Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
It slices and zigzags through 400 miles of the West Bank four times longer than the Berlin Wall. It carves up an area that is home to two-and-a-half-million Palestinians.
It towers as high as 25 feet into the air. It is built of thick gray concrete, topped with prison-style watchtowers, electronic sensors, thermal imaging devices and video cameras, and sniper towers. It cuts off neighbors from neighbors, farmers from their plots, people from schools, hospitals or jobs. It is patrolled by occupying soldiers and monitored by unmanned aerial drones which enforce a 75-foot "no go" zone against the civilian population. It protects highly armed religious fanatic illegal settlers.
It is The Wall—what Palestinians correctly call Israel's Apartheid Wall, invoking the brutal segregation that was enforced by the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. It protects and enforces the rule of a country built on land stolen from the Palestinians, that serves a unique and terrible role as a hit man and enforcer for oppression—within the Middle East and beyond.
In all the mainstream news coverage of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to the U.S., the reality of The Wall is being covered over, denied, and lied about.
At 5 am on August 21, 2003, 15 bulldozers, accompanied by large numbers of Israeli troops, stormed the Palestinian village of Nazlat and demolished more than 100 shops and five homes to make way for The Wall. They destroyed half the shops in the village market, which had served as a commercial center for the entire region in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (See "Largest demolition in years: Israel destroys entire commercial market in one day," The Palestinian Environment NGO Network (PENGON) Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.)
The Wall has been accurately dubbed Israel's Apartheid Wall because it enforces a vicious two-tier society that defines every aspect of life in Israel-occupied Palestine—from where one can drive and go to school, to whether or not one can get medical care. One account notes, "regular reports of the deaths of gravely ill people in ambulances detained at checkpoints while drivers and paramedics are interrogated, searched, threatened, humiliated and assaulted. Wounded men are taken from ambulances at checkpoints and sent directly to prison. There have been cases where ambulance drivers have been forced to act as a human shield against stone throwers. [Editors' note: for decades Palestinian protesters have thrown stones at the Israeli military, taking on highly armed Israeli troops who fire live bullets.] On other occasions Israeli soldiers have commandeered ambulances as transport. Ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society continue to be hit by IDF [Israeli Defense Force] gunfire." (palestinemonitor.org)
The Wall is an icon, a symbol and concentration of the imprisonment of an entire people whose land has been stolen, and whose every protest is met with prisons and guns. (See center spread of this issue of Revolution.) And in the way that The Wall isolates and cuts off a people, in the way it reinforces the dehumanization and degradation of a people, in the way it is combined with detention and violent repression, it is all too reminiscent of the walled-off ghettos in which the Nazis confined the Jews in Eastern Europe.
Israel is built on the villages, farms, and bones of the Palestinian people, who, within its borders and in exile, have never submitted to having their homeland stolen from them. Because of that, Israel maintains an aggressive, ever-expanding reign of brutality and terror. The Wall is a key element in enforcing all that.
Over 80 percent of the length of The Wall snakes through and surrounds major Palestinian communities. As such, The Wall is being used to expand territory seized by Israel, and to make life untenable for and to drive out the Palestinian population.
Hand in hand with The Wall, Israel has encouraged settlers from outside of and within Israel to carve out and occupy regions in the West Bank. These fortified settler communities, combined with militarized buffer zones, settler-only highways and The Wall have made nearly 40 percent of the West Bank inaccessible to Palestinians, strangling Palestinian agriculture and commerce. (Statistics: Palestine Monitor)
The existence of the state of Israel casts a terrible shadow over the entire Middle East. Israel has consistently arrogated for itself the "right" to invade, bomb, blockade, carry out assassinations within, and generally terrorize people in countries and territories beyond, its formal borders. Israel has been in a near constant state of war with its "neighbors" since its founding—invading Lebanon, for example, in 1978 to drive out Palestinian resistance forces; again in 1982, when Israel orchestrated the massacre of thousands of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; again, from 1982-2000; and again in 2006.
And even beyond that, as is briefly outlined in the center spread of the current issue of Revolution, Israel serves as an attack dog for the interests of U.S. imperialism throughout the whole world—from its backing of the apartheid regime in South Africa to its central role in the genocidal slaughter of almost 200,000 Guatemalan peasants, to its ominous and imposing nuclear arsenal. For this reason, the United States, from the beginning of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, has sternly lectured the peoples of the region that support for Israel is a non-negotiable criterion for whether or not new regimes will be considered acceptable to the U.S. —sending a message that any new regime had better follow those rules... or else.
Until this past week, at least, the nature and role of Israel was far too lost in the very positive uprisings that have wracked the Middle East and North Africa. But there is no "end run" around the presence of Israel from the perspective of liberating the people of the region or the world. The fact, for example, that the "new" Egyptian regime has continued the shameful betrayal of the Palestinians, and that it attacked, detained, and arrested protesters at the Israeli embassy on May 15, is a measure of how little has yet changed overall in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak.
In a very inspiring development, on May 15 tens of thousands of protesters converged on, and in some cases heroically crossed the borders of Israel from Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza to commemorate the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing on which Israel was founded in 1948) with courageous protest. Israeli troops opened fire on these unarmed protesters, killing at least a dozen on the Lebanon, Gaza, and Syrian borders.
Writing about the confrontation at the Lebanese border, where at least 10 people were killed by Israeli forces, a participant said:
"I grew up in Lebanon during the civil war and the Israeli occupation of the south. During that time a revolutionary song by Julia Butros, 'Wayn al-Malayeen?' (Where are the millions?), was continually heard. But as a child I never understood what she meant when she sang 'Where are the millions? Where are the Arab people?'.... Last Sunday, on the way to the border, the bus driver played that song. In light of the Arab revolutions that are happening at the moment, millions of Arabs have taken to the streets to demand their freedom, to demand their rights and to speak out for the first time (at least since I have been alive). On May 15, the same millions took to the streets, only this time to demand the liberation of Palestine: their freedom, their right." ("Thousands at the border," by Moe Ali Nayel, The Electronic Intifada, May 17, 2011)
In the courageous mobilizations on the borders of Israel, one could see a seed of "the millions," the potential strength of the people of the world. And in those protests, and the unprecedented uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, one can see how yesterday's "unchallengeable" order can indeed be challenged—even as the final outcome of these struggles and uprisings is yet to be written.
For there to be real change in the region, there must be leadership that is based on, and gives people, a deep understanding of the sources of oppression, and a real solution. An important part of that challenge is to give people a full understanding of the historic and present day role of Israel as an extremely important "prop" and enforcer of U.S. imperialist domination of people throughout the region (and the world). Israel is not somehow separate from the oppression of the masses of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Just the opposite is true: The oppression of the Palestinians is central to the whole setup that maintains the peoples of the region (and beyond) in poverty and brutal repression. And one essential criterion for assessing the aims and accomplishments of the uprisings in the region is the degree to which they align with and genuinely come to the aid of the Palestinian people.
A commentary in Revolution on The Wall that the United States is building on the Mexican border, observed: "There is nothing sacred or permanent, and nothing worth respecting, about the present border between the U.S. and Mexico!"
And the point was made that, "During the Cold War of the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the intense contention (including threat of nuclear war) in that period between the rival blocs of imperialist gangsters headed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. As a representative of the U.S. rulers, Reagan threw out a challenge to the head of the Soviets: 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' A few years later, the U.S. imperialists ended up victorious in that clash between two imperialist superpowers.
"From a diametrically opposite class standpoint and with a completely different historical mission, the revolutionary proletariat declares in the face of the deadly anti-immigrant offensive of Bush and his class: 'Tear Down That Wall!'"
The Apartheid Wall erected by Israel, and the continuing and intensifying oppression of the Palestinian people that it expresses and stands for, is not "sacred" or permanent either. All that stands on the wrong side of morality, and the wrong side of history. And from the perspective of getting to a world without exploitation and oppression, the people of the world must declare: Mr. Netanyahu, Tear Down That Wall!
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Much is being made of the fact that in his May 18 speech on the Middle East, Barack Obama said, "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."
Immediately after Obama's speech, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly expressed outrage and reminded Obama that successive U.S. administrations, Democrat and Republican, have not called for Israel to withdraw from territory beyond "the 1967 lines."
Obama's statement does illustrate tension between the U.S. and Israel. But it is critical to dispel dangerous illusions about the nature and potential in those tensions. They are within a framework of a highly interdependent relationship between U.S. imperialism and Israel. And there is no real justice of any kind for the Palestinians within the confines of what tension does exist between the U.S. and Israel, or within the U.S. ruling class over Israel policy.
For starters, the modifier "with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," means that whatever "authority" is recognized by the U.S. and Israel to supposedly represent the Palestinians is free to be bullied and bribed into giving up territory Israel wants in exchange for territory Israel might deem better handed over to this U.S./Israel-approved Palestinian authority.
Beyond that, "the 1967 line" refers to Palestinian territory seized by Israel through war. There would be nothing just about Israel maintaining control over territory up to that line, even if an Israeli withdrawal to that line occurred.
And Israel, as is noted elsewhere in this issue, has consistently arrogated for itself the "right" to invade, bomb, blockade, carry out assassinations within, and generally terrorize people in countries and territories beyond, its formal borders, including the Palestinian Authority-administered West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. In 2009-2010, Israel massacred over a thousand people in a devastating one-sided "war" on Gaza.
Obama endorsed this whole situation in his speech. Immediately after his reference to the "1967 line," he said: "As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself—by itself—against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated."
And Obama reiterated that as a bottom line for any negotiations, "Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met."
In short, even as there are real tensions over how to maintain Israel and its oppression of the Palestinians, there is agreement between every significant figure in the U.S. ruling class and the rulers of Israel that the present-day status quo, the state of Israel sitting on the blood and bones of displaced Palestinians, enforced by overwhelming Israeli military force, must continue.
As we wrote in our special issue on Israel, "It has not proven easy for the U.S. to broker a settlement that would integrate the Palestinians into some semblance of a stable situation, and, at the same time, satisfy what the Israelis see as their need for unchallenged domination and a thoroughly Zionist state. This has remained a sore point in the region and around the world, and as Israel resorts to more and more extreme measures to lock down the Palestinians, this contradiction becomes sharper.
"And yet, in profound ways, the U.S has not only stuck by Israel—it is stuck with Israel. Despite real problems and even significant differences at times, the unique 'strategic relationship' between the U.S. and Israel continues because, from the perspective of U.S. imperialism, there is no real alternative on the chessboard in terms of the role Israel plays in the Middle East and throughout the world." (Revolution #213, October 10, 2010)
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
May 15 is commemorated as the anniversary of the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that was accomplished through Zionist massacres and terror. This year, the Nakba was marked with unprecedented protests by thousands of Palestinians and others on four of Israel's borders. The Israeli military killed at least a dozen of these courageous unarmed protesters.
In the United States, hardly anyone has even heard of the Nakba. By December 1947, the Zionist settlers in what is now Israel began mass expulsions of Palestinians. This wave of terror (Nakba is Arabic for "catastrophe") continued into the early months of 1949. During the Nakba almost a million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured and killed (see The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappé). Hundreds of villages were destroyed, and given Hebrew names. On the blood and bones of such massacres, the state of Israel was built.
The Nakba is not "ancient" or even just "modern history." It frames the daily life of every Palestinian today. The flurry of activity between Israel and the U.S. is the latest saga in what is called a "peace process." But that "peace process," and its rhetoric of "two-state solutions" and "compromises on both sides" covers up and essentially turns upside down the basic questions of justice and injustice, right and wrong. Its underlying assumptions are the legitimacy of a Zionist state, and the permanent removal of the Palestinian people from their country. It is based on the assumption that the state of Israel is basically one of the "good guys" in the world, at least for everyone but the Palestinians. That is profoundly not the case.
Israel has been a catastrophe for the Palestinian people. They have suffered an all-out murderous war against them in which hundreds of Palestinian villages have been obliterated and massacres of civilian populations have taken place. They have been exiled from their homeland and subjected to an attempt to write their very national existence as a people and culture out of existence. For generations they have been penned in and confined in refugee camps, living under military occupation in the few territories that they managed at first to hold onto. They face constant humiliation, daily aggression and murder, savage political repression and torture, and periodic murderous military assaults.
Israel has been a catastrophe for the people of the world. Look up Israel's "special relationship" with apartheid South Africa when that openly racist regime was isolated and exposed. Look up the role of Israel in the "dirty war" of terror waged by Argentina's fascist (and virulently anti-Semitic) junta against radicals and dissidents from 1976 to 1983. Or Israel's role in backing the Shah of Iran. Or look up what happened in Guatemala, from 1978 to 1984 when the Christian fundamentalist butcher Ríos Montt killed at least 180,000 Mayan peasants. Villagers were beheaded, systematically raped, pregnant women were slaughtered, and Mayan children were sold or given as slaves to functionaries of the fascist Guatemalan regime. In 1982, as exposures of these massacres were coming to light, the New York Times reported that U.S. "Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. prompted Israel to do more in Guatemala." Israel played an essential and central role in the epic slaughter—supplying transport to remote villages, war planes, military training, "advisors," and 10,000 Uzis. In 1982, under the direction of the U.S. military, Israeli commanders devised and helped implement a scorched earth policy (burn all, kill all) for the Guatemalan highlands.
From 1981 to 2004, the U.S. sent $1.8 billion a year in military support to Israel; since 2004 that number has been raised to $2.4 billion. Part of the bargain is that the U.S. often utilizes Israeli military and intelligence as a proxy to distance itself from some of its most odious and barbaric crimes around the world.
Israel has been a catastrophe for Jewish people. The Holocaust was one of the great crimes of modern history. "Never Again" should mean that "never again shall it be allowed that crimes against humanity can go on and people will be able to plead ignorance or impotence as an excuse for doing nothing to stop those crimes." Instead, Zionism and the state of Israel express and are used to indoctrinate and enlist Jewish people in the outlook of "never again will my people be fucked over, and anything that is justified as preventing that is allowable." There is a world of moral difference between those two outlooks.
The U.S. & Israel: Shared Values, Common Interests. Whenever you hear representatives of the U.S. ruling class talk about Israel, you will always hear them invoke the "special relationship" and "shared values" between the United States and Israel. One of the "shared values" that they don't mention is that both countries were founded on the basis of ethnic cleansing, and in the case of the USA the genocide of the indigenous peoples. And the ongoing subjugation of oppressed peoples remains foundational to both societies. Today, the essence of the "shared values" and "common interests" of the U.S. and Israel is maintaining the domination of U.S. imperialism over a world of sweatshops and environmental disaster, poverty and prostitution, torture, genocide, and unjust wars.
The interests of the vast majority of the people of the world—of all nationalities and religions—do not lie with the imperialist system, with the USA at the head of it, and Israel as a key enforcer. The interests of the vast majority, and ultimately of all humanity, can only be served through overthrowing that system.
See online resources and documentation at revcom.us/israel... and/or look up the assertions here yourself.
After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.
Bob Avakian, BAsics 5:12
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
This issue of Revolution hits the streets and Internet on Monday, May 23, the first day of the 30-30+100 Plan—the plan to raise $30,000 in 30 days, plus 100 new sustainers for Revolution newspaper. Raising this money is not only necessary, but a real opportunity to reconnect with people who have contributed before and to involve many more people in the revolution. And the projects which will be funded are essential to building the movement for revolution:
(For more on the 30-30+100 plan and these projects, see "$30,000 in 30 days, plus 100 new sustainers for Revolution newspaper... Changing the world with the BAsics" in issue #232.)
Think about all the people who are so upset about the state of the world—who need to know that things don't have to be this way, who need to know there is a leader, Bob Avakian, and a party that has a strategy for making revolution. 30-30+100 is an opportunity to connect with such people, to build long-term ties and relationships, to give people a very concrete and important way they can be part of the movement for revolution.
A very important part of 30-30+100 is the establishment of ongoing financial support for Revolution newspaper. How important is this? The truth of the matter is, we cannot make revolution without such a paper. This is how the RCP's statement "On the Strategy for Revolution" describes the indispensable role of Revolution:
"This [newspaper] plays a pivotal role in carrying out our strategy. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand and act to radically change the world....It gives people a living picture and scientific analysis of what is going on in the world, and why....It exposes the true nature of this system, and shows how major events in society and the world are concentrations of the basic contradictions of this oppressive and putrid system....It brings alive the need and possibility for revolution and a whole new society and world....It heightens the ability of growing numbers of people, in all parts of this country, to act politically in a unified way, and to wrestle with and help find solutions to the problems of our movement, on the basis of a growing revolutionary consciousness....It is the key instrument in developing an organized political network, among the most oppressed and other sections of the people, which can have a growing impact on the political scene and the society (and the world) as a whole, building up the forces of revolution and influencing ever broader numbers of people....It provides a foundation and a means for extending the 'reach' of the revolutionary movement and building up bases for this movement—in neighborhoods, where people work and go to school, and wherever people come together—and especially where they resist and rebel against this system."
This week, we'd like to talk with you about the effort to sustain Revolution.
Revolution newspaper is the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the movement we are building for revolution. It plays a crucial role in building up the forces for revolution and influencing ever broader numbers of people. But the reality is that this newspaper cannot play this crucial role without a solid and growing base of financial support. This newspaper now operates on an amazingly limited budget, but it does have to meet its overhead expenses each month, support reporters, translation work, and more. And it must expand, including by completing the process of transforming the revcom.us website so that it can reach people hungry for its content around the entire U.S. and all over the world. This kind of financial support does not yet exist—and it is an urgent need.
"On the Strategy for Revolution" provides an important orientation:
"For those who have hungered for, who have dreamed of, a whole different world, without the madness and torment of what this system brings every day...those who have dared to hope that such a world could be possible...and even those who, up to now, would like to see this, but have accepted that this could never happen...there is a place and a role, a need and a means, for thousands now and ultimately millions to contribute to building this movement for revolution, in many different ways, big and small—with ideas and with practical involvement, with support, and with questions and criticisms."
This is the approach we need to apply in raising funds in this drive, including for Revolution. People—from all corners of society, with different means, and with different levels of agreement—can actually fulfill their desire to make a difference, to have a meaningful impact on the world by contributing. And sustaining this paper is a vital way people can be a part of the movement for revolution, whether you are actively building the movement for revolution or checking it out or following it in different ways or even if donating money is the only thing you do.
Everyone who reads Revolution should become a sustainer. And there are many more people in society who don't yet know about this paper—but would appreciate it. Revolution needs sustainers on all levels and with different means. A movement of people making monthly contributions, whatever their ability is. A half-dozen people who live in the projects each contributing $5 or even $2 a month. Or a group of people holding a monthly fundraising potluck. A well-known professional or artist contributing $100 or $50 a month. Teachers and students taking up monthly collections among their colleagues. These and many other creative forms of sustaining Revolution newspaper must be unleashed all over the place. It is a challenge—and it should be a lot of fun! Regularly contributing to this newspaper, and often at great sacrifice, is precious to our movement. And not only will this guarantee the continued publication of this paper, it will build up a strong financial and political base for Revolution and actually can contribute to fostering a broader culture of radical opposition.
Sustaining is an important task for circles organized around the paper—including developing ways to collect money every month and turn it in. And we should go out among friends, relatives and coworkers, find creative ways to introduce people to this paper, get donations on the spot and sign up sustainers.
Revolution must blossom as a forum for debate, discussion and questions. And we want to hear from you! Send in lots of correspondence and ideas and suggestions, testimonials about why people are donating (to any or all of the projects), and share positive and negative lessons. When you are out in the world, taking this fund drive out broadly to people on campuses and in neighborhoods, take pictures! And send them to Revolution.
We should heartily welcome this bold 30-30+100 plan because it really is a great opportunity to discuss, debate and work with all kinds of people. Many more people will get connected to the revolutionary leadership of Bob Avakian. The readership of Revolution will grow, and importantly its continued publication and the spread of its influence will be made possible. And this drive will be an advance in the process of accumulating forces for revolution. All this adds up to making it possible to print the paper, but also building up a movement around the paper.
|People can get fundraising materials at revcom.us and we will also be posting letters and commentary related to the 30-30+100 plan. Revolution newspaper (including at revcom.us) will be an important organizing center during this 30-day effort. And we need everyone to be writing in regularly with ideas, suggestions, experiences and questions.|
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
From a reader
In thinking about the 30-30+100 drive, it is important to see this in light of the campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." This 30-30+100 drive also ties in with one of the deepest questions of the Cultural Revolution in our Party—whether we are serious about making revolution, or whether we are going to drift into (and eventually take up and defend) the spontaneous revisionist path of "movement as an alternate lifestyle" that might call itself revolutionary, but is NOT in fact preparing for revolution in everything it does.
The funds being raised in this drive are all about being able to actually carry forward on the projects being targeted in this drive—publicizing BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian; getting that book into the hands of thousands of prisoners; producing a film of the really inspiring April 11 cultural event on the publication of BAsics; and sustaining Revolution, the voice of the RCP. These funding targets are all crucial—if very beginning—objectives to meet.
The overall goals of the "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" campaign focus on letting people very broadly know about this revolution and what it's all about; making Bob Avakian, and his leadership and work, known to millions and much more of a point of reference in society; and bringing forward new cores of communists and revolutionaries. BAsics is a major instrument in every dimension of that. We are really just beginning to learn of the potential impact of this book. Everything we can do to get this out there—most all of which requires money—will make a difference.
With the newspaper, the goal of over 100 new sustainers will not only enable the paper to keep coming out but to further and more deeply fulfill its mission as "the key instrument in developing an organized political network, among the most oppressed and other sections of the people, which can have a growing impact on the political scene and the society (and the world) as a whole, building up the forces of revolution and influencing ever broader numbers of people" (to quote the Party's statement, "On the Strategy for Revolution").
This drive also has a larger dimension. When we raise funds for these specific projects, we also build the movement for revolution. We are giving people a way—a very important way—to be part of this movement. We are organizing people, now, to be part of changing the whole world.
We need, right now, to have many comrades and supporters of the Party going to people with BAsics, letting them see the brochures on what is envisioned with the different projects, and giving them ways to support and be part of this effort. And this should not be a one-shot deal; with those who donate, we should be getting back to them as they "live with" BAsics, and perhaps get deeper into BA's work, and we should definitely be both learning from their responses and letting them know how things are developing and what their donations are helping to bring into being.
We also need, right now, to have many comrades and supporters of the Party winning people to sustain the newspaper. And then once people have been won to sustain, revolutionaries need to be going to them and talking with them, consistently, listening well to what they say and learning from them, improving our paper as we learn from them, and working with them to figure out further ways that they can contribute... while fully valuing the contributions that they make through their activity in sustaining.
To come at it a little differently, one night a few years ago I was watching Pat Robertson on TV—the reactionary Christian fascist preacher who runs the Christian Broadcasting Network. Robertson was pitching to his social base to donate, and especially directing his pitch to those with very little income—saying that even those who can only give 5 or 10 dollars a month are doing their part of get Bibles into Arab countries, or whatever other reactionary notions he was promoting at the time—"and wouldn't that be worth the sacrifice of a few cups of coffee a month?" Why? Because he needed the money? Yes, in one sense; but Robertson gets serious backing from the bourgeoisie and does not really have to raise money from the masses in the same way that revolutionaries do. But Robertson does see the importance of building up an organized, committed base to his reactionary movement, one that feels that they are part of what these Christian fascists are trying to do and one that is being prepared for days to come.
Now our aims and objectives are diametrically opposed to Robertson's—for one thing, we are engaging people to think critically and act consciously to bring in a whole new and far better world, as opposed to being religious robots set on reinforcing and intensifying oppressive social relations. But shouldn't we be at least as serious as these reactionary fascists? And again—can we say we are really serious if we are NOT paying at least as much attention to organizing people to concretely support and participate in the revolutionary movement on whatever level they can, as these criminals like Robertson do to line up people for reaction?
It's important for us to understand this: when people give for the first time, we are beginning a relationship with them. This relationship should be rich and multidimensional even as it ultimately has everything to do with accumulating forces for revolution. As they continue to support these kinds of projects and efforts, the relationship should be deepening. Comrades and supporters who win people to sustain should consistently work with these new sustainers, learning more (and helping the Party to learn more) about their conditions and about their thinking and about the conditions and thinking among the people they live and work with. We should be learning about their aspirations and how they see things and what holds them back. We should be getting a deeper understanding about the ways in which the works of Bob Avakian and other works, as well as our newspaper, are connecting with them—the questions that these works are answering and the new ones being sparked.
We should, through all this, be getting an increasingly deeper sense of the kinds of ways that people see fighting the power and the kinds of questions that have to be joined and answered... for revolution. Some—perhaps most for a time—will want to mainly continue as supporters and sustainers of different kinds, and we should make sure that they understand how meaningful their support is. Others will want to take up other activities as well. But, even taking into account that some people drop away for a while or even for good, the overall motion should be an ever-deepening relationship with greater numbers of people.
This has importance in every section of society. This is one part of what is being spoken to in the statement on strategy:
All along the way, both in more "normal times" and especially in times of sharp breaks with the "normal routine," it is necessary to be working consistently to accumulate forces—to prepare minds and organize people in growing numbers—for revolution, among all those who can be rallied to the revolutionary cause. Among the millions and millions who catch hell in the hardest ways every day under this system. But also among many others who may not, on a daily basis, feel the hardest edge of this system's oppression but are demeaned and degraded, are alienated and often outraged, by what this system does, the relations among people it promotes and enforces, the brutality this embodies.
This kind of orientation toward fund-raising also begins to work on and change the culture. When there is a growing section of people who are seriously supporting the revolution—donating money to something bigger than themselves—it goes against the whole miserly "what's-in-it-for-me" mentality that is so promoted and so prevalent right now.
So all this should be kept in mind—and the connections consciously forged in practice—as we carry out this drive. Again, the specific goals of this particular fund drive are very important in their own right and we should all be thinking about how we can meet them; but as we do so, the relationships and organized ties that we build must be part of laying a foundation from which the movement for revolution can forge ahead further.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Sunday, May 22, the sun was shining as we gathered to start a walking mural tour of Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of Chicago. This was a benefit for the promotion of BAsics. After welcoming the group, one of the organizers read part of a quote from BAsics:
"Imagine if we had a society where there was culture—yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too—movies, songs, television, everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world."
To the sound of applause, we headed off for a great time, learning about this art form, Mexican history, and the present-day reality in this community. For over an hour, our tour guide, one of the founders of the Chicago mural movement, entertained and educated us, as his contribution to promoting BAsics. He pointed out how the structure of a building is integral to the murals, and told us about the collectivity of the process. One person was struck by how "interwoven art and politics are in the fabric of the community; it's not hidden or a mystery. It's out in the street, on the walls; it's what murals should be and it's just beautiful art." A young woman commented that "It's visual language and, no matter what educational background you have, you can understand it and it's meant for you and the people in this neighborhood."
Some of us got a bite to eat after the tour, including our guide who said he'd been reading his copy of BAsics and liked the beginning, "It starts with how the slave trade is at the base of the richness of this country and a lot of people, even though they don't like to hear it, they can understand that it's the truth." And he really liked the fact that art and culture is discussed in BAsics. Another man who recently bought the Revolution DVD and BAsics said, "What I've seen of Bob Avakian on the tape, I love that and watch it twice or three times a week, sometimes the same thing over because every time I listen to it I get a more clear understanding of what he's trying to project. He's got a dynamite personality; he comes out with it and that's what I like about it.."
Only a handful of the 30 plus people on the tour had ever seen a copy of Revolution newspaper or knew much of anything about Bob Avakian. Word of the tour spread in all sorts of ways—someone was chatting on Facebook about what she was doing with the tour; her friend decided to buy two tickets, told a friend of his about it and he came with his wife. Another woman said her husband told her about it from something he'd read at his college; she came and brought a friend. People were quite unanimous in their praise of the tour and were happy to receive a copy of the entire quote on art & culture from BAsics (Chapter 2, #8). We're looking forward to connecting with many of them in the next month. All in all it was a good start to raising $30,000 in 30 days.
A second tour is being planned. It will be held before the completion of the 30 days.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
When I read the letter about donating $200 to the publication of the book BAsics and the celebration in New York, it really made me think. I had already donated $60, but I thought, why give only a little bit to a cause that demands that you give your all? The only real choice that oppressed people have in a life of slavery is to make the choice to support the Party that's working for Revolution. Revolution requires sacrifice! So I decided to give $400 more.
I earn just a little more than minimum wage and I sleep in my car—and even though I save a lot on rent, I know there are many who support revolution who can donate a lot more than me! I would especially like to issue a challenge to the people in the middle classes who could donate thousands. The people need this party and this leader in order to make the revolution that this world needs so badly.
And to those who used to have dreams of revolution but have given up. I challenge you to lift your heads and take another look! Look at the events in the Middle East and in Wisconsin—and tell me that the analysis that Bob Avakian has been making all these years is not correct! The huge cracks underneath the surface of this society are opening up and 1000s of people are starting to fight back. They need to be able to find the movement for revolution!
I invite you to join in the fight to break all of the oppressive chains of imperialism by donating all you can to BAsics and to the RCP.
A Proletarian who Desires Revolution
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
On April 11, A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World—On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics—brought to life a different way to think and to feel, and to be. This revolution and the vision of a new world came to life that night, as works of art interacted with the words of BAsics. Now is the time to seize upon this incredible real thing and to realize the potential the words of Bob Avakian have to change how people think and act in the world. Toward the close of the evening, Carl Dix called on the audience to just do three things: Get In, Get Out, and Get Connected. And it is up to us—all of us—to take up this call.
Get into BAsics! This book speaks to—and strikes a chord with—many people, coming from different places and with widely different perspectives. This book is for everybody who is straining to understand why the world we live in is the way it is, how to change it, and who dreams of a new and far better future. Everybody. Read a little at a time—maybe just one quote—and think; or read a lot. Discuss the quotes and essays with your friends and neighbors, colleagues and fellow students.
Get BAsics out into the world! As you read and discuss BAsics—as you "get into" it—get it out to others. A movement of people around this book is urgently needed for it to find its way into the hands of all those who long for another way. And all those who have been touched by this book need to join in. There are the ways and means for everybody to be a part of the effort to get BAsics out. As you read this book, think creatively about who to get it to. And how to reach anywhere where people are moving to change things—or even just discussing the state of society and the world.
Join with others in taking it to bookstores, writing reviews, and publicizing it broadly by printing up and passing out the palm cards, posting signs in store windows, and spreading the word of this book on the Internet. (See box.)
Organize a BAsics group! Get together each week on the same day, pick out a quote or essay and discuss it. At the end of the day, or an activity, select a quote or essay, read and discuss it together on your campus, or with your friends and co-workers.
Get connected with this movement for revolution! BAsics is a book which can awaken many thousands to another way to look at the world and the possibility of a new and far better future, as the Red Book of Quotations of Mao Tsetung did for the '60s generation. And BAsics is a book which will bring the basic work of Bob Avakian to many, many people—and make this revolutionary leadership known broadly in society. It is a book which can train a new wave, a new generation of revolutionaries. And that will change things!
A critical part of being connected to the movement for revolution we are building: Read, subscribe to and spread REVOLUTION newspaper—that shows WHY things are happening... HOW it doesn't have to be this way... and gives people ways to ACT.
As it says in BAsics... Chapter 3, #34:
"If you want to know about, and work toward, a different world—and if you want to stand up and fight back against what's being done to people—this is where you go. You go to this Party, you take up this Party's newspaper, you get into this Party's leader and what he's bringing forward."
Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity
Part 2: "Everything We're Doing Is About Revolution,"
Revolution #116, January 20, 2008
From RCP Publications
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
From a Revolution Books staff member
In thinking back to the April 30-May 1 weekend of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, I first thought about a conversation I had a few days later on the bus with a young woman who had a beautiful baby girl. After helping her out with her stroller, she began to tell me she was heading to her mother's. Without getting into details, she told me something that struck me. "You know it's just one of those struggle days." Only then did I realize what was in the stroller: a large bag and food all packed into this small stroller. I could only begin to imagine her personal situation. This had me thinking of the countless other mothers and their children and the people of the world and their suffering which doesn't get counted in days but what feels like an eternity under this capitalist system. And the worst thing of all is that it doesn't have to be this way. This fact, so little spoken to, is one of the points that came across to people that weekend as we introduced people to Bob Avakian and BAsics.
For two days, staff and friends of Revolution Books / Libros Revolución helped spread the word about BAsics to some of the 140,000 attendees, through distribution of the palm cards, enlarged quotes from BAsics that decorated our bookstore booth and our carts of materials, and Revolution newspaper. The festival crowd is of course made up of book-lovers and lots of critical thinkers, yet this did not make it any less of a challenge to get BAsics into people's hands. But overall it was exciting and lots of fun, and we sold quite a few of the book. We had an opportunity to connect up with all sorts of people from high school & college students to teachers and professors, from artists to peace activists, attracted to the vision of a better world captured in the Revolution Books booth. Many people were introduced to this movement for revolution for the first time, while others had heard about the cultural evening in New York on April 11 through friends, or had attended the dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix at UCLA a few nights before and heard Carl Dix read from BAsics.
The breakthrough in getting books sold was using the book itself, literally placing a well-marked BAsics into people's hands, allowing the quotes to connect and provoke people. We also used the quotes in the May 1st issue of the newspaper to give people a sense of what's in the book and encourage them to get a subscription. The internationalism of BA's leadership compelled people from different parts of the world to get a copy.
Often times and for good reason with genuine excitement we should have lots to say, yet in this case one quote can take it much further. Whether it was excitement in learning something new or appreciating how concrete and concise the BAsics quotes were, people wanted more. In one conversation a Black high school student was excited about what she just read from Chapter 1 but didn't have the money to buy it. Her friend, noticing her disappointment, told her she would buy it for her. Another friend then said, "I need a copy, too!" They plan on reading BAsics together and sharing it with friends at school.
A Chicano couple stopped by to check out the booth. It turned out that he's in the military, but doesn't think the U.S. should be in Iraq or Afghanistan. We showed them quote #5 in Chapter 1 about the military serving the other 1%, the capitalist-imperialists. They really agreed with that, and came back later and bought the book. Other people felt suffocated looking at the destruction of the environment, with Japan as the most current example, and seemingly no means to end it. But some checked out what was said in BAsics, both about the system not fit to be the caretakers of the earth (Chap. 1, #29) and the vision of a new world in Chap. 2, and also picked up the book. A college student said she considers herself a communist, but didn't like the "cult" of Bob Avakian. We talked about Chap. 6, #4 about leadership, and she agreed on the importance of recognizing such leadership, and her questions turned to how future society will be run. She ended up getting the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), and her brother, also a very politicized student, bought BAsics.
One thing I found helpful was connecting the book to building a movement for revolution. Many people who came by wanted a solution, an alternative, to the way things are and saw BAsics as a much-needed contribution toward that goal. Some were glad to also be given ways to further contribute by becoming a distributor or donating toward a copy for a prisoner. One person wanted to know how BAsics would contribute to making revolution and asked if it would be by getting the truth out and if the main point of BAsics was that it was true. I asked him to open up the book and read. After reading a quote I asked him if he thought it was true. He answered, "Yes! Yes it is." He was surprised and drawn closer to getting the book with my reply. I explained that while I would say that what's in this book is true, the main point, as I opened it up to Chapter 4, was that the book from beginning to end shows BA's method and approach that "is both thoroughly and consistently materialist and thoroughly and consistently dialectical." I also had him read quote #5 because I said, "We are trying to get somewhere with this."
There were others who thought they didn't need BAsics because they said they knew all they need to know about communism through reading Marx and Lenin. Here I got to use the quote from a prisoner about BAsics─"Word is you're nothing unless you have a B.A. degree." One example I'll use to show the importance of going directly to BAsics was in a conversation with a father and son. The father said, "We don't need that. I taught him Marx and Engels." They had also read books by Bob Avakian and heard the 7 Talks. I asked them both to take a minute and read the quote we had enlarged in our booth (Chapter 1, #3): "The essence of what exists in the U.S is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." The father turned to his son and began to tell him that this is what he has been trying to explain to him about this system. They both turned to me and asked, "How much is the book?," and picked up their copy.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
In the run up to the April 11 "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World" and in the immediate aftermath, a group of us had a lot of positive experience in taking out BAsics and reading the quotations to people. The following is based on a discussion we had to sum up our efforts.
The quotations from the book were used in several ways: posting the quotations, using them at two read-ins, and reading the quotations in classes. But before getting into how we used the book and quotations, there is something to say that we can sum up about the book itself. There is something about this book. You read a quotation. It's something different. It's refreshing. There's something different when someone is reading from the book. It has a very attractive cover; it has a feel—we can have a culture around this. It's a book that is concentrating some things. There's an appeal, when you put it in someone's hands. There was a student from an elite university doing something about water. So we showed the quotation from BA about caretakers of the planet. It is not highly theoretical but hits hard. We can talk about socialist sustainable principles; but he opens up and he reads this and he gets more. There are three things about the book that make a difference. 1) Just about any question posed to humanity is posed in the book. Any one trying to figure something out, it's in the book. 2) It's all in one place. 3) Then, also, the way BA explains it. It's very accessible. The first quotation—you can have a semester talking about that. That's him. You are talking about revolution and communism, women, immigration, the environment or about anything—it's all there. Through reading these quotations, people are meeting BA, the leader of the revolution.
Posting of the quotations along with the April 11 poster created a buzz and stir at the school of arts of an elite university. This was an important part of not just getting the word out but having a scene where people were taking note and getting interested. A group did posting in the initial phase of saturating the school of arts, before the book was out, going with quotes from the newspaper. People were stopped in the hallway and asked to read the quotations and help decide which ones to post. When someone from the group went back to one area of the school, the woman at the desk had made the whole bulletin board about April 11, with two posters and two back page quotations; and took the palm card and stapled onto the quotes. It had visual flare. We think there is something going on about the book there. There's a stifling atmosphere, normally, but there was a buzz about the event. When someone went back there, a few days ago, a guy at the desk in another department asked how the event went.
People posted Quote #23 from Chapter 5, "If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is..." in the bathrooms. At the end of the day, they read quotations and did classroom announcements. At one class in the school of the arts, the prof let them do the announcement in the class. They went to the cafeteria, read quotations and created a stir.
We did two read-ins in a park on the campus of this same school. The first was done by two or three people. A young film student from China who was dressed like a hippie and walking through the park with her bohemian boyfriend that she had met just two days before, stopped and joined the read-in for about an hour. She read quotes out loud with us and she realized at a certain point that this was the Revolution Books that had organized the talk, "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong," last year, and she said she remembered that and that she had been really interested in this. She had seen the posters for April 11 up in the school of arts and she was really glad to see this. There was also another student we ran into who was really seriously considering coming to the event, she said because "it looks interesting" but she wasn't sure about coming because $15 was a lot for the ticket.
A couple of us went out the Saturday before the 11th to the same park. We started reading from a list of 20 short quotations from BAsics. Groups of people stopped to listen. At one point 6 people were listening together. One middle aged couple listened for 10 minutes. I got down off the bench to talk with the six people. The man from the couple said, "I'm a practicing Buddhist, but I agree with everything you are reading." A young person asked how would the new socialist society be different. I read the quotation about overcoming the "4 Alls" to them. They were looking at the book and other people would stop to pick up the book and look at it though we were not able to sell any. An Asian-American high school student from northern Virginia was there with some other students touring the campus, where they will start in the fall, I overheard him say, half jokingly and half seriously, "I wish I could stand up there and talk against capitalism." I went over and showed him the book. He was totally ignorant of communism but was questioning the world and was open. He said this is something he needs to investigate. Interest was generated by just reading the quotations. People just started coming over to get the cards for April 11. I don't know what people were thinking; but there was this impact from people just hearing something from the book. People's heads would turn and they would stop to listen for a second or in some cases, longer. The very first quotation in the book was a head turner.
There was another experience at a public university. A group of people went to a film festival of student made shorts. As over 100 people were waiting to get into the auditorium, someone called people's attention and read the first quotation from the book. There was an audible response in agreement. Just about everyone then took cards.
The read-in barely started to give us a sense of what's possible and the potential interest, broadly. It took us a bit to get with the read-in, there were some constraints—but it showed the potential and engaging people with the book in a lively way. It attracted certain students who are revolting against the revolting culture in society—some looking to the '60s, some artists, etc. and people who are questioning things. And you have a stage there, not the same as going into the classes, seeing professors, but engaging in putting things out there. We should use amplified sound and do a cultural performance with readings from the book on a weekend day. This could be a big deal. You would get a debate going out there.
We sold a total of ten books in classes by reading from it. Three were sold in each of two classes at the public university mentioned, previously, and four in a class at another public university after April 11. At the latter we could have sold four more but had no more. The ice was broken at the first school by a student who had taken up BAsics and promoting April 11. She did not want to speak in the first wave of classes where we read the three strikes quotation by BA about Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. After we summed up she was asked if she wanted to speak in the next round. She said she wanted to read from the book and have someone else speak about the event. She read the first two quotations in the book and talked about what these meant to her as a Black person and someone who is indigenous. Three students then bought the book.
A comrade sold the other seven books in the classes. He sold a total of 14. He focused on reading from the book as the way to sell it. A whole discussion broke out in the second university. As the comrade reported:
"I read three quotes including the first two in the book. As soon as some of the Black students heard about 'Remember the Alamo' and slave traders and chasers, this got them going, and there was this very good dynamic going on around the immigrant/Black question, where students would struggle with each other on this in a good way. The prof played an exceptional role in all this and she told me this was some of the best engagements she had in her classes. 'There are the catalysts,' she told me, and these are the students who are interested in checking out revolution more. The other quote I used was the 1 percent fighting for the other 1 percent. This too piqued a lot of interest and this Salvadoran student went off. There was a visceral thing going on with him and he backed it up with a lot of substance and told his fellow students what the U.S. did in El Salvador...The book and BA however became the discussion. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? How come I never heard of him before? How would he deal with all these wars? From what you read it seems this is someone who makes a lot of sense and maybe we should get to know him."
Some of the questions discussed in the class were: wars for empire, are socialism and communism possible, how is this different from what the Islamic community thinks. Thirteen students filled out contact cards saying they want to learn more about revolution and communism and be contacted about events at the store.
Reading from the book was key. To quote a proletarian we know, "Let BA speak for himself." We need more ways to simply read from the book, outings to the parks, street corners, in classes.
There is another experience about which we learned while building for the event at the elite university. We ran into a student that had worked on the Sunsara Taylor tour the year before and told her about April 11. Usually, whenever a comrade tells her about an event, she goes straight to how busy she is. This time, she said she has been reading the emails sent out by Revolution Books and said it was really fun everyday getting a new quote. "It gives you something to think about for the day. It provokes you." Her roommate has a book of quotes which she reads everyday, but this is different.
The student that sold three copies of BAsics in one class told us that she began to read the quotations from the book online. She said, "He breaks down very complex things and you can't argue with it. It's true and easy to understand." Initially, the book was speaking to her nationalism and feminism, but through this process, and especially the event she came to see the internationalism and the need to start from the whole world.
We have made a beginning in connecting this incredible book and revolutionary leader with people. We have begun to see the effect this book can have. We have some work to do.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Some say the setting sun is a moving sun. But it is the earth's revolution which causes the sun's position to change. Change is good, change is inevitable, change is ordained. So why is it people, who, of sound body and mind, which often equals common sense, are so reluctant to change. Materialism stands at the outset of all which is wrong with our world. It blinds, cajoles, festers, scars, completely overwhelms our sense of fairness. Greed is god of the fearful. So caught up in its clutches they do whatever is expedient in order to mask their sense of no esteem. I have, so, therefore I am. Terrified to be judged on that which lies in their heart, of what percolates within their brain, they allow the tangible to be the lead component of who and what they represent, of who and what they are. For these poor souls, desperation and darkness lie at the foot of their very existence. To change would be an acceptance of the intangible, that we neither taste, smell or see. We speak of change, hear of change, visualize change as if it were some dreamlike state where only the surely insane exist. This is the greatest example of denial, for we all have experienced change. We know it to be a real thing. The problem is we change only that which benefits the individual. Neither a fault or sign of weakness, this merely constitutes the remarkable precision with which the powers at be have placed the pursuit of #1 in "brain dead rotation." How can one avoid the constant barrage of winning at all costs, reaching the top, destroying the opposition? American Idol, Survivor, The Biggest Loser, Shark Tank, even the humbling art of crafting efficient metaphorical imagery into beautiful lyrical melodic word play has now taken the bastard form called "Poetry Slam." It once was different. It can all still change. And it must be a minimalist structure which leads the way. Something as easily understood by a person with a 9th grade education as well as that person with a PhD. We need change in ways we rarely contemplate. Change in the manner in which we listen, for it is listening which will set us free. Change in how we set words against words allowing for a greater sense of communication because we understand what that person meant, not what that person said. Change in our priorities so often dictated by false issues of morality based on grandiose language from books supposedly written before civilization could speak. Change in the basic rituals of everyday life, from the moment we greet a new found day until that final moment before we close our eyes. Basic as the voice, the words, the simple yet inexplicable thoughts of Bob Avakian, who may have the blueprint, the recipe, the undeniable common sense socialist solution necessary for our ever growing global community to make real change.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
From a Prisoner:
May 16, 2011
To Whom this may concern:
The other day someone asked me what was my most favorite book, and if I still had it, could they check it out. As simple as a question like that was, it stumped me for a second. I realized that I didn't actually have just ONE favorite book—as if one book could provide all the answers one could ever wish to find answers to (although I'm sure most religious fundamentalists would strongly disagree with me unscientifically; and I emphasize unscientifically.)
After pondering his question for awhile though, it made me think about a quote by Bob Avakian in his latest book BAsics in which he said, "I've taken up a principle that Mao brought forward: Marxism, as he put it, embraces but does not replace the arts and sciences and all the different fields of human endeavor. It is necessary to learn from many different people with many diverse viewpoints in all these different fields." (p. 127) That's a principle I've always attempted to apply consistently even before becoming a communist myself.
For that reason, I could've easily mentioned to this individual, that The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy was hands down my favorite book in the category of religion (despite their metaphysical conclusions still), since it was the best book I ever read which comprehensively showed how all of these monotheistic religions (particularly Christianity) were actually human inventions and had evolved like everything else. Or I could've mentioned that Ardea Skybreak's The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism was my favorite book, since it had opened my eyes up to the fact that evolution was a scientific fact for the first time in my life and that the belief in any Creator of any kind was absurd in the face of those undeniable facts. Or I could've mentioned the significance of how Viktor E. Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning had provided me with an existentialist approach to finding meaning in one's life (which in many ways is consistent with a materialist analysis). As Frankl would say: "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible." I would add: in a consistently materialist and dialectical way.
What was common amongst all those favorite books of mine, which I could've mentioned to him though, wasn't that they were the only ones one would have to read to understand this experience we call life, but because they provided one with the most BASIC foundation in order for them to come to understand it more deeply and more concretely. I've noticed that every time I've come across another book that's capable of doing that, they've always assumed an elevated status and could be classified as being amongst my most favorite ones—at least in regards to that particular subject matter.
That's why when I read Bob Avakian's latest book called BAsics recently, it put a wide smile on my face because the title of it couldn't have been more appropriate. As BAsic as it may be for those with a longer history and background in studying the subject of communism, that's what makes this book so profound and significant to me. There's no question in my mind, that its simplicity will be the start of many people coming to see the world as it actually is for the first time in their life and proactively taking up a communist world outlook and methodology, with the intent on changing the world for the better. And to me that's what it's all about anyways.
By the way...did I mention that the book that I ended up giving that individual to read, in the end, was Bob Avakian's BAsics? My rationale was quite simple. As the back of that book states, "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics," I couldn't agree more. That'll always apply to all fields of human inquiry, no less than it will in relation to our scientific approach to changing the material conditions of human civilization itself.
P.S. Could you send me a book on Dialectical Materialism whenever you find yourself in the position to? The one I have now has an idealistic tendency of "inevitablism" attached to it which Chairman Avakian has rightly condemned historically in the proletarian movement. Thanks again for sending me BAsics, and all the other ones you have in the past several months.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Thank you for the free copy of BAsics. I like the concept of having a bunch of B.A.'s writing in one place. A long time ago I used to cut out his articles from the paper and save them, but then I realized they were starting to pile up so I had to get rid of them. It's not feasible to save newspapers indefinitely in prison cause your cell will start to look like a junk yard, and, as you probably know, prisoners are limited in how much property we can have. This book, however, allows for you to have some of his best writing all together in one compact disk─so to speak. Plus, you don't have to sit around and read it straight through. You can jump around to different parts and browse on your spare time, just like you can with Mao's Little Red Book─which is fitting since B.A. has picked up the torch from him, and both books even have their images/pictures in them. Once again, thanks for looking out with that freebie...
Respectfully in Struggle,
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Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Question and Answer Session:
We wrote last week about the extraordinary event at UCLA on April 29, a dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix on the theme "In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: What Future for Our Youth?" There was a sense if you were there that something very special was taking place—a liberating atmosphere that night which the audience could feel. They were being introduced to a new, radical and refreshing mix of ideas and ways to go at bringing a better world into being.
After the presentations there was a question and answer session. The audience had come with a sense of urgency about the future for our youth, and you could tell they were stimulated, challenged and inspired by what they heard. The questions they posed covered a range of issues.
Here we want to focus on a couple of important questions raised, and the responses from the speakers.
"Do you 'blatantly' support the freedom to marry for gays and lesbians, your brothers and sisters?"
This question was raised by a young man who began by explaining that he sleeps in his SUV because he doesn't believe in paying rent! His second question was, "Do you think it's fair when people in the gay community compare our struggle for equal rights with that of the Black folks?" [applause]
Both speakers responded to these questions with clarity and vision. Dr. West spoke first: "For myself, I certainly support the right of the gay brothers and lesbian sisters to come together. I believe mature love ought to take a number of different forms. If they choose to be married that's fine, but the important thing is I just hope they find love; that's the bottom line to me."
"Is it fair to compare the gay community's struggle for equal rights with that of Black people?"
Then West responded to the second question: "I think that every movement for freedom has so much to learn from the struggle of Black people for freedom. [applause] So much to learn. Because when you have experienced the depths of not just the structures of un-freedom, but when you've been taught to hate yourself and your body, and your hair texture and your skin color and your lips and your hips. [applause] You see what I mean? We're talking about something that is somatic. It's at the level of body and it's sonic, at the level of sound. We don't even like the sound of your name. You see, that's white supremacy at a deep level."
West then asked: "Now how is it that these people dealt with all of that and still produced a Louie Armstrong? [applause] How could they do all of that and produce the mothers and fathers who still bequeathed love to their children in the face of that kind of terrorism and hatred and so forth? Oh, the world has a lot to learn from Negroes; a whole lot to learn. [applause] So our gay brothers and lesbian sisters can learn from it."
Then West cautioned: "But we don't want to engage in what Albert Camus called the algebra of blood. You don't want to say, well my oppression is more than your oppression and your oppression is less than mine. It's distinctive and you try to deal with what is distinctive about it and learn from one another. I think Black brothers and sisters can learn something from gay brothers and lesbian sisters. When I speak at various gatherings of gay brothers and lesbian sisters, they tell me they got to deal with the wholesale rejection of their mothers and their fathers. See, I never had to deal with that. Mom and Dad never rejected me at that level. I don't know what that's like."
Carl Dix responded after West: "On the first part—gay people got the right to marry...to cut some folks off of that is just straight-up wrong."
Dix explained, as far as the analogy to the Black struggle, that he came from the perspective of the need to emancipate all of humanity. "In going at it that way, we have to see the linkages between all of the struggles against injustice, all of the struggles to uproot oppression. And we have to see taking the first big step in that in terms of making revolution and getting this system off the face of the earth." But he said there will also be the need "to continue to uproot oppression because everybody with backward thinking ain't gonna go away after the revolution. It's still gonna be out there and we gotta actually engage that and bring people up forward off of that."
Dix also picked up on West's point about the need to see the "particularity" of different struggles, by drawing on his own experience: "Look, I had some arguments with my parents over the stuff that I did.... And basically, it was about being a revolutionary. That was the thing they didn't like. Up to then they was actually pretty cool with me.... You know I got drafted into the army, I refused to go to Vietnam and they backed me up in that. They said that was the right thing to do and they agreed with that. [applause] That was important.
"But then when I came out of Leavenworth [prison] and said I was gonna be a revolutionary, my mother was like, 'Couldn't you get in trouble for doing that?' [laughter] And my father was like, 'I thought you was gonna go back to college and finish getting that degree....' But it wasn't a question of wholesale rejection 'cause we were able to struggle and get into that and at different points he could see what I was standing for. And then we had the same name, because I was a junior and every now and then I'd get in the papers and people would call him up and say, 'why did you say that?' And then he would play like it was him. [laughter] And he'd just roll with it. 'Well, I said that because it's true. Do you like what this system is doing?' [laughter] So we came together on that."
The last question of the night came from a high school student— "I decided it is time for us to let the youth speak. You been picking a lot of older people so I decided youth need a voice." (West responds, "There you go, there you go, there you go! That's it, that's it, that's it!") The mic didn't work so West went into the audience and held up his lapel mic while the youth spoke into it! "You been talking a lot about revolution. Talking is good to inform people, and all that... I want to know when and what is the next step to move toward transformative resistance." [applause]
Dix responded by describing the relationship between standing up to attacks and bringing forward the vision of the future and making that vision real. "When some folks associated with the movement for revolution started going out and patrolling the cops, on one level they were reacting, going out to where the cops are jacking people up, coming up there and saying, we're here to make sure you don't violate people's rights."
Dix said the patrols were also doing it as part of spreading that things don't have to be this way, that through revolution we could bring a whole different world into being. And he said they also spread points of discipline—how people should be acting—not just how they should be acting now, but acting in a way that would be in line with a whole different society where people didn't "dog" each other just because they might be from different countries. And they tell men, "don't dog women." [applause] They tell them things like that in these patrols.
Dix said they are being reactive and transformative and they are making that transformative vision real. He said a lot of young brothers in the projects and places like that "wouldn't talk to us" because they thought "y'all's revolution seems to be just talk. You got a newspaper, what is that gonna do?" But Dix said, "When they see people with that newspaper are also out there patrolling the cops, it starts to hit them that this is real now. This is hittin' right where I live because these cops are on me 24/7."
And some of the parents are getting with this because they're really concerned about what's being done to their kids but didn't know what they could do about it. They're watching out as they do their patrol. They're bringing food out to the patrollers. "So it's a way in which people begin to get together...it combines the reactive and the transformative and it makes the revolution real." [applause]
The youth was wearing a Cal (UC Berkeley) hat. West saw it and said, "I like that hat, because my brother went to Cal." Immediately you could hear boos from some of the UCLA students! West said, "I'm at UCLA but I'm from Sacramento and I like the East Bay [across the bay from San Francisco]. That's me." He paused, "But L.A.'s nice, don't get me wrong. But let's just keep it real!"
West emphasized the impact that individuals can make, using this youth—and his hat!—as an example. "People say 'there goes that brother wearing that Cal hat, who's got revolutionary spirit inside of him so everywhere he goes he has that revolutionary light that shines. That he cuts against the grain. He don't put up with hatred, bigotry. He don't put up with condescension and arrogance. He don't put up with no wealth, privilege that justifies putting poor and working people down.'"
West said he's not gay or lesbian but he shows up at the anti-homophobic thing because he stands for justice. He can't stand patriarchal violence—"No. I don't allow the sisters to be put down in this way. I stand for justice." That brother who wears that Cal hat, "he's got revolutionary witness."
Then West pointed to Carl Dix: "We see this brother. You say, 'Lord, I may not agree with everything he say 'cause he talking about revolution a whole lot and kinda scares me, you know.'" West said revolution is scareful, 'cause you gotta be ready to die. But the important thing is the transformative resistance begins to create a crescendo...with a kind of coming together taking place, where "we can have that kind of Egyptian-like moment, where the powers that be begin to really shake in their boots. Now, that's a hell of a moment. We got a long way to go but we don't know how long and we just don't know. Things are collapsing. But on the other hand the right wing is very powerful. And the fascist and crypto-fascist and reactionary fellow citizens, they organize because they got big money behind them. These pseudo-populist movements, the tea party folk and others, they got big money behind them. And yet at the same time we got brothers like yourself, wearing that Cal hat who rather throw down and be revolutionary at the best level, the best way. That's a sign of hope. That's a great sign of hope. I know it's getting late. Thank you all so much. Thank you all so very much." [Cheers, whistles and prolonged applause]
The audience didn't leave right away, surrounding the two speakers, shaking hands, taking pictures, asking them more questions. People were inspired and wanting more.
Moderators Darnell Hunt, Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies (far left), and Associate Vice Provost Charles Alexander (far right) with Cornel West and Carl Dix.
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Revolution #234, May 29, 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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