victims of state power include Dr Sen's co-accused, Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, and others such as Kopa Kunjam, Sukhnath Oyami, Sodi Sambo, Kartam Joga and Asit Kumar Sengupta, to name only a few among the hundreds held as prisoners by the state of Chhattisgarh alone. As recently as March 11th and March 13th, 300 houses were burned, women raped and men killed in the Dantewada district of the state by Koya Commandos (an offshoot of Salwa Judum).
"We reiterate our over-arching demands for which Dr Sen's case has become a symbol."
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 #231, May 1, 2011
The following letter was written by a supporter of Revolution Books. This kind of percolation of ideas around how to get out with the new book, BAsics, from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian is needed and is an example of what this book can inspire. We look forward to hearing from others about ideas for promoting BAsics.
These ideas build on the suggestions already made (in Revolution issue No. 230, April 24, 2011), e.g., 1. Buy a book for a prisoner; 2. Become a volunteer distributor to get BAsics to places where it can be sold; 3. Circulate palm cards and even copies of the book and encourage book clubs, church groups and student groups to order it; and 4. Organize fund-raisers to spread the book widely.
All publicity and graphic materials associated with these activities should use the design elements of BAsics—the book and posters, etc.—i.e., the black, red and yellow color scheme, and the same font and typography of the front cover of the BAsics book. The Ralph Steadman-esque typography of the back cover could also be used selectively in graphic elements (posters, banners, flyers, backdrops, slide projections, etc.) of these activities. The quotes from Bob Avakian projected on screen during the "Celebration" should be duplicated, and many more added, as key elements of these activities and could be used as "works of art" in and of themselves.
Among other activities that could be undertaken:
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Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
We received this article from a reader:
The fundamental immorality and inhumanity of the Mormon Church once again raised its ugly head when in early March the "official university" of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young University (BYU), kicked one of their star players—one of their rare Black players, one of their rare Black students—Brandon Davies, off of the basketball team for violating one of the tenets ("Live a chaste and virtuous life") of the Mormon school's so-called "honor code." In juxtaposition with the story around Brandon Davies, the media has been full of praise for another BYU basketball player, Jimmer Fredette—the latest incarnation of "the great white hope/hype."
Davies, a young adult, was persecuted by the University for having sex—"pre-marital"—with his young adult girlfriend. An intolerable and reactionary moral culture running like a toxic artery through the society was exposed as sports commentator after commentator upheld "BYU's willingness to damage its own short-term athletic interests in the name of its honor code...,"1 pitting this so-called honorable stance against other universities which will break any rule, overlook any transgression, to win at any cost. 2
To get a little taste of the actually horrible morality exhibited in the moral posturing by most in the fraternity of sports writers, witness Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel [see endnote #2 for article citation] gushing over the Dark Ages3 ideology of the Mormon Church: "How easy would it have been for BYU to do what all other big-time institutions of higher learning would do—sweep Brandon Davies' transgression under the rug and keep right on rolling toward a national championship?...This is why BYU advancing to the Sweet 16 is so remarkable and so refreshing. Here's a program that enforced a rule that many believe is archaic, theological extremism." Jim Rome, ESPN commentator, in his nationally syndicated radio show, upheld the basic immorality of BYU, saying, "Credit to [BYU] for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could've made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament." Rome went on to say, "How many programs would've let a player skate for violating a rule right before the (NCAA) tourney, especially if you're looking at your best season ever?... I respect it. I definitely respect that."4
In a refreshing, voice in the wilderness, counterpoint, Boston Globe sportswriter Charlie Pierce disagreed with many of his colleagues who upheld Brandon Davies' punishment as righteous: "This Blog has grown fatigued with the 'rules is rules' argument, as compelling as a lot of This Blog's colleagues may find it.... It should be stated that the 'honor code' that he has been punished for violating really has nothing to do with 'honor' at all. It has to do with conduct, and control, and a revoltingly retrograde attitude toward human sexuality that ought to embarrass any institution of higher learning."5 (Bewilderingly, Pierce then went on to favorably compare the U.S. military's approach to sexuality with that of BYU's. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the U.S. military's historical and present-day practice of rape and religious-based misogyny, and its role as an upholder of oppression of women, within its ranks and all over the world—but this part of Pierce's statements could not be allowed to stand without any comment.)
Apparently New York Knicks basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire put out a twitter feed blasting BYU for suspending Davies; but the next day, likely after pressure coming from somewhere in the NBA hierarchy, Stoudemire completely reversed his stand, tweeting, "I totally understand the actions of BYU, I totally respect the school and the conduct rules. BYU has a great athletic program." This was too much for some of his followers on the social networking site ("That's quite a retreat," said one. "Man you can't just change your stance like that, that's lame. You can't take back what you said about them...," said another.)
Of course missing from the commentary around this, with few exceptions, were two major social issues raised by this action: 1) the historical persecution of Black people and the institutional racism of the Mormon Church; 2) any exposure of the historical repression of women and the patriarchal (male domination in the society and within the family) outlook and historical practice of the Mormon Church which inform and underlie the so-called honor code of chastity.
The history of the BYU honor code seems to be rooted in the 1960s as part of a mission by ultraconservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radicalism of the times. More on this later—because the first question which must be asked is, how can any university named after Brigham Young make any claim to honor? Brigham Young was a major historical leader of the Mormon Church who in his prophecies stated [below quotes are taken from Brigham Young in Extract from Journal of Discourses, 7: p. 290-291, Brigham Young, October 9, 1859]:
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind." The only thing I can say about the above is that anyone knowing this history (which is not hidden) and who does not loudly condemn the man and the school named after him—and still proudly retaining that name—has the morality of a slaveholder and oppressor.
"The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings." (Note: In Mormon biblical interpretation, Cain was Black and a curse was put on him for killing his brother, and all his descendents, Black people, are also cursed.) Given this interpretation that Black people are the line of humans descending from Cain, is not the logic of Brigham Young's words here nothing more than a religious-based rationale for the extermination/genocide of Black people all over the world?
"This [speaking to the "termination" above] was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed." To be clear, according to Brigham Young all humans are servants of God, so here he is speaking to Black people as servants of white people. This is nothing more than a straight-up religious-based argument for slavery, upholding centuries of inhumane oppression of Black people.
This was not just some theological mutterings of a crazed Mormon leader. In 1852, at the behest of Brigham Young (then leader of the Mormon Church and territorial governor of Utah), the Utah legislature passed the "An Act in Relation to Service" law which codified slavery and gave slaveholders in Utah the legal right to own slaves.
What is this rooted in? First of all, as a matter of record it should be noted that this "virginity" clause goes hand in hand with BYU's social coercion that its students get married—the so-called "marriage culture" promoted on its campuses. Approximately 51% of the graduates in BYU's class of 2005 were married. This is compared to a national marriage average among college graduates of 11%.6 Second, this "chaste" honor code tenet and this "culture of marriage" is rooted deeply in the whole Judeo-Christian tradition of the coerced "virginity" of women before marriage, which historically and today is a patriarchal instrument to force women to be subservient to men.7 Third, it is worth noting that the Twilight series of novels is written by Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon and graduate of BYU. It has been noted that Mormon religious themes strongly inform her novels.8 Her novels are steeped in sexual abstinence: the main female character in Twilight, Bella, is an essentially dependent and powerless "heroine" in an abusive, unhealthy relationship with a vampire.9 Fourth, the particular history of the Mormon Church is that it is rooted in polygamy (a marriage in which one person has multiple spouses) and more specifically polygyny—where a man has more than one wife. Polygamy was fervently fought for by Mormon leaders; this is made very clear in the following from a prominent Mormon elder in the 1800s [from Journal of Discourses 7:226, Orson Pratt, August 14, 1859]:
"Where can you put your finger on a law passed by the American Congress which deprives a man of the rights guaranteed to him relative to the government of his family, no matter whether he takes one wife or many? Undertake to deprive the people of this one domestic institution, and you can, upon the same principle, deprive them of all others.
"Imprison the polygamist for having more than one wife, and you have the same right to imprison a man for having more than one child, or to punish the slaveholder for having more than one slave. The same Constitution [referencing the U.S. Constitution in 1859] that protects the latter [speaking of slavery] also protects the former."
This whole package, which one sees here, is an expression of a religion which is aggressively asserting a very repressive patriarchy as well as upholding other horrific forms of oppression. While the mainstream Mormon Church does not today officially sanction polygamy, it is well known that various Mormon sects still practice this, and the main Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has never repudiated the original underlying theological tenets of polygamy. It is true that in the late 1800s, as a pre-condition to Utah's becoming a state, the Mormons had to repudiate the practice and codification in Utah law of polygamy (some Mormon elder had a talk with god, who told him to give up polygamy!). But this fact notwithstanding, Mormons still uphold and revere the two main leaders of the church, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—both of whom were proselytizers for polygamy and had multiple wives themselves.
Of course, those of the Mormon Church and their apologists will say that this is "history" and that Mormon doctrine is more enlightened these days. Bullshit! It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail exposing the lie of such contentions, but if in fact Mormons today are more enlightened, then the question comes down to this: If Mormons no longer think this way, then why do they still uphold Brigham Young, the successor to the founder of the religion (Joseph Smith) as a central leader of their religion? Why have they not thoroughly repudiated him? Why is their university named after this malevolent oppressor?
It seems that BYU's honor code, as now crafted and enforced, was part of a quest during the 1960s by ultra-conservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radical thinking and upheaval sweeping college campuses during that period. Wilkinson wanted to "make BYU a national resource for patriotic anti-communism" and to "root out problem students," recall historians Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel. This honor code has been used to bait and target gays and liberals and to shut down student anti-war protests. Clerical leaders serving BYU student congregations have been expected to report content from private confession and counseling interactions to University authorities.10
"Too Black"—Get Back!
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black"—that is, in one way or another show their subordination to the system, these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord"—are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e., show any disrespect or rebelliousness, and you will get shot down.
Think of Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay), who became close with Black nationalists like Malcolm X and who refused to be drafted into the imperialist army, declaring he had no quarrel with the "Viet Cong" (that is, the Vietnamese people's army fighting for national liberation against the U.S.). After he was convicted of draft evasion, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and received scorn from most of the mainstream media and sports hacks (Howard Cosell being a notable exception). Jack Olsen, writing years later in Sports Illustrated, recalled how "The noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war. TV and radio commentators, little old ladies..., bookmakers and parish priests, armchair strategists at the Pentagon and politicians all over the place joined in a crescendo of get-Cassius clamor."
Think of one of the greatest basketball players ever, Connie Hawkins, who gave expression in a very exciting way to the "City Game" back in the day (beginning in the late 1950s). Because he associated with some people involved in a point shaving case, he was kicked off his University of Iowa team (1961) as a freshman and then was unofficially blacklisted (the NBA refused to draft him) before being officially banned from the NBA in 1966. (During this time he was blacklisted and banned, Hawkins did play for smaller leagues such as the American Basketball Association. Hawkins fought the NBA ban, and finally did get to play in the NBA for 7 years.)
Think of Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, giving the Black power salute from the victory stand in the 1968 Olympics and then getting kicked out of the Olympic Village by the U.S. Olympic Committee and greeted "back home" by the likes of Brent Musburger, who called them "black-skinned storm troopers." For years they were blacklisted, both of them had problems making a living, while Musburger (who for years refused to call Muhammad Ali by his chosen Muslim name) has never even been criticized, let alone vilified, by the sports establishment, and is still today a prominent sports announcer.
Why is it that someone like Latrell Sprewell, then with the Golden State Warriors, attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during a 1997 practice and was immediately fined (losing millions in salary) and then suspended for a year, while Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight were well known for hitting players, but went for years without being punished (both were for a long time held up as models of success and icons, and were only forced out from the universities where they coached for years when their winning ways started to wane)?
Why is it Barry Bonds, who along with most of the sluggers of his time is alleged to have taken some kind of steroid or growth hormone, is one of the most harassed and hounded athletes in this country, while Ty Cobb, a known racist and all-around asshole, is still feted as a "baseball great"?
Jimmer Fredette, who was the BYU basketball team's star player this year, has been honored by many as college basketball player of the year. Look, Fredette can play basketball. He has developed the coordination and skill of a "shooter" and along with this has developed a style of play which allows him to drive to the basket and make all kinds of shots from very weird and unconventional angles. At the same time, he seems to have a reputation for not being the greatest defender, and it is not clear how well he will do against NBA-level competition where the particular style he has evolved will be challenged every game by more athletic competition than he faced in his college contests.
That being said, the point here is not about Fredette the basketball player, but about "Jimmer" and the great white hope/hype which has been created around him. He has hands down become the "darling" of the sports media: Teams that play BYU are "Jimmered"—his personal biography has been blasted out as "unique and special" (he was groomed from a very early age for basketball by his father and brother, and his mom nicknamed him "Jimmer," and he's a Mormon—wow!...Oh, and most important, he's a white religious boy!). There are YouTube videos of him all over the place. It goes on and on. Even when he performs poorly, as he did when BYU lost to Florida in the NCAA round of 16, he is praised and praised. In this game against a team which was not highly ranked but did have much more athletic players than Fredette normally faces, Fredette scored 32 points, but took 29 shots to do it (and was 3-for-15 from the 3-point arc) and committed six turnovers. Still he was feted. But as Colin Cowherd of ESPN notes, calling out his colleagues in the sports broadcasting "fraternity": "If Allen Iverson gave you that night, you'd call him a ballhog. Jimmer gives you that night? You somehow find a way to call it magical."
This last comment gets to the point of all of this. Why is it that Allen Iverson, who is Black and clearly has been a great college and NBA basketball player, is often a target of derision, both as a basketball player and as a person, while white players who excel rarely receive this treatment and more often are praised and hyped? I think that there are two major reasons: 1) the fact remains that "America," that is, the dominant white supremacist culture in this country, has always done its best to insult and undermine the achievements and character of Black athletes (especially those who in one way or other more represent the inner city in their "game" and swagger), while always on the prowl for the next great white hope; 2) Especially today, white religious fundamentalist athletes who excel are literally turned into "demigods" by the media and by a white Christian segment of this country.
While Black athletes, the majority of whom have a much more dramatic and hard life story than Jimmer Fredette (or football player Tim Tebow), are continually attacked for not being the correct role model types, maybe for just hanging out with the folks they grew up with in the "bantustans of America," white Christian fundamentalist athletes are called heroes for upholding and promoting Dark Ages religious ideologies and religious ruling class institutions which are rife with the most horrific forms of oppression and repression.
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black" and in one way or another show their subordination to the system (these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord") are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e. show any disrespect for constituted authority and any rebelliousness, and you will get shot down. [See sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"]
Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be
Anyone who follows basketball has a sense of how the "City Game" style of Black basketball, which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the '50s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down, has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), that is, meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook.
It is beyond the scope of this article to get deeply into this, but here is a simple breakdown of the two types of games and what is at stake:
The "City Game" style develops offense and defense based on unleashing the talent, athleticism, individual uniqueness and creativity of the individuals playing, meshing all of this into a team; whereas the style favored and promoted by the powers-that-be is one which "molds"/subordinates players' talent and athleticism to fit into a "system" of offense and defense.
One style gives reign to the defiant attitude of Black youth, and the other style is meant to suppress this, and as part of this, to better showcase the type of white athlete (not necessarily all white athletes) who fares better in the more controlled or engineered style of basketball—which represents a pathetic attempt to establish white supremacy in basketball. Coaches like Bobby Knight (University of Indiana) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University) excel at this "suppression" type basketball, and this is the reason they are so feted in the basketball "establishment."
And the sports establishment closes ranks very quickly if anyone dares to expose even aspects of people like Knight or Krzyzewski. Recently, Jalen Rose, now a basketball commentator and in the early 1990s a star player on one of the most influential basketball teams in college history, University of Michigan's "Fab Five," made some critical remarks about the Duke program. The "Fab Five" was the starting lineup of five freshmen recruited mainly from the inner city, who embodied the "City Game" style; in contrast to Duke, which in its style of play and recruiting is known to ooze establishment entitlement and respectability. Anyone with any honesty would have deeply considered and reflected on these comments, given the history of how institutional racism is played out in sports. But no, both Grant Hill (a Black player who played for Duke in the '90s and is now in the NBA) and Mike Krzyzewski issued very snarky, mean-spirited comments (Hill actually responded in a New York Times op-ed article). NCAA basketball announcer Jim Nantz disrupted his play-by-play of the recent Duke/Michigan NCAA Tournament game to actually refer to the "Fab Five" as the "Fabricated Five" and to blame them for ruining the Michigan basketball program (due to a scandal involving pay-offs to one or more members of the "Fab Five," a practice which is widespread in college sports—but is very selectively clamped down on). The suggestion that the "Fab Five" was anything but one of the most exciting college basketball teams, which had tremendous influence on young players and the game (something which is pretty universally acknowledged), only confirms how important it is to the powers-that-be to slander this style of play and to uphold people and institutions which play a role in opposing and in different ways beating back the "City Game" style and what that represents.
It is obviously harder and takes a deeper understanding of basketball and the social forces involved to coach the "City Game," but coaches who have excelled at this, such as Guy Lewis (University of Houston where his "Phi Slamma Jamma" teams of the early 1980s became famous), Nolan Richardson (whose University of Arkansas men's team won the NCAA championship in 1994), or Jerry Tarkanian (who coached the University of Las Vegas men's team to the NCAA championship in 1990), to name a few, are not feted as they deserve to be, and in fact are often maligned because in essence they are being punished for unleashing a certain style of game and in so doing giving initiative to what this "City Game" represents in society.
And all of this has been very concentrated in college basketball, where the "city game" style of Black basketball—which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the 1950s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down—has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), or meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook. [See sidebar "Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be"]
But let's face it, the real hero treatment is bestowed on white boy athletes coming out of and assertively promoting fundamentalist religious backgrounds and viewpoints. There is a direct line to be drawn between the sports establishment's "semper fi"-like acclamation for BYU's "honor coding" of Brandon Davies and its overwhelming gushing over Jimmer Fredette. Or look at the great acclaim bestowed on the Christian fascist football player Tim Tebow (known for exhibiting bible quotes under his eyes). How did the sports establishment react to Tebow's appearing in a reactionary anti-abortion ad in the 2010 Super Bowl? This was typified by ESPN.com sports columnist Jemele Hill: "Tebow's decision to appear in this ad should be considered just as courageous as Muhammad Ali's decision to not enter the draft, or Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 summer Olympics."11 Such a statement is both ridiculous and outrageous, and turns reality upside down: these Black athletes were in revolt against the oppression enforced by the prevailing ruling class structure and its political culture; Tebow's ad was in the service of the oppression of women by this same ruling class and in the service of the ideological expressions of this by reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces which have played the most atrocious role in decreeing and enforcing the most egregious forms of oppression of, and domination over, women. Ali, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy price [see sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"), exacted by the same ruling establishment which they so courageously stood up against; whereas for Tim Tebow, his actions have raised his "stock" among the same ruling establishment. These three Black athletes lost their livelihood (and Ali was handed a felony conviction for refusing to enter the U.S. military, faced years in jail as a result, and was driven out of boxing for many years, when he was in his prime, before his conviction was finally overturned), whereas Tim Tebow's career continues to flourish and be promoted. Which side are you on, Hill, which side are you on?!
While all of this is outrageous and makes it hard to even take a breath in the putrid and revolting cultural atmosphere of this country, revolutionaries and those who want to change all of this must take note: The phenomena spoken to in this article have a tremendous social impact in relation to revolution and counter-revolution, which those building a movement for revolution must take into account. The fascist, jingoistic, white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist social base in this country is pumped up by the ruling class—or powerful sections of that ruling class—while the oppressed, and any who dare to exhibit any of the qualities of non-conformity and rebellion which reflect resistance to oppression—are continually told they are immoral, no good, have no right to voice their resistance in any form. All this is yet another manifestation of the fact that, as Bob Avakian has emphasized, there is howling need for "a radical revolt against a revolting culture," which those of us who understand the profound need for revolution against this whole system must approach and foster as part of building a movement for that revolution.12
1. Eamonn Brennan, March 24, 2011, ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [back]
2. See Mike Bianchi, Sports Commentary, Orlando Sentinel, March 23, 2011 [back]
3. End of 400 to 1000 AD when church rule and repression literally kept humanity in the dark as to understanding the world in its reality, thus holding back people's ability to transform the world and themselves. [back]
4. Quoted in Deseret News, March 5, 2011. [back]
5. See Charles P. Pierce Blog on Boston Globe website, March 4, 2011 [back]
6. Clark, Natalie (2005-10-03). "BYU marriage rates higher than national average." Daily Universe. BYU. http://nn.byu.edu/story.cfm/56823. [back]
7. For a thoroughgoing and materialist understanding of this fact, refer to Bob Avakian's discussion of this in Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World (Insight Press, 2008). [back]
8. See Time magazine, Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008, "Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?" By Lev Grossman [back]
9. See "The Twilight Books: Dear Bella," Revolution #176, September 13, 2009, revcom.us/a/176/twilight-en.html [back]
10. "The Dark Side of BYU's Honor Code" by Joanna Brooks, March 15, 2011, online at ReligionDispatches.org [back]
11. "Laud the Courage in Tim Tebow's Stand," ESPN.com, February 2, 2010 [back]
12. Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon. Part 2: Building the Movement for Revolution," at revcom.us/avakian [back]
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