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Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
Revolution received “A Call To Stand Together To Oppose The Obama Administration’s Dangerous Assault On Fundamental Rights.” It is posted for signatures at opposerepressionndaa.net. The initial signatories follow the statement.
According to Raymond Lotta, who helped initiate this statement, “Its purpose is to call attention, and summon resistance, to a dangerous trajectory of repressive acts and laws and to reaffirm a core principle: We cannot allow any one group or person to be singled out and targeted.”
The immediate catalyst for the statement is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) and the ruling of May 16 by Judge Katherine Forrest in U.S. District Court (NYSD) in response to the lawsuit Hedges et al. v Obama et al. The judge agreed with the plaintiffs (Hedges et al) that section 1021 of the NDAA, which allowed for indefinite detention, without charge or trial, of a vague category of people was unconstitutional—and she imposed a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The ruling was a mainly positive one, but it also contains an erroneous and potentially harmful characterization of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) and its Chairman, Bob Avakian. This has been protested in a legal brief. See “Brief Filed Objecting to Dangerous Mischaracterization of RCP, USA,” Revolution #275, July 22, 2012.
On August 7, a hearing was held by Judge Forrest to determine if the temporary injunction will become permanent. Lawyers for the plaintiffs (Hedges et al.) argued that the injunction should become permanent; lawyers for the defendants (Obama et al.) argued that the law should go into effect. Judge Forrest will now decide the matter. But even as she is deliberating, and it is not clear when her decision will come, the Obama administration has taken steps to appeal her May 16 ruling to the next federal appellate court. In short, the case is very much alive, and the harmful characterization is still in the court record.
All of this underscores the need for people to step up opposition to this highly repressive law and to have serious discussions with people about the dangers posed to Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party by the mischaracterization in the May 16 ruling. And the statement printed below needs to circulate widely and garner many more signatures.
For background on this case, see “Letter Points to Dangerous Mischaracterization in National Defense Authorization Act Ruling," Revolution #274, July 8, 2012. As for the RCP’s actual view on the struggle for revolutionary change, see “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation —in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution,” Revolution #55, July 30, 2006.
To sign the call go to opposerepressionndaa.net.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
The administration of Barack Obama, which had promised to put an end to torture and other outrages committed by the Bush Administration, is in fact putting into place a dangerous system of repression and control. This is a serious assault on fundamental rights, and it must be answered not with silence and complicity but with heightened awareness and more determined opposition.
The record of the Obama Administration is a chilling one. President Obama has preserved Bush’s rendition program, which relies upon torture, and has extended the Patriot Act. His Administration has adopted a quasi-official assassination policy, complete with secret “kill lists” reviewed by the President, which Attorney General Holder has brazenly asserted meets Constitutional standards of due process. In the 2010 case of Holder v HLP [Humanitarian Law Project], the Obama administration successfully argued before the courts that the “crime” of “material support” to “terrorists” be broadened to include merely speaking with and advising (even on some legal matters) any group designated by the government as terrorist. The ruling has already been applied to pro-Palestinian activists and endangers many others, including prominent public intellectuals, as well as groups upholding or advocating fundamental social change.
The most recent expansion of dangerous and illegitimate government authority is the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This law grants to any U.S. president the power to detain any person, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely and without charge or trial, for the alleged crime of associating with a broad and vague category of people, which could include people who have nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or with terrorism in general.
The pattern is disturbingly clear: not just a continuation but a further leap in the draconian measures taken by the Bush administration—under the pretext of the open-ended, so-called War on Terror—to detain, torture, and assassinate...not just a continuation but a further leap in measures to restrict and criminalize dissent and opposition to the status quo.
This must not go unanswered—nor be allowed to continue to grow increasingly worse. In opposing these repressive moves, it is imperative that people not allow anyone, or any one group, to be singled out or targeted for repression. In this regard, the lawsuit Hedges et al. v Obama et al. that is challenging ominous provisions of the NDAA is quite salient. On May 16, a federal district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and issued a temporary injunction blocking the government from implementing Section 1021 of this law. But insinuated into this mainly positive ruling is a reference to the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and its Chairman Bob Avakian which is an erroneous and potentially harmful characterization that could be used as a pretext to criminalize what is constitutionally protected freedom of speech and association and potentially sweep the RCP and its Chairman into a category of organizations identified by the government as terrorist.
Those of us signing this statement cannot speak for the RCP and indeed have various levels of familiarity with and a variety of views on its philosophical and political principles and objectives. But we do not countenance—and recognize as very dangerous—the designation by the powers-that-be of groups as politically “acceptable” and “unacceptable.” History teaches, by negative and positive example, that we must stand against attempts to divide progressive, radical, and revolutionary forces along any such lines.
In this there are very important lessons to be drawn from the self-critical summation by Pastor Martin Niemoeller of his experience when confronted with the heightening repression carried out by the Nazi regime in Germany during the 1930s:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak out for me.”
The signatories of this statement call on people to step forward and stand together to oppose the assault on dissent and the moves to restrict and criminalize oppositional speech, association, and political activity, which are being carried out by the Obama Administration and which continue and expand dangerous precedents and mechanisms which can also be utilized by any future Administration.
Elliott Adams, Veterans For Peace, past President, Creating a Culture of Peace, Secretary
Rafael C. Angulo, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Southern California School of Social Work
Fr. Luis Barrios, Co-Executive Director, Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization-IFCO
Toby Blomé, Bay Area CodePink
Leah Bolger, President, Veterans For Peace
Robert Cliver, History professor
Daniel Costa, ACLU
Peter Coyote, Actor, Writer, politically engaged human
Larry Everest, Revolution correspondent, author
Ann Fagan Ginger, Author, human rights attorney (ret.)
Lyn Hejinian, Poet and Professor, Department of English, University of California, Berkeley
George Homanich, Binghamton, NY
Mickey Huff, Director, Project Censored/Media Freedom Foundation
John Hutnyk, Professor, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Chuck Kaufman, Executive Director, Alliance for Global Justice
C. Clark Kissinger, Revolution Books, NYC
Jim Lafferty, Director, National Lawyers Guild, LA
Linda LeTendre, Saratoga Peace Alliance
Raymond Lotta, Revolution newspaper, advocate of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism
Bob Meola, Courage to Resist, War Resisters League
Jon Olsen, Green Party
Scott Olsen, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Art Persyko, SF99% Coalition
Peter Phillips, President, Project Censored/Media Freedom Foundation
Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D., Professor, Liberal Studies/Global Liberal Studies, NYU
Walter Riley, Activist, Attorney
Stephen Rohde, Civil liberties attorney and author
Candice Rowser, Hunter College CUNY
Marc Sapir, MD
Saratoga Peace Alliance
Carole Seligman, Co-Editor, Socialist Viewpoint
Michael Steven Smith, National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights
Carol Strickman, Attorney
Jeffrey Shurtleff, Amnesty International USA 466, and SF99% Coalition
Michael Sorgen, Civil Rights Attorney
Mark D. Stansbery, Columbus Campaign for Arms Control
David Swanson, Author, warisacrime.org
Debra Sweet, Director, World Can’t Wait
Howard Switzer, Architect & Green Party of Tennessee delegate to the GNC
John F. Thielking, Peacemovies.com
Veterans For Peace, Chapter 147
Paul Von Blum, UCLA African American Studies Program
Steve Wagner, Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace
Donna Wallach, Justice for Palestinians
Steve Wasserman, Professor of Constitutional Law, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, NYC
Curt Wechsler, Editor, FireJohnYoo.net
Andy Zee, Revolution Books, NYC
Maggie Zhou, Ph.D., Boston, MA
Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics, University of San Francisco
Institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only, and do not imply endorsement
To sign the call go to opposerepressionndaa.net.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
From the Road: Voices from the BAsics Bus Tour...
Revolution: Maybe you could just start with the story of how you first met the movement for revolution and got introduced to BA. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what that experience was like?
Sc: Well, I first got into the movement after I heard Avakian do "All Played Out." That was the original thing that got me into it. And when I heard that, it was more or less like: this man has been saying things that I've been thinking about and thought about for many years. And he put it all in an 11-minute [spoken word] thing. And so after that, I got more involved with the bookstore in my town, which got me more into who he was, as opposed to what he was about, and about the movement for revolution. And so, after that, I was convinced to buy the BAsics book [BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian]. And when I started reading it, I just couldn't put it down. I probably read the whole book in about two days... [I thought,] "Oh, OK, this very much says a lot to answer a lot of questions for me throughout life about a lot of things." And so, later on, I started investigating more of his other works, his memoir, I also got to reading that. And more and more—I started to get more within the movement. 'Cause there is a very great need in this country for a change in the system. The system...with police brutality, with a lot of families who have lost their children to our so-called legal system, which is supposed to serve and protect, but—as Avakian says—they only serve and protect their interests, to serve and protect the status quo, so to speak, their own agenda, and really not anything to do with the people they're supposed to serve and protect...
I lost my sister through police brutality. She was killed by an officer of the law, so called, because her only crime was basically she dated a cop. She was a high-school graduate and was getting ready to go to college, she was only 19 years old. The cop in question was 28 years old at the time when the whole thing went down with her murder. And it was concealed to us for awhile, because we couldn't see the body until we got a lawyer to actually view the body...she was killed execution-style, twice in the head. But how could you shoot yourself twice in the head? This is what they supposed to let us believe that happened. And just like in anything else that happened, even with Trayvon, the cops—the vigilante who wanted to be a cop—decides that this kid, because he wore a hoodie in the neighborhood, was subject to the brutality and the way the system just tried to [portray things like] he was the criminal.
I was also on the Detroit mini-bus tour, which had me prepared for this bus tour. From my experience here in New York, there's a great hate here for the cops, particularly with stop-and-frisk and the other things that's involved with...brutality that's been going on in the city. In Detroit, you have a city that's basically in ruins. You can imagine places like—we was at [housing projects the BAsics Bus Tour went to in the Bronx]—imagine that complex in Detroit, vacant and no windows, totally vacant... Completely vacant, no windows, like they'd been abandoned for many, many years. Just like an episode of Life After People. Maybe about 10, 15, 100 days after people. All these apartment complexes just vacant, the stench around them—there could be anything in these apartments, could be a dead body, whatever. And on the one side of the freeway you had Tiger Stadium, you had the GM building, which looks like a fortress in itself, and you got...all the downtown amenities over on the other side of the freeway. And on this side of the freeway, which could be, if it was anything else, probably 1,000 apartment buildings, these are just buildings that are just in ruins. And that's most of Detroit. You go through most of Detroit, it's like nothing but wasteland. And then the rest of it is, you have vacant houses next to people living in actual houses in these areas. And people going up and down the street, it's like, they don't know if they're gonna be abducted if you walk down the wrong street in the wrong time of day, because this is how bad these neighborhoods are. And also...a little seven-year-old girl—her first name was Aiyana—she was shot after the police supposedly mistook her house for a drug house. They just shot inside this house, and this little girl was killed in her mother's arms.
Revolution: Aiyana Stanley-Jones. I remember that case, it was a complete towering crime.
Sc: Yes. Yes. We spoke to the mother, and she...she didn't really know how to say and how to come out, and I think a lot of it she came out with after she met us and was able to speak about it. Because the same feeling that I had when I lost my sister, I suppressed it and didn't talk to anybody about it, because I didn't think anybody would understand about it. But then, of course, you find out later that this is all another way that the system suppressed and oppressed people when you cannot speak freely about the crimes that the system has imposed upon a lot of people. And I see that a lot here in New York, particularly with stop-and-frisk and a lot of the people that have fought against it that are now facing trials for such an inane law that shouldn't even be—[that] should be outlawed in itself. It's just giving more of a license for the cops to basically do whatever they want to do and then to say it's constitutional to them. It's just like [during the most recent leg of the BAsics Bus Tour] when we went to the Ramarley [Graham] vigil and went to the police station. And the cops, while the people were speaking—particularly the one woman who was saying how the stop-and-frisk and all that was unconstitutional—this lady was going around saying, "What you mean it's unconstitutional? What these people talking about? What are they saying?" And like, they don't understand, you know? [Laughs] And I guess with most people, it gotta hit close to home. If that woman cop went through that same thing with her son or daughter, if she has a son or daughter, and went through the same thing... And I guess when you ask people about what the United States is doing overseas, what they're doing in Afghanistan, what the police are doing here in this country, in many cities around the United States, with police brutality, with kids like Trayvon and these other set of kids that were shot in Oklahoma by some good old boys that decided to go down the street and just go, "Yee haw!" and shoot down some Black people and all this stuff that's going on that's just sick and just crazy—and these people are just basically running around doing what they're doing and basically getting away with it and have the law to back them up saying that, well they're doing it under their constituted rights: "We are doing it for Stand Your Ground Law" or in my state where they have the so-called "castle law": if somebody is suspected of doing something in your apartment complex or whatever, you have the right to shoot 'em. Just like with Zimmerman shooting Trayvon—this is a kid that's walking in the rain with a hoodie on, this guy decides, "Oh, well he's guilty of something." Bam, bam. These kinds of laws that enforces and brings out this type of vigilantism and this type of right of "Well, I am the judge and jury before it even gets to a judge and jury." These things must be eradicated...from the system, the system that oppresses and puts down people, and all this class division with mass incarceration, with police brutality, with a lot of kids being victimized just by a system that just doesn't really, in retrospect, give a damn about its people.
And we are here on the bus tour, and a lot of the words of Bob Avakian that struck me was, one, about the role of the police and what they really do, as opposed to what people—they say "serve and protect" and all the other blah, blah, blah on the side of the car that's utterly bullshit. But a lot of the people who's lost a lot of lives—from my sister, and we can go back to the time of Emmett Till and even before him, and all within the '60s movements, and in the '70s, the '80s, and up to now in the 2000s...[these outrages] are still prevalent in this society.
And a lot of what Bob Avakian has written about and what he has researched in the past 30 or so years that is in the book BAsics talks and speaks very loudly about what is wrong and what is needed to not only eradicate this system—just get rid of this system completely and go on to a newer and better system of life, or way of life, for all people, not just, as the Constitution [of the United States says], "for all men,"—they're not saying "all humanity"—but also, with these things, these crimes going on all over the world and in the United States, there needs to be a new movement of change. And it seems that—well, it don't seem, it is that—Bob Avakian has the synthesis to make a better world for a better society than most definitely the one that we have now, which is set for oppression—the capitalist-imperialist system...
Revolution: First of all, I just want to say, it's really infuriating and outrageous to hear what happened to your sister. I'm extremely sorry to hear that she was the victim of this outrageous police murder, and for the pain that that's caused you. And I know that you're connecting that with a lot of other outrages of this system.
What has it meant to be part of this bus tour, to be part of a crew of people from all over the country of different backgrounds and experiences who are taking Bob Avakian's leadership and vision out to people, and talking to people, connecting with people this leadership and this new synthesis of communism and the fact that the world doesn't have to be this way? What's it like to be part of this bus tour and part of this?
Sc: Well, for the most part, it gave me a much deeper understanding of the vision of Bob Avakian, and a lot that he came up with in his book BAsics that spoke to me very heartfeltly... And on this bus tour, I got to not only meet some great people on the tour itself—we all come from different backgrounds, we all have different stories—but it also is beyond us, in the nation as a whole, and spreading out the word and seeing how the people respond to it, whether it be for it or negatively or greatly for it or greatly against it. I found that we all somehow have some common ground, and just breaking through the barrier of thatthat oppresses us to speak out about it, or what we had grown up to believe, like in religion or anything that keeps us from actually seeing that work of Bob Avakian and what he has accomplished. That we all in this world and in this system—no matter what part of it that you in—we all have that similar circle, that we are somehow connected, whether most people see it or not. Like when we was in Paterson, for example—this diversity of people from all different places of the world and all different types of languages and everything else, and a lot of different beliefs, a lot of different disbeliefs, a lot of mixed emotions about things—but within all that, whether you go for this message or you don't, or you don't agree, there is some part of it they said, "Well OK, I didn't think about it this way." Or even to the hard-nosed one who says, "Well, you ain't gotta tell me anything, I know everything about this." And then you even change their minds—"Oh, well I didn't think of it that way."
And to give you a good example: There was the kid that I met in Paterson, New Jersey, when we was there, and we had this map—and whoever made this map was a genius—because it was a world map, and I think this map should be on a mural, but anyway I was talking with this African-American kid...
He was in his mid-twenties. And he was looking at the map and he came across "American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives" [BAsics 5:7]. He saw that one. So then, I asked him, "Well, what you think about what you're seeing?" And the subject of slavery came up... Then I read him the quote from BAsics, 1:4, about the role that slavery played in the United States. And he looked at it, he said, "OK, well that very much is the truth." And then, of course, the conversation went on [to how] we still have that kind of mentality within the system today—we are still in that slavery mind, the new Jim Crow, all that that's going on right now in the system that's supposed to be forwardly progressing because we got a Black president... He asked me what I thought about Obama... and I told him, "Well, he's no more than just another spoke on the wheel, he's just another cog, he's just another worker of the system. Man has the drones killing people overseas," and all this. And he was like, he thought that was very interesting. He said, "Well, we got our first Black president." I said, "Well, OK, that may be true, but that don't mean that we have progressed because we do. Because there's still racism; there is still inequality in the structure. And that hasn't changed just because we have a Black president. I mean, many places had Black mayors, Black politicians, that didn't make us more progressive." And so then, when I read him the BAsics 1:13 quote—you know, "No more generations of our youth...," he said, "Wow, that's a really powerful statement." Then, he looked back on the map again, he saw the one [quote] about: imagine a world without America. [BAsics 1:31: "If you can conceive of a world without America—without everything America stands for and everything it does in the world—then you’ve already taken great strides and begun to get at least a glimpse of a whole new world...."]. And when he read that, he was totally blown away. His eyes literally popped out of his head. He was like, "Wow, that was really deep." And then, "This is the guy that wrote it?" I said, "Yes, this is Bob Avakian. He's the leader of the revolutionary party, and he's found a synthesis to bring about a new change, not only with the system in general but within ourselves." Because any progress—as Frederick Douglass said—without struggle, there will be no progress. These are things we struggle with—I struggle with things, I struggle with other people with these things, but to really get an understanding about things, that's what it takes. You dig deeper into things. And ...I said, "It's not like I'm trying to sell you the book and say, 'Well, I just sold somebody the book—sucker!'" No, we're trying to put together a revolution—we need people. We need to start Revolution Clubs around places where—like, he said, well he couldn't get up to New York to come to a store, but they could start something there in Paterson and in any other city in America that had no access to a Revolution Books; that's what is needed. And the bus tour is a part of at least putting the word out that this is what we are looking for—we are looking for people to spread the word of Bob Avakian and spread the word that revolution is possible, and it is needed.
And I'm proud to be a part of the bus tour and to spread the message—the message has been very much according to my life and with a lot of things that went on in my life—but then I find that this is bigger than me. We're talking about a whole world of people: "The whole world comes first" [BAsics 5:8—"Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First"]. And as we are a part of this world, we all have to not only be able to change the world, but change ourselves, change our way of thinking, change our sights into more of a critical thinking, which scares the system—they don't want us to think for ourselves. They want us to be oppressed. They want us to be downtrodden. They want us to be chained up into their way of thinking. But it doesn't have to be this way, the world's a horror as it is. So we got to go out and we got to change it; we gotta make a difference.
Revolution: One thing I just wanted to go back to is: You've talked about these really powerful and heavy experiences that you've lived through in your life. So, you're coming from these experiences, and then through this spoken word piece, "All Played Out," and then through BAsics and other works, you get introduced to the works of this revolutionary leader. And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what particularly struck you and hit you when you first found out about BA. Let's start there: What particularly hit you when you first heard "All Played Out," and then when you got into BAsics, and how that changed the way that you were looking at the world?
Sc: Well, when I heard "All Played Out," the whole scenario of it hit me—that, well, this guy has really hit onto something. He's really talking about some real stuff. And I have talked to a lot of people, because I'm a writer myself, and a lot of these questions—a lot of things that Bob Avakian was saying, just in "All Played Out," I had been discussing these type of things with people for years. I have a friend, we talk about this stuff all the time. And in that respect, in that light, a lot of things like going through life and basically going through the choices that you make in this life, and why you made these choices, very much played into a lot of it.
And some years ago, I went through cancer treatments. I had pancreatic cancer. And went through chemo. But before that, I was working for a... big corporate company. And because I got sick and took some days off and then I used their company insurance, which then put the whole thing over the roof, so all of the sudden, their bottom line became more important than my health. And so, I was fired for that reason—they told me that I broke a company rule, that was their excuse for getting rid of me.... so as the months went on, I went through the chemo, and then the company tried to take away my unemployment, because unemployment...didn't go for that reason [for firing Sc] either, obviously. So they were trying to stop it from going on. So, as time went on, I was still going through the chemo treatments at the time the first hearing came up. And the company called a continuance... by the time the hearing did come up, I was near the end of my treatments. I go in...I get there, my lawyer's there, and this judge comes out and he says, "Well, I was waiting on the other party, but the other party never showed up." And so, the judge said, "Well, this is a stupid case, this is dismissed."
So as we are leaving the courtroom, on the street, here come the litigants [laughs]. They was like, "Well, where you going?" "The case was dismissed, I'm going home." "Oh no, no, no, no we just got here—" "Uh, I'm going home." ... From that, I felt kind of an emancipation where I could tell my boss, "Well, screw you [laughter]. You ain't my boss anymore."
But getting back to the original thing, though, it was when all that was going on and getting into new housing and all that, because I had trouble with housing, because I got sick, couldn't pay the bills and all that, couldn't work, and so finally, I was able to get disability and get a decent place. And along with more and more of other things within how things are more oppressing, where you can be this, you gotta show up for this, everything gotta be accounted for. And I was noticing how my life was turning into, "If I do this, I'll get cut off of that. If I don't do this, I'll get cut off of that." It was like, I was living in this oppressed state, it felt like. And then, after adjusting to things... more and more, I was just seeing how this system, I guess being on the other side of it—being in your comfort zone, as they say—when you get to a point where you just feel like you're just in this space and there's no getting around it, no getting over it and the only place you can go is under it or it'll crush you alive—that type of state—and you are comfortable with that because you feel that: Well, I can't go to school, because I can't afford to go to school, and then if I do go to school, I may lose my benefits because I went to school, and all this other stuff. I can't better myself, I can't make myself go worse, because I'm already down as I can go." So you start feeling like, "OK, well this is where I got to live. I'm in my home, I'm comfortable [laughs]. I have a roof over my head." Which is better than saying, "I'm homeless." But what is the difference, if you get so much in food stamps a month and when you run out of that, you have no food? And then, hopefully, you can find some service that can give you at least a hunk of bread or something to tide you over until the next check, and then they want to cut you from that and all that. And, you're thinking, "There's something wrong with that. Why do we have to live like that? Why do we live in a system like that, that just don't give a damn about you, whether you eat?" ... Why should I be in a government that tells me, "We only giving you so much money to eat a month," but yet, when that runs out, I can't eat. Unless I have the initiative to go out and steal, which, I'm not a thief—so, that's my only option. And this is what I mean by how people make choices of things. Because you have no room, really, to say, "Well, I don't have any other options: I can't steal, I'll go to jail...I really don't want to go to jail, so what other choice do I have?"
And in this type of system, a lot of people in the world do things... [People say,] "OK, well I could sell drugs. I only get so much a month. By the time I pay rent, by the time I pay my bills, by the time I do everything else that I need, and then get stuff to wash my behind with, clean my house, whatever, my money's gone. And I got to go through the rest of the month with no money. So, what other choice I do I have? Well, I could sell drugs..." These are the choices that a lot of people have. But in those choices, then, all of a sudden you are a downcast in society.
Like, one story: I had known this 16-year-old kid. Very smart kid. Black kid. He was a big kid, about 300 and some pounds. Full muscle. Like "America's nightmare"—the way they describe a lot of the Black youth. He was a big kid, muscled kid. He could probably throw somebody across the other side of the room with one hand. This is what—they are scared, the fear of the big Black man. So, he was a drug dealer—he did it because, well, he couldn't get a job. He got with some guys that deal drugs, [they] said, "OK, you can make a little money with us running drugs." That's what he did. He ran drugs up and down the street. But then, it wasn't like he was a high-school dropout or anything like that, or what the system says: "Oh, these kids, they're just monsters." And like Bob Avakian was saying in one of his talks about these kids running around—and I love the part about the beautiful children. And he was one of those. He was a very smart kid, went to school, was a very studious kid. And the cops got a hold of this kid, took him into this apartment building, and literally riddled him with bullets. Kid had no weapon, no drugs on him. No nothing. Just because he was known to run drugs, the cops decided his fate. They said, "He's gonna grow up to be a big drug dealer, he's already a big, 300 some pound guy, he'd probably knock five of us out with one punch." And that was it—their fear, and their stupidity ended the kid's life that could have had a lot of potential, had he not had the choices—or if he had better choices than to run drugs. And that's how a lot of the youth in a lot of neighborhoods are. That's the only choices they do have, because they don't give you any other choices...they don't offer you a summer job. [If the] kid had a summer job, making at least something to tide him over till he went back to school, that would have probably been enough. He would have at least did something constructive, probably, because like I say, he was a very smart kid. He very much had aspirations of his own.
And to actually have known this kid—I had talked to this kid, spent some time with him—I knew where this kid was coming from. He had these aspirations, he had a brother, just graduated, went to college—he wanted to be like his brother. And... his brother went to school, but he still could not find a job in his field. Just like my son—I have a 23-year-old son. He graduated out of college two years ago, and he cannot find a job in his field. And he went in for—he has an arts and sciences degree, and he was into technology, and he also was into journalism, writing. And he can't find a job in his field outside of a local newspaper, or a community newspaper, where he's making minimal money, and mainly he's doing it not only for the money, but for the cause that this particular paper is doing, which is important things in the news that happened in the neighborhood, which he finds that he's doing for the community. So he's satisfied with that, but still he's not doing what he really wants to do. But then again, he has a passion about what he does, that in itself is a good thing. But in the system of it all, he has a greater potential than that, and because he cannot reach that potential or it'd be harder for him to reach that potential, if he ever reaches that potential, it's just in the system that you go in and you try to do the best you can with what you have. And that in itself is hard to do, because there's so many limitations that the system of oppression and all this other stuff, and not to mention, you don't have to be a kid like Trayvon to be harassed by the police. I mean, you could be a lawyer driving down the street in a Lexus. And you get out the car with a hoodie on, and the cop is ready to mess with you. If you're in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong time of day or night, you can get harassed by the cops. And I know in my lifetime, I don't know too many people—particularly Black and Hispanic people that I do know—that haven't been somehow, in some way, harassed by a cop, or by this so-called justice system, to the point where you don't want to even go out half the time. You break your routine, because you gotta go down a different way because you're walking while Black, you're driving while Black, and all this. All this, to me, it's just inane, it's just stupid, and it's just something that's going just over the top and just a way basically to keep you down. And I think it just needs to not exist anymore in this society—or in any society. I mean, I know it happens in many other major cities in the United States and around the world.
And the more and more that I see it—and I've seen a lot when I was in Detroit, when I was on that bus tour, and just going through a downtown area. 'Cause they had a festival when we were there, they celebrate their 4th of July—well, I guess we call it anti-4th of July... So they had a celebration... [at a] park in downtown Detroit, and during the course of just walking through downtown, we were seeing the cops just harassing—seemed like on every corner—some Black person or Hispanic young people. Like they had this guy, this one guy, because he had a sort of Pokemon tattoo on, and they were saying it was a tagging thing. I'm going in my head, "Since when Pokemon was a tagging thing?" And on and on, we were seeing a whole bunch of guys standing at the bus stop, they just would hassle him, just because he's standing there. A whole bunch of kids, they was talking about: "Uh, hold hands and just walk out." Like these are some little elementary school kids. These are grown—well, young teenage—Black kids just trying to make their way into the park. And they was corralling people. They was closing off streets, and they were basically corralling people from one end to the other. And they was telling people [on] big loudspeakers that if you are in the park when it gets to full capacity, they was going to close the park and you couldn't enter or leave until the fireworks ceremony was over... that was the perfect example of how people are warehoused, people are corralled by this system. With the apartments in the Bronx—I understand you can have up to five, six people living in a one bedroom apartment.
Revolution: What are some of the things you've learned from taking out BA to people who are corralled and warehoused by this system, and living daily through these kind of conditions that you're talking about? What are some things that you've learned about what it means to be connecting BA with them?
Sc: Well, I see in this city, there is a great hate for the police system here...I feel it very strongly. And from talking with a lot of people and listening to a lot of the people here, and even from going to the one court case, I'm learning that very much people are looking for an answer to all this. And people are—they're more in this state of, "Why is this happening, really? Why is this happening more to us?" Like, we were at this one apartment complex, they even got regulated swimming. Where we saw this five-year-old—I think around five, seven, between that age—who was waiting to get his turn at the pool. So he had run to the bathroom. While he was in the bathroom, his name got called. Then he comes back out...it was like, "Well, I'm sorry, you missed your turn, you ain't gonna be able to go swimming today." And I'm thinking: "Why are they regulating swimming?" I mean, it's a 98-degree day outside, and this kid can't swim because it's regulated. Then you only get so much time when you're in the pool. And I was listening to people just complaining about it. This one lady, she was cursing up and down: "The hell with this school! The hell with these fucking lifeguards!" On and on like this. It just, you know, I feel a great anger in this city with law enforcement, with a lot of things. And all the people that we talked to expressed how they are harassed daily by the cops, how they just come and they just show their presence and basically just harass people at random. And all the killings I've been hearing about—in Brownsville, in the Bronx, everywhere in Brooklyn and other places in the city—and then you have the people that's fighting against stop-and-frisk who are... going to court just for standing up for what they believe in, for exercising their First Amendment rights. And the same thing with Occupy... it's like, you ask yourself: "Why is this going on? Why is this system bent out of oppressing people in such a way that, just because you are a Black person or just because you are a Hispanic person, that you're going to be hassled by police, just for that reason?" And I see that animosity and that utter bitterness against law enforcement here in town. And you can hear it in the voices. You can see it in a lot of the people's faces. Some people you don't have to even look twice or ask the question. You could just see it.
Just in the courtroom alone, with this one judge, who—when he came up to his trial, the judge looked up and down, no emotion whatsoever, and literally just told this kid, "Well, we have made out this trial, and you better be there," and of course you could see this kid was brutally beaten by the cops, and the judge would say something like, "Well, unless you gotta go to surgery, then there's no reason for you to miss this trial." And...just how cruel...this system is, just because you're just expressing your freedom of speech [against] something that is totally wrong and should not even be a law.
Revolution: There's all this anger that this bus tour is going out and tapping into and connecting with. I just wanted to bring it back to what you were saying about: people are looking for an answer. And people are really angry and outraged at what this system is doing, and they're looking for an answer. And then, what does it mean—what have you learned through the process of—actually bringing to people an answer and a way out of all this anger and outrages that people are feeling and dealing with?
Sc: Well, within the message of Bob Avakian, who made it clear in BAsics about the state of what the police are really about, and how it applies to what is going on, and how the people are expressing that within their own experiences and finding out—trying to get them more out of the box of their supposed comfort zone to not suppress what they are feeling, and I think that's what the bus tour is bringing out with a lot of people, that they have a place to bring out that anger, to bring out that suppression, not to keep it in, not to hold it in like the system wants you to. We're giving them an alternative to just keep[ing] it suppressed—'cause that's the problem I had dealing with my own sister and the way she was killed by this cop.
Revolution: And when was that, by the way, that this happened?
Sc: This actually happened in '89, with my sister, which go to show—and now we here in 2012, and up until I got to know more about the movement, this is the thing I basically suppressed within me. I really didn't say anything about it, in fear of—well, one, nobody would listen, and two, that if I told anybody they wouldn't care, because these things are not supposed to happen. That's the way [a lot of people] look at it: "Oh well, the cops do not kill citizens. No, that's not what they do—they supposed to serve and protect us people." This is what we are told to believe. Like, to say that this did not happen. But it did happen. And in a very real way, with a lot of people, it happened with them too. And I feel a lot that we was able—with some people, when we got them out of their zone and was able to talk to them and they actually told us some really heartfelt, some of it horrific things that has been held back with them, they felt the comfortability—well most people, anyway, they got a comfortability—of being able to say what they couldn't say in any other circumstance. And I feel that with more—which would be important—if we would get the word out more about starting more of these Revolution Clubs for people to come together with these like minds. Because I have said for a long time that we all have some type of common ground—whether people want to admit it or not, we do. We all want something better than what we are getting through this system. We all would like to have a system that actually treats people fairly, but we do not see that. We all want to have things that other people—just to plain live in society—roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food to eat. And a lot of people just don't have that.
And I feel that this bus tour is bringing out a lot of those feelings from people that there needs to be a better system than what it is that we are facing today where a lot is going on. And more and more people need to get out the word and need to come together, and it is important that we could put together more Revolution Clubs all over the country, eventually all over the world, in every major city, in every town. Like, from New York City to Paterson, New Jersey, which has a real diverse culture in its own, and Philadelphia, where the other bus went. And other cities like that around the United States, all around the world. To spread out the word of Bob Avakian, that he found—he's been researching for all these years a way of making revolution possible and a way that it could happen, and not only changing the way of society, but the way we look at ourselves as people. And [casting] this mindset away that we are only worth what society think of us. We are worth more than that. We are a contributing part of this society, and we ought to come to grips with that, that we are, and not fall back into the ways of the system, saying that, "You only worth what we say you are worth." Or as they say with school kids: "They are a commodity." Like they are just priceless works of art or whatever.
And also, as far as the bus tour, 'cause I've seen what the other bus tours have accomplished, and hopefully what this one will before the end of it, and to see other tours like this around other parts of the country and eventually around the world to spread out the word of Bob Avakian, and get BAsics in the hands—but not just to get BAsics in the hands of people, but for them to use it as a tool to change not only their thinking about things that they would never think about in this society that don't want you to think about, but to apply it in their lives as well to emancipate themselves as we emancipate humanity. That's what this is all about: emancipating humanity, emancipating the world, emancipating the minds of everyone who needs to know that there is something better than this. And we need to get ready to make a movement for that—in the present tense of right now. It is desperately needed, and this is the beginning.
"All Played Out," spoken-word poem by Bob Avakian
From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a memoir by Bob Avakian, 2005, Insight Press
"The Execution of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and the Urgency of Putting this Revolution and Its Leadership on the Map," Revolution #202, May 21, 2010
"The Outrageous NYPD Murder of Ramarley Graham," Revolution #260, February 19, 2012
"The Murder of Trayvon Martin: The Crime and the Context," Revolution #271, June 10, 2012
"The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness."—BAsics 1:24
Emmett Till and Lynchings, Past and Present, An excerpt from Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, excerpt published in Revolution, #264, April 1, 2012
"A compelling work, A creative introduction to BAsics," Revolution #255, January 8, 2012 (about the map Sc mentions)
"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives."—BAsics 5:7
"Not only did slavery play a major role in the historical development of the U.S., but the wealth and power of the U.S. rests today on a worldwide system of imperialist exploitation that ensnares hundreds of millions, and ultimately billions, of people in conditions hardly better than those of slaves. Now, if this seems like an extreme or extravagant claim, think about the tens of millions of children throughout the Third World who, from a very, very early age, are working nearly every day of the year—as the slaves on the southern plantations in the United States used to say, 'from can’t see in the morning, till can’t see at night”—until they’ve been physically used up....These are conditions very similar to outright slavery....This includes overt sexual harassment of women, and many other degradations as well. All this is the foundation on which the imperialist system rests, with U.S. imperialism now sitting atop it all."—BAsics 1:4
"No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that."—BAsics 1:13
"If you can conceive of a world without America— without everything America stands for and everything it does in the world—then you’ve already taken great strides and begun to get at least a glimpse of a whole new world. If you can envision a world without any imperialism, exploitation, oppression—and the whole philosophy that rationalizes it—a world without division into classes or even different nations, and all the narrow-minded, selfish, outmoded ideas that uphold this; if you can envision all this, then you have the basis for proletarian internationalism. And once you have raised your sights to all this, how could you not feel compelled to take an active part in the world historic struggle to realize it; why would you want to lower your sights to anything less?—BAsics 1:31"Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First."—BAsics 5:8
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
From the Road: Voices from the BAsics Bus Tour...
Revolution: Maybe you could start by just talking about how you first met this movement for revolution and got introduced to the leadership of Bob Avakian, and then how you came to be part of this bus tour.
Te: Ok, well when I first met this communist leadership, I met it down in Georgia. And I met it during the [time of the] Troy Davis execution, legal lynching. And that's what got me into this movement. And so ever since then, they told me the way and then they showed me the way out of this stuff, because I never knew why we were in the situation we were in. And they introduced me to [the leadership, vision and work of] Bob Avakian, and ever since I met him and I read BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, I knew that there is a need to put this to other people besides just me—everybody needs to know about Bob Avakian and his pathbreaking leadership. And I want everybody to know this stuff, you know, so, that's how I really came to learn about communism. And so now I just try to get deeper and deeper and learn more and more and change the world in the process, because it's so messed up on all levels for so many people, especially myself. And the book [BAsics] changed me when I just read the first page. I read the whole thing and it just changed me, and so I just wanted to go everywhere and spread this message of revolution anywhere I can, no matter if I gotta lay my life down, whatever, I just gotta spread this knowledge of revolution and changing the world. So that's why I'm here up in New York, spreading revolution.
Revolution: Maybe you could talk a little bit about what your understanding of the world was like at the time that you first met this movement for revolution, and then how that was impacted by getting into BAsics, and you mentioned even the first chapter in particular.
Te: When I first started, I was all thinking that if we elect somebody else, get a new Congress, or maybe just change the people, just one by one, or just—I don't know, I was lost, I was thinking that we could do it through this Democratic or Republican process, but it's totally wrong, you know, this whole system is oppressive to all Blacks and Latinos and people around the world. It's no good, and there's no way out through this electoral process. So I was thinking that way, I was reading the newspaper, watching CNN and watching Rachel Maddow, and all this and I was thinking that's the way. But I always felt like they weren't really talking to what I was really feeling. And that's why, when I met Bob Avakian, he was talking to my feelings, and talking to how I really felt, and what I was really thinking and feeling at the same time. So that's what made me really dig deeper and try to understand what this is really about. And once I understand that it's the science of communism, the science of revolution, this is the way out and nothing else—all the other stuff is not reality... and I needed something real and something I could really hold onto and something that wasn't too complex... I could understand it, anyone could understand this stuff, it's not like you got to be a scientist to understand wrong and right, it's just—this is wrong, this is right, and that system that we live in now, capitalism-imperialism, that exploits and oppresses and drags people down in the mud is no fucking good. And I want a whole new world that's good for the people, that lifts people up. That gives you power to talk—before, I couldn't get up and talk in front of people like this and talk to people like this, until I met Bob Avakian and his leadership, and it makes me want to talk to everybody about this and scream it out, no matter where you at, because you know it's right and you just feel it's the truth.
Revolution: Before meeting the works and the leadership of Avakian and this movement for revolution, you couldn't speak in public like this.
Te: I couldn't, because I really wasn't grounded in any science or any real facts, I was just grounded in what I thought was supposed to be the way. Now that I'm getting to what's really going on, and why the world is like it really is, how it's all connected, I didn't know this before, 'cause they never really told me this in school or the news on TV or the media, no one ever told me this until I learned about the science of communism. And this lets you see why we have a ruling class that rules over us and why it's like this—why we're exploited like this, why it's like this. You won't learn this from school or the best colleges or people in society, you only learn this through the science of communism—that's the only way and nothing else.
Revolution: You were saying a second ago that when you first got introduced to this leader, that you felt like it really tapped into something that you felt. Maybe you could say a little bit more about how that first struck you. Like, the first thing that you saw from Avakian was BAsics?
Te: Yeah, that's the first thing I saw was BAsics. And I read the first quote: "There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery, that is a simple and basic truth." And that makes you want to go deeper: OK, so all this richness, all these cars, all this money, all this wealth... if it was founded on slavery and exploitation, then what does that really mean and what kind of society do we really live in? And I just couldn't understand it, you know? And now I do. And that's why I want to change it, and that's why I'm fighting to change it, and I want to bring more people into this revolution. 'Cause I had a wrong understanding my whole life, and now I can see, and it's a whole burden lifted off my shoulders. I feel liberated, I feel free, and I feel ready for revolution.
Revolution: Maybe you could briefly talk a little bit about what some of your life experiences have been like before meeting this movement for revolution and before coming on the tour.
Te: Before meeting this, you know, I was just caught up in what this society tells you you should do: You should work, you should do this, you should try to accumulate stuff and try to dog-eat-dog, beat each other out any way you can. That was my mindset: beat everybody out and fuck everybody else—"I'm first, fuck everybody else." Now, I see the world as: we're all together, we're all interconnected in this shit, we're all together in this shit, there's no—it's not scientific, it's not reality by me saying that it's just me first, it's not compatible with the universe, first of all, it doesn't go with reality. I wasn't grounded in reality... That's how I was caught up in the system, thinking what the bourgeoisie has put down to us. And now, I'm not, 'cause I'm free, I'm free of all that, I'm free of that. Now, I'm fighting for a world where we're all free. That's why I'm fighting to break all these chains that have always been on me for all my life. And I'm fighting to unleash the whole world, that's what I'm fighting for. I want a whole new way we relate to each other, that's what I'm fighting for.
Revolution: What has it been like on this bus tour to be together with people who are taking out the leadership, the vision and work of Avakian to people who are most brutally oppressed by this system, and then people who may feel the way you're describing that you felt and that you were living before meeting this movement for revolution?
Te: Oh, yeah, it feels great, because it's a small embryo of what it could be and what we are fighting for. If you get a chance to see these people on this bus tour and meet 'em, and understand what they want in life and the kind of world they're fighting for—free of exploitation and oppression, where social relations have been changed in society—you want that type of world. There's no other world you want. We don't [have] this type of world. This is filth now. You want a whole new way now. And this communism is the way. These people share, these people heal each other without making any money; we're not getting paid shit. We're just out here risking our lives together, could get shot down any minute, but we having fun, we high off the people—just like Fred Hampton said in that book I read, "We high off the people," because the people give us power, they give us energy, they give us strength. And I just want to keep learning more about communism, because like I said, I'm new to this. I'm still learning every day. So it's been an amazing experience, and I've learned so much from these people, and I want to keep learning. And these people are wonderful, these people are amazing, these are my family, these are my comrades, man, and we're ready to lay our lives down together at any minute, and it's a bond you won't get out of anything else but this right here, you know what I mean?
Revolution: What has it meant to take out to people who are feeling every day the brutal weight of this system and the misery and suffering and brutality it unleashes—to take to people who thought that they just had to put up with this that there's the leadership and vision and strategy for a way out?
Te: Oh, yeah, now that's a really fun thing, 'cause that's why I talk so fast and I'm so excited and I trip over my words sometimes; when I'm talking about this, I get excited, because these guys don't have a way... and when I bring it to them, they like, "So you talking about revolution, communism?" I'm like, "Man, this is your way out. This is your only chance to get into this revolution, and run with this—join this shit, we can goddamn do this shit, come on man!" And sometimes they catch my enthusiasm, sometimes they just can't realize it, you know. But you never know how people develop in different ways. But it's a joy taking it to them, because this is their way out and this is their way to jump into it and get free from the chains that they in. It's a way to get free, and it's their only way, you know? And once I give it to them, I can't [help] but scream it in their face: "Look, it's your only way out, man!" and it feels good, man; it's the best feeling in the world to take this to people; it's no other feeling then telling people this, man. I wish I could do this every single day of the year, but I gotta go back and fucking work and shit... so I'm fighting this shit right now, 'cause I gotta go back and fucking work and fucking eat and shit, so I'm fighting this shit right now, but it ain't nothing better than this shit, I wish I could do this shit for a fucking job every fucking day. I gotta live somewhere and fucking eat, but this is what I wanna fucking do and I want to dedicate my life to this shit.
Revolution: What do you feel that you've learned through the course of this—I want to ask you on two levels: More generally what you feel you've learned, but also, specifically, what you've learned about what it means to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution?
Te: Now that, like we talked about today, the strategy for revolution, fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution is a very real thing, and I'm really coming to understand what that really means. Like these whistles that we brought to Brownsville the other day, you know, it gives people a sense of resistance, of rebellion against the system, of going against the system, and in the process it's transforming how they think about other things and other questions about society. So that's a good thing for the people in these 'hoods and oppressed ghettos and barrios that we go to. And we transforming people for revolution—we fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution; that's exactly what we doing out here. And it feels great doing it with other people that want a whole new world. It's the best thing ever, man, that's all I can tell you.
Revolution: I know, like you're saying, you're new to this and you're still learning more as you're going and getting deeper into it, but maybe you could talk a little bit briefly about what you were taught about communism growing up, and then what it's meant to you to start getting into this new synthesis of communism that Avakian's brought forward?
Te: See, all my life, communism I was taught it was fucked up; I was taught that everybody's gonna wear gray suits and it's a bad day for people living in a communist world. And it's fucked up, it's not something that you want; that's what I've been taught all my life. But by me reading about Marx and Lenin and other revolutionary leaders, it opened my eyes to the reality that everything I've been told has been lies and I've been lied to by this system and what it does to everybody. It's just not me, it's everybody it does this to. The system lies in history books, through media, through all the other institutions that they put down. And once you see that, there's nothing you can do but fight against this shit to change this shit. Yeah, I've been tricked by this system that communism's no good. But once I found out what the truth is and the distortions that the system put through history on communism, you get sick and you like, "Damn! I've been lied to about all this shit and I need to fight this on every level 'cause it's wrong and it's just unjust." And your whole body is revolting against this shit, this revolting culture, this capitalism-imperialism.
Revolution: What do you feel you've been learning about how Avakian has re-envisioned revolution and communism, building on this past experience and overwhelmingly upholding it, but then also figuring out a way that we can go even further and do better the next time?
Te: One thing I've learned is that this is a moving science, it's not just some dogmatic dogma that's just stuck in stone. No, this shit is always changing, it's always moving and flowing and moving forward. So that's the one thing I like about it, 'cause Bob Avakian, he says [paraphrasing], "I don't know all the fucking answers, hell naw!" But we can learn together as a whole. We can come together, as long as we have a system based on people moving forward and not exploiting them and oppressing them and degrading them and making them scuffle and scramble just to make a living and survive in this hard system. He shows us how to relate to each other in a different way, and that's the most important thing to me—relating to people in different ways and having a new morality. And that's what it's about—I've learned to have a new morality, not just talk bad to women like I used to, not to drink and smoke drugs and be out there doing shit like I used to. And this isn't no religious shit, this is science that I'm learning. So it's a whole different thing. I'm learning science, so that shows religion is a slave mentality and keeps people down, you don't get any better with that shit and we need to throw that shit out and get science into schools—evolution—we need... I've learned a lot of shit, and I'm still learning, like I said.
Revolution: Did you grow up around people of a lot of different nationalities? Or no?
Te: Yeah. When I grew up, I grew up around a lot of different nationalities—I grew up in California, really. There was a lot of different people in my neighborhood, so we had a lot of fun. But when I stayed in LA man, there was a lot of killings and murders around me at the same time, 'cause I have stayed in the 'hoods before. And I have been brutally oppressed by this system in every way possible—by the police, by the courts, by the prisons, by everything. And it's unjust, illegitimate. And it's not my shame, it's their shame. And we shouldn't be scared to talk about what's happened to us in this system. We shouldn't be ashamed and scared to speak out with liberation and peace and justice for all, so we fighting for a whole new world.
Revolution: Part of why I asked that is I was wondering what it's like to be part of a crew of people of an incredible diversity of nationalities and ages, and men and women—what it's like to be part of an incredibly diverse crew of people taking this out to people.
Te: Yeah, it's been great. Like I said, I've been learning different things from every last one of them, 'cause we got different ages and different cultures and different things that they're always teaching me every day, and I'm sure they learning from me too. And we all inspiring each other to do better and keep moving and keep changing the world. I mean, we in the process of changing the world, we doing big things, and we trying to do big things, so it's the best in the world. It's the best in the world. Nothing could be better.
Revolution: For people who have been supporting the tour or people who—on the Tumblr [basicsbustour.tumblr.com] or in person have been meeting this tour—in other words, people who are newly meeting this tour and supporting it and maybe trying to figure out how they fit into this movement for revolution, do you have anything you would want to say to them?
Te: Yeah, man: Join this revolution, man. Get with BA, man. That's the only way that you gonna change this shit, man. No Democrat, no Republican, no Allah or god from the sky gonna do this shit. We gotta do this shit together, man. Like Bob Avakian said: only way to emancipate yourself is emancipate your damn self. So I encourage people to take this shit up, get into this science and get into it. If you want to change the world. But if you like this world how it is, and you don't act, it's gonna get worse and worse. But you gonna be getting eaten up in this process anyway, so, really you have no choice but to join this. Well, you have a choice, but I hope you choose the right thing and join this communist revolution. That's the only way out for humanity.
This new synthesis... See also BAsics 2:31.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
From the Road: Voices from the BAsics Bus Tour...
Revolution: Maybe you could just tell me to start with, about what brought you to this point and what made you come on this BAsics Bus Tour?
Ju: I've been doing work around the revolution since 2001. In 2001, I had a rude awakening to the system. My son was killed by the police. And so I've been involved ever since. And I wanted to come to the tour because I feel like I'm a part of making history. I know there's a lot of messed up stuff in this world and I'd like to be a part of trying to change it.
Revolution: Do you want to talk more about the circumstances with your son, or—?
Ju: If you would.
Revolution: OK, yeah. Anything that you'd like to share.
Ju: Well, first of all, my son was like so many others who was killed for no reason. And there was no justice to be gotten. We went through a lawsuit, but I never had any faith in the lawsuit because I already was understanding how the system is... I joined the October 22nd Coalition—and if you know about the Stolen Lives pledge, I vowed to fight to keep my son's memory alive as well as the memories of all the other people, all of the stolen lives. So that's what really got me into the fight, but once I got into the struggle—I was already aware of a lot of things that were wrong, but I became more and more aware of all the problems with this system that we live under. And I started to agree that it can't be fixed. There's no way to fix it. People have tried to fix it all the time that we've been here and nothing's changed. It's still the same. So I agree that it needs to be swept away, and a new system brought into being. And I want to be part of making that happen.
Revolution: Your son was killed in 2001 by the police?
Ju: Yes. Yes, he was killed in 2001. And there were cover-ups involved, there were all kinds of—it was typical of what they do, of what the system does: the lying, the no remorse that they always accuse people of having, but they're the ones with no remorse. None at all. And I've seen so many other lives stolen. In my area, when somebody's killed, which is all the time, I always make it a point to try to go visit the families. And you know, I could probably tell the stories, all I need is the name to put in, because it's always the same, they always do the same, they never change it up. It's always the same. And I'm sick and tired of it, and I'm hoping that everybody would be sick and tired of it.
Revolution: The murder of your son is another in a long line of crimes and outrages of this system—
Revolution:—and I'm very sorry to learn that your son was another victim of this system.
Ju: Thank you.
Revolution: Could you talk a little bit about how you were seeing, before this happened, what kind of society and system you were living in, and then as you got active around the struggle against what the police do to people?
Ju: I used to go to the polls. I used to vote. I felt like, as a Black person, I was happy to go vote because that was a right that had been denied us. And at the time, I thought that that could make a difference. I worked as a nurse. I went to school because I got tired of working in factories. We had a lot of textiles where I was from. And worked in a factory, felt kind of slavish to me. You go take a break, and you get 15 minutes for your break, and before you could use the bathroom again, [or get] something cold to drink, a man would blow a whistle, then you'd go back to work. And I didn't think I could tolerate that, so I went to school to try to better myself. And I enjoyed working as a nurse and everything, but even in working, it's still so much wrong. I was trying to just, you know, just survive really. But then when the system slapped me the way they did, when they just blatantly showed no respect for me or my family, that was my point of saying enough. You know, enough. I can't do this anymore [laughs].
Revolution: I'm assuming this is yet another case where there were not charges filed and they tried to say it was a quote-unquote "justifiable homicide."
Ju: Yes, that's exactly what happened. And we even sued, because we were going out on the streets—we had met with some revolutionaries and we thought we should take it to the streets. And they tried to punish us for that. They filed a $10,000 lawsuit against us, wanting us to stop saying the word "murderer." We were calling the pig a murderer. And they said we couldn't do that. So I ended up in the state court of appeals, all because the whole situation. They gonna kill him and then tell us that we can't call it what it is. And on the autopsy, when the autopsy came back—well I know now that this is on everybody's—it said "homicide." And I always thought homicide was a crime—"Yay, we got him." But no, it's different, it's a different homicide when the pigs do it [laughs]. So, you know, I found out a lot of things like that... and found out that there is no free speech. Because we were calling it what it was, and then we're gonna get sued and told not to say that no more. So the whole system's a set-up of lies and brutality.
Revolution: Maybe you could talk a little bit about over the years, as you got introduced to this revolution and its leadership, and you started to see the connections between the crime that happened to your son and the many different crimes of this system here and all around the world.
Ju: Well, during that time the war in Iraq was going on. I had a son that was involved in the first Iraq conflict. And I was already upset over that. And not just for my son, for everybody's son. So I guess I was already an anti-war activist. And I just started to clearly see more things wrong with the system, and then started getting revolutionary literature, and it tells you what you already know but what you kind of didn't see or what you tried to, I don't know—I guess I was settling for a few crumbs. And that's just not enough. It's just not enough. And the crimes of this system do need to be stopped, they need to be done away with. And that's when I shed a lot of my illusions about religion also [laughs]. I just started to see things a lot more clearly than I ever had. And even with my knowledge of a lot of the crimes and a little bit that I learned through going to school and stuff. I realized that wasn't even a drop in the bucket when I started realizing the real horror of what's going on out here.
Revolution: Maybe you could talk a little bit more about this question of religion and shedding your illusions around that. Because I know a lot of people in society take the view of, "Oh, we can't struggle with people about religion."
Ju: It was a long time before I would say the word "communist" in reference to myself. It was a long time before I could struggle with people about religion. I felt like I was disrespecting them. 'Cause it was deeply ingrained in me, religion was. And—
Revolution: You grew up in a very religious family?
Ju: Yes, yes I did. And I'm glad that's one chain that I lost. And for a little while I dropped out of the movement—for about a year. And my comrade stayed in touch, but I kind of dodged him a little bit. So after about six months, I decided to talk to one of them, and I realized that I needed to be back in the movement. And he said, "What have you been doing?" And I said, "You need to sit down for this, what I got to tell you." And he said, "What is it?" I said, "I joined the church." He said, "That's OK, we forgive you." [laughs]. But yeah, I tried going back to church after 2001. I mean, before my son was killed, I wasn't an avid churchgoer. But I had that religious root where I grew up going to church almost every Sunday and being active in church. But then, when I went back—after I had started to open my eyes and I went back—I just could see all the hypocrisy. I could just see all the hypocrisy. They said, "Come as you are, you don't have to have anything," but when I'd go, all they'd talk about is money. How much money they need and how much they're gonna get. And then the churches didn't support me in my struggle either. They tended to think that maybe the police knew something that they didn't, that maybe my son deserved it. And that's kind of the way they'd look at it... And then a city councilman that was a personal friend of my sister's, she said, "Oh, he can help you. He can help you." So I went and he said, "Bring me everything you got," so I took everything I had up to that point as far as paperwork. And then he said, "Well, let's wait and see what the investigation shows." So I realized the system—I don't care who's in the council seat or who's in the White House or presidency—it's all the same. It doesn't matter, the name or the color. It doesn't matter. The system is just working, and as long as that person is working for the system, they're gonna uphold that system. So, you know, I shed a whole lot of illusions. I shed a whole lot of them [laughs].
Revolution: And how did you come to see the role of religion in particular within that?
Ju: A lot of people would tell me things that I thought were cruel, like: "Just give it to the lord"; "You should get on with your life." As if my son was something that I could just get over. And something that the lord was gonna help me solve when the lord didn't preserve his life. I just, you know—where was god when my son was being brutalized, because he was not only killed, he was beaten before he was killed. So I mean, it just started helping me see that this stuff is not real. And when I first started thinking, saying there's no god, I was even afraid to think that way. That's how backwards I was. I was thinking: if I think like that, something's gonna happen. I know now there's no truth, but—
Revolution: You mean that god would punish you, you mean.
Ju: Yeah, yeah. But, you know, I got rid of all that [laughs].
Revolution: I want to move specifically to the bus tour in a second, but part of why I'm persisting on this question of religion a little bit is because it's such a big question that so many people just have this wrong attitude in society about, like: "You can't struggle with people over this." Or "People will never change on religion." So I wonder what you would say to people who say, "You can't take religion away from people," or "people who are oppressed need religion," or some shit like that.
Ju: I would say that maybe some people are better at it, but that is a hard contradiction. Just here during the tour, in the Brooklyn area, I met three different people that wouldn't talk to us because they found out that we were atheists. One lady said, "No, I don't want that stuff. Y'all are atheists. I want nothing to do with it because Jesus is real." And then one man was taking a card from another comrade, and he said, "What color do you think Jesus is?" And the comrade said, "I don't believe in Jesus." And the man just—he became belligerent and gave him his card back and said, "We have nothing else to talk about." So that's a hard contradiction, but I think it can be done, because it was done with me. But it was done with patience. It was done with patience. And sometimes, some people, like if they say, "I don't have anything else to talk to you about," then I would hesitate to continue to struggle with that person. Because some people just feel that way about it, and I remember a time that I felt that way—if somebody was an atheist, I didn't want to talk to them at all. I thought that they were the devil.
Revolution: But how do you see the importance of people transforming on this question? Like, here's maybe a way to go at it—what do you think it meant—
Ju: I think it may be a way if we let people know that religion is just a tactic to hold us back and to keep us down. If people be honest, I think it wouldn't be hard for them to come to that realization. And you go back to Nina Simone's song, "just go slow"—just stay on your knees and keep begging [laughs].
Revolution: You're talking about the lyric from "Mississippi Goddam," right?
Ju: Yeah, yeah. I can see religion now as a noose, as a tactic to keep people in line. But you know, I'm used to that, I'm used to hearing people talk that way, like: "Just give it to the lord," or "The lord will solve it for you." And sometimes I think we can just be open and say that that's not gonna work [laughs]. That's not working.
Revolution: To bring it up a little bit back to the bus tour itself. I know you were saying earlier that you feel like you really wanted to be part of history with this. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about specifically what made you feel like you had to be on this bus tour?
Ju: Because I think BA does need to be everywhere. I don't hear anybody else talking about revolution. Nobody. And with all the things that's going on, I just see things as basically—like I'm a product of the '50s, and I just see things as basically just like they were. We might go to the same schools or we might drink out of the same water fountain, or we can vote [laughs]. But vote for what? I just saw it as an important thing until analyzing the system and knowing that it doesn't work, it doesn't work for us, it doesn't work for anybody, except the 1 percent maybe.
Revolution: What has your own experience over the years been like getting into BA? Like, were there particular works of his that you first got into that were kind of your introduction to his work, or—
Ju: Well, no, a lot of it was the paper [Revolution newspaper], and my comrade—we just discussed, discussed, discussed and I read and read and read. And I like all his works. At first, it was hard for me getting into revolutionary reading, even the newspaper, because I thought you could read it like you would a regular newspaper, just read it and put it down. But it's reading that you have to read, get your dictionary out and read a little bit and then go back and read some more, 'cause it's not easy reading. It's not easy reading. But it's very—you learn a lot if you take time and read it. You learn a lot. And I appreciate the fact that Bob has studied and analyzed and dug in so deep and done stuff that nobody else has done. I was aware of the Panthers when they were around. I had no idea BA was part of that. I hadn't heard of revolutionaries until 2001, since back in the '70s.
Revolution: So what was that experience like, to find out that there's a movement for revolution in this country?
Ju: It felt great. It felt great. And I just like spreading the word. And I just wish that there were more of us, because there's so many people that need to be talked to and transformed. And there's just so few of us. But I think this campaign—spreading BA far and wide—and losing some of my inhibitions about going out on the street—and I'm sure other people have some too—but I think all that is going to help. And maybe one day we'll walk down the street and—we had a little chant in our group—and one day we gonna walk down the street and somebody's gonna be standing behind us, I mean besides us, doing that little chant. And then we'll know we're getting the word around [laughs].
Revolution: Maybe you could talk a little more about how you're seeing the critical importance of getting BA Everywhere and the difference that can make on the whole atmosphere.
Ju: Well, the neighborhoods we go in are oppressed neighborhoods. A lot of people I think don't know that there's a way out. A lot of people believe in that permanent necessity—I mean, I don't know if they believe in it, but a lot of people think that this is the best we can do. And I feel good helping people realize that there is something else and that we don't have to live this way. And then hearing speakers like Carl Dix, hearing all the revolutionary speakers... and getting the DVD [Revoltuion: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About] around and all that. I think there are some people that are open-minded and some people who will listen and struggle with you. And I guess we'll win them over. We'll win 'em over.
Revolution: I know the tour is a few days in now. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what some of your experiences have been like taking this out to people, including people in neighborhoods that have been completely abandoned and left to rot by this system.
Ju: I think for the most part people have been positive. This is different to me in that we talked to a lot more children, a lot more youth. We got a chance to go to a school and have children do posters and stuff—like a daycare-type school, all ages. And that was exciting to me. That was very exciting. And most of 'em were paying attention, so I'm sure they got something out of it. And with children, they will spread it.
Revolution: What kind of posters were they making?
Ju: Like: "Do you think American lives are more important than others?" That was the main question we put to them. But also: "No more generations..." [BAsics 1:13]. And kids were getting it. They were getting it. They really were. And you can tell by a lot of the responses that they were getting it. So we can do the same things with some adults and have them get it [laughs].
Revolution: What were some of the reactions kids were having?
Ju: They were saying, "No, American lives are not more important, and if you are mean to somebody because they are from another country, or because they don't look like you, that's racism." And a lot of them said they hear gunshots at night, and some of them in the daytime. One of the girls was concerned because people are dying from being alcoholics. So a lot of children are more worried than we probably would give them credit for being.
Revolution: Just to go back to something you said a second ago: I know you were saying at one point you were very nervous about using the word communist, or you never would have used it. How did you—
Ju: Well, when I was growing up, a communist was a bad thing. And I associated communist with Nazis. And I think I was meant to. I think that was the way we were meant to think about it. I mean we were taught to think about it, even in school. And that's what I thought. And it was through education that I learned that communists fought the Nazis, you know. And that there's a whole difference. And a lot of times when I talk to people in oppressed neighborhoods, that's one of the things that we get out of the way right away. Because I don't want that to be something in the way of us connecting with them. And so I find out what they think a communist is and then we get past that. And a lot of them do think "Nazi." So, at first, I wouldn't say it. But after awhile, and after going to different events and stuff, you start to feel more and more comfortable. And then you start feeling proud [laughs]. So I have no problem now saying it, because I think I can explain to people more what it is, or I definitely can explain to them what it's not.
Revolution: What are some of the ways that you go at that now or take that on?
Ju: Just ask them, I just tell them—one girl said, "I'm gonna march with y'all, y'all the NAACP." I said, "No ma'am, we're not" [laughs]. I asked her, "Do you know what a communist is?" And she said, "A Nazi." And I said, "No," so we talked about it. And I got her to understand that there's a big difference—I mean not difference, there's nothing similar at all in what a communist is. And once we get that out of the way, then we can move past it, because I don't want people to freeze up when I say we're communists and thinking we're bad like "Jehovah's Witness, I don't want to talk to you," you know, like that. So I like to go ahead and get it out of the way now. At first, I used to go all around it, talk to 'em about everything and avoid that word, but now I bring the word right on out so that there's no deception, but I make sure that they understand that a communist is somebody good and not a Nazi.
Revolution: And how did your own understanding of communism—what was that process like through which your own understanding developed and changed over the years?
Ju: Just some education, just reading, and being around communists. My buddy at home, he's not shy about telling people's that he's a communist, telling people he's an atheist. And this one guy said to him, "You can't be an atheist, you're too good." So I think it kind of speaks for itself. And that's one way me being—when the communists are the ones who came to my aid in my hour of despair, when they [the police] killed my son, the communists were the first ones who came to my aid. The only ones that came to my aid. So that told me then something about what kind of people they were. And then I told 'em what I thought, I said, "I thought communists were Nazis," and it was just a matter of him explaining and me reading, you know.
Revolution: When you say "him explaining," you're talking about—
Ju: Oh, my comrade. We read the thing in the paper about what communism is. It's always on page 3, maybe page 2. And just studying and doing history and stuff. And just getting into the movement, you know. And listening to BA speak, and reading. And a lot of it is just being around communists, just seeing their high character, the kind of people they are. They're better than Christians [laughs].
Revolution: There's also the fact that—the whole way that BA has re-envisioned revolution and communism, based on both principally upholding the actual past experience of the communist revolution as opposed to the lies you're talking about that people are told, but then also the ways in which he's carved out the basis for us to do even better next time—it kind of really flies in the face of what people's stereotypes or misconceptions are.
Ju: We tell people—because a lot of people say to us, "Communism, it's been tried and it failed," and we tell them about the new communism and the new synthesis.
Revolution: Maybe you could say a little bit more about what it's been like for you to be on this tour, taking BA out to the masses and to be organizing people into this movement for revolution.
Ju: The tour has been great. I've met a lot of people and I'm learning other ways to do the work. We do all we can at home. I've learned some other things that I can take back home. Like the idea of the pennies. 'Cause fundraising is always kind of difficult, especially when you're going in oppressed neighborhoods, a lot of times people just don't have it. And I like the 12 ways cards drawing everybody in, letting everybody know that they have a role, even if it's not money, or if it's not going on the street, there's still things that they can do. And I think that's a way of uniting the people too. But it's meant a lot. And I see a lot of differences in some things, and then I see a lot of similarities. Like, the people in housing, I see a lot of the same problems in these housing projects that I see in the ones back home, with the authority and everything. I met a lady that said they are not allowed to stand in the hallway. And we have a project at home where people are not allowed to sit on the front porch. So I see a lot of similarities in the brutality of it and the oppression and everything. And it's not a whole lot that's always different except here it's on a much, much larger scale. And I think a lot of people's attitudes are similar to these attitudes I see back home.
Revolution: Could you say a little more about that?
Ju: It makes me feel kinda like people are the same no matter where you go [laughs]. And the interest I think was probably about the same as what we experienced. Over here, you got more people—you got a whole lot more people. And you got more things going on here. You got a lot of things going on, like the day CD [Carl Dix] was over at the projects, there was an old-timers' festival going on on the next corner. So you know, the more you can find places where people get together, that helps in trying to get the work done. So it's a lot more going on here, a lot more opportunities. But we have to do it here, we also have to do it in small places too. We have to transform the people and we have to go where the people are.
Revolution: In terms of this bus tour really effecting a big leap in this movement for revolution: as has been pointed out in coverage in Revolution newspaper, there's objectively, like you were saying earlier, the leadership of BA represents a way out and represents a way that humanity can actually make revolution when the time is right, and get rid of all the horrors of this system and get to a whole different world. And objectively, that's what BA and this new synthesis of communism represents, but then the number of people right now who know about that and who are organized into this movement for revolution to make a revolution, to get to that world, the number of people is still way too small. So [what do you think about] this bus tour, in terms of changing that and actually making a big leap?
Ju: I think the bus has made a big difference. And with groups of people coming together from different places and we're all converging out on the streets, I think it made a huge difference. And I think it made a difference when the people see us as one, and then the shirts and everything. The shirt... connected all of us together and I think it made the movement look even bigger with all of us going out like that, you know. It looks better with a bunch of us getting off the bus than with two or three people getting up going down the street in the neighborhood. And I think it piqued people's interest more, I really do.
Revolution: Maybe you could share some experiences or stories that kind of bring out people who are living in these projects—you're saying you're seeing the connection between people's conditions in these projects here and what you're familiar with back home—for people in these areas who are completely beaten down by this system and don't know there's a way out to then learn about this revolution and its leadership, what has that been like?
Ju: It's been good 'cause I've talked to several people... they even said, "There's nothing you can do," and in talking to them, they're not thinking that way anymore. This one lady in particular... she was saying "If you raise your children right and if they do what you tell them, then nothing will happen to them." And after we talked and talked, she admitted that that's not the problem—raising children right is not the problem—and she realized the problem's the system and that her children can be affected as well as anybody else's even if she's doing the right thing. So I think it made a difference, and with there being a lot of us, it gave us a few more minutes to struggle with people. 'Cause sometimes I think it's just not enough time for just a little number of people going around. I liked that aspect of it—there being more of us. While I'm busy talking to this lady for 15 or 20 minutes, then somebody's talking to other people. So I think that part of it was exciting, versus there being two people going out and two people tied up for 20 minutes or so talking to somebody. Because some of these people are adamant about what they believe and you do have to struggle with them some and get them to look at another way and get them to be honest about—I don't think they're being dishonest, I think maybe that they just, they haven't heard about revolution, that's probably what it is.
Revolution: Are there any things that you feel like, as a result of being on this tour, you look at differently or your eyes have been opened to in a different way, or that you think about even more deeply?
Ju: Yeah, I've learned a lot of lessons, and I've learned a lot of stuff that I feel like I can benefit from at home. And one thing of that is in helping get BA's name out, I think the chant that we made up, I'm definitely taking that home. I think chants always get people's attention. I think the idea about collecting the pennies is good, the fundraising part of it and helping to get the books and stuff out. I think I've learned some stuff, some ideas that will help our area too, do even better.
Revolution: I guess the last question I would ask you for now, and then obviously feel free to add anything that you want to add, is: There's this metaphor that's been used—there's the people on the bus tour, right, but then there's the people all over the country who are pushing the bus to support it. I'm wondering, for those people who are pushing the bus supporting it, or those people who are not yet doing that but need to be, what would you say to them?
Ju: I'd say, "Thank you" to the ones that are pushing it already. The donations have been great—the food donations, I was amazed that so much stuff came in. And I think it's what's needed. And that's why I was liking the 12 ways cards, because everybody can be a part of this. Everybody can. And I think that card points it out that you might be able to make a big contribution or a little contribution, but all contributions are needed and appreciated. I'd say: Keep pushing the bus [laughs].
Revolution: How about people who are just finding out about this, who are new to finding out about this tour or to the people who have not yet been met by this bus tour but will be and are trying to figure out how they can plug in and relate to this?
Ju: I say we keep the tour for a year [laughter]. And just keep going from city to city and spreading BA far and wide. And picking up volunteers. I think this is an important way to get the word about revolution out, and to get BA out there, for people to find out the things that we already know about BA and about revolution. Things that we're still learning, actually.
Revolution: Did you have anything that you wanted to add? Anything I didn't ask you about that you wanted to speak about?
Ju: No, again I'm just glad to be a part of this tour and part of making history. And I would like to see the bus tour continue. I don't think two weeks or two months is enough. I think it needs to just keep going [laughs]
Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, available online or as a DVD set
BAsics 1:13: "No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that."—BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications. 2011
This new synthesis... See also BAsics 2:31.Twelve Ways That YOU Can Be Part of Building the Movement for Revolution—Right Now
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
From the Road: Voices from the BAsics Bus Tour...
Revolution: I'm trying to get a sense of the diversity of experiences and people who are part of this tour. If you wanted to just talk a little bit about how you first met this movement for revolution, and what brought you on this BAsics Bus Tour?
E: When I was first introduced to this party [the Revolutionary Communist Party], I was like doing a lot around prison reform and like the juvenile justice system. And it was actually my younger brother who found out about this party before me. And the way I used to view it, I was like, "Damn, my younger brother's getting into a fucking cult and following this white leader, Bob Avakian. I have to go to these meetings!" And I first started coming to the meetings just to argue against him, just to show him, "Well no, you're leading down the wrong thing," but as I started to get deeper into this and coming to the meetings, I started realizing I agreed with a lot of what they were talking about. You know, I had a lot of contradictions around religion at that time, but that's when I first started getting involved.
And in terms of the BAsics Bus Tour, it was like a couple of years of transformation that made me see the need for this revolution. I always think about the Rise Against song that they have, "Reeducation Through Labor"—how they switched the words at one point and they start saying, "I won't crawl on my knees for you, I won't sweat another drop for you." And that's what I always think about. I'm sick of living under a system where people are just constantly working just to get by and everything just keeps on—you know, that whole point, "capitalism keeps on humming in the background." When I saw the significance of what Avakian has, I wanted to be part of this tour. And even in the couple of weeks that I've done this, I feel like I've made ruptures. At first, it was very—very like formulaic, how I did it with people: "Well, first today I'll get you the newspaper, then tomorrow we might get into the DVD, and then the next day I might challenge you on your religious views or your patriarchy and stuff." But being a part of this tour, it's just made me realize: When you give people the full program of what we're about, what it is we have, the strategy for making a revolution, the fact that this is a whole new advanced theory of communism that Avakian has developed at a time when nobody else did it, that's something that has really come to light. And when you see people sort themselves out based on that, it's just amazing. Yeah, there's still a lot of work on us to have to organize people right on the spot, to figure out what it is they can do, either big or small—handing out some palm cards, or taking the even bigger leap of wanting to be in the Revolution Club. And it's just, it's changed. Like I'm just shocked at how people respond to this. And it's kind of had me thinking, "What the fuck have you been doing this whole time?" you know. I mean, "Yeah, you've been thinking about revolution and you've made a lot of ideological ruptures, but in terms of practice? You've fallen off on that point. And I feel like this tour has definitely changed that, you know? And it's had me thinking, "Why have you been spending so much time flipping through your phone trying to figure out how to waste the next hour or two hanging out with a friend who has some consciousness but no real encouragement to change the world?" It's just had me thinking, "Why haven't you been out testing different areas of your neighborhood or different areas of other outlying cities to figure out: how are people responding to this?"
Revolution: This is what you've been feeling and saying to yourself, you're saying?
E: Yeah. It's been a real rupture with myself. And it's a rupture that I think wouldn't have happened if I didn't go on this bus tour. The ideological meetings and struggles are important, I'm never going to undercut that need, it's important. But when you actually take it out into practice, and then you're constantly going back and forth—and in this situation, just imagine a room full of sweaty, mosquito-bitten, itchy scientists [laughter], social scientists trying to change the world, that's what we went through in this BAsics Bus Tour. On the road 24/7 with this movement for revolution and with what Bob Avakian is all about, and it's just been mind-blowing to see the potential that exists out in the world. And it's just really brought this thing to life for me. I've always seen the potential for revolution, especially when I got into the strategy for revolution by Avakian, where he talks about it's gonna take a revolutionary crisis and the fact that this system puts itself in those crises just off its basic functions—things like unemployment, or things like the contradiction around "We're the land of the free" yet warehouse 2.4 million people—like these are unresolved contradictions that can be driving forces for revolution. And I've seen that in an ideological sense, but once I've seen the potential, that whole point that Avakian talks about, why he doesn't tail people—because they have the ability to change the whole goddamn world, you know. He hates the way the masses are treated but he doesn't feel bad for them because he understands that potential. And I feel like that's really come to life for me: They can take this up—people who don't know shit about communism to people who have their criticisms because of the lies they've been told, and when you give them the book [BAsics], when you put it in their hands, when you—I got a little cheat sheet in my back pocket, and somebody else in our group developed like a full cheat sheet. You know, like a whole worked out little thing for each quote, where it's at, a little idea of what it talks about, and you utilize this—not in a dogmatic sense, but in a very lively way—and when people see that, people would buy the book just off seeing three questions that they had answered in this book. They might not agree completely with the answers that were provided, but when they saw the seriousness of it, that just amazed me, that people who would walk up and say, "We need Jesus," and then I'd read them [BAsics] 3:17:
[E recites BAsics 3:17 from memory]: "People say: 'You mean to tell me that these youth running around selling drugs and killing each other, and caught up in all kinds of other stuff, can be a backbone of this revolutionary state power in the future?' Yes—but not as they are now, and not without struggle. They weren't always selling drugs and killing each other, and the rest of it—and they don't have to be into all that in the future. Ask yourself: how does it happen that you go from beautiful children to supposedly 'irredeemable monsters' in a few years? It's because of the system, and what it does to people -not because of 'unchanging and unchangeable human nature.'"
You get these folks to take a step back and be like, "Oh, shit." Yeah, they didn't leave Jesus right there, yeah, they didn't break with religion right there, but they saw a level of seriousness that they don't have. And when they were confronted with that, they're just like, "I have to know more."
Or they'll bring up something else: "Well, you know, communism was a horror." And all of this other shit. And then you flip to another quote. You talk about: well, what is actual communism? What has this new synthesis brought forward? And when they read that quote, people want to know more. And that shit has just come to life for me.
Revolution: I've noticed that you've memorized several of the quotes, and it strikes me as a really important way of wielding BAsics and wielding the leadership of Avakian, and maybe you could talk a little bit about the importance of that as you've gone out to the masses with this and actually being able to get into these quotes on the spot with people.
E: Well, a lot of these quotes I memorized because—I mean, being an artist, I'm really good at memorizing shit, and watching that DVD [Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian] has just been very amazing, getting into the quotes and the potential that they have—it's important to wield these quotes. Not to religiously or dogmatically just say 'em as if they have no substance, but they do have a substance, and when you say that quote to people and then you get into this movement for revolution and how it's trying to do these things, it's just amazing. And through this whole thing, it's just been highlighting the importance to just wield the book, wield the quotes each and every single day to like combat the bullshit that people are up against. They need to know about these quotes, and it sends a message to them. When they see somebody had memorized the quote, they're like: "Goddamn. He handed me the book and opened the book and then he just literally recited it to me without reading it. There's something here."
And I mean it's important—you gotta know the substance, you gotta know where the quotes are at. If you really want to wield BAsics, you have to know where the quotes are at, you have to be able to direct people: "You have a question about the youth? Well you need to check out 1:13: "No more generations of our youth..." Oh, you don't like the police? You need to know about [BAsics 1:24]... "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation..."—see, I don't know them all by heart. It's a process—you get 'em, and when you wield it that way, it becomes a live thing to people.
Something that we kept running into—a contradiction that we were trying to deal with: How do we show people that this isn't just an educational campaign? How do we show people that this isn't just another book of literature. We were struggling with this guy who was a basketball coach who, every time I kept going to the book, he would be like: "No, no, I want to know what you think, I want to know what you think, not what this guy's telling you, I want to know what you think."
I'm like: "Look, it's based on what he's saying that I've developed the understanding that I have now, and you need to know about this quote! And I'm going to read it to you! And if you don't want me to read it from the book, I'm a fucking recite it to you and then point to it, and then—'Bam!' Now you're just like, 'Oh! Damn, he still gave me the quote!" [Laughs]. So that was a part of the struggle too of having to memorize these quotes: "Alright, you don't want me to flip through the book, it seems too 'religious' to you or whatever contradiction you might bring up? Well, I'm a recite it for you, so you're gonna hear it." [laughs]
Revolution: I know you're already speaking on this, but maybe you could talk a little bit more about this point—it seems like you're saying you really feel you learned a lot in these two weeks, in a lot deeper way, about what it means when people connect up with this leadership, and the potential of what gets unleashed as a result. I know you said some about that, but I don't know if you wanted to say any more, or bring out some of these experiences? I know you've been sharing a lot of stories.
E: When people see the seriousness of this, when they see that it's not just another person telling you how fucked up the world is, but we have a strategy for making a revolution, and when we link that up with people, we see their potential—people want leadership. Like we were talking with this guy the other day who wanted to be part of the citywide Revolution Club. And he started talking about—he had a lot of contradictions about what people are up against, he started saying, "A lot of these people are ignorant! They're stupid!" And he said, "It's sad to say, but a lot of them are gonna just be stuck in this situation. And that's it. You're not gonna change 'em."
But when I started getting into the quotes, especially that 3:17 one—and he still had a lot of reservations around it, but when he started talking about it, he was like, "Man, I definitely agree with that, but it's gonna be hard work! It's not like it was in the '60s. People have just accepted the way things are." And he was putting a lot of blame on the masses, so then I asked him, I was like—I was going to show him the clip on the DVD, in the question and answers [disc 4], around bringing forward a new generation of revolutionaries, where he talks about things like the '70s and social approbation and stuff...
So then I told him, I was like, "So, what do you think about what happened, what went wrong?" And then he started saying, "Well, it's leadership. We don't have leadership anymore." And that's something that was amazing, and when I introduced him to the strategy for revolution and he listened to BA in the DVD, he changed the conversation to saying: "How can I get involved in this movement for revolution?"
And it made me think about that "crucial journey" point [that Avakian makes in An Invitation]: If you know this stuff, if you know the world is fucked up and you know there's a strategy for making a revolution, then you need to get down with this movement.
Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, available online or as a DVD set
An Invitation, by Bob Avakian
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
Activists from around the country came to NYC for 10 days, August 4-14, to Take Patriarchy by Storm and to launch the movement thoughout society to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women. Below are a few highlights from their early experiences as posted on their blog (stoppatriarchy.tumblr.com). If you want to be part of this movement contact stoppatriarchy.org.
We started with this...
...and took it to Union Square. The idea was to create a banner that grows, as people add their personal stories. Part of the war on women is a deep sense of isolation and shame, which reinforces self-blame. When people don’t know statistics like 1 in every 4 women in this country are raped at least once in their lifetime, it is easy for women to think they did something wrong, feel ashamed, and unable to understand or fight the institutions, advocates, and vendors of violence against women.
Before this starting banner was even complete, we met a woman who contributed this:
|Yeah, some of us “choose” to be in the SEX INDUSTRY,
When you’re RAPED + MOLESTED + BEAT
From when you’re 5 yrs old, you think, “What else can I do, but
FUCK? I might as well
$ for it.”
So the 1st time I got $300 for some guy painting my toes for being a Dominatrix, I thought, “This shit is cool. I’ve been used by men for sex so many times, raped, “date raped,” etc... might as well charge.”
But no one told me it was going to change my life so horrifically in so many ways– I was miserable, I hated my life, I hated myself, I felt even more degraded than ever, and I hated the way I was humiliating & degrading the men who were my clients.
And I was almost murdered. — A. A.
We learned that she had done work at a porn store / strip club that we were going to protest, and she got really excited about going there with us to rail against it. Within a few minutes, she was defending our project against people who were defending porn. She will be coming back, and fighting the power with us.
The day after the banner was complete, we received approximately 30 stories. Some are included on stoppatriarchy.tumblr.com. As this grows, it is building a wall against the false rationale that women are to blame for the WAR ON WOMEN.
August 4th, 2012. What a day! Taking patriarchy by storm is already becoming a major topic of discussion throughout New York City stemming from the buzz of our first day out. Volunteers began the hot afternoon in Union Square, using an art piece as the focal point for discussions. The piece represents women’s bodies being walked all over by oppressive forces such as the military and the church. It also shows alarming statistics on how the war on women manifests in other countries, as well as here, and especially in the pornography industry. We were met with all kinds of responses. One take on what we were doing was that we simply ‘hated men,’ a common misconception of what bold women are all about.
We were generally met with warmth and gratitude from people thanking us for being out in the public making such a statement that most others are too afraid to make.
It was this great energy that we carried over to Williamsburg with us. The Mad Decent Block Party was our next stop and it brought with it a pretty typical Williamsburg crowd, i.e. 20 somethings with strong opinions and bold style.
The volunteers rocked shirts and stickers which spelled out the statements: “If you can’t imagine sex without porn, you’re fucked!” “Abortion on demand and without apology,” and “Create a world without rape.” The crowd’s reactions varied from quite curious to completely outraged. Surprisingly, more often than not, we were approached with lots of positive energy and enthusiasm to wear our stickers and support the cause. The majority of discussions were focused on the topic of pornography. Opinions were shared, knowledge was spread, and the outcome was generally very positive.
Altogether it was an amazing first day. At the very end of the day, we ran into an actual storm which completely caught us off guard and almost destroyed our art piece. With the quick thinking of a volunteer, the piece was saved with a few plastic bags and the storm turned out to be a refreshing, and much needed cooldown. With this being only the first day, so full of positive energy, curiosity, and gratitude, imagine what 10 days of this could amount to...
The following is from stoppatriarchy.org:
ALERT! Sun. Aug 12—"Take Patriarchy By Storm" activists arrested at St. Patrick's Cathedral, released on Monday the 13th
Aug 12, New York City: Sunday morning a message was delivered at St. Patrick's Cathedral, a historically right-wing, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-queer and anti-woman stronghold of the Catholic Hierarchy. Chants rang out: "Abortion on demand and without apology!" "Forced motherhood is female enslavement!" "Stop the war on women!"
Sunsara Taylor, initiator of End Porn and Patriarchy; the enslavement and degradation of women, and Alice Woodward, were arrested.
They have now been released from jail and are scheduled to appear in court on October 15 to face charges of criminal trespass and a violation level trespass charge.
This action came at the end of 10 days of political protest in New York City, to Take Patriarchy by Storm. The message that women are full human beings, not sexual objects for the pleasure of men, not breeders, and capable of equality in every sphere, was brought across the city: inside a Hooters restaurant, into porn shops, and a "crisis pregnancy" center. We confronted the current political climate where people aren't outraged by the subjugation of women.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
Week of August 13
This is a regular feature that gives an ongoing picture of the multifaceted campaign BA Everywhere, and the variety of ways that funds are being raised and the whole BA vision and framework brought into all corners of society. Revolution newspaper is at the hub of this effort, publishing reports from the campaign, and playing a pivotal role in building an organized network of people across the country coming together to make BA a household word. We urge our readers to send in timely correspondence and photos on what you are doing as part of this campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, August 11, tens of thousands of Black people at Chicago’s Bud Billiken back-to-school parade, the largest African-American parade in the U.S., were introduced to this revolution and Bob Avakian through a dynamic contingent that came together around the BAsics quote 1:13—“No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.”
The response from the crowd was electric. People’s faces lit up and there were cheers, applause and some raised fists as they read the six-foot signs with BA’s “no more generations” quote, many people reached out for cards and took extra to distribute in the crowd or to take home to spread to their neighborhoods. People in the crowd joined in on the chants “When the revolution comes” and “We say no more.” One young woman was so inspired by the contingent that she repeatedly tried to scale the fence to join, and only gave up when the police stopped her.
The enlarged cover of Revolution newspaper with the picture of Trayvon Martin also struck a deep chord. At one spot along the route where the bystanders were mostly youth, the crowd began chanting “Trayvon Martin, Trayvon Martin.”
When the contingent passed the press reviewing stand, the announcer read the whole of the poster of 1:13 to the crowd, including “Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party,” and then read the words on the banner: “BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian.”
The contingent was made up of people of all ages and many different nationalities. Some of the people are building this movement for revolution, both veterans of this movement and a number of younger people newly coming into it; some want to be part of developing Revolution Clubs; some are part of the fight against police brutality and murder; and others are fed up with the status quo and are dreaming of a better world and really wanted to take out the message of 1:13 to thousands of people who are brutalized and oppressed on a daily basis by this system. 5,000 BAsics 1:13 palm cards got out.
People contributed in many different ways. One person, who has been part of actively taking out BA Everywhere, made a very important contribution by spending the whole day in her Revolution T-shirt raising money selling refreshments at the Revolution tent to long lines of people who all got the 1:13 palm card. Another person postered the route before, during, and after the parade. A videographer documented the contingent. Others developed chants.
The energy of the crowd fed back into the contingent, and the enthusiasm of the marchers stayed high throughout the two-mile march. Most of the contingent gathered under the Revolution tent for two hours after the parade was over to wrangle over the importance of the day and what they learned and how to build on this. This crowd attracted other people who wanted to know more of what this was about. One young woman said she was really struck by the impact of this message on the crowd, and this gave her a picture of the broad openness to revolution that she had not gotten previously from just talking to her friends and family. She said we have to do more of this, get this message out there, and bring people into the movement for revolution.
A progressive bookstore in a changing neighborhood of the city where lots of artists live and show their works dug the idea of doing a BAsics Bus Tour yard sale to raise money for the New York leg of the tour. They put lots of materials from basicsbustour.tumblr.com on their website, inviting people to the garage sale. Lots of people brought things to sell, more than we could sell there. It was hot and slow, not a lot of traffic, but people working the sale were determined to stick with it and raise hundreds of dollars.
As people came up to check out the sale, we gave them palm cards and told some of them about BA, his leadership and the new synthesis. One young woman said, “He sounds like a real leader.” By the end of the day, $670 was collected. People felt it was a victory given the heat and the fairly slow periods, an important day for the BAsics Bus Tour.
During the month of July we held a couple of small fundraisers for the BAsics Bus Tour. Each of the projects mobilized people in different ways and as a result we were able to raise more than $1,200 as well as spread word about the bus tour and BAsics both more deeply and more broadly. Here’s a description of the projects.
“Beads for BAsics”: Revolution Books put out a broad call on its e-list asking people to drop off their old jewelry at the store and supporters asked their co-workers to bring in their jewelry as well. Within days there was a sackful. Sorting the jewelry turned out to be a lot of fun. A few pieces looked valuable and were brought to an appraiser, who bought two pieces. An attractive table display for the jewelry was put together, and the owner of a small boutique gave permission to sell the jewelry on the sidewalk in front of her store. A display of BAsics, palm cards, and a leaflet about the bus tour was set up beside the display.
A lot of people stopped to check out the jewelry and were happy to find inexpensive gifts, but what happened was far more than just selling jewelry. A woman with two young daughters carefully read the BAsics 1:13 palm card and then told about being abused by her husband and escaping to a shelter. She liked the quote, was inspired by the bus tour, and bought a glittery bracelet for each of her delighted children. A couple stopped to look at the jewelry, but when the husband saw that the sale was a benefit to spread BA Everywhere, he grabbed his wife’s arm, whispered “communists,” and pulled her to a nearby bus stop. After sitting down for a few minutes, she got up and purposefully walked over to the table and bought several items. Another man stopped to look, but when he saw the word “communist” he asked antagonistically: “What’s so great about communism?” We said we’d be happy to explain why we thought communism was great, but we wanted him to tell us why capitalism was so great first. He stopped for a minute, looked chagrined, and then said capitalism was a failure. A long discussion followed and he ended up buying a pin for his mom, some earrings for his nieces, and then thanked us and made an additional donation for the tour. He showed up at Revolution Books that afternoon, and his mom came to hear a talk by Ann Wright on the drone war at the bookstore the following day.
“Beads for BAsics” turned out to be a bigger success than we had dared hope for. We raised about $750, while at the same time spreading word about the BAsics Bus Tour—and had fun doing it.
Mango Chutney and Mango Bread Sale: Some of us had read about the sale of tamales in another area and asked ourselves what we could make. One woman had a mango tree that was producing a bumper crop of mangos and put out a call to her co-workers to make mango chutney and mango bread to raise money for the BAsics Bus Tour. Small teams, each with different people participating, got together to can the chutney and bake the bread. Most really didn’t know much about the BAsics Bus Tour, but knew it was a “good thing” and wanted to help out. While cooking they got a chance to talk about the tour, look at basicsbustour.tumblr.com and watch some videos. In fact, the cooking sessions were so popular that friends of those who did it were still asking for a chance to join up even as the mango season had ended. More than $450 was raised from the sale of the bread and chutney, and everyone who bought received materials about the tour. The people who participated didn’t have much money to contribute, but were really proud of the contribution they had made.
Plant Sale: A supporter put together small hanging planters made from air plants growing in her yard and primarily sold them to her co-workers. The cost was minimal. She raised about $100 and was able to spread word about the bus tour while doing it.
Excerpts from a correspondence from a high school student:
A group of us decided to venture out to downtown art walk. We brought our enthusiasm, posters that read things like “Ask Us Why Porn Fuels Rape” and “Stop the War on Women.” We also had the August BAsics quote on revolution and women’s oppression to pass out.
For that night, we arranged a street theater skit comparing two different forms of women’s oppression: “Westernized Raunchy ‘Thong’ Culture vs. Middle Eastern ‘Burka’ Culture.” The skit did appear to have a direct effect bringing in people who were curious or had questions. A few Occupy protesters showed up saying that they were just having a discussion on patriarchy because one of their people was assaulted at a downtown park. They welcomed us to do our skit. We agreed that we should and off we went. Raising attention with our blaring whistles, we drew in a crowd of interested spectators to watch. It had a remarkable effect. People took pictures, smiled, gawked, and watched. Both men and women approached and struck up conversations.
I walked away that night in wonder at the effect this movement could have throughout this country and the world. I mean, we are talking about half of humanity. As Bob Avakian says, “The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
People’s Anger Continues in Anaheim
For more than a week, Anaheim, California, was shaken by defiant protest against the Anaheim Police Department (APD) execution of Manuel Diaz on July 21 and the murder of “Joey” Acevedo the day after. As news of the rebellion spread, other forces—revolutionaries, local Unitarian church members, people from the Occupy movement nationally, and many others—rallied to the side of the people. (See “Cops Kill Two Latinos in Two Days: Anger and Defiance Rock Anaheim, CA” in Revolution #277, August 12, 2012 and at revcom.us.)
Influential forces within the ruling class have openly worried about the impact of this rebellion on people around the country. Mainstream media like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times warned in front-page articles about the risk of further eruptions in a city where Disneyland, two professional sports teams, and the wealthy enclave of Anaheim Hills run the city, while the basic people live in conditions of poverty, unemployment, widespread oppression, and neglect in the part of the city called the “Flatlands.”
Police murder and violence is a daily fact of life for many throughout the U.S. But it is not that often when people rise up in righteous rebellion against this. And powerful forces at the top of society don’t want the example of Anaheim to spread.
The initial protests against these police murders were met with extreme police violence—rubber bullets, a police dog unleashed on a crowd that included young women and their babies, mounted horse platoons, and police snipers on rooftops.
This has been combined with conscious efforts to organize pro-police reactionaries and straight-up racists who call for “gang members” to be put away and put down hard, in effect celebrating the recent murders and justifying the police shootings.
The authorities also struck back with lies and distortions aimed at turning people against each other. The mayor, police chief and others have rushed to blame the upsurge on “outside agitators” trying to “exploit” the police killings and “drive a wedge” between the police and the communities. They hope to turn people in Anaheim against the revolutionaries and other political activists who have come to stand with the rebellion.
Some have bought into this—like the handful of residents in the neighborhood where Manuel Diaz was killed who took up the “outside agitator” charge and were pictured in newspapers guarding the mayor after he came into the area to try to chill out the struggle. One young man turned this on its head, answering the charge of “outsiders” by rattling off a list of police agencies from neighboring cities that had been called in to put down the protests.
Ask yourself, isn’t it a good thing when people from other cities, other states, and even other countries support the people who face brutality and repression every day when they stand up against that repression? Would things be better if people didn’t support them??
The counter-revolutionary assaults took a leap at 4:30 am on Friday, August 10, when more than 250 officers from the APD, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and a dozen other police agencies began sweeping through the area where Manuel Diaz was killed.
Pigs in military fatigues pounded on doors and smashed their way into homes at 54 sites, mostly in Anaheim but as far north as Los Angeles County. Hilda Vera told the Los Angeles Times how cops broke in her front door at 6 am while searching for her boyfriend, terrorizing Vera, her two-year-old son, and her boyfriend’s mother. “You would think they’re here to protect you,” Vera said, “and they come in here and wreck your home.”
By mid-afternoon, the raids—supposedly aimed at what cops call the “Eastside Anaheim” street gang—left 33 young men arrested, many lined up in handcuffs on the curb for news photos. APD Chief John Welter crowed, “This is a good day for Anaheim.”
An APD spokesman claimed that Manuel Diaz was on their list of “documented gang members” and would have been arrested if he was still alive. Even if Diaz was on the arrest list—and all we have is the cops’ word that he was in a gang and therefore on the list—what about the system’s claim that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty” and is supposed to get a “fair trial”? But the cops had already acted as judge, jury and executioner and murdered Diaz with a shot to the back of the head.
Automatic labeling of Blacks and Latinos as “gang members” has become a code word to criminalize and demonize millions of youth, to justify locking them up and outright murdering them in the streets. The people in gangs were not the ones who moved the jobs away and then flooded the ghettos and barrios with poverty, degradation, and hopelessness. The gangs were not the ones who created racial discrimination and segregation in the schools, jobs, housing and every aspect of life, and they did not then unleash the cops to beat and brutalize people to accept these conditions. In fact, the widespread emergence of gangs has come in the wake of attacks on the revolutionary movement in the ’60s, the further devastation of impoverished communities—and the increasingly desperate struggle of people to survive in this dog-eat-dog society. Now, the existence of gangs becomes the justification for the state to brutally go after the youth. The dynamics of the capitalist system and the conscious policies of both parties created the whole of this situation.
Let’s look at this straight on. While the gangs may seem to live “outside the law,” and up against the whole way things are, gangs and “the life” are locked into this system. People end up basically reflecting the same twisted economic outlook and dog-eat-dog morality as that promoted and reinforced by the capitalist-imperialist system as a whole. You’re forced to be a predator or its prey, living on the backs of the people around you or becoming victimized by someone else. And even those who “make it” in the gang life still face the real prospect of being shot down in the street or locked away in some hellhole prison by the police, the courts, and the ruling structures that actually run this society. All this is not good for the people.
But all that can change when people stop fighting each other over what are really just crumbs, over who can temporarily “get some for me” in a society that rains down suffering and humiliation and oppression for the vast majority: when people begin to Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.
As Bob Avakian puts it in his new interview, “What Humanity Needs: Revolution and the New Synthesis of Communism,” when the people rise up to fight oppression, “the conditions become much more favorable for them to begin to see the world in a different way—to transform themselves, in terms of their understanding, and in terms of their feelings—in terms of their orientation toward society, toward the world, toward other people, and what kind of relations there should be among people.”
The Anaheim rebellion gives a glimpse of this potential as people stopped fighting each other and joined together to fight against their real oppressors.
Anaheim, a city of nearly 350,000 with the majority Latino, is run by a city council where four out of five members live in the mainly white, affluent Anaheim Hills area. It is the largest city in California that does not elect its city council by district representation. And the fact is that powerful city interests—including Disneyland, other big businesses, and political forces in Anaheim Hills—have sought to preserve the current voting system as part of maintaining their domination.
In June the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city, saying that the at-large district voting system violates the California voting rights act by diluting Latino influence. It hopes such changes will empower the people on the bottom. But now powerful forces in Anaheim—led by calls in the national mainstream press—have seized on the “more Latino representation” demand to try to shut down people’s defiance and steer it into safe electoral channels. Last week the Anaheim City Council held a public meeting, mainly on the redistricting proposal. Even Disneyland Resort jumped on the bandwagon and urged a change.
In the end, the City Council voted it down and called for “further study.” Many people are justifiably angry that Latino people in Anaheim do not have the political representation they are supposed to be guaranteed by the rules of American democracy. But the reality of the situation is that representational reforms won’t put an end to rampant police murder in oppressed communities. This is because the role of the police is to protect the system that rules over the people. This is because the role of the police is to enforce all the conditions of exploitation and oppression the people are subjected to by the system. Nothing short of all-the-way revolution will put an end to national oppression, but beyond that truly emancipate all of humanity.
Last week people in the Guinida Lane neighborhood where Joey Acevedo was killed talked about police retaliation since the protests began. Acevedo’s mother told of how APD gang unit cops confiscate cars from other neighborhoods, then roll down Guinida Lane “flashing gang signs” to provoke and instigate young people on the street and create pretexts for beat downs and arrests.
Media reports on the recent raids in the Anna Drive neighborhood admitted that the pigs were met with widespread distrust and anger. Many saw the raids as retaliation against the resistance of people on the bottom of society in the weeks before. “It’s revenge,” Elvia Navarro, whose son was among those arrested, told the Orange County Register. “I didn’t fear police, but after all this happened, I thought they were just out to get someone. I thought: The police are out for payback.”
Middle class forces are also speaking out in support of the people who have stood up. At the August 8 City Council meeting, a middle-aged white man from a homeowners association blasted the city’s references to “outside agitators” as exactly the term and tactic used by southern racists to discredit people and say they could never revolt on their own. He closed his statement to applause, “I’m an outside agitator.” When Manuel Diaz’s mother said she “wants the protests and demonstrations to continue” and a man who’d given a reactionary racist rant earlier in the meeting yelled out, “You’re a horrible mother!” he was booed by the mainly middle-class audience.
Robert Lovato, a cofounder of presente.org, a group with roots in the immigrant rights movement, said, “This is the same Anaheim Police Department that dressed itself in military gear and had rocket launchers in front of Disneyland in order to scare the community against protesting their murders. The raid against gangs is trying to put the focus on ‘gangs in the streets’ instead of the murderous gangs in the Anaheim Police Department. Who is killing innocent people in Anaheim? It’s the police.”
And at a press conference held before the recent City Council meeting, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Orange County condemned the “extrajudicial executions” of Diaz and Acevedo, calling for the officers and those in command to be prosecuted and for those arrested protesting police misconduct to be “immediately released and immune from prosecution.”
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
Part 4: Breaking the Chains in a New Socialist Society
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. Despite this profound truth about the historical birth of the United States, many people argue that the U.S. Constitution has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of the people; and that it continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. But this message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where "everyone is equal"—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm. From the very beginning this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society, and maintain that dominance.
In 2010, the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).1 This visionary document, based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian, provides the framework for a whole new society, a framework to advance to a communist world—a world no longer divided into antagonistic social groups, where people will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings all over the planet.
This series compares and contrasts the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression, and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series; spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities, and prisons; and send us your comments. See Revolution #264 (April 1, 2012) for the introduction to this series; #270 (May 27) for Part 1: A Slaveholders' Union; #271 (June 10) for Part 2: Reconstruction, and the First Great Betrayal, 1867-1896; and #275 (June 11) for Part 3: Battleground Over Segregated Education in the 1950s and 1960s (see earlier parts of the series here). This is the fourth and final part of this series.
This series has taken a hard look at what the U.S. Constitution has meant for African-American people since the founding of the United States of America. Some important truths have been revealed:
Today the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of the prison population made up of Blacks and Latinos. It is a society where youth whose ancestors were Black slaves are deprived of a decent education, and are unable to find work in a system that has no place for them. They are relentlessly hounded by armed police enforcers of the system that oppresses them, and are locked away for years in crowded prisons—many times driven mad in conditions of solitary confinement that amount to illegal, inhumane, and immoral torture. And all of this takes place within the framework of the U.S. Constitution, and the whole legal and "justice" system that derives from this Constitution.
This is the reality of American history and present day society.
Why have the U.S. Constitution and the "laws of the land" consistently allowed for these atrocities? Why have the U.S. Constitution and the "laws of the land" perpetuated the condition of Black people as an oppressed people? It's not mainly because of white supremacist judges or racist lawmakers writing racist laws—even though this has and continues to exist. There is something far more fundamental involved: the U.S. Constitution, the laws stemming from it, and the whole legal-repressive system enforcing these laws reflect the very nature of U.S. society.
As Bob Avakian has written, "Constitutions, where there is a necessity for them and they play an indispensable role, establish the basic framework, principles and provisions (or, more baldly, the 'rules') for how a government can and must function, how state power shall be exercised."3
With regard to the United States of America, its Constitution embodies the basic rules for how to enforce economic and social relations of exploitation and oppression. The U.S. government has functioned consistently to protect and expand a property rights system based on the control of the means of producing wealth by a small capitalist class that exploits wage laborers. The so-called Founding Fathers established a system of government serving capitalism—and, for more than 70 years, the preservation of slavery.
The continuing oppression of whole peoples has been foundational and is a defining and integral feature of the entire fabric of U.S. society. The history of Black people in this country is one in which the U.S. Constitution and the laws derived from it have been wielded by the ruling capitalist class to develop and maintain white supremacy while deepening the oppression of Black people—even as this has taken different and changing forms and expressions.
Now let's take Avakian's point about how constitutions establish "rules" for how a government can and must function and how state power shall be exercised—and apply it to a whole different kind of society, a socialist society.
Let's look at the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) that is based on Avakian's new synthesis of communism and see what kind of society this Constitution provides the institutional framework for. The introductory explanation of the nature, purpose, and role of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America starts off by saying:
"This Constitution (Draft Proposal) is written with the future in mind. It is intended to set forth a basic model, and fundamental principles and guidelines, for the nature and functioning of a vastly different society and government than now exists: the New Socialist Republic in North America, a socialist state which would embody, institutionalize and promote radically different relations and values among people; a socialist state whose final and fundamental aim would be to achieve, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world, the emancipation of humanity as a whole and the opening of a whole new epoch in human history—communism—with the final abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise."4
Today we ARE building a movement for revolution—a revolution that WILL put this visionary document into practice. So it is extremely important, exciting, and relevant to study, discuss, and debate what the rules of a whole new game will be... and how they will be a guide for those who will lead the new state power for what to do on Day One, and after.
This Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) would take effect in a society where the capitalist-imperialist state of the U.S. and its institutions would have been defeated, abolished, and dismantled by masses of people, led by their vanguard, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. In its place a new, revolutionary state would have been born.
The relations at the base of this socialist society would be radically transformed from the old, capitalist ways. Instead of a handful of capitalists monopolizing ownership of the wealth produced by the labor of millions of people, the means of producing society's material needs would be placed under socialist state public ownership, with the economy serving the betterment of society and humanity, the advance of the world revolution, and the protection of the environment.
Further, the relations among people in a socialist economy would be dramatically changed. People would not be pitted against each other in a struggle to survive in the capitalist snake pit, but millions and millions of people would work "based on and promoting relations and values of people working cooperatively for the common good and for the interests of world humanity"5; and where the spheres of social consumption were being expanded continually, and consciously.
It is through the overall process of making revolution and moving, through waves of struggle and transformation, to a communist world that it will be possible to overcome the effects and legacy of the oppression of Black people and all relations of social inequality. The struggle in socialist society to dig up the soil that breeds capitalism, to change people's thinking, to forge new values, and to defeat attempts at counterrevolution will be complex and protracted, and the outcome is not a sure thing.
But with a new state power, it can be accomplished. And decisive measures and changes will take effect right away! The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic provides the necessary direction and framework. The police forces of the old society that had brutalized and degraded Black and Latino youth, that functioned as an occupying army, that maimed and killed in the name of security—they will have been disbanded with the seizure of state power. New public security forces will be created. They will protect the victories of the revolution. They will ensure the safety and rights of the people, including the right to take responsibility for the direction of society. These new public security forces will help people resolve disputes and problems among themselves in non-antagonistic ways.
Right away, resources will be channeled into the former ghettoes and barrios to provide housing and health care, cultural and recreational facilities. People will have the opportunity to engage in meaningful work that contributes to the all-around transformation of society. The society envisioned by this Constitution is one in which architects, urban planners, ecologists, artists, and other professionals will be joining with the youth and with residents of these areas to solve problems and learn from each other—and take part together in great debates and struggle over how to move society forward and overcome the scars of the past.
On the question of doing away with national oppression the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) states:
"The New Socialist Republic in North America is a multi-national and multi-lingual state, which is based on the principle of equality between different nationalities and cultures and has as one of its essential objectives fully overcoming national oppression and inequality, which was such a fundamental part of the imperialist USA throughout its history. Only on the basis of these principles and objectives can divisions among humanity by country and nation be finally overcome and surpassed and a world community of freely associating human beings be brought into being. This orientation is also embodied in the various institutions of the state and in the functioning of the government in the New Socialist Republic in North America."6
The Constitution later explains:
"In light of the egregious crimes, oppression and injustice perpetrated by the former ruling class and government of the United States of America against various minority nationalities, to give expression to the voluntary union and growing unity of the various peoples within the New Socialist Republic in North America, and to give the most powerful effect to the principles and objectives set forth in this Constitution, discrimination against minority nationalities, in every sphere of society, including segregation in housing, education and other areas, shall be outlawed and prohibited, and concrete measures and steps shall be adopted and carried out, by the government at the central and other levels, to overcome the effects of discrimination and segregation, and the whole legacy of oppression, to which these peoples have been subjected."7
And then the Constitution goes on to say:
"As one important dimension of this, in regions (or other areas) of significant population concentration of minority nationalities which were oppressed within the borders of the former imperialist USA, there shall be the right of the people of those nationalities to autonomy, in the form of self-government within the overall territory, framework and structure of the New Socialist Republic in North America and its unified socialist economy, system of law, armed forces, and conduct of foreign relations."8
The Constitution makes clear that Black people, Chicano people, and other formerly oppressed nationalities, while having the right to live in such autonomous regions, will not be required to live in these areas—this will be a matter of choice. And the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic also makes clear that the new government, at all levels, would be working to overcome the effects of discrimination and segregation and would be promoting integration and unity among the various nationalities on the basis of equality. Resources and assistance will be provided to the autonomous regions.
This Constitution upholds the right of Black people to self-determination, up to and including the right to secede and form an independent republic. The Constitution sets out the procedures enabling the African-American people to decide this matter without force or coercion.
This is a whole different society and orientation for leading society. The U.S. Constitution pretends there is equality while the system perpetuates inequality. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) stands for genuine equality while also recognizing the special measures that must be taken to redress and overcome the historical effects and continuing expressions of inequality.
Tackling the legacy of racism and overcoming inequality, along with the struggle to uproot patriarchy and the oppression of women, will be defining features of the new socialist society.
Take the question of education. Here we are in 2012, and segregation remains in force; as we pointed out in Part 3 ("Battleground Over Segregated Education in the 1950s and 1960s"), a third of all Black and Latino children sit in classrooms that are 90 to 100 percent Black and Latino. Many of these children must pass through metal detectors and gauntlets of security guards to go to school. Many of them are in overcrowded classrooms starved for resources, and many of these youth are written off at an early age.
Here we are in 2012, and affirmative action, which was supposed to open up opportunity long denied Black and other minority nationalities as well as women, has been gutted by the courts, including the Supreme Court—in the name of a "color blind society." But consider this fact: nationwide, in 2006 2.2 percent of doctors and medical students were Black—a lower percentage than 100 years ago.9 So under the pretext of achieving a "color blind society," the discrimination against—the oppression of—Black people continues and has been given the legal seal of approval by the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution.
Let's turn to education in the socialist society. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) explains that the new educational system will provide for well-rounded learning, as well as specialization, at government expense. A core principle of the educational system will be to promote the pursuit of the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity. A central purpose of the educational system will be "to enable students (and the people broadly) to learn deeply about the reality of, and the basis for, the oppression of whole peoples, and the domination and oppression of women, in the former imperialist USA and throughout the world where societies have been founded on exploitation and ruled by exploiting classes—and, on this basis, to become deeply dedicated to and actively involved in the fight to uproot and eliminate all such relations of inequality and oppression. ..."10
Education in the new socialist society will be oriented towards "overcoming, in society (and ultimately the world) as a whole, such antagonism relating to the division between mental and physical work, which is deeply rooted in the development of societies marked by oppressive and exploitative relations and which itself is a source of such relations, shall be a concern of the state overall, and attention shall be paid to this in all spheres of society"11.
Unlike the old capitalist society where oppressed people's culture and language was denigrated and denied—the new socialist society will bring into being something rather extraordinary: a bi-lingual/multi-lingual educational system and a whole society that promotes critical thinking; equality of cultures and languages; and the real study of the whole history and remaining expressions of the historic oppression of minority nationalities.
This is a society that will be putting the interests of world humanity first and instilling people with an internationalist understanding and spirit.
Think about how totally opposite this is to what now exists in U.S. society. Look at the situation in Arizona where government authority is trying to ban the teaching of Chicano Studies. Look at how in this society immigrants are told to "Speak English" and scolded for speaking their own languages; or how Black people are discriminated against for not speaking so-called "proper English."
We don't have to live this way. The masses of Black people and other oppressed nationalities do not have to endure the ongoing horrors of America as the price of some mythical "progress towards freedom" guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. No, the U.S. Constitution is, as Bob Avakian has put it, the "instrument enforcing ... exploitation and oppression."12
But there is a way out, a way forward, a vision for a radically different and better society, and a strategy to get there. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) is the legal-political framework for a truly emancipating society, where the masses of the people and their vanguard are confronting the challenge of advancing to a world where the divisions among people based on nationality, gender, and class will have been overcome: a world where people produce for the common good and the betterment of the planet, and are fully engaged in cultural, scientific, and political life, instead of millions of people slaving away in body- and spirit-crushing work, condemned to lives of wretched poverty and deprivation for the enrichment of a handful.
2. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience—The Concise Desk Reference, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr., Running Press, 2003.
These murderous activities, carried out by mobs, cheered on by whole families, were protected by the U.S. Constitution and its laws. [back]
3. Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, Part 1: Revolution and the State, From a talk given in 2010. [back]
4. Constitution (Draft Proposal), p i [back]
5. Ibid., p 79 [back]
6. Ibid., p 5 [back]
7. Ibid., p 51 [back]
8. Ibid., pp 51-52 [back]
10. Constitution (Draft Proposal), pp 32-33 [back]
11. Ibid., p 32 [back]
12. Birds Cannot Give Rise to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon [back]
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
On September 13, Nobody Gets Stop-and-Frisked in Silence!
Revolution received the following call from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network:
To those who are tired of seeing police step to our youth with harassment, brutality and even worse; to those outraged because the NYPD stopped and frisked 684,000 people last year alone; to Black and Latino youth tired of knowing that every time you leave your house you might be descended on by cops; to parents who fear that no matter what you tell your kids about surviving an encounter with cops it won’t be enough to keep them safe; to people who know this will never happen to them but also know it’s wrong — join us on September 13th to “Blow the Whistle on Stop & Frisk!”
Stop & Frisk is racist, and it’s no damned good. People have begun to stand up and fight it. In the face of the massive public outcry, the NYPD is doubling down. They are on pace to stop and frisk even more people this year. Now is the time to unleash resistance that can sweep Stop & Frisk away. The racial profiling Stop & Frisk concentrates is a pipeline to mass incarceration and the warehousing of our youth in prison. We don’t have to suffer all this anymore, and we won’t. There is no good reason for Stop & Frisk to remain in effect. It’s illegal and illegitimate. It must be stopped! We are going to stop it, and you must join us in doing that!
Join us in Blowing the Whistle on Stop and Frisk! On September 13th, thousands of people all across NYC will politically confront the cops who are violating people’s rights. We will be blowing whistles to call out these injustices and using cameras to document the criminal actions of the cops. At 6 PM, we will all blow our whistles at once to signal to all those who have been targeted by Stop & Frisk, to all those who have stood up against it and to the cops and officials who enforce it that there are people all over who will no longer be silent. And in cities across the country, people have to act in solidarity: Blowing the Whistle on the way cops target Black and Latino youth, whether they call it Stop & Frisk or not.
On September 13th we will say in a strong, united voice: WE WILL NO LONGER STAND BY SILENTLY WHILE PEOPLE ARE DENIED THEIR RIGHTS. Our actions on that day will drive a nail into the coffin of Stop & Frisk.
Be a part of making this day happen. Get your whistles and get them out to others in your neighborhood, at your school, in your workplace or in your place of worship. Spread the word and organize people you know to be a part of this day. Take to the streets on September 13th and with us declare that the days when the cops can violate people’s rights however they want, when people aren’t inspired and organized to politically resist this kind of injustice are no more.
This Call Is Issued By:
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party
Cornel West, professor, author and public intellectual
Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait
Efia Nwangaza, Malcolm X Center, Greenville, SC
Gbenga Akinnagbe, actor
Herb Boyd, author, activist; Harlem, NY
James Vrettos, professor, John Jay College, City University of New York
Luke “Aidge” Patterson, artist and activist
Randy Credico, political satirist, activist
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait, Military Families Speak Out, NY, NY
Nicholas Heyward Sr, father of Nicholas Heyward Jr who was murdered by NYPD
BE A PART OF BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON STOP & FRISK:
Photo: Li Onesto/Special to Revolution
IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS—Get whistles and flyers everywhere. Organize a committee to prepare people to be on the look out for police harassing people on Thursday, September 13th and ready to blow their whistles.
STUDENTS—Organize cores of people who will be ready to go into schools when they open and distribute whistles and flyers to prepare people when coming out of school on September 13th to look out for each other and to blow their whistles when they see cops stopping, frisking and harassing people.
IN FAITH INSTITUTIONS—Organize a committee to distribute whistles and flyers and bring speakers from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) in to speak to the congregation.
LAWYERS—Organize legal observers for Thursday, September 13th. Get others to support this effort by publicizing it and contributing money to help make it happen.
CONTRIBUTE MONEY—Funds are needed for whistles, flyers, palm cards and buttons. To donate contact SMIN below or donate online at: www.stopmassincarceration.org.
Contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and get an organizing kit.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
For the first time, on June 19, 2012, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the use of solitary confinement in prisons and the question of human rights. A replica of a solitary cell—just 7 feet by 10 feet and bare except for a cot and a toilet—was placed at the front of the hearing room during the proceedings as a stark reminder of the prison conditions that face inmates in prolonged isolation. This is an issue of great concern for many people and 80 people were seated in the room and another 180 people filled an overflow room. Only three senators participated in the hearing. These hearings came shortly before the first year anniversary of the heroic hunger strike of the prisoners in California who put their lives on the line to tell the world about the inhumane torture of solitary confinement. And the horrific nature of solitary confinement—in which prisoners are being brutalized, deprived of human contact, and literally driven crazy—underscores how mass incarceration in this country has nothing to do with rehabilitation or justice, but is about locking up a whole section of society—especially poor Black and Latino men—to whom this system offers no future. Prisons in the U.S. are aimed at punishment: degrading, dehumanizing, and breaking people.
The following excerpts from one of the testimonies at the hearing were submitted by a volunteer in the mass incarceration project of Revolution newspaper.
Testimony of Professor Craig Haney
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights Hearing on Solitary Confinement,
June 19, 2012
Craig Haney has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for well over 30 years. He was a researcher in the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment where, as Haney explained, “My colleagues and I placed a carefully screened group of psychologically healthy college students in a prison-like environment, randomly assigning half to be guards, half prisoners. We observed with increasing concern and dismay as the behavior of the otherwise psychologically healthy volunteers in our simulated prison rapidly deteriorated into mistreatment and emotional breakdowns.”
Haney said, “I have conducted systematic psychological assessments of approximately 1,000 isolated prisoners, most of whom have been confined in solitary confinement units for periods of years, and even decades, during which time they have been kept separate from other prisoners, and denied the opportunity to have any normal human social contact or to engage in any meaningful social interaction.”
On what solitary confinement is, he said:
“The units all have in common the fact that the prisoners who are housed inside them are confined on average 23 hours a day in typically windowless or nearly windowless cells that commonly range in dimension from 60 to 80 square feet. The ones on the smaller side of this range are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, one that contains a bunk, a toilet and sink, and all of the prisoner’s worldly possessions. Thus, prisoners in solitary confinement sleep, eat, and defecate in their cells, in spaces that are no more than a few feet apart from one another.”
“Virtually all of the solitary confinement units with which I am familiar prohibit contact visits of any kind, even legal visits. This means that prisoners go for years—in some cases, for decades—never touching another human being with affection. Indeed, the only regular ‘interactions’ that prisoners housed in these units routinely have occur when correctional officers push food trays through the slots on their doors two or three times a day in order to feed them. The only form of actual physical ‘touching’ they experience takes place when they are being placed in mechanical restraints—leg irons, belly chains, and the like—in a procedure that begins even before their cell doors are opened, and which is done every time they are taken out of their cells by correctional staff, on the relatively infrequent occasions when this occurs.”
“...There are two very problematic but little publicized facts about the group of prisoners who are housed inside our nation’s solitary confinement units. The first is that a shockingly high percentage of them are mentally ill.... The other very troublesome but rarely acknowledged fact about solitary confinement is that in many jurisdictions it appears to be reserved disproportionately for prisoners of color.”
“...We know that prisoners in solitary confinement suffer from a number of psychological and psychiatric maladies, including: significantly increased negative attitudes and affect, irritability, anger, aggression and even rage; many experience chronic insomnia, free floating anxiety, fear of impending emotional breakdowns, a loss of control, and panic attacks...”
“...What might be termed an ‘ecology of cruelty’ is created in many such places where, at almost every turn, guards are implicitly encouraged to respond and react to prisoners in essentially negative ways—through punishment, opposition, force, and repression.”
“There is some recent, systematic evidence that time spent in solitary confinement contributes to elevated rates of recidivism.”
“Solitary confinement continues to be used on a widespread basis in the United States despite empirical evidence suggesting that its existence has done little or nothing to reduce system-wide prison disorder or disciplinary infractions.”
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
From a Reader
Major moves are afoot in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area to close medical marijuana dispensaries, forcing patients who rely on cannabis for a variety of medical reasons to go underground and become criminalized in search of relief. Government officials, from the Obama White House to the Los Angeles City Council, are sending a message that they are stepping up repression of the people through the enforcement of federal anti-drug laws—no matter that 17 states, including California, have laws on the books that make legal the distribution of medical marijuana.
On July 12, in Oakland, California, Melinda Haag, federal prosecutor for California's Northern District, moved to close Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, which would deprive more than 100,000 members of much-needed medicine. The federal government has already targeted others in California, including a raid on Oaksterdam University, which offers training in the medical marijuana industry. The raid shut down the university, forcing it to reorganize under new management.
On July 24, the Los Angeles City Council voted to close all medical pot dispensaries immediately (with the possibility of allowing older, more established dispensaries to reopen). The measure would allow patients and their caregivers to grow and share marijuana in groups of three or fewer, putting the burden of time and expense on these vulnerable and already overburdened people. (One dispensary owner said it costs about $5,000 to grow marijuana at home.)
When Obama was running for president in 2008, he declared that medical marijuana was best regulated at the state and city levels, not by the federal government. "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," he promised. Yet, in a hypocritical about-face about a year and a half ago, his administration began an unprecedented crackdown on medical marijuana, busting growers who were in full compliance with state laws, threatening to seize property (as in the case of Harborside), even threatening to imprison state employees doing their job of regulating medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Obama's 100 plus raids on pot dispensaries since coming to office is on pace to exceed Bush's record for medical marijuana busts, threatening the health and the very lives of over 700,000 cannabis users across the country. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said "There's no question that Obama's the worst president on medical marijuana."
Obama's fundraising stop in Oakland on July 23 was met with protesters, hundreds of whom came out specifically to demonstrate against Obama's heartless moves to make safe, high-quality medical marijuana illegal. Among those speaking out were Helena and Horace Welch, both 59 years old. Horace Welch uses cannabis to ease post-surgery back pain, and Helena Welch uses it to ease the pain of arthritis in her spine and knee. "Now we have to be afraid of where we can go, if we don't have access," she said.
Jason David, whose son has Dravet syndrome (a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy), also spoke. By the age of 5, Jayden David had ridden in an ambulance 45 times, tried 22 different medications from around the world, none of which worked, and suffered at least one seizure every day of his life. But with high-grade, non-psychoactive tincture of cannabis, he has experienced multiple days without seizures and an overall greater quality of life. Jayden's father pleaded, "Don't let me lose my son."
Harborside co-founder and executive director Steve DeAngelo stated, "The closure of Harborside would have an especially destructive effect on our most medically challenged patients, like Jayden David, who need pure and specialized cannabis medicines unavailable at other dispensaries. They are less able to negotiate the dangers of the illegal marketplace, and cannot risk using untested cannabis from unregulated sources."
Most people know that using pot can cause the munchies. Imagine you are dealing with the ravaging side-effects of cancer treatment that have made it nearly impossible to keep food down. But then, there is a safe and effective medication that can alleviate the nausea and vomiting, not only improving quality of life but speeding up your recovery. That medication is pot.
Browse the web and you will find thousands of testimonials from individuals who have used marijuana to deal with a plethora of medical issues: from depression and anxiety to the effects of chemotherapy and major surgery, from PTSD to agoraphobia (the fear of going out in public), from Asperger's syndrome to bipolar disorder, from epilepsy to providing dying patients with not only an appetite, but also a sense of calm and relief from pain.
It is a heartless system that criminalizes those whose lives are made more bearable by using medically approved marijuana. The war on drugs, which fuels the outrageous and unrelenting mass incarceration of a generation of Black and Latino youth, continues, leaving an ever wider swath of broken and damaged lives in its wake.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
Interviews from the NY BAsics Bus Tour
I first met Nicky in a Harlem park where the BAsics Bus Tour volunteers were having a send-off breakfast on the first day of the "New York and Beyond" leg of the tour. We all chowed down on food and drink donated by people in the projects in Harlem and other parts of the city. A supporter who had helped organize people in the 'hood to support the tour talked movingly about how street corner tables were set and that as people learned about the tour and what it's doing, they gave with all their heart. Now these are people who don't generally have a whole lot of anything extra hanging loosely and pockets that have little more than holes in them. But they gave with their hearts and their brains. They dug deep and gave what they could and went to their neighbors and friends, to their churches, tenants' associations, schools and buildings, to do the same. All told, $450 and a whole lot of food was contributed to the tour in a neighborhood where people often have to choose which meals they need to skip in order to stretch the food out to the end of the month. These were people who were eager to be part of this movement for revolution in whatever way they could.
As the brother continued to tell stories about taking the tour out to the people, I glanced over in Nicky's direction. She was listening hard—sometimes she rubbed the corner of her eye and other times a broad smile lit up her face. I went over to talk with Nicky and she told me that she was a hardcore supporter of the tour. She also told me that she had gotten Bob Avakian's latest book, BAsics, and would love to talk with me about her thoughts on all this. We arranged to talk at her home a couple of days later.
The Bronx is the northernmost borough of New York City and sometimes it can seem like it takes half a day to get to the Bronx from any other part of the city. It's one of those places that all kinds of people know about—some people work in the area and a whole lot of people drive through on the highways that slice across the Bronx as they head out to someplace else. It's renowned as the birthplace of hip-hop and a center for Latin jazz, but truth is, very few people purposely make their way to most of the neighborhoods in the Bronx for fun.
More than 1.4 million people live there—most of them Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and other people from the Caribbean, together with African Americans. Over the last couple of decades a number of African immigrants have also moved to the area. The Bronx has the lowest number and percentage of white people living in it of all the New York City boroughs. And while it has a few better-off neighborhoods, it is also has some of the poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. For many decades at the end of the 1900s, the Bronx was a concentration of abandoned buildings. For a while, the urban renewal program in the Bronx was the City pasting pictures of window panes and flower pots over the sheet metal covering the gaping holes that once were windows in buildings that could be seen from the highways. Arson fires took care of the rest.
As I got off the bus and walked towards Nicky's street, I passed by two cop cars parked on opposite sides of the street. The cops eyed me for a while but didn't interfere. But by the time I got to the intersection with Nicky's street, one of the cop cars was crawling up the hill behind me. I only knew this because just as I got to the intersection I heard a loud, gravelly voice yelling out "Poliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!" Three old men were sitting on a bench just outside of a neighborhood playground. They explained that they were old friends who now saw themselves as "watchers." They explained that they sat on that bench all day, every day, and knew everyone in the 'hood and everything that happens. As we talked, they shouted out birthday greetings to passers-by, asked about health problems and tossed around enough sharp jokes and comments to make your head spin. They said that they watch out for the people and explained that yelling out about the police was just so no one would be taken by surprise. They told me that for many in the neighborhood, just being alive made them a suspect and a target for the police. They also pointed out that in some neighborhoods in the U.S.,their little bench would be inside the park instead of outside of it. They called my attention to a sign that barred any adult not in the company of a child from entering the park. They also pointed out that the listed rules of the park pretty much forbid most things that kids do for fun in a park.
I asked the watchers which way to go to reach Nicky's building. They pointed down a street lined with identical light brown or off-white brick walls, often stained with dark smears that come from decades of human sweat, tears, and laughter. A poetic symmetry of dull black metal fire escapes forming cascading Z's down the front walls of all the buildings drew me into the neighborhood. As I made my way into Nicky's building, concerned neighbors took careful note. Nicky greeted me warmly and we began to talk. I asked her about life in the Bronx, and Nicky explained that for her the Bronx was home but that for a very long time that meant a life of fear, abuse, and pain.
"I've lived here my whole life, since about the age of four. And living in the Bronx is a struggle. It's always been a struggle. It's been a struggle for my mother and my father who raised me. Having a job where I still can't have enough to make ends meet. I've been forced to work two jobs and even seven days a week, where I still can't seem to get ahead. I've raised four children right here in this apartment. There has been times where I've had to rely on public assistance with my jobs. I have children that have gone to college. And even today I still struggle with a job. Just seems like no matter what I do I just can't get ahead."
I told Nicky about the watchers and what they said about the police and the youth in the neighborhood. I asked her what it was like to raise three sons in these conditions. "I think, just like for me, fear, always fear. I have two of my sons that, well actually all three of my sons that have been stopped by police, not doing anything. I tried to be a mother that asked for a curfew because I fear what will happen to them out in these streets, you know? My oldest son actually did seven years for something that he didn't do.
"He was accused of two cab driver robberies in 1999—basically no proof at all, but he was sent to prison for seven to 14 years. And at that time my son was into the rap business. He had a $90,000 contract signed with Def Jam Entertainment. And still that didn't matter to these people. They accused him of robbing one cab driver for $100 and a ring and said that he smoked a cigarette in the back of the cab. My son never smoked a cigarette a day in his life. But none of that mattered.
"I have a handicapped son who has been arrested and thrown up against the wall for no reason at all. He'd gone to visit neighbors in the project, maybe at a party. He was arrested for trespassing. The officer said, 'Do you live here?' 'No. I'm just visiting. There's a party here.' They hauled him off to jail. So basically as a mother, I've had to live in fear. I feel lucky to some degree that my children have only just been arrested. Because a lot of other mothers have actually lost their sons' lives. So to that degree I feel sort of blessed. But I still don't know, you know, will that day ever come? That's what it's like living here in the Bronx."
Life Devoted Toward Making Change
It was hard to think of Nicky as living in fear. Although I had only met her a few days earlier, she seemed so determined and really inspired by the BAsics Bus Tour and the movement for revolution it's bringing forward. I asked Nicky what drew her to the tour and the revolution. "I believe it happened maybe about a month ago. I was on 125th Street, in Marcus Garvey Park, and some gentlemen came by with this big poster and they were talking about the bus tour and they asked me if I'd like to write something on the billboard and I did. And I left my number and my email with them. And I would say maybe about a week or so later, I got a call and that person asked me what would you be willing to do, you know, to help us in this revolution, in this movement? And I was like, what do you need me to do?
"Basically, my whole life has been devoted toward making change, you know, for the better of people, even as me, a mom, and also as an educator in the school system. I just think that this world is just so upside down. And people only do better when they know better. I mean it doesn't seem fair to me that one household has food to throw away and another barely has food at all. I don't like the idea of one particular group of people being able to determine what I eat, where I live, what type of education I'll have, you know, and it goes back to the BAsics book, you know, that one particular race of people defines the lives of others, and even before our children are born. You know, they're doomed before they ever get here. And that really bothers me."
I read that quote, BAsics 1:13, out loud to Nicky. "No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that." She thought about it for a minute and then leaned forward on the couch and started to talk again.
"We're Not Going to Take This Any More"
"What I found striking about that quote is that, I think that for so long that we have learned to become comfortable with the abuse that we suffer on a daily basis. And when we say, 'No more,' to me it means that in our hearts and our souls that we're not going to take this anymore. It's not like a smokescreen that we don't realize what's happening to us, and what you're doing to us. And we have to fight back. You know, we just can't just stay laid down and do nothing. And that's why that's really important to me."
Nicky described being part of the "silent march" this June in Manhattan of thousands of people against stop-and-frisk and how powerful she thought it was and how good it felt being there and fighting back. She also talked about how she thought about Trayvon Martin during the march and all of the young Black and Latino men killed by the police in New York and across the country. "Well, to be honest, because it's a typical thing here, in our city, I went, 'Another mother's child.' You know, like, when does it end? There's been so many. I mean, it's almost like I'm losing count. And it touches me because it makes me look at reality and say, 'Will it be my son tomorrow?' I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child. But I know that living where I live, that it's a possibility that that day may come for me.
"To me, they always get away with it. I mean, I've not really ever heard of any case where they've, you know, wrongfully killed our children or imprisoned them, or even beat them where they haven't gotten away with it. Like I said, my son did seven years for something that he didn't do. And he came out. He was supposed to be on seven years of probation, but because my son is not the monster they thought he was, they lessened his parole. He was done in three years. He's a musician and he chose to travel the world and to share his talent. And I believe my son went over to Europe and he was scheduled to have a concert there. And as soon as he got off, you know, the plane or whatever, he was detained: never allowed to make it to his concert because when they looked at, you know, his papers and so forth, they went into the computer and they says, 'Oh, we see that you have a record.' So he spent, I believe it was like four days in this detaining center. And then put back on the plane, you know, like, get him out of here.
"And this is a label that many of our young adults as well as old ones, you know—you steal a loaf of bread because you're hungry, because you're starving, you have a family to feed. And they send you to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, a place where they tell you is rehabilitation for you. So, I mean, doesn't that count for something? Then you walk outside those doors and your family hasn't gone away. You still have a family to feed. And you try to do things the right way. You go and you apply for a job. But you've been labeled and you've been stamped, so they'll say, 'No, sorry, we don't have work for you. You're a ex-con.' So what do you do? I mean, where do you turn to? You go to public assistance and you've got five kids to feed but they decide that you only need $300 to feed your family of five or six people. So you get what we have or you starve to death. And that's not the way this system should be."
Nicky and I talked about the quote a little longer. I pointed out that what Nicky was talking about is exactly how the system works and is designed to work. We went back and forth for a little bit parsing out what it means to talk about the system and that the very nature of this capitalist system is what makes the system do what it does to people—it can't do anything else. Nicky thought for a minute and then spoke up. "To me, it's just not human. A system that only cares about wealth and power and is willing to just annihilate human life to get it. To me, that's not a system, that's—I don't even know what to call it. I mean, what happens to everyone else that's in need. I mean, how do you have so much hate for other people that you don't care if they breathe, if they eat, if they die, if they live. I know there's a better way. I know there is."
"An Awesome Book"
"I put a lot of faith into this BAsics book because overall what it tells me is that we have to be united. We have to come together. But a lot of times we don't know what's being done to us. And this is why I think the BAsics Bus Tour is a wonderful thing, because it goes around and it educates people. And it gets them to see what exactly this system is doing.
"I think that it's an awesome book. I think that so far what I've read, and like I was telling you, I'm just so into other things right now in school, but every chance I get, I pick it up. It's knowledgeable. It shows me some of the things that are being done to me that I couldn't maybe see before. Because it's done in a way that it doesn't—the system does things in a way that it like blinds you, you know. You think because if you're on public assistance they pay your rent or, you know, they give you a couple of food stamps, you know, your life is great. But why can't you live where they live? Why do we have to have food stamps? Why don't people just be able to have enough money to go out and to buy food? You understand what I'm saying? So it opens my eyes to some things that I was never able to see before. And I think that's the wonderful thing about this book.
"One piece that really stuck with me is that when you talk about public assistance, you know, everything's on the computer now. And there're millions of people on public assistance and depend on that to survive. That's how they eat. And the system is able to just press a button and say, 'Millions of you will just starve.' I mean, that's not human."
"America Is This Greedy Place"
We talked a little more about BAsics, and I asked Nicky what she thought of the two quotes that were being featured in July—"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives," and "Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First." Nicky mentioned that these were the quotes she saw when she first met this movement for revolution and they hit her hard.
"It just seems like America is this greedy place, you know and they go places and they take people's lands, and they put them in situations where they can't do for themselves, you know, and have to be dependent on them. No one person anywhere is more important than anyone else. We're all human beings. And we all deserve to be treated with the same respect, the same dignity, and no one should have more than another. There's no reason why those children over in those third world countries should, you know, you should see their ribs, and they're starving because of mere medications and no food, you know, no family. It's just not right."
I brought up the children in the Congo who are being worked to death in the mines digging out coltan that's used to make cell phones work. Nicky got a horrified look on her face. "Absolutely. They're working sunup to sundown on whatever they're working for. They still don't have adequate food. Isn't it something? Oh my god. It's horrible. And then I think about the ones, you've got nine- and ten-year-old girls in places, they're prostituting their bodies just to eat. You know, I mean, like it's unreal. It's just unreal."
I reached for Nicky's copy of BAsics that was sitting on the coffee table. I wanted to read her BAsics 1:10 about the oppression of women under capitalism. When I picked the book up I could see it was well read, some pages dog-eared and others highlighted in yellow. I stopped when I noticed that she had BAsics 1:22 completely highlighted. "In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about 'democracy'—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no 'democracy for all': one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality." Nicky said it was one of her favorite quotes. I asked her why.
"I just never really understood why are we separated, you know? Why are you the poor class, the middle class, the wealthy class? Why don't we all have equal? And money seems to take preference over human life. So those who are richer and have more will always be in the predicament to keep us oppressed and keep us from reaching that same level. And, is that democracy? Is that what democracy is supposed to be about? 'Cause I don't think so. I mean like democracy, like we all supposed to be a team, you know, and decide things together. Things are supposed to be divided up equally. I have a say; I have a right; you have a right. But in this country and around the world we don't have a right. We have no rights. There is no democracy. You're not rich, you have no voice."
Born Female in a World of Male Domination
Since Nicky had commented about being horrified when she heard about the sexual abuse and enslavement of young girls around the world, I wanted to read her BAsics 1:10: "Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world. And in addition to all the other outrages which I have referred to, in terms of children throughout the slums and shantytowns of the Third World, in addition to all the horrors that will be heaped on them—the actual living in garbage and human waste in the hundreds of millions as their fate, laid out before them, yes, even before they are born—there is, on top of this, for those children who are born female, the horror of everything that this will bring simply because they are female in a world of male domination. And this is true not only in the Third World. In 'modern' countries like the U.S. as well, the statistics barely capture it: the millions who will be raped; the millions more who will be routinely demeaned, deceived, degraded, and all too often brutalized by those who are supposed to be their most intimate lovers; the way in which so many women will be shamed, hounded and harassed if they seek to exercise reproductive rights through abortion, or even birth control; the many who will be forced into prostitution and pornography; and all those who—if they do not have that particular fate, and even if they achieve some success in this 'new world' where supposedly there are no barriers for women—will be surrounded on every side, and insulted at every moment, by a society and a culture which degrades women, on the streets, in the schools and workplaces, in the home, on a daily basis and in countless ways."
Nicky's face got very, very serious. She took a deep breath before she started to talk and then laid out a horrible story of abuse she suffered simply because she was a "female in a world of male domination."
"I've had a lot of debate and talk about this because of the way society is implemented, that males are dominant over females. I know that even, you know, in the corporate world like we can't get ahead. A lot of women have degrees, master's degrees, and you know, are suited for these jobs, but just because they're female they don't get them.
"I have been raped as a child, was told you're a woman, you will grow up to be a woman, this is part of life, you know. This is just what men do because they can. I've been in a very, very [bad] domestic situation with my first husband, you know where, just about every day, you know, I had black eyes and so forth, you know. I had to leave and go to shelters to see that me and my kids, you know, would live.
"The thought that men have a right to do this because of their masculine strength is just—it's unbelievable. And this is another thing, you know, that needs to be addressed, because women, you know, we are women, we shouldn't be exploited and raped and beat and just demoralized just because we're women, you know. There are a lot of very strong women, women that raise families on their own, you know that are very productive in society, and they should be treated as such, especially when you have a partner. You understand what I'm saying? And it's true because we're born female it's just, you know, you're a female, you do what I say, and I'm the man and that's it."
I mentioned to Nicky that one of the horrors piled on top of the horror is that so often women who face this kind of abuse are told that it's their fault. Nicky nodded and took the story even further.
"Yes! If you have—'oh, that dress is a little short, if you hadn't have worn that dress, maybe you wouldn't have got raped', you know what I'm saying. I mean we're not even allowed to wear the clothing that we want to, you know, it's always some reason. It's always our fault, like I said my first husband and I, we met when I was 14 and he was 19. I was physically abused and raped by the time that I was 20 and I actually married him—god, don't even ask me why—but then is where I began to learn about the abuse, you know, that women have to take. And you know he would get drunk and today I have a black eye and tomorrow he'd be sorry, you know, and my kids were in turmoil. They were always shaking and nervous, not knowing what's going to happen today, what's going to happen tomorrow, you know, my daughter learned how to dial 911 in the dark by the time she was five years old. I've been beaten with police rods. I've been stabbed. I mean, you name it, it's been done. You know, and this is why I fight as hard as I do, you know, no matter what has happened to me, I realize that I have to continue to fight so that this can change."
"It's Powerful Stuff"
Nicky and I both had to take a minute to pull ourselves back together after talking about this horror. I quietly asked her, in the face of all this terrible oppression she has suffered through, what did it mean for her to find this movement for revolution and its leader, Bob Avakian.
"It meant thank God! Somebody else sees the vision that I have for changing what women go through, for changing the educational system so that everything is equal when it comes to education, changing that some countries are starving and some that are not. Just making changes to better human life period. And that's how I felt. I've had this vision my whole life. There's really people out here that share my vision. And that's why it was like a godsend. Wow, God sent these people to me, like, see, somebody else thinks what you think, you know, and that's why I'm just so happy to contribute, to do whatever I can to make this movement a success."
Nicky mentioned that she hadn't heard of Bob Avakian before she met this movement but now that she has she has some strong opinions. "I've never met this man. I've just started reading his book. But I think that he is a leader. You know, a leader is a person that has a vision and is so genuine in that vision that they're allowed to get other people to share that vision and to become a part of it. And in my opinion, he's a leader in a positive manner, you know. People say, oh, you know, communist or whatever. Listen, this man is teaching me things that I never knew before and is showing me a way to change the things that I feel that need to be changed, which is this whole world, by the way, you know. It's powerful stuff."
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
"I'm traveling—and I wake up suddenly in the silence before dawn in a strange hotel room, in a poor country where my language isn't spoken, and I'm shaking and shivering..."
For the next 80 minutes, the audience of 60 people traveled with actor David Shapiro on a journey back in time, across continents, and into the agonizing now... places outside any comfort zone. The evening was a performance of Wallace Shawn's The Fever, a benefit for Revolution Books in New York City, presented on the bookstore's stage.
The actor had flown in from Chicago where his interpretation of this one-man play has astonished theatergoers for two decades. The Chicago Reader described the play as "...a wickedly difficult monologue in which a man of privileged upbringing stands onstage for an hour and a half, explaining how he's confronted the atrocities perpetrated in 'poor countries'..."
The rapt audience packed into Revolution Books on July 26 was all ages, all nationalities, different backgrounds. Some were friends of Revolution Books, some were fans of Wallace Shawn. Two dozen volunteers from the BAsics Bus Tour had come straight from the streets that day, taking revolution and Bob Avakian's book BAsics into Brownsville, East New York, and the Bronx. These are neighborhoods where people have been literally abandoned by the system, and where the contradictions of this society are the sharpest.
The night was one of intense engagement for everyone. Several people bought a copy of the play on the spot. Some of the bus tour volunteers, who had themselves grown up in harsh circumstances, said they'd never heard someone from the stratum of The Fever's protagonist grapple with these questions.
"The voluptuous field that was given to me—how did I come to be given that one, and not the one that was black and barren? Yes, it happened like that because before I was born, the fields were apportioned, and some of the fields were pieced together. Not by chance, not by fate. The fields were pieced together one by one, by thieves, by killers. Over years, over centuries, night after night, knives glittering, throats cut, again and again, until the beautiful Christmas morning we woke up, and our proud parents showed us the gorgeous, shining, blood-soaked fields which now were ours..."
After the performance, Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, took the stage: "You have not woken up in a foreign country. But you have woken up in Revolution Books. As we let David's performance wash over us, and the implications steep, consider this: it is true that each of us did not choose to be born in a country at the top of the world food chain, did not choose the circumstances that caused some people's parents or grandparents to flee to the U.S. because of what imperialism had wrought in their country of birth, and caused others' parents to bequeath them the 'voluptuous fields.' The savage inequalities that characterize our world were not our choice. But they are the real and killing consequence of history for billions of people throughout the planet, and for the planet itself. What is our choice is what we do with what we know of the world. Whether or not people go on with their American lives and ignore the grinding up of humanity right here and around the world—or instead join with others to contribute to bringing to a radically better new future. This is up to us."
The play forces the audience to deal with the protagonist's agonizing dilemma of who to stand with: the poor or the privileged. Wallace Shawn unfolds yet another level to the question. As Andy posed it: "Can you overcome the savage inequalities in the world—the millions who starve and die of preventable disease, etc.—without suppressing people's freedom and creativity and initiative? Or can you create a revolutionary society which will give expression to that—innovation, artistic flourishing—while meeting the needs of all the people, including the vast majority who for so long have been cut out of the world of ideas? Confronting this contradiction in a new way is a major aspect of the new synthesis of communism being developed by Bob Avakian—which is at the core of Revolution Books..."
* * *
A bookstore volunteer, who was probably not born when The Fever was first performed by Wallace Shawn in 1990, said after the play, "It was incredible. That was about everything I've been going through for the past six months, everything I've been confronting about the world and my place in it..."
One person in the audience, a writer who performed one-man shows in the '80s, said, "That hour and a half lives with you for a long time. It is really difficult to capture an audience and hold them like that. But this was seamless story-telling, we felt that we're in on this."
The evening raised $1,500 for Revolution Books through tickets and donations. This took the bookstore to $10,000 of its $40,000 goal needed by the fall. Much of the work in promoting the play was done by new volunteers, people in theater and film who want to save the store, who love Wallace Shawn or who read this play and were blown away. The press work was done by a playwright, actor and former news reporter who answered a call sent to theater organizations for a volunteer to promote the event.
This performance of The Fever is the first of several benefit theater evenings at Revolution Books. On August 23, the bookstore will present the second in the series: Broadway actor Mike Milligan performing his new piece Mercy Killers, a one-person play about a man confronting his wife's terminal illness in a society where there's no right to decent health care, to shelter... no right to live or die like a human being.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
A point of orientation—and this is something where clarity is important...
Rather than avoiding (or being defensive) we need to be assertively and boldly—and, in a real sense, positively—putting forward the fact that BA is a "contended question"...that a lot of people who find out what he is all about really like him and what he stands for, and then there are people who really hate him, fundamentally because of what he stands for. We should speak directly to why "doofuses," backward fools, opportunists and outright counter-revolutionaries, as well as functionaries and enforcers of the present oppressive order in the world, hate him: precisely because of what it is that he is all about, what a radical break this is with this whole rotten world, while some people, out of their own deeply invested interests, or their narrow outlook and aspirations, want to hold onto this, or at least significant parts of it—and so actually hate BA for being very clear and firm, and putting forward very clearly and firmly, why we need to sweep aside and move beyond all this, and move forward to something far better.
Further, there are people who do have a basic sense of what BA stands for and have contradictory feelings about this—liking some of this, while disagreeing, or feeling uneasy, about other aspects of it—which is a concentrated reflection of their contradictory sentiments and aspirations in relation to the need and the prospect of radically changing the world.
And then there are people who themselves are confused (or misled) about what he stands for, because of distortion, slander, etc.—which further emphasizes the importance of popularizing what it is that BA actually represents (and in this way countering this distortion and slander).
Again, the point is that, rather than seeking to avoid, or to play down, this controversy around BA, we should be popularizing it, AND VERY POSITIVELY putting forward that what many really like, and what some others really hate, what still others feel conflicted about—and what many, many more need to know about—regarding BA is what in fact he is a concentrated focus of, that is, what humanity needs: a real, really radical and thorough revolution, aiming for the ultimate goal of communism throughout the world and the emancipation of all humanity as a whole from thousands of years of tradition's chains, exploitative and oppressive relations and outmoded ideas.
Doing this will actually better orient and prepare, and better lead overall, people who are being newly drawn to this and are inspired and enthusiastic about taking this out into the world, as well as people who have been part of, or partisan to, this for some time.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
The following interview was conducted with a young African American man (X) who spent a number of months working in South Africa in a technical job. The description of conditions of life for the masses in South Africa provides a searing exposure of the lopsidedness of the world. The same point was driven home in the interview when X pointed out that in the U.S., as a Black youth, he’s never been able to get a full time job or afford to go to college. But in South Africa, as a foreigner working for a major corporation, he could live a life of comparative privilege. All these contradictions caused him to search deeper for answers to why is this so and he was eager to share his observations and his thinking about South Africa and about the impact of imperialism and capitalism and on the relationship between what's going on within this country and what's going on the rest of the world.
Expectations and The Reality
Revolution: What were your expectations and what did you encounter. What struck you.
X: It was a very interesting trip. I didn’t know what to expect. I was slightly nervous. I lived in a regular neighborhood with regular South African people and I had a chance to mix. Even though I didn’t live around foreigners, I didn’t get a full picture of how most SA’s live because by South African standards I was living quite rich.
Before I went I read online a joke somebody made about Johannesburg that you’ll go home saying how many times you got killed there—like you could die more than once. Nothing bad happened to me, but it is a very dangerous place, you have to be vigilant. What it means to have a secure home in Johannesburg means having barbed wire, electric fences, walls, private security. Every house in the area I lived in had a threatening sign “armed household,” “Armed response.” You don’t see cars parked on the street, there is reserved parking for cars. There is 24-hour private security on just about every corner, I’m not sure who hires them. The hut has a barrel where the security guards burn whatever they can find to keep warm. You wonder why do they need so much security?
I got to travel in the country but one of the problems is it’s not developed like the U.S. Not very far outside of Johannesburg, there are no businesses. The businesses are all concentrated where the wealth is. [Otherwise] you can’t find anything anywhere. It’s a country where the average person is making about $4 day. A high percentage of the population (maybe 40-50%) is making $1 day, I can’t remember exactly. It's an astonishing number.
Revolution: Are there still shantytowns?
X: Tons of them. If you drive down the highway, they are everywhere. That’s how a large percentage of the country lives. People are living with no electricity, essentially living off the land almost. An area might have one store with food or really basic necessities for every 5 or 10 miles maybe. What makes it bad is people have to walk so far to those stores, people walk along the highway just to get where they want to go.
The infrastructure is strange, it’s designed so that the people can’t go very far. A guy I talked to said it had something to do with apartheid when they just didn’t want non‑white people to travel at all. They were doing everything they could to keep people from traveling, so the infrastructure was designed so that it’s really difficult to get around without a car in SA. There are almost no black people in SA who have cars. Most white people have cars.
Work is Hard to Find
Revolution: Michael Slate wrote a whole series in the 80's about South Africa, Soweto and the youth and the uprisings, and one thing I remember is that people came from the countryside to work in the mines far away. They lived in dorms and they never got to see their families.
X: It’s still like that, I don’t know about the mines, but I did talk to some South Africans and they live so far—or it might not even be that far, but it is far for them because they have no way to get back and forth easily so they have to live where they work. So then maybe they only get home on the weekends. To commute, one person was 2 hours from his job and it cost him $20 U.S. to get there and he is making $4/day. They don’t have a choice, unemployment is so high, people are doing anything to get work. Their life is truly hard.
A lot of college graduates can’t find work. I got a chance to know some—two whites and two blacks. One of the whites received a job offer before graduating and one got an offer a month after graduating. The blacks had received no offers. It’s amazing with the unemployment so high, it was like the opportunity was just handed down to the white guy. I knew the two unemployed black guys personally and it was not an issue of them not being qualified or not willing to work hard or not having the ability or their personal attributes. There was something else that distinguished them and how they got or didn’t get work. If I owned the company and had the choice to hire from those people I wouldn’t be able to distinguish the black candidates from white. They were good people, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Foreign Companies Hiring Foreigners
Revolution: Why did they hire you to come all the way from the U.S. given the high unemployment in SA.
X: A lot of people ask me that question and to be honest I don’t have an answer. I didn’t question why I was picked. I was very lucky to get this opportunity, but I didn’t want to ask anybody why specifically because I didn’t want them to reconsider what they were doing. They could have used one of the black SA graduates to do the job, unless they were looking specifically for an American. Do you realize how many Americans are working there? A lot of them have moved there. One Black guy thought it’s great there. The others were white folk. I got into a lot of conversations shopping or at restaurants. You draw a lot of attention if you have a foreign accent, if you run into someone from your home country it almost always results in a conversation. They have opportunities there for foreigners. You’d be surprised—it wasn’t just Americans I met, there were a lot of foreigners for whatever reason. The company I worked for was an American company. That’s probably why Americans took precedence in the selection process, that’s what I think.
Revolution: I’m wondering it’s kind of a classical colonial, imperialist thing where they bring the people from their country to work in the white collar jobs. Were most of the people you worked with mostly Americans?
X: People I worked with were from all different countries. It was shocking because I guess to be honest, I almost have the impression that the black South Africans have such high unemployment because they lose all the jobs to the white SA’s and all the foreigners. There are so many foreigners maybe that’s why there’s such high unemployment. It doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, it’s nothing but foreign companies. South Africans don’t have any of their own companies, they are all foreign companies over there.
It was interesting for me to see. You never really pay attention here in the U.S. to when you go to stores to buy stuff, I don’t normally think about who owns those companies and what is the country of origin. In America you find that a high percentage of the stores you actually shop at or have services provided by are American owned. In SA it’s the other way around. About 90% are foreign companies, and 10% are SA. The UK has such a big stake in SA. If not British owned, then they are European like German or Dutch. And lots of American companies.
It works like this: you have these companies in SA and the profit that’s made there, where is it going? Back to the nations that establish those companies. It becomes problematic, the way capitalism works, this whole ownership thing... well, I’ll describe slavery as a situation, where a person works only for sustainability because the whole point of slavery is to have a worker that works for maximum profit. You want a worker where he works and the only thing the owner has to do is provide enough to keep that worker working. How you enforce that on a person can be done by force, or done more incognito with a political/economic system. It takes us to a system of ownership where that can lead to ultimate oppression where you have a group of people who own everything. And the other people have to depend on you for everything because you own everything. Those people are completely oppressed by you because they have to work for you, and then they have to turn around and get the products they need to survive from you. You can deny entire groups of people those resources. It’s a big problem in SA because you have a nation with a certain amount of land and resources and then you roll all these foreign countries in, dominate all the resources and take up all the desirable land, put all the native people over here in places where nobody wants to live. Then make a profit off of all that labor you control. The catch to it is all that labor you control because capitalism creates its own poverty. You have to deny some people basic necessities to maintain the system. It happens in the U.S. But oppression abroad is worse, definitely worse.
Revolution: When you were describing whole areas where there are no stores and people have to go miles. I was thinking about a large African American area in [home city], an area where there are all these vacant lots and no jobs or hardly any stores, no supermarkets. A bleak landscape. Do you see any parallels?
X: I think there are some parallels between the blacks in SA and Blacks in the U.S. Sometimes I drive through a neighborhood and it looks like a lot of people are living very hard. Sometimes I question whether I’m in SA or in U.S. Unemployment statistics often are bad statistics because they exclude a vast number of people that would normally be considered unemployed—people who are not working. And also I think you should include people who work part time but can’t find full time work, because you just can’t make it on a part-time job. There are tons of people not working, I don’t know how they are living. There’s high unemployment and there’s a whole section of people who are totally displaced. There’s no money flowing into those areas. Why not, that’s a whole other story. The conditions, the discrimination when it comes to opportunities, is similar to SA.
I can say personally that discrimination is alive and well in this country. It’s a lot harder for a Black male to find work. I have Black friends from top universities who can’t find work. Someone I know just got a job and got it quickly. I mentioned this to a couple friends, the first thing they asked “is he Black or white.” I said, “Are you asking me is he white or is he Black because you are saying if he was Black it would not be possible for him to find work so easily? Is that what you are saying? ” And that’s what it boiled down to. It’s getting to this whole system that oppresses groups of people. The very same thing could be said for Hispanics in the U.S., or for other third world countries, but the reason I mention this to you, is because that’s my experience. I get a chance to experience that first hand, that is my race, and I can tell you what that experience is like, in much the same way an Hispanic person could explain the burdens they have under an oppressive system. To be honest, they are going to have to do something soon, because I don’t know how they are going to sustain this. There are a lot of people, my generation, if you are a Black male and you are not the top 1% of something, you are not going to find a job. That’s just how difficult it is.
Revolution: Before you had this job in SA, this temporary job....
X: (laughs): I’ve always had temporary jobs. I’ve never had a real job. Well, they’ve been real jobs, but not a stable job.
Revolution: So when you said you went to SA to work, it seems there’s an irony there.
X: Like I couldn’t work here, I went there to get work. [Laughs] There’s a lot of inequality here. Where is that wealth going to, it’s going to 1%, another part to the irony. I was reading on the news, the wealth gap in the U.S. has intensified in the last five years between the top 1-2% and the rest of the population. The majority of people are losing money and a tiny percentage are gaining.
We have to get rid of that. It’s not working. People are deprived of the basic necessities of life. Those towns are in SA, they are completely separated from political decisions, or normal commerce. Capitalists don’t open businesses in shantytowns. The people have their own courts, grow their own food. They are on their own.
Being American you expect to live a certain way, to a small extent I participate in the economy and I go out and buy stuff. In SA even people who work can’t buy anything, only enough to barely sustain themselves. The stores are NOT for those people. It gets you to question the system as a whole. You thought you were in this economy, you are a consumer, but you also produce, and then you consume and businesses profit from that from a vast number of people. You’re brought up in America with those expectations that’s supposed to be the way things are, how it works. But that’s not how the system works. There is no interest in YOUR role in it. You’re taught in this system you are supposed to play a role in the economy, but if you end up poor then they end up blaming you, it’s your fault, you bought the wrong stuff, you made bad decisions as a consumer, you didn’t work hard enough, you didn’t save enough.
Capitalism has no concern about making everybody a consumer, its primary concern is just to profit when possible. It’s a monopoly for a small percentage of people. It boils down to the money—who controls the capital and resources, and who has access and where it gets used. It’s a constant transfer between those people, and a little bit trickles down to the ordinary person in the process of them competing with each other in the 1%, only in the process of competition do the 90% ever get a chance to participate in the economy. It’s not concerned with making opportunity for the people, it’s only concerned with making more money for the tiny percentage, done in a competition way with each other.
Any news media exists as long as it’s serving that group of people because it’s outright propaganda. Bill O’Reilly says this is a prosperous country because we’re a noble and righteous people, not that it’s because the U.S. is exploiting billions all over the world.
Effect of the End of Apartheid
Revolution: I want to ask you about the effect of the end of apartheid in SA, yet the oppression of the vast majority of people is the same or maybe worse. The form of apartheid was righteously defeated and done away with—so the system of apartheid changed, but the system of imperialist domination and exploitation did not change.
X: There’s a real direct parallel to the situation in the U.S. and the end of slavery. Apartheid is over and in a textbook I would say “great!” I would expect to see a SA where there is some kind of equality. The SA I went to now has a black African-run government, but one has to question what was accomplished when apartheid was ended. I can tell you a few things I learned. I said before that the infrastructure makes it very difficult to travel. Well apartheid made it illegal for black people to travel outside of where you were placed. So Johannesburg, the city, was strictly off limits.
When apartheid ended, money flowed into the city of Johannesburg. The blacks wanted opportunity so they moved to the city. Then the whites started to move out of the city, they moved up north of the city and then eventually to the north suburbs. I’ve been to both of those areas. So when the blacks moved into downtown the businesses moved out, and now the city center is poor, with tons of unemployment. Under apartheid there was no crime in the city center. The black South Africans come there not to bring crime but for opportunities, but they found there are no jobs, all the businesses abandoned it, and now it’s dangerous. People had traveled so far to get there, so you literally have people sleeping on the streets. You have homelessness here in the U.S., but downtown Johannesburg is full of people in the street with nothing but maybe some blankets, that’s it. Tons of people like that. Everything is shut down. What used to be malls... it’s gone. When the blacks came, the whites packed up and the whites didn’t leave them anything to work with.
It’s almost like an illusion of black control. One of the main things that was done when apartheid ended was that blacks can go to certain schools now, or travel to certain areas. But people go to school and then come out unemployed. They gave them a few things, but they gave them no economic opportunity whatsoever.
So the whites kept their wealth and they moved up north to suburban areas. Whites are riding around in BMWs, and Mercedes, with Aston Martin dealerships around the corner. But look at the rest of the country. Hardly any black people own cars at all, even professionals and highly educated blacks don’t have cars. People get around by taxi, which is a small bus, I call it an ice cream truck, that size with about 25 people packed in. No subway, some buses, but a huge number of people have to take the bus because they don’t have cars. A bus stop will have a whole block-long line of people waiting to get on. And whole sections of the city don’t even have busses, so people take the “taxis.”
Revolution: To get back to the “black African-run” government. Apartheid was ended, but the capitalist-imperialist domination was not. There was no revolution to uproot the system, the state, no transformation in the economic base of imperialist domination. But there was a section of the black bourgeoisie that got rewarded. In their class view, the change that happened was the change that was needed. They were not looking to transform the whole society toward ending exploitation and oppression, including the national oppression of the South African people, and putting the economy and relations between people on the basis that it’s not about profit and commodity relations, and not about imperialism dominating all that. They saw the goal as getting rid of apartheid and becoming part of the ruling class. One of the things BA talks about is that when there is a mass uprising by the people, but there is no genuine revolution, then often when the people are still left with nothing, that gets channeled into demoralization and crime that reflects the values of the dominant society. Did you have a sense of how people view all this?
X: That’s very interesting. It’s kind of backwards what’s happening. The whites always complain about the corruption of the government, and they list a thousand things that could be done about it. But among the black people I talked to, I encountered some difficult moments. In terms of their views on the political system, the people I talked to were in support of the government even though they think it could use some improvement, they were strongly in favor of it. They think things will progress. A lot of people have become content with their conditions. I was trying to tell them...I couldn’t fire up anything. They were like “this is how things are.”
Revolution: What kinds of people did you talk to about this, were these mainly people who had gained something through this? Were some of them the people you were describing who are living by the side of the road?
X: I talked to people from various backgrounds. I tried to throw at them: what apartheid does is one thing, but look at other nations, there’s so much unemployment. Why do I as an American get the privilege of working in SA? It was very easy for me to get permits. An American can go anywhere. But a black South African trying to come to the U.S. is going to be very difficult, why is that? I gave some lectures. I tried to bring people’s attention that there’s a huge wealth inequality. I’m a broke American, but there’s a huge gap. Just because I was born in U.S., and just because those white SA’s were born white, we get all this entitlement.
I met a hardcore capitalist from Zimbabwe, I never met anyone like him before. He outright said, “if you say you’re trying to benefit humanity you’re nothing more than a hypocrite. I’m concerned about me. It’s bullshit to be for the common good.” His philosophy was to tip over the imperialist power to Africans, so “we can get the wealth we’re entitled to.” He was a banker, he worked for Morgan Stanley. I had never talked to someone like that in the U.S. I know they exist, but they would not be having a conversation with someone like me. He just made it outright clear, I’m out to make hardcore money.
Many black South Africans were so happy to get rid of apartheid, that they have blind faith in the government. But people would also say conditions are not so good. In certain ways the Africans are being dragged back into apartheid. The government keeps track of every criminal and tragic event. They are twisting it around to go back. Their ideology overlaps with fascism, and it has genocidal implications. That’s what they are brewing up.
Revolution: What did you lecture on?
X: I was talking about the system, I said you guys work so hard, you are not guaranteed anything. It’s so hard to do anything. It’s just not fair.
Revolution: Have you studied communist political economy? Read Bob Avakian?
X: I have read some of that in the past.
Revolution: Were you thinking about this when you went there or did it hit you when you witnessed all this?
X: I was kind of prepared, but being able to experience it helped. You get a chance to see how the system really works on a global scale. It can be explained to you, but to actually see it and outright know. I’m not that old, but the further I get in my life, I’m breaking away from this stuff that’s bad.
Revolution: When you look at literally billions of people around the world who are superexploited by the imperialists...
X: That’s a word I use: Superexploitation. Labor rate is so much lower, but the product cost remains the same.
Revolution: Marx in Capital talks about wages being based on buying labor power as a commodity and the commodity is the minimum needed to keep the worker alive to come back to work the next day. If you can eat on $1/day and live in a cardboard box on the side of the highway and keep working, that’s what they will pay, because if you don’t want to take it, there will be somebody else who will, that’s part of the competition.
X: It’s kind of crazy that a capitalist can sit back while other people do all the work and don’t have to worry about providing them with anything. It’s insane.
Revolution: So I was wondering about your thoughts on fundamental transformation, the need for revolution and how your experience impacted your thinking.
X: It is essential that there be revolution, and it will have to occur on a global scale, not just in one country. Capitalism is always digging it’s own grave, causing it’s own problem. You gotta be there when that problem arises and be ready to get revolution out to people, create an awareness among the people. If people are feeling kind of revolutionary, you have to let them know what their efforts are going to lead up to, and from an historical perspective. We need a massive expansion of the movement for revolution. To get a movement like this going, you need to get as much exposure as possible. If there is a way to get out to different groups of people, do it. Consistency. Being there when those gravedigging issues arise. Eventually leadership rises up, but it might not be leadership that’s going to put an end to those problems. Have to be there as leaders when those issues arise, so people have a full perspective on what’s going on and can be assured that their efforts are going to go toward curing the ailment and not taking that nice aspirin.
I want to tie the end of apartheid into the end of slavery in the U.S. How it parallels slavery—slavery is over but the condition of Black people in this country is pretty bad—why that is, how this group has been disadvantaged even 150 years after slavery is over. One analogy I thought of is it’s like there’s a race—one person has a Mustang, he floors it, and the other person is supposed to race them on a bicycle. Never will there be complete equality under capitalism.
The Revolution Interview: A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
We need much more resistance to the way the cops, courts, prisons—the whole criminal justice system—has been unleashed on people locked onto the bottom of this society. Look at what's happened in just the past few weeks:
The NYPD reported that the numbers of people stopped and frisked declined in recent months, but still for the first six months of this year, New York cops on average stopped nearly 2,000 people each and every day.
On top of that, there are tens of thousands of people held in solitary confinement in prisons across the U.S. subjected to conditions that fit the international definition of torture. And there are five million former prisoners who have served their sentences but face discrimination when looking for work, are denied government loans, can't live in public housing, and aren't even allowed to vote.
Add in the families and loved ones of all these people and you get tens of millions of people forced to live their lives caught up in the criminal "injustice" system of this country. This is a horrible injustice. It amounts to a slow genocide targeting Black people that could easily become a fast one. It is unacceptable, and it must be stopped. We will make a big leap in stopping it on Thursday, September 13, when we "Blow the Whistle on Stop-and-Frisk." And you have to be part of making this happen!
Stop-and-frisk concentrates the racial profiling police enforce all across the country, racial profiling that serves as a pipeline to mass incarceration—the 2.4 million people warehoused in prisons throughout the U.S. Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide. If we don't meet this with determined, mass resistance, the masses will be ground down so far, they'll never be able to do anything about all they do to us. From the other end, through standing up and coming back at this injustice in a powerful way, we can build our strength and organized capacity to resist and inspire others to join in the resistance. It's time to break the silence! And you must be a part of doing that.
On September 13, we will shatter that silence. Tens of thousands of people in New York City will politically confront police violating people's rights with whistles and cameras—blowing the whistle on all the crap these pigs inflict on the people. The actions in NYC will be the centerpiece of resistance on the 13th, and there must be diverse expressions of resistance to the many ways people are being beaten down—mass incarceration, racial profiling, police brutality and murder in cities across the country. These actions must involve the active participation of thousands and thousands of people.
The word needs to get out everywhere through Facebook and Twitter. Public Service Announcements and videos of people saying why they're going to "Blow the Whistle on Stop-and-Frisk" need to be recorded and played on the media and posted online. Some of these can feature artists and other well-known people. Students need to take whistles into their schools and organize others to come out on the 13th. Organizing has to be going on in neighborhoods, through church groups, unions, etc. People who hear about this have to organize their own actions on September 13! Organizing kits and other materials to use in doing this will be available on the Stop Mass Incarceration website—www.stopmassincarceration.org.
Through all these actions a powerful message will be delivered: WE WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT ALL THIS INJUSTICE IN SILENCE!
From Anaheim to Chicago, from Saginaw, Michigan to Jonesboro, Arkansas, people will be blowing the whistle on brutal murdering pigs. People will be blowing the whistle against torture behind prison walls from California to Red Onion Prison in W. Va. In different cities, people will express in many different ways their determination to end mass incarceration, racial profiling, police brutality and murder. People will mobilize people to go to the prisons, courthouses, police stations or into oppressed neighborhoods with signs, stickers and whistles, declaring their determination to "blow the whistle" on the slow genocide this system is inflicting on the people. At 6 pm EST, everybody, wherever they are, will blow their whistle in solidarity with the developing nationwide movement of resistance to mass incarceration and its consequences.
We will have to raise a lot of money to do all this. Funds are urgently needed in order to realize the vision concentrated in this call for nationwide resistance—money to get tens of thousands of whistles to put into people's hands and cards to spread the word on September 13. Money has to be raised from all sections of the people. Tax-exempt contributions can be made at stopmassincarceration.org. Donations for whistles, buttons and stickers need to be collected every time people are out in the streets organizing people to be ready to Blow the Whistle on Stop-and-Frisk.
On September 13, we will be building on the resistance that has developed over the past year, resistance which must be built as part of building a movement for revolution—the prisoners who went on hunger strike in California, in Georgia, in West Virginia, the neighborhoods that exploded in protest and rebellion in response to police murders in Anaheim, the thousands of people who have taken to the streets calling for an end to stop-and-frisk. And the advances made on September 13 will be the launching pad for leaping further forward in making this battle against mass incarceration a major societal issue, changing the political terrain and contributing to the building of a movement for revolution.For more information, or to get involved go to www.stopmassincarceration.org.
Revolution #278 August 19, 2012
This appeared at Sunsara Taylor's blog, sunsara.blogspot.com
It's been just a few hours since I was released from jail in New York City. I was arrested yesterday and charged with "criminal trespass" and another lesser trespass charge as I was leaving St. Patrick's Cathedral after a group of women and men shouted out the following statements during a break in the service:
"Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!"
"Forced Motherhood is Female Enslavement!"
"Stop the War on Women!"
St. Patrick's is, of course, home of Cardinal Timothy Dolan – head of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, a lifelong staunch opponent of abortion rights, and the person who spearheaded the U.S. Catholic church's recent political and legal revolt against birth control.
As I and one other woman, Alice Woodward, spent a long night each alone in a filthy cell, looking out between fourteen bars to cold fluorescent lights, a dingy wall, and a window that revealed only the dirty bricks and tarp of the next building (no green and no sky), I thought of the women in El Salvador staring out of similar cells after being arrested out of the emergency room and imprisoned if the doctors suspect they are bleeding due to botched abortions. I thought of the women who are imprisoned in Afghanistan if they fall in love with the wrong man or end up pregnant while still unmarried. I thought of Dr. Pendergraft who had spent seven months in jail for illegitimate charges leveled against him by anti-abortion fanatics seeking to put him out of business.
There is a real war going on against women. Around the world, under the cover of religious authority, women's dreams are extinguished, women's bodies are treated like mere vessels for men's sperm and the incubation of fetuses, women's lives are foreclosed. Around the world, women and men face not only the church, but also the state, if they dare to defy thousands of years of tradition's chains.
With these people in mind, my sacrifice felt well worth it.
Still, time alone in a jail cell creeps by at a snail's pace. So, my mind continued to wander. I found myself retracing the events of the last week – the first seven days of a ten-day effort called Take Patriarchy by Storm – which led up to my landing in jail.
Despite my heavy heart over the tremendous and unnecessary brutality and shame that is inflicted on women on every corner of the globe, and despite the frequent interruptions inflicted on me by guards who spoke to me and Alice only with disdain, I couldn't help busting out in a wide grin – and yes, I'll admit it, a full out laugh with defiant and righteous joy at what we've begun.
I thought of Karlee, a 16-year-old from a rural area with more chutzpah than most people twice her age, who ventured into a Pregnancy Crisis Center to get the real scoop on the lies and emotional pressure applied to women to prevent them from getting abortions. Despite knowing that she wasn't pregnant and being well-versed in the truth about how fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder, she still broke down crying under the intimidation and judgment inflicted on her from those who "counseled" her at this "clinic." Still, she came through the experience stronger, writing about it and then finding the courage to shout out for abortion rights at the top of her lungs on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral with others here.
I flashed back to the shocked and outraged expressions on the men who threw objects and misogynist insults at dozens of people who protested inside the "Original Hooters" restaurant – a restaurant whose entire theme is to revel in objectifying women's breasts and women as a whole. The protesters draped "crime scene tape" that read "DANGER: CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN" around the restaurant and chanted, "Women aren't objects, women aren't toys. Women aren't playthings for the boys!" Even better than the shocked expressions of the men were the faces of pure joy of the women and men who turned that restaurant, which every day serves as a site of women's objectification and degradation, into a space of women's liberation.
I thought of the audacity, the courage, the righteousness and the elation of the dozens of us who returned for the second time in one day to take the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral just the day before my arrest. How we joined together with our loud signs and stickers and "crime scene tape" to deliver a Call to Action against the whole war against women. I recalled how this infuriated many and brought the applause of others, but how this shocked all of the hundreds who stopped to witness this as it happened. We linked up, as our Call to Action does, the way that both pornography and the church reduce women to "things." One reduces us to sex objects and the other reduces us to breeders and there is no fundamental difference between the two; neither treats women as full human beings.
I thought of the evening at Revolution Books when I gave a talk getting into the quote from Bob Avakian that begins, "You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men," and ends by insisting that we must unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution. I was heartened by all the men in that crowd who spoke deeply and from the heart about how they have come, through interaction with the movement for revolution, to see this fight for women's liberation as central to any chance to win a better world.
I thought of the porn stores in Times Square that sell "virtual girlfriends" (rubber reconstructions of vaginas, breasts and anuses for men to penetrate without the "hassle" of a real woman), torture porn, and hundreds of gangbangs, teens being violated by multiple men, and the sexualized humiliation and violation of women based on race. And I smiled, again, as I recalled how these spaces were turned into sites of liberation through women and men going right inside to raise their voices and then holding their ground and speaking the truth that is all too often told only through whispers and tears in the face of harassment and a f**king water-hose (I kid you not!) directed at us by those working at the porn store.
But most of all, and more than any single interaction or protest, I thought of the tremendous transformation that took place this week. I thought of one woman who had traveled up to New York City to join us for this project and marched with us and gone out every day to Union Square with us to collect the "Stories from the War Zone" of women and men who passed by to display in public what is often kept silent. After protesting the first porn store we went to on Saturday, as we walked down the block, I looked and saw her slumped on the ground wrapped in the arms of another volunteer. Her body was shaking and both volunteers had tears streaming down their faces.
When I approached, the woman who was shaking violently said to me, "Something just tore open in me when you were speaking in front of the porn store. You talked about everything that happens to women – and when you said that little girls are molested in their own homes... that was me. I was molested when I was five. In a place that is supposed to be safe." By now we were all crying, but I told her that these stories need to come out and she has the strength to turn that pain into fury that fuels this movement. She said she wasn't sure she could do that, but even as she was saying that she was standing up and raising her head. Next thing we all knew, she was telling her story to the rapt attention of all who surrounded. She not only spoke of her abuse, but of how for her whole life she and millions of other women have choked on that abuse – carried the shame and the stigma, the trauma and the anguish of having been violated and having society just carry on. She spoke with pride of having disrupted people's lunches at Hooters and their shopping at the porn store, "They should not have the right to eat their lunch based on women's degradation while we are choking on our shame!"
Honestly, I am not doing justice to the power or the poetry of what she had to say. As one of our volunteers put it later, it was like a work of art, like a piece of master theater that she'd been working on and rehearsing for a lifetime – which, in a way, she had been.
By the time she had finished, she had drawn an even bigger crowd of passersby from Midtown New York. As you looked out on their faces, and knowing how common sexual assault and abuse are, it was clear that many who were riveted to her speech share the same experience and had never heard it spoken out loud before and with such defiance and righteous fury.
So I thought about this – and the others like her we met throughout the week. I thought of the deep feeling of uplift, the righteousness of people's suppressed fury coming out and the lightness and real feeling of liberation that comes from finally puking out all that anti-woman venom we've spent a lifetime choking on. But not only puking it up, turning this kind of furious truth-telling into a source of strength and a force that stirs and calls forward the suppressed outrage of others.
There is a war on women and we should all be impatient and uncompromising and completely unwilling to go along in our daily lives like this is normal and acceptable.
One of the things we all learned very deeply through this experience is that after having spent a life-time of trying to avoid situations in which women are degraded and demeaned, after seeking to avoid sexual assault and rape, street harassment or stigma cast at us for getting abortions or using birth control or daring to have sex and actually enjoy it, after doing all this and failing anyhow (as all women fail to do because these things cannot be avoided in a world based on male-domination), we discovered that the most liberated spaces are those that we create by going right in the face of the greatest concentrations of patriarchy and oppressive power. Standing up and fighting – right inside the Hooters, inside the porn stores, inside St. Patrick's and many other places – was more liberating, and contributes more to the liberation of women, than trying to avoid these places and hope they will go away.
Through this kind of resistance, and through the tremendous and inspiring transformation of all the volunteers who took part in this project, we began to get a glimpse of the kind of massive political struggle that can really bring into being a different future for women and for humanity as a whole. And we got a glimpse of the kind of people that this political fight can create and that this future will be filled with. The irrepressible smiles and pride that rises out of the same women who were moments before shaking in fear, in trauma, in pain and in shame.
As we said many times throughout our time together, this is only the beginning. Our purpose was not simply to have the time of our lives – though we certainly have – but to set an example and to launch something new. Our belief starting out was that only if we act in a way that is commensurate with the real war against women that is claiming real lives every day, only if we dare to enter into this with the full outrage and impatience that that demands, will we be able to reach into and inspire others. But only if we succeed in bringing many, many thousands and tens of thousands into this movement together with us – and through connecting up with the important work that is going on in pockets here and there already – will we stand a chance at winning. So, I spent time overnight thinking about the plans we will be finalizing before everyone leaves town on Tuesday night for even more to come throughout the fall. A high school sticker day...A day of action against the fake "clinics" that spew anti-abortion lies...For protests against pornography and more against the churches that have spearheaded the assault on women's right to birth control and abortion...For more ways of speaking out and dragging women's stories of abuse out of the silence and into the full view of the public...And of ways to celebrate and create a new culture through poetry and visual arts, through music and gatherings all along the way.
All this is just some of what I thought about while in jail. That, and the expressions on the people in St. Patrick's Cathedral and the lives of millions around the world who have been hurt by the bigotry and Dark Ages morality of the Catholic Church.
As I left the jail and given the date of October 15 to return to court, I was exhausted and physically grimy, but overflowing with the expectation of even more to come. Contact us and become part of this.