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Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Updated March 25, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“We need a new world, a radically different world.” With these words, Bob Avakian began "A Call to Revolution" on New Year's Day 2014. This is real—the need and the possibility. If you honestly confront the extreme situation that humanity faces—the tremendous horrors that people endure and the catastrophic devastation of the planet—the need for fundamental radical change aches your heart.
If you feel this way, if you want to know what this new society could be and how we could get there, you must see BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!—a film of a pathbreaking talk by Bob Avakian (see centerfold). Bob Avakian lays it out straight up and full out—the problem humanity faces in the ruthless capitalist-imperialist system, and the solution, a radically new, better society that really could be, through revolution, and nothing less.
You can be a part of changing the world by taking up the campaign “BA Everywhere...Imagine the Difference It Could Make!” to raise big funds so that “BA”—short for Bob Avakian—becomes a household word, so that people in every corner of society can know about, discuss, and debate the vision, framework and strategy that BA has brought forward. From Thursday, March 27, through Sunday, March 30, the nationwide BA Everywhere Campaign invites you to be a part of a weekend of reaching out to and involving people in making a big deal out of the film, BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!... to join us in raising funds so that this film is widely known and available; so that people find out about, donate to, and can become a part of the BA Everywhere Campaign.
Bob Avakian came out of the struggles of the 1960s, working closely with the Black Panther Party and other radical movements of the times. Coming off that era, he led in forming the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. After the '60s ebbed, and after the great socialist revolutions of the 20th century in the Soviet Union and China were defeated decades ago, Bob Avakian did not give up. He went to work to learn from those first socialist revolutions and from humanity's experience more broadly, to develop a new synthesis of communism—a deeper, even more scientific understanding of the methods, the goals, the strategy and plan for making revolution and creating a new society.
He has developed a vision and viable framework for a new society that is working to overcome and dig up the roots of all the forms of exploitation and savage inequality that people suffer from today; where wars of plunder and subjugation of nations and cultures are no more; where a new constitution would require safeguarding the environment. All in a framework that gives great scope to intellectual work, ferment, and dissent so that people could consciously and collectively strive for a world where all humanity could flourish.
People need to know about this. So that this radical vision and strategy of how the world could be becomes a contending pole throughout society... so that when people are profoundly outraged by the horrific situation and the oppressive, paltry, and police-state political solutions put forward by the system, they know about and are able to weigh all that up against the possibility of a far better world through revolution that BA has brought forward.
For BA to become a household word... for the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! to be known and seen by tens of thousands, requires serious money. Asking for funds is giving people an opportunity to make a difference. There is nothing more real than this plan and vision that BA has brought forward, to emancipate all humanity by getting rid of the system that oppresses people and is destroying the environment. There is nothing more unrealistic than thinking you can fix this system, which has shown over and over again for hundreds of years that it functions only through exploitation and brutal oppression. Working to raise funds to change the whole world, doing this together with others across the country—with youth and families struggling in the projects, with ex-prisoners and those still inside; with all who catch the hardest hell; with students and professors; with professionals and even wealthy people who do not want to live in a world as unjust as this; with all nationalities and ages—working in common cause, contributing in different ways: baking cookies, having a yard sale, screening the film in a courtyard of a project, or holding a high-priced salon or dinner party to raise large funds—all of this builds a unique community that matters.
On Thursday and Friday, March 27 and 28, take the BA Everywhere campaign out to colleges and high schools. Bring the film on a portable DVD player if you can. Download the leaflet for the campaign and get some palm cards for the film at the BA Everywhere page at revcom.us. And discuss with the students and teachers that they can be about more than trying to do good in a bad world, but instead they can be part of bringing into being a radically better world.
Over the weekend of March 29 and 30, reach out to everyone you know. Find out about fundraising outreach organizing in your area. Come to the picnic or BA Everywhere dinner if there is one near you. Check with a Revolution Books store near you or at revcom.us to connect up and for a schedule of activities near you.
Show, spread, get into, and raise funds utilizing the DVD BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! This film can transform how people see the world and what they think is possible. A young Latina said after seeing the film: “...when I saw it, it changed the way I looked at everything... music, shows, commercials, ads. I just started seeing all the fucked up shit they promote and it made me want to challenge all that and not go along with any of it.”
If you want to be about something positive—the most positive thing there can be... get into BA and be part of and donate to BA Everywhere. If you want to be about more than just yourself and want to contribute to changing things for people all around the world... get into BA and be part of and donate to BA Everywhere. If you want to go up against all the lies and dishonesty in the world with sharp truth-telling, passion, and honesty... get into BA and be part of and donate to BA Everywhere. If you have a heart and a conscience, big questions and big dreams and yearn for the whole society to rock once again with the potential for fundamental change and the vision of revolution ... get into BA, experience the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!, and BE A PART OF AND DONATE TO BA EVERYWHERE!
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The planet is burning. On March 14, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organization, released a stark report on the catastrophic consequences of global climate change. Scientists the world over are sounding the alarm, and just in the last year, hundreds and thousands of students and ordinary people have put their bodies on the line to stop fracking, tar sand mining, destructive gas pipelines, and all the accelerating environmentally destructive impacts of this compete-or-die fossil-fuel-based world economy.
If you are one of those honestly confronting this global emergency and agonizing over what can be done to stop and repair the damage, you need to know about and get into BA and his work. On April 22, people everywhere on the globe will mark Earth Day, and the “BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make” campaign will be there.
Haven’t heard of Bob Avakian and the movement for revolution he is leading? Exactly the problem. BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted fundraising campaign, involving people from all walks of life in many different ways to raise big money so that BA and the vision, framework, and strategy for a new world concentrated in the new synthesis of communism developed by BA can become known and debated throughout society, and reverberate around the world—including how it opens the door to humanity becoming fit caretakers of the planet.
“BA” is Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who through decades-long work has brought forward a new synthesis of revolution and communism. He has analyzed the experience of the 20th-century revolutions—with one of the starkest results of capitalism taking power back in China and the Soviet Union being that these countries have now joined the imperialist “world community” that is ravaging the world’s ecosystems regardless of one after the other international environmental agreements.
The framework and strategy BA has developed for the next wave of liberating revolutions envisions and structures how a radically new socialist state power would end the irrational, wasteful destruction caused by the capitalist economy and organize society instead to meet the material and cultural needs of the people in balance with repairing and preserving the world ecosystem. This would be both a matter of law and of societal priorities: releasing the creativity and resources of the scientific and academic communities and the broad population working in agriculture, industry and in the urban areas, to collaborate in applying environmental sustainability as a foundational socialist principle. The visionary, viable, and concrete plan for this whole new society is laid out in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), based on the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA.
BA and his work need to be widely known—soon! The BA Everywhere Campaign is launching major efforts to make this known in 2014, exactly so not just hundreds or thousands, but ultimately millions of people can know and compare how the world could be radically changed through revolution, up against the paltry, brutal, anti-scientific and ignorance-glorifying rationales for locking humanity and the globe into the people- and earth-destroying system that it is.
Get into and learn about BA and his work. As you do, donate to the BA Everywhere Campaign. If you already know about BA Everywhere, make your donation now. And reach out to others who are concerned about the threats to the environment and urge them to donate. Talk to people one-on-one or gather groups of people together.
If you are a student or teacher, be a part of efforts to get BA Everywhere out and raise funds on your campus, at other campuses, and through the web and social media.
If you are in the oppressed neighborhoods and barrios—or behind the bars—your donations and efforts are a crucial part of BA Everywhere which can deeply resonate with and affect those from other parts of society who may not be “catching hell” in the same way under this system but who also yearn for an end to the unspeakable horrors and brutal injustices that people are subjected to here and around the world.
Material that can be used in the BA Everywhere efforts in April can be found at revcom.us. These include: the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America; the special issue of Revolution on the environment, State of EMERGENCY! The Plunder of Our Planet, The Environmental Catastrophe & The Real Revolutionary Solution; and the excerpt from BA’s Revolution Talk titled “Not fit caretakers of the earth.” And these are all framed around the palm card with this quote from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian:
This system and those who rule over it are not capable of carrying out economic development to meet the needs of the people now, while balancing that with the needs of future generations and requirements of safeguarding the environment. They care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth and its species, for the treasures this contains, except when and where they can turn this into profit for themselves....These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth. (BAsics 1:29)
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
From Stop Patriarchy
A call for YOU to get involved in organizing...
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
April 11th—Public Programs: Hold programs on/in campuses, communities, religious congregations, and theaters bringing alive: women's abortion stories—before Roe and today, the struggles of those who risk their lives to provide abortions, and the full anti-woman program driving this war.
April 12th—Bloody Coat-Hanger Street Actions: Assemble at institutions behind this war (GOP or Dem. offices, anti-abortion churches, Pregnancy Crisis Centers, etc.). People wearing all white will raise coat-hangers dripping in blood, representing the women who die when abortion is unavailable. Others in all black will hold pictures, names and statistics of the women who have died already. Everyone will wear shackles. After one hour of silent protest, people will break the shackles and recite a pledge to resist and call on others to join in mass resistance to defeat this war.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In light of the strategizing that is starting now for the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration set for October 2014, we are re-running this excerpt from a recent interview with Carl Dix, from the Revolutionary Communist Party and an initiator of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
"The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has looked at the situation and seen a need for a major effort to take the level of resistance to mass incarceration to a new level, a new height, involving thousands of people, as a springboard to ultimately enlist millions in this movement, and that we're going to work to do that through this month of resistance in October. And we're taking the responsibility to initiate this and to lead it forward. Cornel West and I issued the call for this Month of Resistance, and we want to bring together people who seriously want to take this movement of resistance to a higher level and be a part of working to do that, fleshing out a vision for it and developing a plan. And there's really a lot of people who need to be involved in this process.
"One, there needs to be young people involved, college students need to be involved in this from the beginning, contributing their understanding, their experience, and then going out on a mission to spread the call for October and to build resistance up to October as part of what's being done in this. High school students should be there with the same thing, bringing their experience into it, and then spreading that in all the ways that they would want to do that—armbands days, hoodie days, days when people do stuff on social media, spreading pictures of themselves wearing armbands and hoodies on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and all like that. Generally people who are catching hell on this front need to be a part of this, and in addition to the young people there needs to be family members of people in prison, who played an important role during the California prison hunger strike. Family members of police murder victims, formerly incarcerated people—all of them need to be bringing their understanding, their experience and being part of hammering out the vision for this and spreading it throughout society. We need to have religious leaders and lay people in this effort bringing their own stance on this, their moral opposition to this, helping to hammer out the vision, and then figuring out the ways that this gets expressed powerfully in religious institutions.
"It's gotta be nationwide right from the beginning, people from different parts of the country involved right at the start so that we have a framework that is in position to operate and spread this nationwide. People who are grappling with the problem of the immigration raids that tear families apart and disappear people—they need to be a part of this. Because this has everything to do with the incarceration that's going down in this society. They need to be in position to spread this and spread it nationwide. Legal people need to be involved, people whose arena is the arts and culture need to be involved. Everybody's bringing their experience, their understanding of this and then being in the position to pivot back and out and spread that throughout society and in the arenas that they function in.
"And in some of these different arenas that I've just talked about: prominent people, people whose voices have impact society-wide. Some of them need to be in the room for this, people who can reach people throughout society when they speak up and stand up around a question, people who can play an important role in raising the kind of funds that's going to be needed. Because it's going to take a lot of money just to get this process started which will then pale the size of the amount of money that will need to be raised to carry it through to the end. And we gotta have from the beginning people who have the connections and the experience in terms of doing that.
"And I guess the other thing I want to say about who needs to be in the room is that Cornel West and I were talking in the last couple of days about this, and we issued a letter. And that letter basically says, 'Look, if you're a young person, Black or Latino, who's tired of wearing a target on your back—you need to be involved in this effort. If you're a parent who is tired of living in fear every time your children leave the house in the morning as to whether they'll make it back safely, if you're somebody who doesn't experience this but you're aware of it going down and you hate it and want to see something done about it, well, you're the kind of person who needs to be involved in this effort. This effort needs to bring together people who are serious about doing something to stop mass incarceration, and see this vision of a month of resistance in October that takes the movement of resistance to a whole new level and that makes this something that millions of people in this society are seeing as a horrific problem and they're seeing determined resistance to it that involves thousands. If you want to bring that vision into being and make it real, you need to be part of making this month of resistance happen.'"
If you want more information on the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration or want to be part of making it happen as powerfully as possible, contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network by writing them at: email@example.com, or by calling: 347-979-SMIN (7646). You can also visit the SMIN web site at stopmassincarceration.net.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
From Carl Dix:
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
If you agree that these and the many more horrors enforced on people by the criminal “injustice” system in this country are illegitimate and unacceptable and must be stopped, then join us in making this month of resistance as powerful as possible; powerful enough to change the way millions of people see mass incarceration.
Contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at: firstname.lastname@example.org, (347) 979-SMIN (7646) or PO Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York, NY 10002-0900.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
May 1st, 2014—a time to raise your voice and fight to end this modern day horror billions around the world live every day. May 1st, 2014—a time for internationalist celebrations in cities across this country. May 1st, the day when revolutionaries and broad numbers of people the world over take stock of their struggle, but more... look to and fight for a different and far better world. This is a time when our aspirations for the emancipation of all humanity are put front and center.
This is a call to prepare for May Day...
Let’s mobilize people to take history into their hands.
May Day is the day when people who are standing up and fighting the power should unite and take to the streets and raise their voices and boldly declare: WE REFUSE TO ACCEPT SLAVERY IN ANY FORM HERE AND AROUND THE WORLD! FIGHT THE POWER, AND TRANSFORM THE PEOPLE, FOR REVOLUTION!
Make your plans now, and then apply for permits—and most of all, unleash an expanding core of those people who look toward or sympathize with the movement for revolution with the Revolutionary Communist Party as its leading core to let people far and wide know what’s happening and why they should be there on May 1st! People who long for a different world should be there. Reach out to those who are fighting to end porn and patriarchy and defend women’s right to abortion. Reach out to those who are fed up with and compelled to stop the outrage of mass incarceration, which amounts to the slow genocide of oppressed peoples. Reach out to those who are moved to stop the wanton murder of Blacks and Latinos by the police and modern day vigilantes. Reach out to those who are mobilizing to fight global climate change. And those who are fed up with capitalism. And reach out to a broad swath of people from the middle classes, and especially students and other young people who do not want to live in a society that perpetrates these outrages on a daily basis.
And, as we reach out and draw people into this resistance, let’s give full play to young people who can organize drum corps and cultural expressions on those days. All this will take work to inspire, organize, and lead—starting now!
Across the country, immigrants and those who are taking up the fight for immigrants’ rights are calling for marches and actions. Occupiers are organizing. And, from Earth Day, April 22 through May 1, people who are outraged at the destruction of the environment and the planet, and are fighting to turn this around, are planning to come into the streets. Let’s organize powerful contingents that unite with the fighting spirit of those who are standing up against these outrages and bring to them the truth that the world does not have to be this way. Another world is possible, a world where people are not oppressed and exploited, where people can be the caretakers of the Earth.
Let’s build contingents and go into these May Day actions and speak to the youth of all nationalities who face a future of oppression and degradation. Let’s speak to those fighting for immigrants whose only “crime” is struggling to survive in this world of horrors and tell them their fight is our fight. And that a world is possible where immigrants are not forced to live in the shadows and with the constant fear of being detained in horrific conditions, deported, separated from their families and children. Let’s bring to people the fact that we could have a world which fights to end the horrific destruction of the Earth and where people see themselves as the caretakers of the Earth.
Let’s raise the red flag of revolution and real liberation and draw people who gravitate to this into these contingents and impact these May Day actions.
And, as part of the May Day events, let’s hold truly internationalist celebrations that bring together people of all nationalities, from all over the world, to celebrate May 1st, 2014. With music, spoken word, and other artistic expressions—with good food and, most of all, a spirit of people living in this country celebrating May Day together and in unity with people all over the world who are fighting the power. The campaign to get BA Everywhere can and should be at the heart of these celebrations, bringing forward and sponsoring them together with other forces, including Revolution Books.
Write to revcom.us (email: email@example.com) and tell us your plans.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 20, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From Boston to LA, from Florida to Wisconsin to DC and beyond... some fresher breezes are beginning to blow on campuses.
Now is the time to take the revolution—and to take REVOLUTION—onto these campuses.
Keep it simple—radically simple. Keep a stash of Revolution newspapers, quote cards from BAsics, and palm cards for the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION–NOTHING LESS! Keep flyers to post. When you have an hour or so to spare, go on to the campus near you and get these out—get them to individuals, and leave them around in places where people can see them. Go to organizations which are doing things on campus and get them some of these materials. Many of the students in these organizations—and the organizations as a whole—can be won to take up BA Everywhere and the fight to Stop Mass Incarceration and to join with Stop Patriarchy, with its focus now on defending the right to abortion. Discuss this with them.
Do NOT wait for group outings to be organized. Organized forays with a bunch of people are great, but if we only go onto campuses when we have a large crew, then we won't really make enough headway. Just grab any time you can over these next two months to go onto campuses, or around campuses if they are locked down, and get these materials out. When you can, make announcements and broadly distribute Revolution in classes and especially the special issue You Don't Know What You Think You "Know" About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future, and then talk with people when they exit their classes.
Then, yes, of course, be part of organizing special efforts—and let these two forms work together.
Look on bulletin boards for programs that sound interesting and go to those. Seek out budding movements of resistance. And post your materials when you can on these bulletin boards. Students have been acting on, or planning to act on, the environment; racism and mass incarceration and the detention of immigrants; the oppression of women; against the vicious attacks on Palestinians; and other questions, and beginning to take significant risks. Take the revolution to them. Find out what they are thinking. If you go to a public event, or a meeting, and feel confident speaking from the floor, great. If you don't, just get out the materials, including Revolution newspaper, and see if you can talk with individuals. And if all you have time for is getting a palm card on each chair before a program starts, well... that, too, counts.
Coordinate your materials with the focuses of the month. Right now, you should be emphasizing the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION–NOTHING LESS! and the fund raising going on around that—and this paper will help you in this. For the first week of April, take the special issue on the history and future of communism—and spread the flyers which we'll be posting soon letting people know about this special issue, posting them all over. Then the middle of April take the materials that relate to Earth Day, which will be a focus of BA Everywhere that month. And be sure to distribute palm cards with the QR code for the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
Bring BA and REVOLUTION to everything going on—including to events that will be going on supporting the right to abortion on and leading up to April 11-12 and events and public meetings against mass incarceration. But there is more—if students are acting around Palestine, bring the special Revolution issue The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism? along with other material.
Talk with students, professors and people who work on the campus! Take some time to talk with people about how they see the world. Go up to people, individuals and in groups, and ask them if they have 10 or 15 minutes to tell you what they think. Learn. And don't just go to the social science departments—get out into the natural sciences and the humanities!
Have fun—and let revcom.us know what you are learning! (Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Letter from a Prisoner:
March 20, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
As always I hope this letter finds you and all the PRLF staff in good health and in high revolutionary spirits.
Coming soon as an expanded e-book!
I'm excited about the special issue that is projecting the truth about the first stage of socialist revolution: “You Don't Know What You Think You ‘Know’ About The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future.”
A lot of harm is done by distortions and attacks on the history of socialist revolutions. Vilifying the history of socialist revolutions does more than keep people from learning about some interesting historical facts, it objectively robs us of hope and of the immensely better future that we could have if only we understood the role we should play in making revolution. I think understanding what communism actually is and learning the truth about the history of socialist revolutions has everything to do with that, it makes all the difference between people being inspired to carry on that struggle or becoming dejected by false solutions. A lot of "well-intentioned" activists are leading people, (while claiming to shun leadership) away from the only hope we have for a better world. Revolutionary potential is being veered off the path to communism by slanders on the socialist revolutions of Russia and China coming from people who seem to be very dedicated to radical change.
From talking to many prisoners I've come to realize that many of us come to hate the hypocrisy of the U.S. ruling class without even being exposed to radical literature. Like other prisoners I've met throughout the years, I hated the way low-income people were looked down upon and blamed for being poor. The middle-class lifestyle that flashed through our TV screen, and supposedly was characteristic of life in the U.S. stood in stark contrast to the reality around us. The pigs heaped one abuse after another upon the people in our neighborhoods and the media always justified those abuses. It's not difficult to recognize that same pattern on a much greater scale when we hear from these same propaganda organs about the lack of “democratic values” in the Third World. The exceptional “can-do spirit” that makes America great is just absent in these lesser countries and their peoples. Much like the local pigs patrolling our neighborhoods are the good guys doing the best job possible considering the dangerous drug-ridden areas they have to work in, so too are the imperialist armed forces who have no choice but to bomb, invade and occupy weaker nations and brutalize their people because they serve as bases for global terrorism or some other ridiculous cover for the real imperialist motives or crimes.
I found all this very sickening long ago and I had a favorable view of communism for no other reason than it was something the ruling class hated. But then I came to prison and read things by people who, as BA has said of Slavoj Žižek and others, “go around saying that they're anti-capitalist, but really they hate communism much more than they hate capitalism, and they're much more willing to accommodate to capitalism-imperialism than they are to fight for communism, which is the only real radical alternative to it.” (from WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, pg.35) Their anti-capitalist rhetoric appealed to me but they also vilified communism and the first stage of socialist revolution. I was influenced by these people because they railed against something I wished with all my heart I could tear down but by slandering the experience of the Soviet Union and China when they were socialist, they also turned me away from the only real radical alternative there is to capitalism. The more I struggled to understand how unrealistic, dead-end solutions could work, the more disillusioned and uninspired I became.
Like many prisoners who have been exposed to that same kind of literature but who have a sense that nothing less than an all-out revolution will change anything, I saw nothing that I could do that would make any kind of difference. I didn't want to struggle for anything that left this system intact. I didn't want to dedicate my life to reforms or a culture of endless protest that allowed the imperialist machine to continue humming in the background. I wanted to fight back but the most revolutionary-minded people I could find weren't willing to take responsibility for leading a revolution, they didn't aim to take state power, and they had nothing but negative criticisms for the most successful revolutions so far.
A friend of mine was released a few years ago after doing well over a decade in prison. His views were similar to mine before I had been introduced to BA. He initially had a favorable view of communism for the same reasons I did, but was later taken in by the argument that attempts to get to communism could only result in utter failure. It was clear to me that he wasn't going to consciously conform and “play by the rules.” I didn't want him playing into the hands of the pigs again so I struggled with him over the viability of revolution and the role he could play in making that happen. I couldn't convince him to make his life about something that even I was having a hard time believing was possible. He got pulled back into the life he was living before going to prison almost immediately after being released. The last I heard of him he was back in the county jail fighting 25 to life.
The point I want to make is that superficial analyses and condemnations of communism and socialist revolutions have real consequences. Too many people who could be led to be the backbone for revolution are having their sights lowered by those who pose as serious radicals dedicated to revolutionary change but who are much more willing to accommodate to capitalism-imperialism than fight for communism. This is why I recognize the importance of getting the special issue of Revolution out there and spreading it as widely as possible as well as directly taking on people like Slavoj Žižek.
Thanks again for the literature. I'll study it and spread the understanding I gain from it as widely as possible like I always do with everything you send. Keep up the great work.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
From a Reader:
March 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I recently participated in a discussion of the first part, and particularly the first six paragraphs, of Part 2 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity ("Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" "Hastening while awaiting—not bowing down to necessity"), by Bob Avakian (BA), now being highlighted at revcom.us. How, someone asked in this discussion, do the subjective and the objective—that is, those people who attempt to understand and act to change the larger social reality which confronts them, on the one hand and, on the other, that larger reality (of which they are a part, but which through their actions they can change)—interact? How can they and do they mutually transform—what are the dynamics of that? And what does it mean to say that the synthesis of this set forth in "Making Revolution/Emancipating Humanity" is scientific—and a major contribution to the science on that question?
To start with the last question: How do we know that this is scientific? Because we can verify this against the study of the material reality from which these theoretical concepts are drawn. Over 30 years ago, in Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, BA talked about the need to "to combine a sweeping historical view with the rigorous and critical dissecting of especially crucial and concentrated historical experiences, and to draw out as fully as possible the lessons and to struggle to forge the lessons as sharply as possible as weapons for now and for the future." (p. 9) This includes the experience of revolutionary situations and other sorts of crises in societies of different kinds, and it encompasses things more broadly than that as well—the ways in which ideas of many different kinds concerning different spheres of endeavor and inquiry can enter into and change the character of reality. BA has also discussed how while "The pursuit of knowledge should not be reduced to discovering things in order to wage struggle in the ideological realm," as people do learn more about reality in all its dimensions this "will inevitably become part of the class struggle—and even under communism part of the ideological struggle." ("Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World," in his Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, p. 63) This too is important—for what is crystallized in that section of "Making Revolution/Emancipating Humanity" is not limited to only the study of revolutionary situations, but takes in the study and reflection on broader questions of science and method and a sweeping approach to society.1
What follows are reflections provoked by the discussion referred to above. The following article first examines some historical examples from the framework of that section of "Making/Emancipating," examples that are both drawn on, concentrated and further illuminated in that piece; and then reflects more deeply, in light of those examples, on the scientific principles that BA has drawn from all that. These reflections grapple with how it is that revolution could be possible and worked for; the potential dynamic role of revolutionaries in hastening the emergence, and shaping the contours, of a revolutionary situation well before it actually emerges (even as such a situation is brought on principally by developments objective, or "external," to revolutionaries); the crucial importance of the Party in actually being able to not only take initiative in such "hastening" but also to carry things all the way forward to revolution, to victory; and some of the implications of BA's development of this aspect of the science of revolution. Throughout, I'll be drawing contrasts with the "determinist realism" pinpointed in this section of "Making/Emancipating."
The first example concerns the experience of the Black Panther Party—a very rich experience to which BA has over the years continually returned. The recent book Black against Empire, by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., attempts to give a definitive history of the Black Panther Party—to lay out objectively how they were thinking and what they did, mainly based on studying their newspaper and other documents of the historical record. In this book, you get a living sense of how the BPP at a certain point began to represent a real pole of revolution in society at large—they came to be seen by many as the core of an opposed authority with a different program, actively mobilizing people for a revolution.
Often today people try to boil this appeal down to one or two things. "It was the breakfast for children program," they'll say; or "it was the patrols they had against police brutality." Those different elements played a role; but casting it like that is too narrow. It was not just one thing. The Panthers presented an entire "package," or ensemble, with a number of elements that included: promoting revolutionary ideology (spreading and utilizing Mao Zedong's Red Book); directly confronting the authorities, as well as developing forms of alternate authority that mobilized masses in defiance of the authorities (the patrols were perhaps the most important but not the only part of this); spreading their weekly newspaper and promoting a 10-point program outlining what they aimed to do with power (though the form of this power was not spelled out, "power" was actively put forward as the goal—as in their slogan, almost universally known through society in those days, of "All Power to the People"); reaching out to other movements in society; waging ideological struggle against cultural nationalism and reformism; and not least, actively mobilizing very broadly to take on the repression that the state brought down upon them in the course of doing all this. There was an edge to all of this that they were very serious about revolution, and in doing this they leaped to the forefront of, and gave new shape to, a much broader impulse in society. I was struck again in reading Black against Empire how, while the BPP was rooted in the basic masses among Black people, in a certain sense they "took responsibility" for the movement as a whole—they reached out to, tried to influence and give leadership to, and at the same time learned from the antiwar movement, sections of the Black middle class, movements arising among other minority nationalities, artists and writers very broadly, etc. So something like the breakfast program—where the BPP would mobilize masses to demand food from local supermarkets and then feed hungry children before school, doing this in a way that instilled and propagated the Maoist ethic of "Serve the People"—had the effect, as part of a whole constellation of activity, of showing that with state power a whole other way of dealing with people's needs was possible and, moreover, the fact that they did do this while the current order didn't further pointed up the essential illegitimacy of the capitalist system. It wasn't, at least at first, a strategy to "first meet people's needs, then they'll be open to politics"; it was part of a whole way they were operating where the question of the revolution was on the agenda, and this was one concrete way among others (all of which worked together) to challenge the legitimacy of the existing system and put forward a different one, in a very vivid way.
All this took place on the foundation, and against the backdrop, of very sharp contradictions in the base of U.S. society at that time. These contradictions included the migration of millions of Black people into the cities, where generations-old modes of living were disrupted and hopes were both raised and dashed; the takeover of the colonial empires of rival imperialist powers (France, Britain) after World War 2 and the upheavals it brought in resistance to the new domination and plunder imposed by the U.S. (especially, but not only, the liberation struggle being waged against the U.S. by the Vietnamese); and the rapid changes in the role of women and the turmoil and transformations that these gave rise to. At the same time, China—at that point a genuinely revolutionary country and one in which an inspiring Cultural Revolution was being waged to stay on the revolutionary road—acted as a beacon, a source of inspiration and a direct challenge to the notion that the only alternatives were the U.S. empire or the oppressive state capitalism (socialist in name) of the Soviet Union. And leading into all this was the ferment sparked by the civil rights movement in the U.S. South, and the dividing out that occurred as that movement increasingly ran up against sharp limitations by the mid-1960s.
Beginning in 1966, the Black Panther Party had become a sort of model of a different approach to winning emancipation...but this was not that well-known beyond California. In fact, the defense campaign mounted against the imprisonment of BPP founder Huey Newton in October 1967 for an incident in which a police officer ended up dead and Newton himself was wounded, had been a major way in which the Panthers initially projected themselves, and through which they began to accumulate forces and influence on a much bigger scale. At the same time, they aggressively moved to turn outrages and atrocities committed by the ruling class into openings for masses to take up struggle. Then, when Martin Luther King was assassinated by reactionary forces in April 1968, many people became utterly fed up with the system and ready to put everything on the line to change it. Many Black youth joined the BPP, and people from all kinds of strata were very broadly influenced by the BPP in a positive direction. Their actions, in turn, along with those of other social forces—radical, progressive, reactionary and some not even falling into such neat categories—fed into a whole rich swirl and mix of social upheaval in which radical forces began to have much greater initiative.
During that period, the BPP fought to set terms for society—they were the leading core of a movement and, more broadly, a whole social impulse which, variegated as it was, still cohered around certain oppositional values and had the initiative morally, culturally and politically. In this context, and with the BPP mobilizing masses to resist every attack by the government, millions of people came to see these attempts by the powers-that-be to violently repress and legally railroad the BPP as utterly illegitimate, and this in turn spread a certain broader "outlaw" contagion into all kinds of spheres. Many forces coming from different viewpoints further came to oppose this repression for their own reasons, and all these phenomena interacted in different ways that further turned up the heat and the swirl of that boiling mix, with new elements bubbling up. Many saw the powers-that-be of the time as utterly illegitimate, utterly bankrupt, and at the same time began to see the BPP as a challenging, opposed source of legitimacy. This is really a very powerful example of the subjective entering into and transforming the larger objective situation...becoming part of that in a different way.
This was NOT a matter of catching lightning in a bottle, or waiting for things to break. Still less could this have been predicted when they began; far from it. The BPP combined imagination and daring, persistence and diligence, including at those times when people were NOT flocking to their banner, with an orientation of jumping to seize openings when those openings occurred.
But let's go back a bit further. You can't separate all that from the influence of Malcolm X. Malcolm relentlessly agitated all through the late 1950's and especially the early '60s. He challenged and tore apart people's beliefs that America was essentially good—beliefs being promoted by both the ruling class and the mainstream sections of the civil rights movement. And he affirmed and strengthened the elements that simultaneously existed in some people's understanding that America was in fact no damn good—elements which were suppressed and unvoiced, and not put into rational form, before Malcolm—at least not in the same way, and not with the same influence. Malcolm went everywhere, from the corners of the ghetto to the most elite campuses, he interacted with all different kinds of people, laying bare the truth about America and the oppression of Black people. Of course, all this didn't take place in a vacuum—there was bubbling ferment within the U.S., mainly in the form of the civil rights movement, and there was the wave of revolutionary struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism (which socialist China was strongly upholding and supporting). In his last years, and particularly after the break with the Nation of Islam, he increasingly linked the fight against the oppression of Black people to the worldwide struggle against imperialism. Malcolm worked on people's minds, he challenged his audiences to break out of the basic framework through which they were viewing the world. He called out—he made people feel—the utter illegitimacy of everything America claimed about itself and all the force they used to defend the foundation that those lies tried to hide. He compelled people to think about the implications of that; and he popularized the idea of revolution going up against state power, and of the need for revolutionaries to wage a relentless struggle. And he did all this over and over again (and in the process became part of something larger, a nascent sea change in people's way of thinking, influencing and being influenced by it).
Because of this, and on the basis of the ways in which the struggle against the oppression of Black people was erupting and people were searching for answers, Malcolm X had begun to become very broadly known by the early '60s. Even as some of this—too much of it, in fact—, came from the vitriolic slanders of the powers-that-be, fearful of Malcolm's potential influence, he nonetheless became a point of reference very broadly among people conscious of the need for change, and known in a basic way by many people more broadly in society, even before things erupted much more powerfully in the political sphere. When the answers being proffered by the mainstream civil rights movement increasingly began to be exposed as bankrupt as the '60s wore on, Malcolm's voice and thinking took on even greater resonance and influence, and broke through in a qualitatively more powerful way. It is a great tragedy, and real crime—and it is a crime and tragedy containing painfully purchased lessons which must never be forgotten in terms of defending revolutionary leaders—when reactionaries assassinated Malcolm in 1965 with, at the very minimum, government complicity. All this was very important in laying a basis for the BPP—as the leaders of that party at the time would point out.
But important as the example of the BPP is—and it remains a deep well of lessons for any genuine revolutionary and, again, BA's work on this bears constant returning to—they were only able to go so far. They re-polarized society, but they were not able to fundamentally change, in a determining and sustained way, the course of events. The BPP came under extremely severe state repression which either imprisoned or drove into exile their main leaders, Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. And the state acted not only to repress them, but to deal in different ways with some of the broader forces they had been influencing. The state made some concessions to the Black middle class and built up a whole range of objectively counter-insurgent political forces in the Black community. They ended the draft and scaled down the direct combat role of U.S. troops—and while this was not done mainly as part of "dealing with the Panthers," it did change the terrain on which the BPP (and everyone else) was operating, what people broadly saw as necessary and what they saw as possible. And the ruling class took other measures as well.
The BPP, meanwhile, had not been able, in their brief period of existence and before their leaders were taken out of circulation, to develop the ideology, line, program and organizational principles that might have enabled them to not only survive that repression but to maintain their bearings and ultimately advance the revolution even when the societal tides began to shift at the end of the '60s, and the different forces the BPP had been influencing began to come under the pull of different currents.
In an important article written in the mid-1980s, BA analyzed the situation they found themselves in:
...[T]hinking back on some of the early discussions and struggle that I had with people like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver—leaders of the Black Panther Party who had a big influence on me, moving me in a revolutionary direction—it strikes me now that on the one hand they were the most advanced revolutionaries in the U.S. at that time, yet even they never really developed a clear and full sense of what needed to be done. What were the changes that needed to be made in society and in the world? How were those changes going to be made? What was the road and strategy for doing that? What kind of ideology did you need? What kind of leadership did you need, and how should it organize itself? How should it mobilize and organize the masses? What were you up against—what did you have to go up against and defeat, and how were you going to do that? Not that nobody had any ideas about these questions, because within the Black Panther Party, and within the revolutionary movement as a whole, people debated a lot of these ideas, and there was a lot of conflict and struggle about these questions. But there was never a clear, unified, and fully correct sense of (a) even posing all those questions in that kind of way, and (b) answering them. And so you had a lot of different ideas in conflict but no clear, definite sense of these things. ("Why You Really Need This Kind of Party If You're Serious About Seizing Power," from Reflections, Sketches & Provocations, pp. 238-39)
So, if you look at this experience, again coming from the need for combining "a sweeping historical view with the rigorous and critical dissecting of especially crucial and concentrated historical experiences" and doing that with the sharp challenges before us now clearly in mind, you can see both the great scope that can be seized for the subjective factor but you're also going to be forced to confront the crucial importance of the party, unified around a scientific approach and correct ideological and political line.
As pinpointed and stressed by BA, one thing the BPP came very sharply up against was what kind of party would be needed. In fact, it was Lenin who first developed the correct approach to a party. Lenin led the October Revolution of 1917—a breakthrough in which the revolutionary proletariat liberated the territory of what had been the Russian Empire and began to build a whole new socialist society, on the road to communism. Before that, Lenin had led breakthroughs in the science of communism—including on the role of the vanguard party and the character of the work it must do to actually lead a revolution.
The party he formed and led on the basis of that initial theoretical breakthrough was able not only to powerfully impact the objective situation... to not only re-polarize it temporarily... but to fight that through to revolution. And it is BA who fundamentally retrieved and excavated the essence of Lenin's work in this regard, and now has built on it.2 Contrary to a whole tradition that grew up in opposition to Lenin after his death (even among some claiming to be "Leninists"!), Lenin did not envision the party as a two-stage mechanism to first lead the struggle of the masses around their basic conditions and then, later, with the advent of a serious crisis, for this to sort of naturally turn into revolution.3
Lenin, instead, emphasized—more accurately, he insisted on and fought for—the need to focus on changing people's thinking through the medium of a newspaper. This is much of the point of Lenin's What Is To Be Done? And that in turn relates to even a more foundational point, made in the first chapter of that work, that the need for a vanguard party itself arose from the fact that Marxism is a scientific analysis of society and must be brought to the masses from outside their sphere of daily experience and struggle. A scientific worldview and approach does NOT arise spontaneously in people's thinking—actually, people's everyday experience is conditioned by the social relations in which that takes place, and gives rise to understanding that is one-sided and distorted and in large part cuts against a communist understanding, even as there are ways in which those conditions can also cause people to gravitate toward such an understanding once they come into contact with it. The point is that people have to learn this and they have to struggle, in doing so, to break with their spontaneous ways of looking at things, and to approach things consciously wielding the scientific method. This requires the party to struggle with and transform the spontaneous thinking of the masses, and to divert the spontaneous struggles the masses undertake from the gravitational pull to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class).
In addition, Lenin in What Is To Be Done? put forth and elaborated on the need for a disciplined vanguard. He stressed the need to recruit and train those who stepped forward to Marxism as full-time revolutionaries within that vanguard, but also to find the ways—mainly through using the newspaper—to draw on the contributions of every person who would support, in some way, the revolutionary struggle and to develop and strengthen ties everywhere. In fact, throughout his writings Lenin gave great focus to welding people together organizationally who came forward, to valuing (and not squandering) the contribution of every potential tie of the movement and giving that organizational expression. He also pointed to the fact that the revolution follows a pattern of outbreaks alternating with intense calm, and he spoke of the need to maximize gains—to change people's thinking and to accumulate forces—through each of these phases...with the party as the key organizational force to do all that. (This pattern of outbreaks alternating with periods of intense calm—and the need for the vanguard to actively work through both those kinds of situations, with its eyes focused toward preparing for revolution—became a theme that Lenin expanded on in works like "The Collapse of the Second International.") And this was what he fought to put into practice, in the building of the vanguard party of the Russian Revolution—the Bolsheviks.
In Russia, the events that opened up a rupture in the societal framework occurred in February 1917, during World War I, independent of the work of the party led by Lenin. February 1917 witnessed a revolution in which the old form of rule—of the Tsar, a feudal monarch—was overthrown and replaced by a parliamentary democracy that represented a political framework that, as Lenin put it during that period, formed the "best possible shell" for capitalist rule. The February Revolution occurred on the basis of the extreme stresses that war and hunger had placed on Russian society, and a sharp split within the Russian ruling class at a certain point over the further conduct of the war and the role of the Tsar.This split formed a "fissure" through which the discontent of the masses—who had been simmering with suppressed anger over the continued terrible losses in the war and the deprivation brought on by it, but saw no way to express this—could erupt into a full boil. The result was a revolution in which masses poured into the streets, but the government that came out of that outpouring represented a section of the Russian bourgeoisie determined to pursue, through the form of bourgeois democracy, the same policies around the war that had brought on the crisis in the first place.
Lenin insisted, at first alone among the Bolsheviks, that there was qualitatively more to seize out of this situation—that the potential lay beneath the euphoria and illusions with which the masses greeted this new government to go all the way to socialist revolution.4 Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks worked to grasp the dynamics of this extremely fluid situation, where all kinds of political forces were operating and first one force would ride high and then another. They continually fought to re-set the terms in which people were viewing things, to re-polarize the different elements in the field, to actively work to move masses toward and into the struggle for a whole new world.
Throughout his political life, Lenin consistently viewed things, and struggled with others to view them, from the perspective of making revolution as part of the world revolution. On that basis, he led the Bolsheviks to adopt an internationalist stand toward the world war—to oppose the war as a predatory one, to work for the defeat of their bourgeoisie and to strive to make revolution in the midst of the upheaval brought on by that war. Once the revolutionary situation developed within the Russian empire, he continued and deepened this internationalist perspective—grasping both the openings that afforded and the responsibilities it put upon the Bolsheviks to wrench as much as they could from the situation in Russia not only to make revolution there but “as part of their share” in the world revolution.
Coming from that framework, Lenin grasped in particular that the new government that had come to power with the overthrow of the Tsar had no answer for the sharpest contradictions facing Russian society—its participation in World War I, the hunger and privation among the masses, and the demand for land among the peasantry—and that the government was vulnerable. Whether that vulnerability could be turned into an actual revolution depended in large part on if a revolutionary force—the vanguard party—worked on those contradictions. That meant spreading among the broadest masses a belief in the illegitimacy of the government that promised to solve these acute problems but was in fact doing nothing; working to rapidly train as communists and recruit those who gravitated toward a more revolutionary understanding (the Bolshevik party grew exponentially in the eight months following the February Revolution, as people were going through enormous changes in their thinking); developing and defending the forms through which masses were exerting a different authority, and taking those to a higher level; and a host of other things. But note well: while the Bolsheviks were not the biggest party at the outset of the crisis, they made a point and a policy of being as big as they could be on the correct basis; and had they not had the orientation of accumulating forces for revolution, in the form of both members and organized support for the Party, to the greatest degree possible at every point, there would very likely not have been the requisite minimum base to enable that "take-off"—that exponential growth—when the opportunity opened up (or, more accurately, was wrenched open) for that to take place on a correct basis.
In a sense the lessons of both the whole period of preparation, and then the extremely intense and telescoped period of February through October 1917, with all its richness, was summed up in the very concentrated short piece by BA, "Some Principles for Building a Movement for Revolution:"
At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.
The objective and orientation must be to carry out work which, together with the development of the objective situation, can transform the political terrain, so that the legitimacy of the established order, and the right and ability of the ruling class to rule, is called into question, in an acute and active sense, throughout society; so that resistance to this system becomes increasingly broad, deep and determined; so that the "pole" and the organized vanguard force of revolutionary communism is greatly strengthened; and so that, at the decisive time, this advanced force is able to lead the struggle of millions, and tens of millions, to make revolution. (BAsics, 3:30)
Lenin grasped that the contradictions that were roiling Russian society could only be resolved by the overthrow of the new regime and its replacement with a new state power... but that if this did not happen, then things would sooner or later revert to the status quo ante (the way things had been before), and the chance for revolution that existed—albeit beneath the surface of things—would evaporate. And Lenin led the Party, at times against resistance, to take up this understanding, and through many hairpin twists and turns compressed in the months between February and October, the Party was able to lead the masses to actually make revolution. To win. And this was the greatest breakthrough in the history of humanity to that point.
Lenin also saw—he actually forecast it, based on studying previous revolutionary situations, on deeply summing up the experience of the revolutionary situation in Russia in 1905 that he had lived through, and also undertaking study in the dialectical method—that a revolutionary situation "cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably they will bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution...expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power..." and establish the new state power—the dictatorship of the proletariat. ("The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up," from Lenin's Collected Works, Volume 22, p. 356)
Lenin followed keenly the thinking and actions of these other forces, identifying the dynamics and potential lines of development within what could seem to be chaos and unpredictability, probing and pushing for ways to advance the fundamental interests of the proletariat through all this, learning the most he could, identifying openings, doing ideological battle where needed...all to the end of seizing on those openings. And through all this he fought to lead and forge the Party to grasp, and seize, the potential inherent in, but hidden within, the situation.
And that is very important, critical: Lenin did not do all this alone—he led, and led in building, a very specific kind of party, firm in principle, acute in analysis and flexible in moving to mobilize masses.
All this—and again, much, much more in other realms—has gone into the six paragraphs at the beginning of part 2 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, and is then further applied and made very concrete in the RCP's "On the Strategy for Revolution" (available at revcom.us as well as in BAsics).
None of this was or is magic; it has to do with the real relationship of consciousness to the material world. Human consciousness does not arise independently of the material world and the human social relations into which people are born; it arises out of and is conditioned by that context. The world, in turn, is further profoundly shaped and re-shaped by human consciousness responding to and working on what it encounters. In other words, human consciousness is a form of matter that has the particular property of being able to reflect on, engage with, experiment on, and learn about the forces of the material world, and to transform the material world in and through that process. Human beings do this constantly, learning more and changing more, summing up mistakes and drawing lessons, and returning again to change more and learn more.
When you correctly consider the process on the level of a whole society—one divided into classes, with a host of political and literary (or cultural) forces contending, and all of them ultimately (though not linearly or obviously) rooted in and representing the positions, interests and outlooks of different classes and social strata...and when you think about all this exponentially multiplying in conditions when the normal order that holds all that in check comes under strain and even rupture—then you can begin to see how, through all that swirl and complexity, there is a whole process that the vanguard party can work on, fighting for its ideas to be taken up and transformed into a material force. It's an ongoing process—with the conscious element compelled to vitally engage and transform reality to the maximum extent all along the way, and then do it again when other forces respond—and it's a fight. And if this is done consistently and consciously, there can be a dynamic unleashed where the conscious forces increasingly learn how to set terms and seize initiative, and then re-seize it when other forces try to set new terms, so that the capability can be developed to lead leaps and radical changes in that framework, both in normal times and where moments break open in a new way and the potential is qualitatively greater.
This is neither a question of doggedly hammering on a single idea until "the times catch up with you," nor a matter of "imposing one's will" through sheer force. Still less is it a matter of trying to "keep things together" waiting for favorable new conditions, which only guarantees that the times will increasingly pass you by; nor is it even just a question of utilizing the science of communism to achieve a given political objective. It is a matter of looking at everything through the prism of the revolutionary situation and (to the greatest extent possible) being alive to and constantly learning from all of material and social reality in its changing-ness and on that basis identifying, and working to learn more and transform more deeply, the key social faultlines through which the initiative of millions of the formerly suppressed could spring forth, and the ways to make that happen, and in the course of all that further deepening the understanding of reality. At the same time, as part of this process, the vanguard has to accumulate forces—it has to grow and it has to increasingly weld together what the RCP statement "On the Strategy for Revolution," calls the thousands who "can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation...and then, when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through." (BAsics, p. 112)
It was not "fated" that Lenin and the Bolsheviks would succeed; but you can say fairly certainly that without such a party, rooted in the outlook of the farthest-seeing leadership of the day, it is almost certain that revolution would not have won or perhaps even have been attempted.5
A vast scope of historical experience (including much more than the above examples) and more (including developments in the realm of science—see the earlier reflection from another reader on this question which explores this in greater depth6) is part of what is synthesized and raised to the level of scientific theory in the six paragraphs from BA's Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity that is reprinted in the recent issue of Revolution. That synthesis is pathbreaking:
It is all that, taken together, and then the conclusion that "our 'working on' [these objective contradictions] can bring about certain changes within a given framework of objective conditions and—in conjunction with and as part of a 'mix,' together with many other elements, including other forces acting on the objective situation from their own viewpoints—this can, under certain circumstances, be part of the coming together of factors which does result in a qualitative change."
BA goes on to say that revolution isn't made by formulas—"it is a much more living, rich, and complex process than that. But it is an essential characteristic of revisionism... to decide and declare that until some deus ex machina—some god-like EXTERNAL FACTOR—intervenes, there can be no essential change in the objective conditions and the most we can do, at any point, is to accept the given framework and work within it, rather than... constantly straining against the limits of the objective framework and seeking to transform the objective conditions to the maximum degree possible at any given time, always being tense to the possibility of different things coming together which bring about (or make possible the bringing about of) an actual qualitative rupture and leap in the objective situation."
Any serious look at the examples above, or other examples in history, bears out this point. The passively patient, the mechanically plodding, those who wait for or alternately trail in the wake of events, those who downplay the need to battle in the realm of consciousness all the way through, do not transform the world in a revolutionary direction. Nor do those who seek to impose schemes or gimmicks on reality, with no sense, or a shallow and truncated sense, of the depth and texture of the contradictoriness of that reality.
All of this is drawn from reality, from actual history as it has been made by real human beings, many of them attempting to apply the principles of communism; it comes from a rigorous analysis of the societal dynamics that make possible and lay the basis for the real scope of the subjective factor, and from further wrangling with philosophy and the natural sciences. The scientific synthesis of this section of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity undergirds our Party's statement on the strategy for revolution. At the heart of this is the grasp that everything in society is being driven forward by contradiction, by unevenness, by fluidity... not stagnant and static, but volatile and eruptive... not predictable in a narrow sense, but understandable if one bases oneself on the real moving faultlines beneath the surface of society... not the least of which are the sentiments, ideas, aspirations and strivings of people who perceive on one level that "it does not have to be—it shouldn't have to be—this way," but whose thinking is held within the prison of a belief in permanent necessity.
Up until the breakthrough work begun in the early '80s and concentrated in those six paragraphs, all too many parties (and this was universal in the advanced capitalist countries) that claimed to follow Lenin essentially reduced the role of the party to that of a machine for generating and leading the spontaneous struggle of the masses, with a view that "someday" this would all come to fruition, without any ongoing struggle with masses of people over how they were thinking, into a movement for revolution. It was a model of a sort of "mass awakening," somehow brought on without determined struggle over how people were thinking but rather through people spontaneously coming to see through their participation in struggle that they needed a revolution and, moreover, the kind of revolution being put forward by the communists (leaving aside here what the actual conception of that revolution was). This model did not just ignore What Is To Be Done? It utterly negated it.
BA has gone against all that—he has re-studied Lenin and distilled and concentrated Lenin's essential insights: parties must be based on science, on grappling with objective reality, and not rely on spontaneity. Parties must be instruments through which the masses are led to increasingly know and transform reality on the path to making revolution and fully emancipating humanity. All along the way such a party proceeds through transforming reality, transforming the masses, and transforming itself in a way consistent with its world-emancipatory aims. A party like this—a real communist party—is essential; without such a party, there will be no emancipation.
If you look at today's world from the standpoint of this recently reprinted section of "Making/Emancipating," this is a situation pregnant with possibility. But that is just the point—those possibilities are largely not yet born. The potential for social upheaval is there, but it is (in many ways) beneath the surface, moving and developing. And all this ferment and simmering takes place in a situation in which the belief in the "permanent necessity" of the way things are today—that is, the idea that at bottom things just have to be this way, they can't be fundamentally changed—is dominant, and thus constrains the limits of people's imagination even as they agonize and strain. This is for a number of intersecting reasons: the defeat of revolution in China in 1976 and the restoration of capitalism there under the label of communism, which has seriously disoriented people, and, along with that, the unending slander and lies about the real experience of socialist revolution there during the era of Mao's leadership; the weight of the fact that people, worldwide and within the U.S. itself, had "stormed the heavens" in the 1960s but were fundamentally defeated, and that the concessions that were made had the confusing character of apparently granting equality while more deeply concealing the fundamentally oppressive relations of the system that people were rebelling against; the permeation of the culture with the terms of commodity exchange on the one hand and relativism on the other; etc.
So people are not right now, in their millions, rising up (even as there are important outbreaks of struggle, sometimes quite significant, as well as important manifestations of discontent, resistance and yearning for a better world in the cultural sphere going on) or even questioning whether things could be radically different. In this situation then, there is an even more urgent and magnified need to work on people's thinking, to struggle with them, to transform how they see things.
All this should point to the need for the kind of initiatives our Party is now undertaking—the efforts to strengthen and promote its website... the work involved in mobilizing (and struggling with) masses very broadly to stand up and resist around key contradictions—faultlines, as we say—of the system... but most of all, and giving all of it meaning, to work to transform the thinking of people through the comprehensive work to promote BA and the new synthesis of communism, challenging them to break out of a narrow view of what is and to see the real basis for what could be—going straight up against the prism through which they have been trained to view and "make sense out of" all events and giving them a scientific one instead. All these elements, if worked on synergistically in a way greater than the sum of each one taken as a thing unto itself and then added together, and with BA Everywhere as the dynamic factor giving coherence and direction to all of it—in fact have the potential, in this specific situation, to truly "transform the objective conditions to the maximum degree possible."
1. This latter point—how ideas from various sources enter into the class struggle—recently struck me in reading the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, tracing the impact of the re-discovery in the 15th century of a poem originally written in ancient Rome by Lucretius, "On the Nature of Things." Greenblatt shows how the poem, which is a very artistic rendering of basic materialist philosophy, hit a Europe in transition from feudalism to capitalism, and then goes on to influence thinkers and fighters for centuries, in different ways. (The title itself—The Swerve—refers to Lucretius' view of the importance of what we might call the role of accident in history; and this is illustrated by the impact of the chance re-discovery of what turned out to be a very seminal work in the development of "The Enlightenment"—i.e., the movement for reason and science against the superstition that was promoted, and often enforced through torture and execution, by the Catholic Church. For more on both the strengths and limitations of The Enlightenment, see "Marxism and The Enlightenment," in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, pp. 148-154). [back]
2. While the BPP adopted some elements of communist thinking and represented the most advanced expression of the late 1960s, they still had a "mixed bag" of ideology and cannot be said to have fundamentally ruptured to a communist outlook, even as they adapted certain forms associated with the Leninist party. [back]
3. “...What became the model in the international movement—not only in the Second International of socialist (and some genuine communist) parties leading into World War 1,1 but to a significant degree after Lenin, in the communist movement under Stalin’s leadership, particularly from the late 1920s on—was the notion that you build up a mass movement, largely in fact a trade union movement of the working class, and then somehow under the right conditions that will go over to a general strike (or, in its best expression, into an insurrection). But this is not how proletarian revolution is going to be made: It is not historically how such a revolution has been made, and it is not how it can be made in the world as it is today...” (Bob Avakian, Out Into the World—As A Vanguard of the Future) It is well worth reviewing, or reading for the first time, what BA goes on to say in analyzing this "model" of work, the influence of which remains pervasive, including among revolutionaries, and what this then led to, and then his further reflections on some of the questions a correct approach poses today. [back]
4. Lenin's very ability to see this is itself in part the product of the struggle he conducted in defense of scientific materialism (see his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism) and his explorations and digging into the character of the dialectical method after the outbreak of World War I, which can be seen in his "Philosophical Notebooks," in Volume 38 of Lenin's Collected Works. [back]
5. The case of 1917 is worth deeper thought—even Lenin himself, a month before the crisis erupted with the February Revolution (and again, this revolution only replaced the Tsar with a bourgeois-democratic republic, and did not dismantle the organs of state power), mused in a speech that his generation might well not see the socialist revolution. The outbreak of World War 1 had been a shattering setback for the international revolutionary movement—nearly every party sided with its own bourgeoisie and told its followers to join the mutual slaughter-fest that ended up leaving millions of dead in its wake. The Bolsheviks, though they did not go back on their principles, had also suffered during the repression and the national chauvinism that accompanied the initial outbreak of the war, and had to wage very hard and determined struggle to survive the repression and continue revolutionary work. But through this period, if you read Lenin's works, you see that he hammered on the need to see beneath the surface—yes, war makes governments stronger, he would write, but each government sits on a volcano. And if you read further into his writings during the period leading from the February Revolution up to the insurrection that seized power in Russia in October 1917, you will find that he waged determined struggle against those who insisted on waiting for revolution to break out elsewhere in Europe, because they feared that the revolutionary forces in Russia would be too weak to go it alone; or against those who pointed to the masses' alienation from political action at a certain point to argue that those masses were demoralized (as opposed to being fed up with anything short of revolution by then); or people who drew on many other surface phenomena to argue that the time was not ripe and that the subjective forces must wait... "just a little longer." Lenin grasped the need to work to seriously transform conditions... he did not exaggerate conditions and was very sober in his approach... but he was alive to the potential within conditions, within contradictions, that could enable the subjective forces to radically alter the whole situation and to move closer to the moment—which would not present itself neatly and clearly—when the all-out struggle for power could be launched. [back]
6. "Thoughts Provoked by Hastening While Awaiting—Not Bowing Down to Necessity," from a reader, at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 27, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
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.
On March 3, All Families Healthcare, a clinic that provides abortions in Montana, was so severely vandalized that it has been forced to close down indefinitely. This took place against a backdrop of the most relentless escalation of restrictions against abortion and clinic closures since Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion 41 years ago. Across the country, the right and ability to access abortion hangs by a thread. Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us) and initiator of End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org), spoke with Susan Cahill, the owner and advanced-level clinician who provided abortions and other services at the family clinic.
In this interview, Susan Cahill provides the larger picture of what it means to take the responsibility to provide women with abortions, the threats and violence as well as legal attacks and demonization as well as the gratitude and support; she reveals the depth of her own commitment to women and what it would mean if abortion was no longer available; and she explores and shares her thinking about how we have ended up in the situation where this right is being taken away and some of the elements necessary to turn the tide.
Sunsara Taylor: First, I really want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. When I first heard about the vandalism that happened at your clinic I was incensed. I’m outraged about this and a lot of people are, but a lot of people actually have no idea what happened at all. And even those who have heard about it, the headline said that your clinic was “vandalized” and that can conjure up the image of some kids playing a prank. So, I wonder if you can start by just talking about what happened.
Susan Cahill: Yes, and I’m actually going to go back just a little bit. All Families Healthcare is my business which I started at a different location 6½ years ago and I was very happy there. But I was renting and [not long ago] my landlord at the time said that he was running into some financial problems and he was going to sell the business. He asked me if I wanted to buy the building but it was an older home, which was great because I liked the cozy atmosphere of it, but I didn’t really want to take on that big a project at this time in my life as far as the building and it needed a lot of work so I said no. You know, I may be retiring in a couple of years. So I didn’t think it would sell right away because of all that and because of what he was asking for it, but it did. And when it did, I turned to my secretary/receptionist and said, “An anti-choice person bought this building, I bet you anything.” So I asked my landlord if I could stay there and they said no they were going to use the building and I had to get out.
So I had to turn inward and decide whether or not I was going to try to find another place ’cause it’s not easy for me, because I do abortions, to find a place to rent. But I did. So I got out of there and in minus 15 degrees with a huge amount of help from very dear friends who moved my office to this new location.
And after spending a lot of money and time fixing it up, new paint, cabinets, lots of stuff... I moved in on the weekend before the 11th of February, started seeing patients on the 11th of February.
There’s a lot of things to do when you move a medical office. Lots. So just getting everything organized, remembering where you put new stuff after 6½ years of being in a different place. We were just starting to feel like we were getting settled. It looked really nice. The sun was coming out again and it wasn’t minus 15 anymore and I had almost finished the security system. I had cameras in but this was a new system that was wireless and the person on Monday the 3rd of March said to me, “Tomorrow, I will finish it.” I said “great,” because the next day the 40 Days for Life [40 days of protest and prayers outside the doors of abortion clinics across the country] was going to start and I wanted it up for that.
So that was what happened on Monday. I remember actually walking around after everybody had left thinking, “We did a really good job with this new place.” I was really happy with it. The next morning I was getting ready to go to work and my secretary/receptionist comes in before me and she went in to go to the back door and saw that the glass had been broken and it was obviously broken into. She smartly did not walk in. She walked to where the landlord was, who’s a lawyer and said, “We’ve been broken into, we need to call the police.” Then she called me and by the time I got there the police would not allow us to go in. The FBI was there and actually—this was a Tuesday—we didn’t get to see the damage until Wednesday afternoon.
During that time they spent all day and all night there as well, and the police kept telling me, “This is really very destroyed. I need you to get prepared for this.” They asked me if I wanted to watch the videos of it first before we walked in, but that whole thing made me so anxious. I said, “No, I just want to get in there.”
So, by Wednesday afternoon they finally let me in after doing all their investigation and... it’s really hard to... in fact... every time I think about it I start crying because it’s really, it’s really very difficult to understand the devastation that was there. And everything kept running through my mind, I mean it was only three weeks ago that all of my dearest friends and colleagues helped me create this space and now it was completely vanda... completely destroyed.
And the energy of hate in that place was palpable because not only did this person take meticulous care to damage every possible [medical and structural thing] you can imagine, but on top of that broke... I mean, you know I have prints and paintings and things through the years that represent important things for me that I put up... They were totally destroyed. As well as my, you know, pictures of my family... where holes [were stabbed] in their faces... Everything.
And then every piece of medical equipment was destroyed in some manner or the other. He had put iodine and sprayed it all over everything... He took the fire extinguisher and sprayed the dust... I mean we’re still dealing with this in the little room that we have now, trying to get our charts in order, every time you pull a chart, you know [the] smell comes again... I go to sleep with that in my nose.
So it was complete devastation... They pulled my plants from their roots and besides that he went downstairs in the basement and completely destroyed the heating and plumbing as well. So it was not mere vandalism and it certainly wasn’t [random]. It was an attack on me, there was absolutely no doubt about that.
Sunsara Taylor: I'm glad that you went back and told the story from earlier because that is more than I had realized. I read a quote I was going to ask you about later, but it just comes right to the fore of my mind as I'm hearing you describe this. In a letter that you sent to a newspaper, you said this is an attack on you but it is an attack on all women. I wonder if you could explain why you said that and how you mean that.
Susan Cahill: Well, let me just connect another dot here before I respond to that. So, I wanted to find out who bought the building I was in for 6½ years and my landlord would not tell me. Finally, a lawyer found out from the county and it was a man and wife. The woman is the ex-director for a crisis pregnancy center, Hope Pregnancy Ministries. So they bought the building purely to get me out of business, knowing that it would be hard for me to find another place.
At the time, it was claimed that they were going to use the building. Well, the building is up for lease now. No one's in it. Then because that didn't work [to put me out of business] and I found another place, the son of the woman who started Hope Pregnancy Ministries is the one who completely destroyed my clinic and the painful thing for me is that the physician for this Hope Pregnancy Ministries... where you can get, you know, free ultrasounds from a place called Clear Choice which has "Pregnant Scared?" on their billboards... but over the course of the time Clear Choice has referred patients to me, women who—against all of the harassment trying to convince them otherwise—have said, "No I need to terminate this pregnancy." And I've even heard a few patients say, "They said, 'You will get good care with Susan.'"
So I have felt that we have had some understanding. You know, its respect for differences and hopefully respect for women's choices. So that was my made-up belief system, apparently. And the physician who was connected to [Hope Pregnancy Ministries] over the course of the years has been very considerate of me. We exchange patients. When I had hip surgery, he came in to see how I was doing. So I felt like this is the belief system that I hold dear, which is that we respect each other's differences in life. So when this happened, not only did I take it so personally because it was, but I looked at all the women in my community who we both had taken care of, and this was such an attack on them because, it's like, "We're telling you what you're going to do. You are no longer an individual who needs and has to make choices in their life sometimes that are different from the ones that I think you should make... We are going to stop you from being able to do that. We don't respect your decisions making."
And this is not just women. It's families. It's people. I mean, life is hard. People need choices.
I have to say, I was thinking about your organization name, Stop Patriarchy, and I thought, you know, I think it's "stop misogyny" because, the women... it was the mother... it was the son of a mother who did this... and it was the woman whose executive director who got stuck... and they are also misogynistic. They have bought into this belief that women can't make... that women are less than and are just whatever vessels or whatever... or when did it become that an embryo was more important than a breathing human being, you know?
Sunsara Taylor: Well, I really agree with you. Patriarchy encompasses an ideology as well as the structures... and I agree that women can enforce that, they can take up the ideology of male supremacy and misogyny, just as much as men can. On Democracy Now! you said a lot of people, because abortion is legal, they don't understand that we are actively losing this right. Also, that you remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade. Could you talk some about that?
Susan Cahill: You know, I was born in 1950, so I grew up when it was illegal. Interestingly, I actually was born on International Women's Day, March 8, and I was delivered by...
Sunsara Taylor: Oh, Happy Birthday!
Susan Cahill: [Laughs.] Yeah, thank you. An 82-year-old female physician who, in 1950 was a rarity to say the least! She was on a program a couple days after delivering me and it was entitled, "Life begins at 80," so I think the stars were aligned in some respect, you know, for better or worse.
But, just with this shadow of understanding that the rarity of having a female physician in the first place, and then growing up and my own sensitivities around the fact that I remember having male doctors. You know, I was hippie generation, so when I wanted to get birth control there was one physician at the university who would do that and he was a dirty old man.
I remember that when I got examined, quote unquote, so that I could get birth control pills, he asked me about how I liked sex. I remember this and it just stuck in my mind as I grew and had a broader understanding of what all this meant. So I went through that... and I went through the time when we believed and understood that we were sexual human beings... understanding the philosophy of that and understanding the responsibility. As I grew older and got interested in medicine and what that meant in order for us to feel that way, we needed to also take care of our reproduction in a healthy way.
So I went through all that and I remember when Roe was passed—because that was in '73 and I went to PA [physician assistant] school in '74 and from '74 to '76—the universities and the hospitals were teaching medical people how to do abortions, which doesn't even happen anymore. You have to ask now, and it's hard to find a place that will teach you. So I remember this whole time and to me it was an absolute given. I mean, it was like, "Of course we need this, there is no doubt." But now, these generations have passed and it is legal... but there's something missing in our brains around how important this is to stay safe and legal... and I think it's like the old, "You have to remember your history otherwise you'll repeat it," and I think that's what's happening here.
Sunsara Taylor: Several generations now have never heard anybody speak positively about abortion.
Susan Cahill: That's an interesting thought. I mean, I'll tell you another story when you're finished.
Sunsara Taylor: I was just going to say that last summer when we did the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, we travelled, I mean, the entire country and we had these bright, bright, bright beautiful orange signs that you cannot miss that say, "Abortion on demand and without apology." And over and over again, some people were confused, "Wait a second, are you for it or against it?" I mean, the sign could not be more clear. But people have never heard the word "abortion" without it being condemned. They've heard "choice." They've heard "privacy." They've heard "safe, legal, rare." But they've never heard somebody say look this is a very positive and liberating thing for women to be able to make conscious decisions about when and whether they will have children. So it underscored to me how much there has been a far too one-sided battle in the last 40 years against women's right to abortion, legally, extra-legally, as well as in the in the realm of culture and morality. So, this is something that I think, in addition to people taking it for granted as something legal, there's also a lot of defensiveness and shame that is misplaced around abortion. But you were going to tell a story...
Susan Cahill: Well, I'll tell you the story, but I totally agree with you about that. And I confront that every day when women call up and, because I'm a family practice office... That's my way of saying this is just another medical procedure. I take care of sore throats, I take care of babies, I take care of the elderly, I take care of women's reproductive needs, including when they get pregnant and find that they can't keep the pregnancy, or if they get pregnant and want to keep the pregnancy. Then I am joyful for them, refer them because I don't do obstetrics because I don't have privileges at the hospital because I am a physician's assistant.
To me, you fit this in. You know when I was working with Dr. Armstrong [the doctor who Susan Cahill worked with for many years at a family practice that provided abortions], you fit this in. You have vasectomies, you have whatever. I mean, it is part of life. I think marginalizing the whole abortion thing was the biggest mistake after it became legal... putting it in clinics where that's all they did. I think that was mistake number one and if I was queen for a day I would, and I said this in my letter, I would have particularly physicians and other medical people whose concentration is on women's health to learn first trimester abortions.
We have made it so safe since '73 when it was legalized. And I've gone through that whole thing, so I know from the hard time to the easy time, it's a five-minute procedure. It's a very simple procedure. A shot of penicillin or a tonsillectomy is a heck of a lot more dangerous. And yet, because it's been stigmatized, OBGYN doctors don't want to have anything to do with [abortions].
I think women should go [to their physicians] and say, "How come you don't you do this? What kind of a women's doctor are you?" You know?
And, women should be able to say "abortion." But, women will call up to me and they'll say, "Um, um, um, well I want to make an appointment." And I'd say, "OK, what kind of an appointment do you want?" "Well, um... um..." Well, we all know. They can't say it so often. So, I say it. It's like with anything, we can't say "penis," we can't say "vagina." I had a patient whose mother called me up when her daughter was 10 saying something was the matter with her "toe-toe," which I knew right away. So she comes in and my medical assistant gets her ready by taking her shoes off and I went back to her and I said, "Why's her shoes off?" She goes, "Because she said there's something the matter with her toe." I said, "No, there's something the matter with her 'toe-toe.'" And then, I said, "First of all, we're going to talk about what this word really is." So it is a problem, you're right. And, I don't know exactly what the answer is, except I do think part of the problem was marginalizing this whole thing in the beginning and if we could in anyway [reverse that]... And now there's medication abortion, so it's even easier if you wanted that...
Sunsara Taylor: You were going to tell a story as well.
Susan Cahill: Oh, I was going to tell you a story, which was... I had thought you were going to say that you met women who talked about their experiences having an abortion and that it was not all great. I also believe most of the time in my office, certainly sometimes this is a crisis for a woman, but sometimes it's easier for them to decide. Sometimes it's personally harder, but I try to make it not... I don't want to make it a big ordeal because I believe that it's disrespectful. I mean, I certainly do everything. I do the counseling. I have a master's in social work on purpose. But, besides that I'm not going to question women a million times for her decision. I have too much respect for the fact they know what they're doing. So that also has got to stop, frankly.
I mean, I think we've got to make it a little bit simpler for women to go in and say, "I'm pregnant and I don't want to be." You know? You certainly want to know, make sure they're not being forced into something they don't want to do, that's very important, but it doesn't take too long to figure that one out, frankly. You just do it and you say, "I'll see ya in two weeks to make sure you're OK," you know, whatever.
So, this young woman came in. She's 16 at the time and we had a parental notice hanging around which I think we've gotten rid of now... it said "15 and under" but she thought she needed her mother to come in, so her mother came in. Her mother was obviously chemically dependent and was screaming and cursing at the time. This young woman was much more mature than her mother and was very clear about her decision. Really, she allowed her mother to be who she was but after her mother left, she apologized for her mother.
We thought from the date that she was farther along than she actually was, and by the time I got dealt with her mother and her mother left and then I took care of the other patients it was after five... So, I said, "You're not as far along and if you're OK with just the two of us doing this now we will." She said, "I would like that," so we did it and then I took her home.
And I remember a couple of things about it because she was trying to get her GED. She was working. Her mother was down in the basement of this house, the boyfriend's mother was in the center of the house and she and the boyfriend were living in the upstairs attic. That's how it was and she had this little sweatshirt and it was pretty cold out and I had just got a new car with heated seats, which I never had before. I started the car before she got in because I noticed she didn't have much on. And she's sitting there yacking away at me and then she stops and she goes, "Oh, heated seats!" You know, it was so sweet. So I drove her home and she's talking and she stops and she starts to open the door and she turns to me and she says, "Can I give you a hug? You did a really great thing for me today." That's the stuff that makes me, first of all it breaks my heart, but also it makes me proud. But it also makes me know how important this is. That's what I was going to tell you, and for her this was a very good experience, and the right thing.
Sunsara Taylor: You gave her her life back.
Susan Cahill: Right.
Sunsara Taylor: You spoke before about reducing women to vessels and breeders. I think a lot of people don't understand that when women don't have access to abortion when they need it, their lives are foreclosed. That's it for them, you're 16, you end up with a kid, that's your entire life. It has been forcibly changed in a way that is just unconscionable, and it's society imposing that. And what you do, what the providers do across this country, is enable women to have their lives back. But also, reducing women to vessels is actually the aim[both laugh in recognition], that's actually their aim, of this movement. It's never been about babies, it's never been about life, it's always been about control over women, it's pretty clear because they don't support birth control either.
Susan Cahill: Right.
Sunsara Taylor: That was a great story. And I agree with you that other physicians should provide this service, but I also think that everybody in this country right now needs to get off the sidelines and be part of fighting to defend abortion rights and to defeat the war on women. So I think it's important for people to understand the full dimension. This recent destruction of your clinic is not the first targeting, extreme violence that you've experienced. Your clinic was firebombed in the '90s and you also experienced legal attacks. And, while there is a distinction between that kind of extra-legal attack and legal attacks, it's not necessarily the most important distinction because both are completely illegitimate in terms of what they mean for women. So, I wonder if you could just paint a little bit of a picture of what it's been like to be providing abortions in this climate for the last two decades.
Susan Cahill: Well, after the legal attack was settled and the anti-choice group, you know, they're always needling, needling, needling, needling... so they went to county trying to arrest Dr. Armstrong for doing second trimesters in the clinic, and me for doing first trimesters at all. And just, to go back again, when I went to school and I was looking to come to Montana, I was in New York, and I wrote, and I was looking for my final elective in Montana because I wanted to come here for romance reasons...
I didn't know where Montana was on the map actually, but [laughs] Dr. Armstrong, who was also originally from New York, had vowed that when it became legal, if it became legal, that he would incorporate [abortions] into his family practice, because he saw women die every day in New York City of illegal abortions.
And so, by the time I wrote to see if I could come out there and I described all the things that I had learned, one of which was abortion, he grabbed me because he had so many requests for abortions that he didn't have enough time for his regular family practice. He needed help, so I did my final elective with him and that's how that started. So, I was doing them all that time and then physician assistants were just, you know, getting more and more known [in medicine in general] and there was a medical practice act that said that physicians could delegate authority to any professional they feel has been trained adequately to do that.
So, that's how I was working doing first trimester abortions. Then, when I became licensed in '83, I had worked already six or seven years doing abortions, and he told this moving story at the board of medical examiners, to make sure that they were ok with me doing them and it was passed without any question.
The anti-choice people then started looking at the fact that there was the Roe v. Wade thing, which says only physicians can do abortions. That was said because, first of all there were no advanced level clinicians doing anything in '73, they were just staring to come out, nobody knew anything about them, so they weren't going to say "medical professionals," because they didn't know anything other than physicians that could do physician-type of work, so that's why Roe v. Wade was stated that way. But they, the anti-choice people, took that and said, "She's not a physician, she can't be doing them, so arrest her." And the same goes with... there was a law in the books about physicians doing second trimesters in the hospital.
So we got legal advice and it turned into a two-year legal battle. And it would get... they would say I couldn't do them and then I could do them and then I couldn't do them and then I could do them, back and forth for two years, and finally won, I think it was in '97 that I won. And then the Montana Supreme Court just basically said that medical professionals who are well trained can do this. It was a big deal. At one point patients would come and say, "But I want you to do it," and I would have to say to them, "I can't, I can't do it."
Sunsara Taylor: Mhmm.
Susan Cahill: I went through the whole counseling, I explained the procedure, but Dr. Armstrong would have to come in and do it, you know, so that went back and forth for two years. So there was that, and of course, stuff in the paper, and you know, it was another one of those things that you just kind of slog through.
Sunsara Taylor: You become medical professional because you want to serve your patients...
Susan Cahill: Right.
Sunsara Taylor: And here you have to go through years of legal battle just to do your job. It's a huge cost to pay, not everybody would persevere and fight that through.
Susan Cahill: Right. Dr. Armstrong was the one who was instrumental in helping me do that. He was determined. He was a very determined person and very clear. And he's another one of those people who knows exactly what it would mean if this wasn't legal, because he's seen it. You know, and that's why I said the people who know about what it would be, what it was like when it was illegal, are disappearing, they're dying, they're retiring and they're dying.
Sunsara Taylor: Yeah.
Susan Cahill: It's a concern, and I feel right at the precipice of that right now, you know.
Sunsara Taylor: And then your clinic was also, or I guess Dr. Armstrong's clinic, you two were working together.
Susan Cahill: Firebombed.
Sunsara Taylor: Yeah, go ahead and talk about that.
Susan Cahill: It took us five months to rebuild. Well, that was early in the morning, three o'clock in the morning, you know, and interestingly, the man who lives next to me is the fire chief. I even heard his car leave, but that was not uncommon. They got there right away, but it destroyed the front office and it took us five months to rebuild and then we had to find another place and that was the first scary thing. Again, we persevered and we talked about the same things that I'm talking about now. The same things, and that's very painful to me. We started something called the Safe Place Project and the community was behind it, about, "This can not happen in our community." And it didn't for twenty years. Now it's back again. It's just non-stop and quite honestly it's very shocking to me that we're still fighting this. From my perspective growing up and seeing and saying, "Yes of course, of course we need this right." I mean, yes, of course. And, "Oh we got it, oh good, that battle's won." You know? No.
Sunsara Taylor: Mhmm.
Susan Cahill: It hasn't been won and it's going backwards, it's absolutely going backwards. You know, Texas has all these awful laws passed that were passed even against popular opinion, heh.
Sunsara Taylor: Yeah, yeah, this is not acceptable this situation. We are, like you said, on a precipice, not just you personally at a precipice, but in this country access is being closed down, women's lives right now are being foreclosed. There are women undergoing dangerous self-... attempts to self-induce abortion is very widespread, much more than people understand. People are going to have fight this. Go out on the streets and speak out about this, raise their voices, resist, and refuse to allow this to happen, really refuse to allow for this happen. And change the atmosphere and the climate, and that is something I feel very strongly is not, it is not the responsibility of those who already put their lives on the line for decades to do that alone. It's unacceptable that people like yourself are—I know you described everybody who helped you open the new clinic, you mentioned that young woman who gave you a hug, I'm sure that is manifold—but it's too much that providers are left by themselves to face the real consequences of this, it's going to take the toll on all women if there's not a change very soon. I want to ask you... Go ahead.
Susan Cahill: I think the other thing that needs to change is that, and I don't know how we're going to do this, but the rhetoric of "murderer," that an abortion provider is a "murderer"...
Sunsara Taylor: Oh, yes.
Susan Cahill: Has absolutely got to not be allowed, because for me, the difference between the firebombing in the '90s and now is that then the guy was from some other state and he did that to three abortion clinics before he was caught and in jail for seven years. But today, this was a fellow in my own community. And, done by people in my own community is scarier to me. And he had a semi-automatic rifle in his car. He was armed at the time. And I thought this morning just, the unfortunate part... it might not have been so unfortunate that my alarm system wasn't totally set up because it's possible that if he could not commit to destroying my clinic, that he would have then decided to destroy me. And that's a scary, scary thought for me.
Sunsara Taylor: Yeah, that's a horrible thought, and I don't think that's an unreasonable thought. And I am reminded of something I read about the rise of the Nazis. How a lot of people were very alarmed by Kristallnacht2and all the thuggish violence against Jews, but then when anti-Jewish laws were passed and S.S. were posted outside Jewish businesses, for example, and people accepted that more easily because it had the veneer of legality and so-called "legitimacy" in that sense. But, in reality, the anti-Jewish laws turned out to be much, much more deadly. And I think there's an analogy with to abortion today, "Sure, there's legal restrictions, but there's not the same level of violence as say in the '90s." But, they... first of all, they don't understand the level of violence that's going still going on, and secondly, those restrictions are having a much greater effect shutting down abortion—and in a much more lasting, much harder-to-reverse kind of way. Plus, and this relates to your point on rhetoric, there's a connection between the atmosphere that allows those legal restrictions... with major officials in the country talking about abortion as "murder," as a "holocaust," as blood on the providers' hands, and you have Fox News, when they used to talk about "Dr. Tiller the Baby Killer"... all of this creates an atmosphere where unstable people or fanatical people, indoctrinated people feel that they're justified in quote, unquote, "taking God's work into their own hands," or acting "on behalf of the unborn," or however they understand it. You can't separate the motivation of individuals to carry out this kind of violence from the overall atmosphere and legal framework that's being hammered into place. And both are harmful, I realize that's not really a question [both laugh], but I wanted to appreciate and kind of build on your point about the rhetoric, it's very deadly.
Susan Cahill: It's extremely deadly... There is a woman who did a documentary on the Holocaust... She also was the woman who interviewed me because I got an award on Lifetime TV for being a "risk-taker"... and that thick glass award on my desk was also totally destroyed... But, this woman did a documentary talking about the Hungarians and it was so moving about how they kept watching the Nazis and doing all these little things, and saying, "Oh well, it's just this isolated thing... Oh well, it's not going to happen to us... Oh well... Oh well..." Until it did. And it's just the palpable understanding of the deeper thing, how the people who want to do the destruction do it in a very systematic way that makes people have amnesia around what's happening... or just not take it seriously. Not thinking it's that important. And it is. All of these things. So, I don't know what is going to happen in my community right now. It's going to be an interesting thing. I just talked with a man yesterday who said, "Whatever you need, I will be there for you, I will protect you, I know martial arts... and, I don't agree with what you are doing, but I know who you are and this is wrong, and it is wrong in our community and we can't have it." And a lot of people are saying that, so, we'll see what happens.
I have a certain amount of faith, maybe it will happen here. Interestingly, the physician for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, I wrote him a letter and he called me last night. My letter basically said, I identified that your executive director bought my old clinic to get me out of work and when that didn't work the woman who started that, her son totally destroyed my clinic and my livelihood and everything I have ever worked for. And you have irreparably damaged our relationship and blah, blah, blah... and on your website you have, "In the spirit of Jesus," and I said, "This is not the spirit of Jesus." I said, "I am a victim, but so is Zachary, because Zachary was born in innocence and love and he was taught to hate." [Zachary is the son of the founder of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. He has been arrested and charged for vandalizing Susan Cahill's clinic.] And I said, "This is not the spirit of Jesus, this is the spirit Jesus was preaching against." He called me up and he said, "You're right. I want you to be OK with me talking to my colleagues..." So, I don't know what is going to happen with that. But part of me hopes something out of this will be good.
Sunsara Taylor: Let me as you a final question, and then invite you for any final reflections you want to add. Can you talk about what now, the phones are operating at your office, but what are women in your region of Montana facing if they do need abortion care?
Susan Cahill: For people in Kalispell, the closest place is Missoula, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive. Great clinic, but they right now are going to be inundated with women because there was a clinic in Livingston that was closed also, so they were already getting those women and now they will get my patients. They are a bigger clinic. They also cost more because they are a bigger clinic because they have to pay for all that. That's another thing, with my office, I had me and two employees and I tried to keep things reasonable because I also think abortion needs to be reasonable financially for women. So, they are going to cost more, they have to go farther. They only do them a couple days a week. The other thing that I always offered intermixed with my other patients.
But besides all that, we also have the Blackfeet Reservation. These people don't have a lot of money, very often. They had to drive an hour and a half to me. I often give them... they often come without gas money by the time they make it here, without gas money, without food money. So, I have donations that I give them. Now, these people are going to have to go to Missoula.... It's pathetic! Frankly, it's more than pathetic, but that is one of the things it is. It's a disgrace! Just that alone, women should say, WHAT? WHAT!? Men can go anywhere he wants to get whatever the frick he wants, you know? [Both laugh.]
Sunsara Taylor: Is there anything else you want to add?
Susan Cahill: It can go on and on and on, frankly, about what I want to add depending on what I think about at the time. But, I want people to be angr... You know...
Sunsara Taylor: I want them to be angry, it's OK, you can say that.
Susan Cahill: I want them to be angry, but I want their anger to come out in constructive ways...
Sunsara Taylor: Yes.
Susan Cahill: And I think it's going to take a lot of different ways in order to do that. I've had this fund set up for me, which is fabulous, and the money has gotten much more than was originally asked for. And thinking about what I want to do with part of that money in the most constructive way I can to help the movement... I need to talk to the groups that are all working towards better access and think about where we can work most constructively with that. And I don't know what that is yet. But I will continue to talk and think and work at it. And I think all of us who have come together thinking about it, we need to talk about what we can do here...
And one of the things we can do is get access to reproductive health in the schools again. This whole abstinence-only thing... is so ludicrous! No! No! Because we know, in all the other western countries that have comprehensive reproductive healthcare, they're abortions and need for abortions are a lot less. We know that. I mean, that's one way. But, these battles...
I really think that the younger generation, we need their help. We need their help.
Sunsara Taylor: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.
1. “Crisis pregnancy centers" are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They lure unsuspecting women in by providing pregnancy tests and in the guise of giving "medical advice," they actually give women wrong and distorted information to scare or shame them into not having abortions. - ST [back]
2. November 9-10, 1938, Nazis led mobs to attack Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and synagogues throughout Germany and parts of Austria. Close to 100 Jews were killed that night, which came to be known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, because of the shards of broken glass all over the streets in its aftermath. [back]
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
From a reader:
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On March 7 and 8 we took International Women's Day boldly and defiantly into the hood, aiming to unleash the anger beneath the surface at women's oppression and to take on the controversy over abortion. We put up the bright orange "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" signs; a big banner showing that "A Fetus is NOT a Baby" and a collage of signs of the "Did You Know" facts from the IWD issue of Revolution newspaper. An agitator spoke sharply to the horrors of what it means to be a female on this planet, and brought out women's fundamental right to abortion, because "Forced motherhood is female enslavement."
This elicited broad and deep anger and concern over women's oppression, from men and women, old and young. People don't normally see women's oppression as a global and social problem; they don't know that one billion women worldwide are raped, that clinics are closed or that abortion doctors have been murdered. The reality shocked and angered them. At the same time the degradation and suffering women experience every day in every neighborhood, the personal experience of rape, abuse, or of having an abortion, is kept personal—discussed in private, behind closed doors, or in whispers, if at all. We brought it all right out on front street, abortion as a right to be fought for, not "murder" or something to be ashamed of, and fought for people to understand the scientific basis for this. We called on people to take a stand against the enslavement and degradation of women—as part of the fight for the liberation of women all over the world, and for the emancipation of humanity. It was like opening a door for people to express their anger, their experience of oppression, their disgust at the vilification of women, and to feel joy in opposing it.
Signs made by the Revolution Club of the "Did You Know..." facts of women's global oppression from the IWD issue of Revolution were an important element. One "Did You Know" sign said, "One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—that is one billion women. A girl born in South Africa is more likely to be raped during her lifetime than to learn how to read." The club made signs for most of the "Did You Know" facts cited in the paper and added one more: "Women Are Not Bitches, Ho's or Sex Toys. Women Are Half of Humanity!" The next day we added "or punching bags" after getting feedback from another person in the Revolution Club. Another sign was "When women are held down, all of humanity is held back," and speaking to this was part of all the agitation done during the weekend.
The "Women Are Not Bitches, Ho's, Sex Toys or Punching Bags" sign drew a particularly strong response in the hood. A middle-aged Black woman who came up to see what was happening while we were making this sign immediately approved. She clearly was very angry at this and had experienced a lot of it, but she told us she responds to it with "ju-jitsu," saying, "How nice. Who taught you to say that—your mom?" The next day, two of us were walking down a street in the neighborhood carrying this same sign. A woman walking ahead of us read it, loudly and joyfully agreed, and ran up to give us a $10 donation.
At a local high school, we posted up the signs, Revolution newspapers, stickers, and palm cards of the BAsics 3:22 quote.1 On hearing the agitation, many students reached out to grab the palm cards. Students responded right away to the "Women Are Not Bitches, Ho's..." sign and many others stopped to read the "Did You Know" signs. They didn't know that the average age when females enter into prostitution or pornography in the U.S. is 12. They didn't know that one in three women on the planet will be raped in her lifetime. We heard "Damn!" "That's fucked up!" as students saw the reality. As one of our crew held a sign and stopped people to read it, another held a pile of stickers and we explained to students that wearing these stickers is a way to be able to do something about all this right now, because it takes a stand and shows that to other people. Stickers went on backpacks, T-shirts, and into people's hands as a way to take a stand against this. Two young men put a sticker on a skateboard, "Create a world without rape." "You guys are right," one of them told us. "Everybody knows what goes on at this school but nobody says anything about it." He said that one of the teachers had asked a class if men and women are equal and most of the students, women and men, had said no. When we said that youth get this from the putrid culture, they agreed, and asked if we'd heard "THOT," a new degrading term for women. They took more stickers to put up as way to oppose this.
Later someone else hipped us to THOT, an acronym for "that ho over there," which is used in extremely misogynist lyrics and Internet posts. In different ways people sickened by a culture that causes and justifies women's oppression welcomed the opportunity to call out and oppose it. An older man, seeing our signs, voiced his disgust: "These days women are treated worse than animals!"
At a busy intersection near the school, we set up displays of banners and signs and chalked on the sidewalk, "I'm standing up to stop the war on women because..." People could chalk in their reason why. A teenager told a Revolution Club member that she had been raped. After encouraging her to chalk something, she wrote, "Due to rape I am standing strong 4 others." Another woman wrote, "No More." Two women in their 20s stopped to read the chalking and asked how old the youth was who had been raped. The answer—15 years old—made them furious; their faces and their whole demeanor changed. "I'm gonna be there with you guys," one said. This intersection is a crossroads for the Black community; many bus riders and car drivers, women and men, bought the IWD issue. The "Women Are Not Bitches or Ho's..." sign drew a lot of attention; one woman took a picture and many Black women nodded emphatically—that's right!
On IWD itself we set up at a major intersection in the Black community where we have a regular presence. The agitation and the collage of signs and posters tapped into anger that's normally suppressed. Things opened up. The faces of women waiting for the bus, usually worn down by the daily grind, started to light up, and both women and men stopped to engage, get Revolution newspaper, and take stickers and fliers, including the RCP Statement for International Women's Day. A bus driver hearing the agitation put his fist in the air and took stickers when one of the revolutionaries ran onto the bus to get them to him.
We put up the big "A Fetus Is NOT a Baby" banner right behind the bus stop where everybody would see it. An agitator spoke to Abortion on Demand and Without Apology, explaining that Forced Motherhood is Female Enslavement. Discussion and controversy on abortion burgeoned on the corner. A young woman whispered to a revolutionary, "I've had two abortions." The revolutionary responded, "I've had two abortions, this is something we need to start saying out loud." She said we shouldn't apologize for abortion and brought the young woman over to the "A Fetus Is NOT a Baby" banner, explaining the science behind abortion, and that women are not incubators. "Nobody talks about this," the young woman said. "I'm really glad you guys are out here because more young women need to hear this."
Another woman told us she'd had 10 abortions. She supports women's right to choose, but also regrets having "used abortion as birth control" because she said it resulted in no longer being able to have kids. She explained how she already had a child with special needs and at the time she couldn't have handled another kid. We looked at the "A Fetus Is NOT a Baby" display. On one level, she knew the truth of this already. But she blamed herself for now not being able to have children. We told her this is nothing to blame herself for, and that were abortions, birth control, and women's sexuality not stigmatized, things would be much different. She then opened up about some of the medical complications that were part of the mix of why she can no longer have kids.
People engaged in conversation and controversy about abortion from different angles. We talked with many people who are pro-choice for various reasons—because it's a woman's decision, or because a woman shouldn't have a baby if she's not ready and able to take care of it—otherwise the kids just end up in poverty. A Black woman said, "Who are they to say you can have an abortion or not? Are they going to take care of the child?" We talked with people who think abortion should be available for women who are raped, but not 'on demand.' People didn't have a deep understanding of the scientific basis for abortion but many, men and women, were open to discussing and debating the question—why a fetus is not a baby—for the first time. We brought out that fetuses aren't babies until they can breathe on their own, independent of the woman. While they're in the womb, they are a subordinate part of the woman's body. Of the people we talked with, Black women were about evenly divided on abortion, among Latinas, a majority were against.
A Chicana who was pregnant and had two toddlers felt very strongly that abortion was wrong, that it was murder, but after some back and forth using science, she wanted the Revolution newspaper to read more about a scientific approach to abortion.
A middle-aged man, very religious, bought the paper and said he opposes how badly women are treated, he opposes pornography, but doesn't support abortion—but he had to think about the effect of forced motherhood on women and why Christian anti-abortion groups also oppose birth control.
Here again there was broad and deep concern over the oppression of women and shock at the reality of the society-wide and global war on women. Two men bought the paper because they had no idea that 97 percent of rural counties in the U.S. have no abortion clinics. An older woman in a wheelchair said, "These young women don't dream any more." She rides the bus all the time and hears young women talking only about how to get their baby daddies; not about what they want to do with their lives. She said she tries to tell them to go back to school.
A Black man in his late 20s or early 30s stopped in response to "Forced Motherhood Is Female Enslavement." "I just saw 12 Years a Slave this morning," he said. "When you see the truth about one thing, it makes other things come together." He said making revolution will be hard, because people think a lot of wrong things; we talked about the strategy for making revolution, and the need to change people's thinking. He took stickers to put up as part of that and promised to go to revcom.us to read the interview with Carl Dix, and a little while later came back through with a few dollars to put in the donation jar on the table.
The Party's IWD statement got out to many, and we talked with people about where the oppression of women comes from and why and how we can uproot this through revolution. We discussed with people the changes for women in revolutionary Russia and China. A tattooed Latina cited example after example of women's oppression, from how she is treated at work to young women being sold into sex slavery—for each example posing why? Why do they do this? A revolutionary ran to get her the Party statement before she jumped on the bus. In other conversations we contrasted the condition of women in pre-revolutionary China, hobbled by bound feet and treated as domestic slaves, with the soaring images of women fighters in the revolutionary ballets, and the changed status of women overall during that time, in order to show that it doesn't have to be this way, women's situation has been transformed before, and can be again.
We encountered some misogyny and blaming women for their own oppression. A young Black man felt that women should be able to have abortions if they're raped but that otherwise women need to take responsibility not to need abortions—in other words, keep their legs closed, not drink that much, etc. When we asked him what the difference was between his putting the blame on women and how Black youth like Trayvon are blamed for their own oppression, he had to stop and think about it. Some guys near the lively scene on IWD asserted that "men get raped by women." When we said, maybe, but certainly not 1 in 3 men will be raped, they walked away.
We challenged people to take and put on stickers as a way to act against women's oppression, and many did. "If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked!" made people laugh, but when they got what it meant, they were serious. "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology," "Imagine/Create a World Without Rape" went into people's hands and onto their T-shirts and backpacks. A group of three young women took palm cards of BAsics 3:22 and put all three stickers on their clothes right away, turning themselves into a walking celebration of International Women's Day.
It was striking how eager people were to engage, how much they had to say, from different angles, about women's oppression, how open they were to discussing "A Fetus Is NOT a Baby" even when they disagreed with it, and how much people wanted to understand where this comes from and what to do about it. A sense of joy at getting into these questions, affirming and taking a stand for the humanity and value of women, came alive together with the anger at how women are treated. All in all, IWD in the hood this year gave us a deeper appreciation of the need and potential for the liberation of women to be a motive force in the movement for revolution and the emancipation of humanity.
1. BAsics 3:22 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. You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution. [back]
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 20, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We received this from Stop Patriarchy and are reposting it because we believe it would be of interest to our readers.
We are engaged in a war here in this very country. Women’s rights are undergoing a multipronged attack every day. Much of this war is right out in the open as our politicians publicly dehumanize women, call them nothing but “hosts” to fetuses, claim that some rape may be illegitimate, and that pregnancy from rape is a “gift from god.”
None of this is getting the attention—or the widespread opposition—it deserves. Most people have no idea how extreme the attacks on women's right to abortion are, how many clinics are actually closing, how many new restrictions and hurdles are being slammed into place. At the same time, most people do not understand that this fight is not only about abortion; it is about all access to reproductive freedom for women.
To date, there have been 92 cases filed challenging the federal government’s rule that requires health plans to cover contraception without a co-pay. These cases claim that providing contraceptives at all is an infringement on religious liberty. 80 of these cases are still pending. 33 cases were brought by non-profit organizations and 44 of the cases were brought by for-profit organizations.
The Obama administration has already accommodated non-profits with religious objections to covering contraceptives. They made a rule designed to ensure employees will receive contraception coverage but that the employer with religious objections will not bear the cost or otherwise have any connection with the coverage. Several non-profit organizations are challenging even this accommodation. There are 36 non-profit cases currently pending.
In addition, about 42 of the total cases while pending have an injunction which allows the organization not to comply with the rule to cover contraception for its employees. The cases can be pending indefinitely.
The fight over contraception coverage is just one example of how women are being attacked on all fronts. Not only do these enemies of women want to obliterate a woman’s right to choose, they want to strip away their right to obtain safe and reliable contraception. Religious fanatics, our own government and society as a whole are trying to force women back into a position where they are solely breeders. While it is true that birth control can still be purchased by women on their own, the fact is that female contraception is very expensive and requires prescriptions; it is not as easy as walking into a 7-Eleven and buying a package of condoms. Many women in this country are impoverished and just trying to survive on a daily basis, easy access to birth control is essential, especially since sex education is extremely poor throughout our educational system and religious ideologies are emphasized instead. The fact also is that no employer has the right to force their personal beliefs onto their employees; that is not religious freedom. The assault on women’s contraception coverage and on access to abortions and their link to religious ideologies is completely outrageous. It is not about protecting someone’s right to practice the religion of their choosing, it is not about protecting babies, it is 100% about control over women, dictating their role in society and how they should use their bodies. Denying women the right to contraception and denying them the right to abortion go hand in hand in controlling a woman’s sexuality and her position in society. These two unceasing assaults run parallel to the overall rape culture within this society. Women are constantly shamed, humiliated, violated and dictated to. Our government is siding with women haters who want to control and subjugate women, which in turn is reinforcing a culture that is increasingly more violent and intolerant towards women. While the Obama administration is going to great lengths to appease the religious fanatics and women haters, it is doing nothing in ensuring that women have full control over their bodies, their lives and that they are entirely free human beings.
When will the restrictions, humiliation and inequality end? The truth is it will not end; it will only get much worse unless there is a mass uprising in defiance to this extreme war on women going on in this country. The enemies of women will not stop unless women lose all power, control and freedom over their own bodies and their own lives. The blatant, the subtle and the hidden attacks on women are not ceasing, they aren’t even letting up, they are progressing and it is up to everyone to pay attention, to make an effort and to take action to put an end to this war before the casualties increase.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
By Sunsara Taylor | February 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
As part of building for this year's International Women's Day protests and celebrations with the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women and as part of having all this contribute to actually making revolution, I have been part of a team that is going regularly out to an elite liberal arts college campus.
What follows are some of the questions that came up from students this past week and a few brief answers to them. While there was also a lot of more positive response, I highlight these objections and questions because they reflect broader patterns in people's thinking that stand in the way of people acting in the ways needed to defeat the truly unrelenting and deadly war on women and overall changing the world. I hope these responses will spur others to get out and argue these things out with students and others. I also welcome readers to send in their "toughest questions" to us at Revolution newspaper by using the link at the end of this article.
How can you be against all porn? I know some porn is very degrading, but what about women's right to use porn and be in porn? Why aren't you for reclaiming porn, making feminist and queer porn?
This question comes up almost immediately from students and professors in Gender Studies and is answered more thoroughly in "Slavery by Another Name: Sex Work and the 'Empowerment' Charade in Gender Studies," "On the Idea & Promotion of 'Feminist Porn'," "How can you be FOR abortion but AGAINST porn?" and "'Sex-Positive' Feminism and Sasha Grey; No Defense for Porn," but I will speak to it briefly now. Pornography is not simply the portrayal of sex, it is the portrayal of sexualized degradation, of eroticized objectification and humiliation, and overwhelmingly in pornography it is women who are objectified and humiliated. It is very revealing that rape, ruthless misogynist insults hurled at women, spitting in women's faces, forceful "throat-fucking" and all sorts of other shit that I am not going to describe are all mainstream within porn.
While it is extremely important to fight against the stigma and shame that is placed on women for enjoying sex or wanting to have sex outside of marriage, promoting porn or trying to "reclaim" porn is NOT the way to do this. The point is NOT for women, or LGBT people, to be able to be "equally represented" within a genre that is based on enslavement, dehumanization, and degradation. The point is to put an END to all forms of enslavement and degradation, including in sexual relations. As StopPatriarchy.org has said for a long time, "If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked." We need to be fighting for a world where domination and objectification are not eroticized, where women are not viewed as objects to be humiliated and degraded for men's sexual pleasure, where men are not socialized to be turned on by that, where LGBT people are not demonized and forced into the margins throughout society, and where oppression and degradation in all its forms are dug up and overcome.
“Isn't it kind of wrong to have an event about China and Japan without having a single Chinese or Japanese person on the panel?”
No, it is not.
While this comment/question was not directed at the work we were doing (but rather, it was a comment made by a radical-minded student about an event being advertised for on campus), I feel it is important to respond to because it reflects the widespread relativism and identity politics that dominates most of the liberal campuses and beyond. This relativism is wrong and extremely harmful. By relativism I mean the view that what is true cannot be objectively determined but depends on who is speaking, and that “truth” differs according to different people's experiences.
In reality, truth is that which corresponds to objective reality; truth is not contingent on the identity of who is speaking. If it is raining outside in Manhattan, it is raining whether a white person, a Black person, a South Asian person or no one at all comments on it. If two different people disagree on whether or not it is raining, the way to sort that out is to go outside and observe the concrete evidence—not to examine the "identity" of the people speaking. The same thing applies to understanding any other objective phenomenon, including the relations between China and Japan. If a white person, for example, has something to say about this, it should be evaluated based on whether or not it corresponds to objective reality. If it does, it should be accepted as true. If it does not, or if the views put forward by a white person in the course of discussing China or Japan, are racist or infused with American chauvinism, then the content of what they have to say should be exposed and criticized because of how it reflects and reinforces objective systems of oppression—not because of the "identity" of the speaker. And the same criteria applies to anyone—of whatever nationality—who has something to say.
Failing to proceed from what actually corresponds to reality and instead attempting to determine what is "true" based on the identity of who is saying it, means that one will not be able to develop an accurate understanding of the world. What, for instance, to make of the huge numbers of women who proclaim and deeply believe that "abortion is murder"? Does the fact that women are saying this mean that abortion really is murder? Hell no! This just means that there are a lot of women who have been influenced by the outlook and thinking of the very patriarchal system and patriarchal ideologues that they are oppressed by. The objective fact is that fetuses are NOT babies and abortion is NOT murder. It is also an objective fact that forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement and this is why it is objectively against the interests of women to take away the right to abortion. The only way to get to this truth, though, is to examine reality, not to look at the "identity" of the people promoting an idea.
People who take up the relativist approach end up paralyzed and unable to act decisively when the "narrative" of one oppressed grouping conflicts with the "narrative" of another oppressed group, or when resisting the objective crimes of the capitalist-imperialist system we live under requires struggling with how others think. In fact, many who take up this approach very openly proclaim that the point is not to act, but instead to just elevate "marginalized narratives." Meanwhile, the very real and objective forces of exploitation and oppression continue to grind on and on, taking a terrible toll on the planet itself and all of its people.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, speaks in BAsics 4:10 to the tremendous need for people to break out of this kind of relativism if we are ever to get beyond a world where those with the most power are able to forcefully impose their views on others:
"For humanity to advance beyond a state in which 'might makes right'—and where things ultimately come down to raw power relations—will require, as a fundamental element in this advance, an approach to understanding things (an epistemology) which recognizes that reality and truth are objective and do not vary in accordance with, nor depend on, different 'narratives' and how much 'authority' an idea (or 'narrative') may have behind it, or how much power and force can be wielded on behalf of any particular idea or 'narrative,' at any given point."
Back to the specific example of a program being held about China and Japan without any Chinese or Japanese people being part of it, there is another element of reality that should be brought into the picture—but with a far different approach than that of relativism.
One of the big problems in this country—both historically and today—is the tremendous racism, white supremacy and American chauvinism. This is part of objective reality that everyone—regardless of their "race" or nationality—must recognize and be part of fighting to end. This fight to end racism and national oppression must include breaking down the barriers that prevent people of oppressed nationalities or non-European countries from being able to fully participate in academia, politics, the arts, and every other sphere of society. But fighting for the inclusion of oppressed nationalities, people from other countries, and women on an equal basis in all spheres of society is very different than proclaiming that people who are not of those particular groups have no right to speak about and can offer no truthful understanding about those cultures and peoples. Such a fight should not be waged on the basis of insisting that only Chinese people should be able to speak about China, only women should be able to speak about "women's issues," etc. This fight must—and can only most thoroughly be waged and won—on the basis of exposing and opposing the objective structures of racism in this country and the culture and ideology that reflects and reinforces them. And, again, everyone has a responsibility to wage this fight and to bring to bear what they understand to be true regardless of their personal "identity"!
But aren't "sex workers" just workers like any other, shouldn't you be trying to fight for them to have better conditions? Isn't that what socialism is about, the rights of workers?
To explain how this question comes up a bit further: Some feminists and some so-called "socialists" defend pornography and "sex work" by seizing on the fact that ruthlessly exploitative conditions exist for workers in many arenas—from the sweatshops and fruit fields to the mines and meatpacking—to argue that this really is no different than the conditions faced by women in the most brutal rungs of the sex industry. "Just as other forms of labor are exploitative under capitalism," they argue, so is "sex work." And, their logic continues, "Just as we must fight for better conditions for all workers, so too must we fight for better conditions—and unions—for sex workers."
This argument has two major problems in it.
First, being in pornography or prostitution is NOT just like "any other form of work." There will always be a need to produce the material requirements of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.); the point is to bring about a system where that can be done without exploitation. On the other hand, there is no such permanent "need" for men to purchase women's sexual subservience; the point is to get to a world where that is no longer desired by anyone or possible to enact.
Second, real socialism is NOT about "better conditions for the workers" within this system, but requires a REVOLUTION to get rid of this system, to abolish the wage system, and to bring about the emancipation of all humanity!
Let me explain a little further.
It is definitely true that there are many jobs in this world which are truly degrading and highly exploitative. This is a big part of why we need a revolution; it is utterly insane and unnecessary for so many people's lives to be squandered in this way.
But when people are exploited in the mines of South Africa or the sweatshops of China or the fields of southern California or in the millions of other demeaning, dangerous, and poorly paid jobs around this planet, the interest of the capitalist in doing this is to produce commodities as cheaply as possible in order to accumulate the greatest profit possible when these commodities are eventually sold. The workers are generally paid only enough to keep coming back to work the next day, but through their labor they produce a greater value than that; this is where the capitalists derive their profits. At the same time, capitalists are forced to compete with each other—to expand and beat each other out, or be driven under—so they are driven to more and more ruthlessly exploit those they employ. All this makes revolution necessary and urgent; to shatter the grip of the capitalists over humanity's resources and bring into being an economic and social system where human needs can be met without exploitation or antagonistic social divisions.
On the other hand, when a man purchases a woman or very young girl in prostitution or pornography, it is not her ability to produce value through labor that is being purchased. It is her sexual enslavement and degradation that is being purchased. A man is purchasing the ability to treat a woman as a thing, to have access to her body while violating her humanity. He is paying for the experience of being able to disrespect, violate, beat, insult, and humiliate a woman. In this situation women's bodies and women's subjugation and humiliation are turned into commodities.
It is only because we live in a world still dominated by patriarchy—that is, the all-round subjugation of women by men—that there is a "market" for this. Under patriarchy, men and boys are socialized from a very young age to see women as objects to be used, conquered, controlled, and degraded for sexual pleasure. At the same time, millions of women—owing to their overall oppressed condition—are left desperate and vulnerable to be used and abused in this way.
The revolution we need is one that breaks down and completely overcomes all forms of patriarchy, that moves humanity beyond a world where half of humanity is subjugated and enslaved to the other half. We need to radically remake society in both its economic foundations and its culture so that no woman is ever again forced or coerced or tricked or beaten or kidnaped or sold or shamed into selling her body and where men everywhere marvel in horror at the idea that men used to get off on seeing women humiliated and degraded. How this can be done, and how this can only be done through a genuine communist revolution as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian, is gone into in many places, including A Declaration: For the Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of Humanity.
Finally, to come back to the point about the "conditions of the workers," it is very important to uphold the struggle of those who are exploited and oppressed against their immediate conditions, but even more important not to mistake that struggle for the revolution we need. Genuine socialism is NOT the fight for better conditions of the workers within the system of capitalism. Socialism is the new economic and social system brought into being through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism during which the very division of society into a small class of capitalists who own the means of production (the factories, land, etc.) and a huge class of people who own nothing but their ability to work (which they are then forced to sell to a capitalist in order to survive) is dug up and overcome. The goal of this revolution is communism. As Marx himself pointed out, the demand of genuine communist revolutionaries must not be "A fair day's work for a fair day's pay," but instead, "Abolish the wage system!" Bob Avakian has taken this understanding much further, emphasizing the critical difference—in goal, in method, and in political program—between the communist revolution to emancipate all humanity and the "labor movement." One incredible place to get into this is in his talk, "Communism: The Emancipation of All Humanity—NOT "The Last Shall Be First, and The First Shall Be Last.'"
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
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.
On March 7, 1,200 immigrant detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, began a hunger strike demanding better food, better treatment (including medical care), increased pay (from $1/day) and a stop to deportations. (See Carl Dix's statement "Detained Immigrants Launch Hunger Strike: Support Detainees Putting Their Lives on the Line" and "Immigrants on Hunger Strike: Seeking a Better Life, but 'Treated Like Animals'" in Revolution #333.) On March 15, Revolution correspondent Li Onesto talked to Maru Mora Villalpando, who is an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy and part of the #Not1More Deportation campaign organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She had just returned from an action in front of the detention center in support of the hunger strike. The following are excerpts from this interview.
Li Onesto: Immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma have been on a hunger strike since March 7 and I want to get an update from you on the situation there. But maybe you could start at the beginning and talk about how the hunger strike started. I understand it had something to do with an action outside the detention center on February 24, right?
Maru Mora Villalpando: Right. Back on February 24, 10 people decided to stop the deportations and we showed up at the detention center in Tacoma at 6:30 in the morning and we linked arms with PVC pipes and blocked the main entrance to the detention center. We were there calling for a stop to the detentions and joining the #Not1More Deportation campaign, a national campaign that has been going on for over a year now, taking civil disobedience actions to call on Obama to stop the deportations.
So we shut down the deportation center that day and we were there for about three hours. There were some of us blocking the streets but there were about 50 people organized in it. So we were there from 6:30 to 8:30 in the morning, we had maybe from 70 to 80. We knew that the detention center would try to deport people in different ways. So we were trying to block any kind of transportation happening that day. We knew that one bus had already tried to leave. And then a van and a third van was trying to leave and we decided to break our circle of 10. Five of us remained in the street and five went to the back street where the van was heading. One woman whose husband was being deported that day really stopped the van with her own body. By the time she was standing in front of the van, we, the five of us advanced and we blocked the street with our arms locked with PVC pipes. Then the van had to go back into the detention center. But the people waiting in the vans saw, they were able to see our action.
So based on that and because this was all over the news, the people on the inside decided, well, how do we join this movement. They thought we should be doing something around the deportations and to stop future deportations. So they organized themselves. The reason why they decided to join was because we were able to stop 120 people being deported that day.
Li Onesto: How did you determine this? That’s a lot of people.
Maru Mora Villalpando: Well, we knew that ICE had a schedule of 120 people there and we talked to people inside, lawyers that are part of that group and that’s how we confirmed that 120 people were scheduled to be deported. And the other thing that we heard was that The GEO Group, Inc., the corporation that is running the detention center, retaliated against some of those 120 people—they took away their blankets and their pillows. So that made people think, well we had nothing to do with this and they’re still retaliating against us so we actually should do something.
So it took them about a week to organize. Once they began their strike, we were told about this because they knew we were the ones that organized the February 24 action, so some of us that participated in the actions received different messages during Friday, early afternoon. For example, one of the ways that we found out—one relative of one of the organizers called the radio station and said on the air that this is happening right now. So the radio station called us and asked us to confirm this. And so then we had one of the lawyers go in and she confirmed it. She actually talked to them and got the list of demands that they wanted to give us. And so everything began on March 3.
Li Onesto: So how many people were involved in the hunger strike at the very beginning?
Maru Mora Villalpando: The paper they handed out said that 1,200 people were involved in the hunger strike.
Li Onesto: And what were their demands?
Maru Mora Villalpando: Better food, better treatment, including medical treatment. Lower commissary [prices] and access to judges—just the fact that they should be able to see a judge. And they wanted people to know about the fact that they are being paid a dollar a day for working in things like the kitchen or the laundry services or the janitorial services.
Li Onesto: There were initially 1,200 participating in the hunger strike—how many people are being held in this detention facility?
Maru Mora Villalpando: The facility has about 1,500 or 1,600 people but GEO claims that there are only 1,300 right now.
Li Onesto: So really almost all of the people in the detention center were involved at the beginning. So what happened next?
Maru Mora Villalpando: What we heard was that at first, all day Friday, they didn’t eat. Then the next day, GEO started taking down the names of the people that were not eating and the numbers. They began retaliating by intimidating them, calling them names, making fun of them, harassing them. And then when they saw this was serious, that they actually were not eating, all of them, they started doing different strategies. They pulled people out individually, supposedly to assess them medically. And instead they were being told that if they didn’t end they would be force-fed. Some of them were told that their cases that were pending would be closed and they would be deported immediately. In other instances they were just told that nobody is paying attention on the outside to this, nobody cares. Some felt the pressure and decided to stop the strike and began eating.
They continued to take individuals and they would say to some of them, you know you are the only one left. They started transporting people from place to place, there are different sections there. They kind of knew who were the main organizers and they would move them around to stop them from communicating with each other. So they would say to everybody, well, you are the only one now, you have to stop now, no one else is doing it. So that’s another way they were able to make people stop the strike. But also one of our lawyers communicated that they changed their uniforms. And instead of their regular uniforms they came in with riot gear with weapons. So that intimidated a lot of people as well. So at some point they were all transferred and isolated. We heard a case where more than 20 people were sent to isolation, in a very dark and small room and they were not able to communicate with anybody. People started getting really worried. We heard stories that people that were still striking, GEO would come and take them to a different section and they didn’t know, they weren’t told you’re going to be transferred, they would just take them. And then GEO agents would come back and just grab their things and take them. People were afraid about what was happening to them. At some point we didn’t know how many people were still striking because they couldn’t talk to each other. They revoked their privilege of watching TV or listening to the radio so they couldn’t know what was going on outside.
We were only able to talk to three people who were doing the strike through one of the wives. From Saturday last week, she was able to communicate with us directly. So she was a direct communication with the strike and we were able to get that communication going. We had a lawyer going in. Those three as of today are still on a hunger strike.
Li Onesto: So people are very isolated from each other, not able to talk with each other, they are in individual cells?
Maru Mora Villalpando: They usually are not in individual cells. They are actually in big rooms called pods. But what they do is they don’t allow people to talk to each other. If they see three people are gathering agents will come and stand right next to them so they wouldn’t be able to talk to each other. So because the space is open they [guards] go in and quietly observe but also listen to them talking to each other. So the way they have handled the situation, it’s really difficult for them to talk to each other and organize anything.
So today, we were there from 12 to 5 pm and we were able to talk to about 10 people. And out of those 10 people that were coming in to visit their relatives we heard there are six of these relatives that are still on strike. They either have been on the strike, or they were on strike then stopped and are coming back, or they are starting. Because some of them were able to get communications through their families that this is actually working, that what they did is historic, that this is international news and so they decided to join again. So that’s just six direct cases. And we heard through another person that just met with her relative that in his unit there were at least four people also on the hunger strike. So just today, for just a couple of hours, we heard of 10 more cases, besides the three that have been constantly on strike since March 7.
Li Onesto: What about the threats of force-feeding?
Maru Mora Villalpando: The three that have been on strike since March 7 were isolated sometime this week. They were sent to a place they call the tank and it’s a big room where it was only the three of them. The only thing they have there was a phone, so one of the main strikers communicated with his wife and that’s how we have been getting lots of information. They were threatened with force-feeding. So we were in conversation with the American Civil Liberties Union. And so they went in, they got permission to represent them and they communicated with the attorney of the USA to make sure that if ICE is moving to serve a court order to force-feed them then the ACLU is going to go in to represent them as their clients. So that is the way we have been able to stop the force-feeding for now. But that is not going to stop ICE from trying to get the federal government to allow them to do that.
Li Onesto: What about the health of the strikers, in terms of getting doctors to examine them to see how they are doing?
Maru Mora Villalpando: Now since yesterday the three strikers were moved into a medical facility and so they are in different rooms from each other so they cannot talk to each other, they are in individual rooms now. So they are under medical assessment, they are just there and the medics that are coming in are ones from GEO Incorporated. And today one detainee’s wife was able to go in and see him and one of the other strikers lost more than 20 pounds and his wife said he lost 20 pounds. Their relatives said that both of them they are definitely continuing with the strike until their demands are met for better treatment, better food, lower commissary—but most importantly stopping the deportations and allowing all these families to be reunited again.
Li Onesto: I understand there have been other hunger strikes in other immigrant detention centers around the country.
Maru Mora Villalpando: There have been several across the country for many, many years including a recent one where about 15 decided to go on a hunger strike. Even here in Tacoma, Washington, some years back, people decided because the food was so terrible, it was spoiled, they decided to stop eating. Another time 150 people here in Tacoma, Washington complained that they had been working for a month and were not paid. Also there was an instance in California of people going on a hunger strike. But this is the first time that they were able to organize such a huge number to go on a hunger strike, so this is what makes this so unique. So this is really historic.
Li Onesto: So this is the largest one so far.
Maru Mora Villalpando: It is, and I don’t think it’s going to be the last one.
Li Onesto: Could you also talk about civil disobedience actions that have taken place, like on the border, to protest the treatment of immigrants and the deportations—which now, under Obama, is approaching 2 million?
Maru Mora Villalpando: In general, people have been so disappointed in so many promises. Disappointed with the fact that there is supposed to be relief for families that have been separated. That knowing what happened with the Senate bill last year in Congress, that was not immigration reform, we believe that was an immigration “deform bill” because they pretty much continued this big machine of deportation. That bill would not have a path to citizenship for all of us and if there was some it would be for only a few. And if that kind of bill had ever become law we would have many complications for workers of all kinds and it would have legalized the slavery of our labor. So that is why so many people decided to go and take civil disobedience actions and those actions have taken different shapes. But most of the ones that have happened on the border, which actually just happened also this time in coincidence with the hunger strike in an effort to reunite families and bring people back so the campaign is to bring them home. But for those who have actually been deported they have tried to bring people across the border to be reunited with their families. And obviously at a national level we are calling for a national day of action on April 5 that marks the 2 million deported.
Our kids are being separated from their parents. If you were able to see kids that come to see their parents. They are just broken, they are completely broken. They just want to see their dad, they just want to be with them. We heard so many stories today, they just break your heart.
Li Onesto: Could you tell a couple of those stories?
Maru Mora Villalpando: For example, we were there and we were asking people could you give us the information of your loved ones so we can go and visit them. Somebody said, yes, his birthday is March 15—today. So that’s his birthday and the kids came with mom to see their dad in prison. This is a prison, this is for a civil proceeding but it’s a prison. So they come to say happy birthday to their dad in this prison system where it’s just a civil proceeding. These kids, they were crying when they were describing the situation and I’m talking about teenagers and teenagers don’t like to show their emotions but they couldn’t stop crying when mom was sharing this with us.
The other story I can tell you right now is this one husband and wife. She is the one that has been calling me every day since this began. She has to work now three jobs. They have three children, 13, 11, and 5 years old. He is a carpenter and he volunteers every year for a once a year event that goes to the houses of people with disabilities and they build ramps for them so they can have easier access to their homes. And now she has to work these three jobs and she is not able to come out all the time because she’s working. She decided to join her husband in the hunger strike, she’s there all the time, the three kids come with her every time. And also the teenager just breaks every time, he’s just crying. The younger one doesn’t really know what’s going on but just knows that she wants to see her dad.
Li Onesto: The other thing I wanted you to talk about is Operation Streamline. Maybe you could describe that a little for some of our readers who might not know what it is and the significance of it. Because it is different than how the U.S. government has handled things with regards to deportations in the past—an increase in the repression against immigrants. And there has also been resistance to Operation Streamline, right?
Maru Mora Villalpando: Right. So with Operation Streamline, the process is when people cross the border without a permit and they are taken by the Border Patrol, they are immediately processed before a federal judge. People have been also deported before and they are trying to get into the country again, what they call that is illegal re-entry. And that, under the past administration was made a way to stop people from reuniting with their families. And so it’s a federal crime under the current law to re-entry after you have been deported, regardless of [if] you are trying to reunite with your family.
What happens is that the Border Patrol has this system where they get as many people as possible sent to a federal judge to have an immediate hearing. But that’s not really a hearing. It’s a very expedited thing where people are found guilty. But they are not returned to their country immediately, they actually are sentenced to jail, to a local jail. Then they have to spend time there for some months and then after that they are sent back to their country of origin. Now, one of the actions that happened last year to make sure that people know about this is that the people that are part of the campaign decided to shut down Operation Streamline. And so they blocked one of the buses that was ready to leave and they actually locked arms underneath the bus. So they had their arms locked around the tires. And there are so many hours only that the border patrol have from the time they catch people to the time they have to have a hearing before a federal judge. So if that time passes and they aren’t able to send them, then they have to release them. If they don’t go before a judge in this many hours, then they have to release them to Mexico at the location they were coming from. So this was actually the time that they stopped the bus—the hours to ensure that instead of being sent to the judge they would be sent back over the Mexican border. So that’s what they had to do.
Li Onesto: How long were they blocking the buses?
Maru Mora Villalpando: It was for several hours that they were able to stop the bus. So when that time had already expired they have to release people. The people that organized the action knew it so they knew exactly when they had to be released and the Border Patrol had to release them and that’s how they proclaimed victory. They were able to stop Operation Streamline that day.
Li Onesto: Just to be clear, the significance of Operation Streamline is that before they would stop people at the border and send them back. But now they are quickly putting them before a judge, finding them guilty and having them serve time, which means they are convicted of a felony—which means they have a record and so if they come back across the border, what does that mean in terms of the repercussions for that person?
Maru Mora Villalpando: Well, like I said, illegal re-entry becomes a federal crime and the person has to serve many months, if not years in some instances, in a federal prison.
Li Onesto: I see the statistic here that over 50% of all federal felony convictions are now for immigration violations. That’s an astounding statistic actually.
Maru Mora Villalpando: It is. There was also the interview of an immigration judge about Operation Streamline where she very proudly gave a number, which I don’t remember the exact number. But she was really proud to say how fast she placed people in the system of the federal prison. She doesn’t really even see people, she just calls the name and pretty much just convicts them, and she was very proud of her record of so many immigrants per minute.
Li Onesto: Oh yes, I see an article here where a judge says “my record is 30 minutes” to hear 70 cases.
Maru Mora Villalpando: That’s right. The government should be so ashamed of making people’s life not only so miserable—but making these judges so proud of being part of this system. It’s just outrageous. Maybe finally the public in general will realize this is so wrong, this is so wrong. And that’s why this hunger strike has touched everywhere people’s interest. So now it’s an international issue. We actually got calls from Canada because over there they’re also doing the same. There are some people in immigration detention in Canada that have also gone on a hunger strike. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from other countries and obviously from other detention centers across this nation, that in general in the world right now, they are not only making profits from our labor—because they only pay us not so much for working in the fields or cleaning houses, but they are also profiting from our imprisonment.
When I was talking to this one mom out at the detention center, she said, you know how I feel? I feel that they had stole my son from him and now they are selling him back to me. And this is not right, he’s my son, he’s not for sale. This is what’s happening in this country and really around the world.
Li Onesto: This is really stealing the humanity of people. I guess the last question I would ask you is what do you think people can and should do to support the hunger strike in Tacoma?
Maru Mora Villalpando: There are several ways to support this. One is we have an online petition. We need people to put pressure on ICE, not only to meet their demands, but basically to investigate GEO for the conditions that they have people in, but also to release them. We need to stop the deportations right now, that’s it. If people want to support them, ask for the release of everybody in the detention centers across the nation.
Li Onesto: That’s the biggest demand.
Maru Mora Villalpando: The other thing is we want people to do is solidarity actions in each of their cities. They can come here to Tacoma, if they could that would be great. But if they cannot, please take solidarity actions in your areas, show support across the nation to them. And also to the people who are in detention in your own cities find ways to prevent the deportations. Because this is the thing, they are very isolated. Like here in Tacoma, the detention center was built in a place that is very isolated. People here didn’t know that it existed. So go find the different locations where people are being imprisoned just because of immigration civil violations. And go and show support, talk to the families, bring a banner saying stop deportations, stop making profit our of our misery, out of the separation of families. And let us know, we need to show that this is the larger movement, this is not only Tacoma, this is really the whole nation calling for an end to the deportations.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
By Orpheus Reed | March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
All over our Earth natural systems are being degraded, poisoned, and in some cases damaged beyond repair. The climate is being transformed with devastating consequences. Many living ecosystems are being taken to the precipice of collapse. Some scientists say we are on the edge of the sixth mass extinction of species in Earth’s 4-billion-year history. Previous mass extinctions have been caused by planet-wide natural phenomena—asteroid strikes, natural climate change, and other factors. The one we are facing now is caused by human activity. The main driver of this new mass extinction is the workings of the system of capitalism—a system that has shown itself to be entirely incapable of protecting and preserving the natural world, and humanity.
In this extremely dangerous situation, the workings of this system have brought on yet another environmental nightmare—hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This is a technique that makes it possible for the first time to drill out gas and oil deposits buried deep in layers of shale rock.
Fracking was invented in the U.S. and so far it has mainly been applied here. From its start just in the last decade, fracking has spread like a cancer—churning up ecosystems, poisoning land, water, and people across the U.S.
Fracking for shale oil and shale gas has brought an explosion in energy extraction in the U.S., allowing the U.S. to now lead the world in oil and gas production. Natural gas production in the U.S. has increased about 30 percent since 2005 (USA Today, June 24, 2013) and 39 percent of U.S. natural gas production is now shale gas. Fracking is now going on in at least 17 states with about 82,000 wells operating nationally. The largest number of fracking wells are in Texas and Colorado, but are also widespread in Pennsylvania and North Dakota. Continuous and relentless efforts are underway to open up whole new areas to be fracked all over the U.S. And now, U.S. energy companies are hungrily eyeing vast new deposits of shale oil and gas from one side of the world to the other.
The U.S. is wielding this new-found domination of these energy reserves, and the technology and know-how to exploit them, like a heavy club in the competition and rivalry for control of the world economy. Increasingly, the U.S. has used fracking and its increasing domination over world energy supplies, production, and technology as a weapon of strategic power and control, expanding its imperialist bullying of other countries.
How Does Fracking Work and What Is the Danger?
In fracking, wells are drilled vertically down to layers of shale, then horizontally into the layer. Some of these horizontal wells stretch as far as two miles. Millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are then pumped through the well into the rock layer at high pressure to crack apart the layers of shale rock. The sand pumped down lodges in the rock fissures that are cracked open, and aided by the chemicals in the fracking solution, gas and oil can flow up the well through these fissures in the rock to be collected.
The well bores are cased with cement, supposedly preventing leakage of methane gas and chemicals as well as dangerous naturally occurring materials like arsenic from getting into groundwater. But these casings have been shown to fail, leading to methane poisoning of water systems all over the U.S. Many fracking wells have been drilled in areas where people live, even near schoolyards and in people’s backyards and farms.
Fracking is an environmental nightmare. It means whole new floods of unconventional fossil fuels are being drilled out, burned, and leaked into the atmosphere, making the climate change emergency even more dire. It means the vast expansion of industrialization eating up wildlife habitat, spreading pollution of air and water, poisoning water supplies, threatening people’s health, and using up water in areas where it is already in shortage.
The Environmental Dangers from Fracking Are Manifold
Methane gas leaks into groundwater. People who live near fracking operations in various parts of the country have repeatedly filmed themselves lighting on fire what comes out of their water faucets because of the natural gas escaping into the water. Throughout the fracking process, methane gas leaks and is vented into the atmosphere. This worsens global warming, since methane gas has been shown to be 86 times more powerful at causing warming over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
The chemicals pumped into the ground in fracking operations contain many toxic chemicals. In many cases the frackers won’t even divulge what chemicals they use. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists have said that as much as one-quarter of fracking chemicals could be cancer-causing. The water, chemicals, and sand pumped into the wells are drawn back out as “flowback” water. This water can be very chemically toxic, and often contains radioactive radium and other radioactive elements. According to a 2011 New York Times investigation of reports the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has essentially suppressed, between 2008 and 2010, wells in Pennsylvania produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that was sent to treatment plants that did not have the capacity to remove the radiation or other toxic materials commonly in wastewater. After this bogus treatment, the contaminated water was dumped into rivers that provide drinking water for almost seven million people. Some wastewater is stored at fracking sites in ponds that have the potential to expose people in the vicinity to these dangerous substances. According to the advocacy group “Environment America,” U.S. fracking operations produced approximately 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012. This would be enough to flood all of Washington, DC, in a “22-foot deep toxic lagoon.”
The environmental horrors involved in fracking are almost too numerous to count. Fracking can release dangerous hydrocarbons from petroleum, including benzene and xylene, which have been found present in people living near fracking sites who have been sickened. Fracking operations usually involve constant traffic from large trucks spewing out gas and diesel fumes and ruining people’s peace of mind. Spills arising from fracking processes are widespread. According to a report from the independent news organization Pro Publica, in North Dakota the fracking boom has resulted in thousands of accidental releases of oil, wastewater, and other fluids. Here we are only touching on some of the dangers. Unfortunately, there are others, including the explosion and spills of very flammable shale oil that have occurred after a number of train derailments.
The Cover-up and the Reality
Faced with multiple sources of damaging effects to the environment and people’s health and lives, the U.S. government, from Obama on down, and the U.S. capitalist energy companies have repeatedly argued that fracking is safe, if done correctly and under the proper “regulation.” Obama has repeatedly trumpeted the natural gas boom for the U.S., claiming it is responsible for making great gains in lowering U.S. carbon emissions and calling it “the bridge to the future.” None of the dangers of fracking are being exposed and addressed in any real way by the government. Instead, the danger is being covered up and suppressed. Despite repeated congressional testimony from countless victims of fracking, essentially nothing is being done.
The truth of the matter is that very little is being done to study the problem on anything like the required scale. Studies by Duke University researchers on the leaking of methane into water near fracking sites in Dimock, Pennsylvania, and another location in Pennsylvania show methane and other dangerous chemicals to be present in water near gas drilling sites. Although these studies can’t definitively prove these leaks into groundwater were caused by fracking, they do make a link between fracking and the presence of these materials.
In case after case, the EPA, after starting an investigation, has backed off or downplayed the dangers of fracking. It was recently revealed that EPA studies of the escape of methane from fracking operations underestimated the leaks by half. This complete underestimation has allowed the EPA and the Obama administration to claim that by switching from coal to gas-powered power plants, the U.S. has made a big advance in combatting climate change. Meanwhile, the U.S. has vastly increased its export of coal—a 50 percent increase in 2012.
While the horrors of fracking are systematically left unstudied and covered over, the reality of fracking’s widespread poisoning of people is being exposed by hundreds of people all over the country. There is a growing movement against fracking, with anti-fracking groups forming and testimony bursting forth from all corners. Two powerful movies by director Josh Fox, Gasland (which was nominated in 2011 for an Oscar for best documentary feature film) and Gasland 2, have exposed to millions the dangers of fracking and the costs to people’s lives. (gaslandthemovie.com)
The health problems that people in proximity to fracking sites document are many: headaches, nausea, skin rashes, fatigue, dizziness, anemia, breathing problems, chemical damage to their immune systems, neurological problems, brain fogginess, ulcers on skin and internal organs, and cancer.
There are countless stories and testimony of people who live in fracked areas who have suffered health problems. One such example is the story of Jacki Schilke, a rancher in North Dakota who lives within three miles of 32 oil and gas wells. In a YouTube video documenting people’s stories, Schilke shows how a creek on her land with formerly pristine water is now unfrozen even at subzero temperatures and constantly bubbles (likely with methane gas). Schilke is sick from hydrocarbon exposure. She can’t breathe and gets dizzy whenever she goes outside her house. Her animals are dying—something reported repeatedly by people in fracking country. She became sick a few days after the first wells were fracked. Fracking companies come in to small towns and rural areas and offer people money to let them drill. Schilke says, “They’re goddamn liars. They’re here to rape this land, make as much money as they can and get the hell out of here. They could give a crap less what they’re doing here. They will come on your property, look you straight in the eye and lie to you...they do not care.”
All this is protected and justified by the workings of the system of capitalism, a system that does not authorize many needed studies of the real dangers, covers up and downplays the results of studies that are done, and refuses to act on the testimony of thousands of those who have suffered ruined health and lives. This is a system that lies about and cannot be moved by the horrible destruction this practice has brought to the natural world. This is a system where all this is covered up and justified because it goes against the great strategic advantage, in profitability and strategic control, that fracking brings to the U.S. capitalist economy.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Updated May 5, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
People are being lied to on a massive scale about what is going on in Ukraine. They are being trained to think uncritically, and to identify with the interests of the rulers of the United States. It's a very dangerous situation because there's a hair-trigger confrontation between imperialist powers concentrated in Ukraine, but in other parts of the world as well. We really have to get people to stop thinking like Americans and to start thinking about humanity, starting from humanity as a whole and looking for the truth, bringing it out.
You'll find resources for all of this at revcom.us:
(April 29, 2014)
At bottom, what's happening in Ukraine is a conflict between reactionaries on every level.
(March 21, 2014)
Alan Goodman interviewed on the Michael Slate show
(March 9, 2014)
The situation in the European country of Ukraine continues to be tense, volatile, unpredictable, and dangerous. Barack Obama talks about respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the aspirations of the people of Ukraine. But who the fuck is the United States to lecture anybody about not respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries!?
(March 3, 2014)
(February 24, 2014)
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
My initial response to the Dunn verdict was outrage that he was not convicted of first degree murder, but I had also expected something like this verdict. I expected that outcome since the District Attorney in that area of Florida, Angela Corey had gone after Marissa Alexander—an African-American woman—hammer and tongs, when she defended herself against an abusive ex-husband by firing a warning shot into the wall of her garage, harming no one, but was unable to get a conviction of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The elephant in the room was white supremacy which is something that someone like Corey would not and could not touch, as it is a cornerstone of this capitalist-imperialist system that we live under and that it would take a revolution to uproot it (and so many other inequalities and horrors).
I also wondered why there wasn’t a stronger response of outrage nationally in the wake of this verdict as there was right after the Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. I talked this over with another Revolution volunteer and went back and studied the statement from Carl Dix as well as other articles from Revolution newspaper on the trial ("The Mistrial in the Murder of Jordan Davis" and "Mistrial of Michael Dunn: An Intolerable Injustice") to get a better understanding of the verdict.
It became clearer to me that that it is important to look at reality in its actual motion and development and not have expectations about how things would turn out just because something which happened in the past around a similar issue would come down the same way later. This did compel me to think more deeply about the Dunn verdict.
It did occur to me that there was less publicity about the Jordan Davis murder even from the very beginning. So it might be case that many people did not know about the murder and how it came about or the ins and outs of the trial as it progressed. Dunn WAS convicted of three counts of attempted murder and a weapons charge while Zimmerman walked free of all charges. While the Dunn trial itself is, in some ways, even more openly racist than the murder of Trayvon Martin—it does not necessarily equal a more angry response. A week later after the Dunn verdict, there were protests over the verdict, but they were not on the same level as the Zimmerman verdict.
So, now—what was I going to do about this? I took the cue from Carl Dix’s statement and got together with another friend and made plans to go out to an elite university in the area to take out Revolution newspaper, the call for Hoodie Day 2014 (February 26, 2014) and BAsics palm cards—“There would be no United States as we know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.” (BAsics 1:1) Their reaction was “ Wow!”—it was like they had never seen it put so sharply before. (They were also encouraged to check out the revcom.us website so that they can get more familiar with what the movement for revolution is doing and the wide range of things that Revolution newspaper covers. Revolution #330 was the issue that they were checking out.)
When I first started talking to students on campus, I got a sense that a lot of people at this elite school had some vague idea that the anniversary was coming up—people said things like, “yeah, I remember what happened to Trayvon Martin—is it two years already?”—and that some people had a vague idea as to what had happened with Jordan Davis, but were not aware that the trial was going on at that time. One of the students that I met that day—when I pointed out that the Dunn verdict signified “Open Season” on Black youth, agreed with that statement. Some students knew a little bit about the murder of Jordan Davis, but as that it was not widely publicized, not too many people knew a lot about it.
There was some confusion over the verdict. One student said, “Well, he WAS convicted of three counts of attempted murder—isn’t that good enough?” Another student thought that “it was outrageous that he [Dunn] wasn’t convicted of first degree murder.” When I mentioned that this system is incapable of doing anything that resembles justice for murders like these or doing anything that is in people’s interests, that we need a revolution, people were kind of mulling it over—thinking about questions that they had not confronted before. This is something that I wish that I had been better at going after.
Now, in the future, whenever I go out to places and talk to people about revolution and communism, I will ask more questions of people in terms of what they know about this history. Their response challenged some of my own thinking that you could not talk about revolution and communism right off the bat—that you had to go at it in bits and pieces. In retrospect, when I brought up the question of revolution and communism, I learned that people ARE open to discussing and exploring revolution and communism. One thing that I noticed about this encounter with the students at this elite school was that it brought out to me more clearly where I had been wrong before in my approach to talking to people about revolution and communism. That older approach was one of bringing it up in bits and pieces instead of bringing up the question right off the bat.
There were those who were really angry about the verdict and thought that Hoodie Day would be an appropriate response. One of the students said that he would contact some of his friends and see if they wanted to do something on Hoodie day—February 26, 2014. Those students also bought a copy of Revolution newspaper—said they wanted to think a bit more about it once they’ve read it.
I also spoke to other people about this. I spoke to a friend, a middle class African-American woman who was outraged that Dunn was not convicted of murder, but thought that the solution to this was for people to work to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws. My response to this was that people trying to rely on politicians who put forth such laws as “Stand Your Ground” would not bring about the change that we really needed. That the only way that any real changes have occurred in this country was that people resisted what this system has brought down on Black and brown people and that this resistance took place in the streets. I gave her a copy of a downloaded CD of Carl Dix’s talk at Revolution Books in New York City: “We Must Not, We Will Not Accept This Outrage!
I also discussed the verdict with someone over dinner. He was outraged over the verdict, but he thought that since Dunn was convicted of attempted murder as well as weapons charges, that was good enough. He too also missed the significance of the fact that Dunn was NOT convicted for the murder of Jordan Davis. Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and a weapons charge. Also—there is the very real danger and possibility that Dunn’s conviction could be overturned on appeal and that he will get away altogether for his crimes. The significance is that the way that the whole trial went down was that—you couldn’t even talk about racism... that things were set up in such a way so as to let him get away with murder.
The fact that a jury failed to convict Dunn of the murder of a Black youth indicates that this system and society is giving a green light for people like him to go out and put bulls-eye targets on the backs of Black and Latino youth and kill them (that coming off of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin only served to reinforce this). I urged him to read Carl Dix’s statement on the Mistrial in the Murder of Jordan Davis, and struggled with him over why this verdict was bad.
I told him that I was going to donate $50 to Revolution newspaper so that a team of people can go down to Jacksonville, FL to be on the ground and further report from there what is really going on in the aftermath of the verdict, and I asked him what he was going to donate. He then donated $50, to make our combined donation $100. So, in the course of this struggle that we had, his thinking started to change a bit in terms of how to view this verdict. He started to think a bit more deeply about the depths of white supremacy in the U.S. today.
I learned that we need to go more deeply into what people are thinking and that we need to challenge the wrong thinking that people have and engage with people around the questions that they raise. Revolution newspaper is a tremendous resource for doing that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a point made by Carl Dix in the recent interview. What I got out of what Carl was saying is that so many people fundamentally don’t think that anything can be done about the horrific conditions confronting humanity (whether it be the slow and grinding genocide facing Black and Latino youth or the enslavement and degradation of women). At the same time, everything we are doing is part of putting an end to that horrific reality (even as people are themselves in a process of deepening their understanding of and struggling over the need for communist revolution).
Learning more from what got unleashed on February 26–I think there’s real importance in unleashing the very real, raw, and visceral anger that exists (even if just beneath the surface). We should appreciate that the struggle against this criminal outrage is part of the sustenance of that—and what has to bring that out in people—but how do you continue to make it feel real to people that it doesn’t have to be this way and that people themselves can change the course of history? The point is made in the call to End Pornography and Patriarchy, The Enslavement and Degradation of Women that we have to rely on ourselves to defeat this war on women. This also got expressed from people who came out to the February 26 demonstrations. I spoke to a Black Christian guy in his late 20s or early 30s who could reiterate all the fucked up experiences of Black people at the hands of the police. And, he felt like he was a part of something that’s trying to put a stop to that. In continuing to amplify the call: NO MORE of this reality—we’re also part of bringing something different into existence.
One idea: What if we had more Speak Bitterness type speak-outs; ways of breaking the silence. From chalking in the streets—to voicing, articulating, writing experiences you’ve had at the hands of this system. My thinking is that these wouldn’t just be forums in general, but would actually be part of changing the culture—where people are confronted with the realities of this slow genocide or the mass degradation of women; as part of building a movement to put an end to this, building the movement for revolution and building the Party as its leading core.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Updated April 4, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Since early February, anti-government protests have rocked parts of Caracas and other cities in Venezuela. The U.S. media has portrayed the protests as a "popular" outpouring—of the middle classes, students, and others rejecting the economic policies and "iron-fisted" rule of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. In reality, reactionary forces are mobilizing students and professionals around a pro-U.S. platform and under the banner of putting an end to what they claim is "socialist tyranny."
Nicolás Maduro was elected president after the former president, Hugo Chavez, died in 2013. Chavez in the early 2000s became a thorn in the side of U.S. imperialism when he imposed restrictions on U.S. and other imperialist oil companies (that had long profited from Venezuela's oil resources) and adopted a foreign policy that included close relations with Cuba. He demanded a larger share of oil earnings for Venezuela. The Chavez government also greatly expanded certain social welfare programs. These policies angered the U.S. imperialists who have never relented in trying to destabilize and overturn the regime.
Chavez and what he called the "Bolivarian revolution" attracted considerable support from progressive people around the world. But this was NOT a genuine revolution.
Today, Venezuela is in deep economic crisis. And the government is carrying out harsh repression.
Considerable confusion exists among progressive people over how to sum up these events. Some people are drawn to supporting the Venezuelan government. Many others think like actor Jared Leto, who said when he accepted his Oscar recently: "To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we're thinking of you". But these are not dreams to embrace. Nor is the current regime socialist or a model for liberation.
The following are some Points of Orientation, to help set a basic framework for understanding and bringing a proletarian internationalist outlook to bear on the situation in Venezuela.
1. The recent street protests in Venezuela are not a progressive outpouring. Reactionary forces are operating in and through key institutions of Venezuelan society—business councils, the media, U.S.-financed foundations, educational facilities—to shape the direction, demands, and social content of the protests. Their goal is to bring Venezuela more tightly under the thumb of U.S. imperialism and to allow the traditional elites to have a freer hand in administering society. These forces have been built up in various ways by U.S. imperialism. There are different currents in opposition to the government and not everyone involved in these protests is reactionary. But it is these pro-U.S. forces who are principally driving the agenda.
2. The sharpening situation in Venezuela is shaped by a dynamic between the contradictions of the Chavez program and the moves of U.S. imperialism. There is a real economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Consumer prices, including for basic necessities, have skyrocketed and there are food shortages. Some sections of the middle classes have seen a sudden decline in their traditional living standards. Unemployment is high. Crime is rampant. With protests mounting, the Maduro government is now straining to maintain itself in power and resorting to extreme repression.
On the one hand, there are these growing difficulties for the Chavez-Maduro model of development—which is based on the expectation of ever-growing oil revenues to support social programs for the poor and to buy "social peace" from the middle classes by allowing high levels of consumer imports, cheap gasoline, etc. On the other hand, pro-U.S. forces are taking advantage of discontent and making bolder moves against the regime. And U.S. imperialism is maneuvering in all this to advance its strategic interests.
3. The government of Nicolás Maduro, who followed Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela, is not revolutionary. Venezuela is a society that remains subordinate to imperialism, profit, and exploitation. As Revolution pointed out last year in an article about Hugo Chavez:
"A real revolution in an oppressed Third World country like Venezuela requires a two-fold break. There must be a radical break with the political economy of imperialism. And there must be a radical social revolution, a radical break with traditional relations and ideas. This was neither the program nor outlook of Hugo Chavez. Venezuela remained dependent for revenues on the world oil economy, which is dominated by imperialism. It remained dependent on the world market, which is dominated by imperialist agri-business, for its food. Under Chavez, there was improvement in literacy and health care, but there was no fundamental change in the class and social structure of society. Agriculture is still dominated by an oligarchy of rich landowners. In the cities, the poor remain locked into slums. Women remain subordinated and degraded. Abortion is banned in Venezuela." [see: "On Hugo Chavez: Four Points of Orientation", March 6, 2013]
Today, Nicolás Maduro is continuing the program and outlook of Hugo Chavez and the bourgeois nationalist class forces this represents. This is NOT a society on a path leading to any kind of liberation for the people.
4. What is needed in Venezuela is a real revolution. The Maduro regime has the support of sections of the poor. But it cannot speak to their highest interests for emancipation. Nor can it offer a way for the broad middle strata to achieve a life of purpose and make a contribution towards the all-around transformation of society, for the betterment of humanity. There has been no radical and thoroughgoing change in the economics, the power relations, and the values and culture of society.
A revolution is not about creating a welfare state that "takes care of people"—while the basic system of production and the old social relations remain intact. Revolution is about uprooting all exploitation and oppression...empowering the masses of people to change the world and to change themselves...and doing all this as part of advancing the world communist revolution to emancipate all of humanity.
5. No to U.S. imperialism. For over 100 years, the U.S. has been the main imperialist dominator of Venezuela. The U.S has regarded Venezuela under Chavez and now Maduro as disruptive to its designs for global supremacy. In 2002, the U.S. supported an attempted coup of Chavez's government, and the U.S. is maneuvering within the current situation to weaken Maduro's presidency. People throughout the world, and especially people in the U.S., need to be absolutely clear and resolute: the U.S. has no right whatsoever to interfere in any way in the affairs of Venezuela.
We encourage readers to study Bob Avakian's essay "Three Alternative Worlds" to get a concise, scientific grounding in the difference between genuine socialism and what exists in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, or North Korea ["Three Alternative Worlds," December 3, 2006.] Bob Avakian has brought forward a new synthesis that sums up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, he has brought forward a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world. For a brief, and also a fuller, explanation of this new synthesis, go to revcom.us/avakian.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Interview with Carl Dix
April 2, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution recently caught up with Carl Dix, from the Revolutionary Communist Party and an initiator of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, after what was a very intense month of February—a month in which there was the mistrial of the racist murderer Michael Dunn and the failure of the courts to convict him for the killing of Jordan Davis; demonstrations and other forms of resistance that took place on the anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin, which also took in Jordan Davis this year; and then Obama's speech on February 27, setting forth a program which he claimed would deal with the situation facing Black and Latino youth. Short excerpts have appeared in previous issues of Revolution. Here is the fuller interview, which has been edited for publication.
The interview began with a discussion of the mistrial of Michael Dunn in Florida. Dunn murdered Jordan Davis in cold blood and was tried, but not convicted of this murder.
Carl Dix: On the trial of Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, this came down to Amerikkka (and I spell it with KKK) declaring once again that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. If you look at this case and the trial on this case, you have some teenagers playing their music loud in a car. You have a guy pulling into the gas station, doesn’t like the music, tells them to turn it down. They won’t, there’s an argument back and forth, but the kids are going to listen to their music. And it was Black youth listening to rap music and the guy who wanted it turned down was a white guy who thought that music was crap and thug music, and he pulls out his gun and begins to fire at them, and continues firing after their car has pulled away and is driving off at high speed trying to save their lives. Then this guy gets put on trial for this and claims self-defense. He comes up with an imaginary weapon—a shotgun that no other person on the scene had seen and has never been found—and tears up over having to drive from the scene of this killing to his hotel so that his dog could relieve his bladder, but very coldly and without emotion talks about killing a young Black man. And stripped down to its essence, his testimony was a call for white supremacists to come forward and have his back, that he was striking a blow for “embattled” white people in this society and he should be supported for that, that these Black people are getting out of their place and white people need to start killing some of them to get them to change their behavior. And what I’m saying here is what he actually wrote letters to his family members from jail and what he said in phone calls from jail. The prosecution had the transcripts of those phone calls and those letters—and didn’t bring any of that into court, and I’m going to come back to that in a minute. But this is what happened and you get a jury that can’t convict this guy for murder. This was the system declaring that Black life has no value. And you put this on top of the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the refusal of the system to convict Zimmerman for it and you see that there’s a message: Black youth have a target on their backs, a target that any cop and now any white racist could use for target practice, claim self-defense and expect to be vindicated in doing that.
This is unacceptable. This is a declaration that people cannot allow to be made without a response being mounted to it. Because, look, there’s youth who know that this target’s on their backs, that they could have a confrontation with a cop or with a white racist and end up dead. There are parents who give their children guidance: this is what you must do and this is what you must not do if you meet up with a police officer. Now that guidance has to extend to: you’re running into a white guy, you have to watch it, you have to do this, you have to not do that. Knowing all the while that no matter how good that guidance is, no matter how well their children follow that guidance, it may mean nothing in one of these confrontations. Because look at Jordan Davis, look at Trayvon Martin, look at Amadou Diallo, look at Sean Bell and many other names that I could talk about—Jonathan Ferrell1 down in North Carolina. What did they do wrong? Where did they act in ways that brought this on them? It came down to being Black or Latino and in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s unacceptable that whether people live and how they live can be determined by the color of their skin—this is something that must not be accepted. That’s why when I issued the statement right after the verdict in the Jordan Davis case, I said: this shows us again why we need a revolution, why we have to get rid of this system. Because you’re talking about brutality and oppression that has been built into the fabric of this Amerikkkan capitalist system from the very beginning. And there’s a lot of questioning out there among people about why does this happen, where does this come from, and what, if anything, can be done about it? And that’s a discussion that needs to be unleashed very broadly in society and we gotta be right in the middle of it, bringing out why does it happen, where does it come from, and how it flows from the very operation of this system.
Because when you look at the history of Black people in this country it has always been a thing of being integrated into and ground up under the process of the production of profit in this country. In the beginning it was enslavement and being worked from “can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night,” producing tobacco and then cotton and getting nothing for doing that—just enough to keep you going so you could come back out to the fields and work the next day. And then you had a whole system of laws, institutions to enforce those laws, and customs and the way that things were to keep that in place and to mobilize all of white society as part of keeping that in effect. Slavery was ended post-Civil War, but you still had Jim Crow segregation, people largely on the same plantations where they’d been enslaved, but now they were sharecroppers producing often the same crops and being robbed for it by the plantation owners who may have enslaved them previously. This is what people were dealing with. And a whole system of Jim Crow laws, tradition, custom, to enforce it, and again white society was mobilized to do that. Because you had the sheriffs who could arrest people for vagrancy which came down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time with no white man to speak for you. And then you could be imprisoned and leased out where you were worked as a slave—slavery by another name is what it came down to. If you were deemed to be out of your place by the white mob, you could be lynched. If you were a Black person in an area where a white mob, decided that some Black guy had gotten out of his place, you could be lynched because the record of lynching in this country records all of these incidents—where they couldn’t find the person they were looking for so they grabbed some other people, where someone spoke out against the lynching and then got lynched themselves. This all went on.
The forms have changed once more. It became a thing not of sharecroppers on the plantation but Black people being drawn into the cities to work in the factories. But again, what did that come down to? The bottom tier of those workforces, working some of the hardest, most dangerous jobs, getting paid the least. This is something that I actually know something about because I worked in a steel mill. And you go into the steel mill and there was a Black labor gang where the people in that labor gang could work all of the jobs in the place and even often trained the young guys coming in—and they told me about how white guys would come into the plant and they would get trained on the jobs that paid more, were cleaner and not as dangerous, but the Black workers could not move up to take any of those jobs. Also I know about it because I got scars from having worked there when I got burned nearly to death in that plant. So this is the kind of thing that people moved into as they got off the plantations. So it was not easy street, it was still on the bottom, being viciously exploited.
But even now there’s been a further development of that. The process of production has been internationalized so those jobs are no longer available for people in the inner cities. And what it is, is that right now large numbers of youth cannot be profitably exploited by capitalism-imperialism at this point. And what those youth face is no future within this system, there’s no way for them to legitimately survive and raise families. And the response of the authorities has been one of criminalizing these youth—that’s where that target that I talked about earlier comes from. These youth are treated as permanent suspects, guilty until proven innocent if they can survive to prove their innocence. So that’s what we’re up against right now, and we’re talking, again, about horrific oppression that is built into the fabric of this capitalist system. This is oppression that can’t be reformed away; it can’t be tweaked out of existence. It’s really going to take revolution—and nothing less—to get rid of it once and for all.
Now, I mentioned some things which I do want to go back to. Because Angela Corey, whose office prosecuted George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin and couldn’t get a conviction, also did the case of Jordan Davis and she was unable to get a conviction on murder. And this office did have these vicious racist statements from Michael Dunn that bore pretty much directly on what he actually did, like why people need to start killing these Black thugs and get them to change their behavior. He said this repeatedly over the phone, in writing—the prosecution had it and made no attempt to bring that in. They didn’t even bring it in to impeach his credibility when he said: I have never had racist sentiments. This was part of his testimony. This is the guy who said white people need to start killing Black people to get them to change their behavior. The prosecution made no attempt to bring that in, and it’s not that Angela Corey’s office is just plain incompetent. It’s that in cases like these where it is George Zimmerman on trial for criminalizing and murdering Trayvon Martin, a young Black man, or Michael Dunn on trial for criminalizing and murdering Jordan Davis, a young Black man—they “forget” how to prosecute.
But when it comes to running Black and Latino people into jail in all kinds of cases and like that, there’s no forgetfulness there. Corey’s office is very efficient at doing that. I met people... there’s one family of a 12-year-old who Corey attempted to get sent up for life—not until he became an adult, but for the rest of his life. She didn’t fully get that, but she got decades on him. Another case where a youth was charged with having carried out a robbery with a BB gun—he goes to school one morning and the cops come into the school and arrest him with no warrant. Their evidence is that there is a phone that he may have had access to that has something to do with this robbery, but the access that he had was the same access that a number of other people in the school had. They hold him, interrogate him for 24 hours, and force a confession out of him. This youth is now doing 49 years in prison. So what you have is you have an office that is very good at imprisoning Black and Latino people but forgets how to do it when it’s somebody going up for crimes committed against Black and Latino people.
Revolution: You went to Jacksonville on February 26 along with Juanita Young, the mother of Malcolm Ferguson who was murdered by New York City police. After the mistrial of Michael Dunn, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network added Jordan Davis to its call for that day. Could you speak to how you saw that and what you thought needed to be done in the face of that, why you and Juanita Young went to Jacksonville, and some of what you learned?
Carl Dix: The Stop Mass Incarceration Network issued a call for a nationwide day of outrage and remembrance around Trayvon Martin on February 26 because that was two years since he was murdered by George Zimmerman. And when the trial of the killer of Jordan Davis ended—the Stop Mass Incarceration Network decided to add Jordan Davis to that day of outrage and remembrance. And this was actually very important because there was a lot of questioning about: is there anything we can do about this? We marched when Trayvon’s killer was exonerated and then here we have it happening again. The system refuses to convict a murderer. And some people were even thinking and voicing that maybe we just have to get used to this, we have to accept this. And it was very important that a call went out: No, we must not accept this and cannot accept this and we don’t have to either. And the call from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network was for: Hoodies Up on February 26! Reports on what happened on the 26th are still coming in. And one place that I really suggest people go is they go to the website revcom.us—because that’s a site where you can find out not only what happened on February 26 but what’s happening.... with the movement for revolution, that is very needed that we in the Revolutionary Communist Party are forging, what that’s doing, what’s happening in this movement of resistance to mass incarceration, what’s happening in the movement of resistance to the attacks on women in this society, and everything. And you can get guidance for how to do that, and you can also find out about the leadership we have for this revolution in Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. And part of why we don’t have to accept it is because revolution is not only needed but it’s possible, and its possibility is greatly enhanced by the work that Avakian’s doing. And people need to check that out, engage it, get into it, and spread the word to others around it.
Revolution: I want to ask you a little bit more about the 26th. I think it would be good to talk about what would have happened if SMIN had not called what it did call and what effect that would have had, so people can appreciate the impact their actions have. And to talk some... did this reach into the media? Did it have an impact?
Carl Dix: There was a sentiment of: can we do anything about this? Not that people felt that it was anything less than a horrible outrage, but a sense of maybe we can’t do anything. And it was very important that that sense was gone against, that sense was engaged and struggled over. And we began to notice it very sharply right after the verdict came down. I remember being in Harlem and encountering some youth who listened to me speak—people had read my statement, and I got up and I spoke and expounded on some things. And they listened intently, but then when we approached them and asked them for their thoughts one of them said, “I have no thoughts.” And then the other said, “I’ve got a lot of thoughts, but it wouldn’t make any difference if I told you about them. It would just make me madder, and what could we do about it anyway?” And we realized we had to get into it with these two young people, and they ended up taking material to go into their school and to mobilize people, getting that it would make a difference if they remain silent in the sense of hammering in that assessment—nothing we can do, we just gotta roll with this stuff. But it makes a difference the other way if people like them—they and people like them—begin to act, begin to counter that sentiment, begin to say “no we don’t have to accept this.” And begin to grapple with this question of revolution and what kind of world could be brought into being—is that possible and what does that mean that people like them need to do? Which they were taking a beginning step of by getting Revolution newspaper and taking some of the palm cards around the National Day of Outrage and Remembrance, that they were actually beginning to engage that and step into it.
And this had to be spread societywide because while we had to engage it on the streets with people, we also had to get it out there to reach people that we won’t be able to run into on the street. And we worked at getting it out through social media, on Facebook, tweeting about it, spreading the word. And it did have impact because right now we know of 18 cities—including something came in last night, this morning, that it happened in Birmingham on the 26th—that people took up the Hoodies Up! call. It happened in the areas where the Stop Mass Incarceration Network already has some organization, or beginning organization. And that was important. People in the Oakland area did a rally at Fruitvale Station, the scene of the murder of Oscar Grant by a cop on New Year’s Day of 2009. People acted in Chicago, in New York. But also we began to find out that there were places were the Stop Mass Incarceration Network had no contact with people who heard about this call for the Hoodie Day and did something. There were people in a sorority in Houston. People at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee organized an event which they posted at SMIN's website and which got covered in the media there. But there were also media things like Bethune Cookman, which is a historically Black college in Florida—some students there did a vigil. This began to be taken up more broadly, and what it does speak to and address is that there was a feeling that something needed to be done. There was anger about this, a feeling something needed to be done, but that anger had to be tapped into and mobilized and organized. And that was the role that the call from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network took up and acted on and brought forth a response, and a response that... it was on BET that afternoon that this was happening and that organizers were calling for it to happen across the country. There was some newspaper that has a regional spread in the South—not a Black newspaper—a more mainstream one, had something about it and talked about the Bethune Cookman vigil. But then I saw the same write-up without the Bethune Cookman vigil somewhere in Louisiana.
So the word began to be spread, people took this up, and it was very important that in the face of... coming off of the anger people have, but also in the face of questioning if there was anything that expressing this anger could do, any role it could play, it was very important. Because when people look back at the Trayvon Martin murder and the exoneration of the killer, it made a very big difference that people took to the street, and took to the street in significant numbers—not large enough, but in significant numbers. I guess there were thousands of people who marched into Times Square in New York, people in Los Angeles who blocked traffic on an interstate—things like that happening all across the country. And it does make a difference if these are met with determined response. Because if they’re not, there’s a message involved in this: a message of the criminalization of these youth, permanent suspects, targets on their backs, no rights that white people are bound to respect—all of this is being declared. And if that becomes something that people accept as just the way things are, it is not only going to continue to happen but it is going to escalate, it is going to get even worse. Because there is really a call for the white supremacists, fascist foot soldiers, to come forward and play a role in enforcing this putting of the oppressed back in their places. And that’s all a part of the mix that’s going on right now.
Revolution: Also there was coverage on the Essence magazine website, NBC News had it on its site, Democracy Now! had some very good coverage on its site. It was very important that people understand. I’m just seconding and filling out some things. I also noted that the cast of the classic play about an African-American family in a racist neighborhood in Chicago, Raisin in the Sun, which was a play from the early 1960s that’s now being revived on Broadway, did something in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and in remembrance of the day. Were there other cultural expressions that you know of?
Carl Dix: That was actually an important arena in which things happened because you think back to... as motion developed around Trayvon Martin’s murder you had things like professional basketball players wearing hoodies, the Miami Heat doing a team picture in hoodies, Amar’e Stoudemire of the NY Knicks putting on his hoodie as he’s out going through the practice line shooting lay-ups and stuff. So that was an important expression, and for the cast of Raisin in the Sun to take a stand in solidarity.
Revolution: Dwayne Wade was behind a lot of that, wasn’t he?
Carl Dix: Dwayne Wade was at the heart of the Miami Heat taking a stand, he brought the whole team onto doing it. The cast of Raisin in the Sun—that’s actually pretty significant when you look at what that play is about, going back to the 1960s and the question of Black people trying to move into a white neighborhood and what they ran into. And then today looking at what Black people are running into, and the cast wanting to make a statement around that has some special significance. There also were 10-minute plays—six 10-minute plays—that were put on at the National Black Theater in Harlem earlier in February under the theme of Trayvon, Race and Privilege. It was actually seven playwrights because one of the plays was a collaboration—these seven playwrights all went at the question of Trayvon’s murder, the criminalization of Black youth, from different angles – some going more directly for the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin confrontation, others taking up things like police murder of Black youth. One play even went at this from the perspective of humor to underscore this thing of Black youth are being criminalized in this society. I thought that the plays—and by design—were trying to go at: this is a question that people have to look at, this is something that people gotta deal with. And I went to the opening and closing—I think there were five or six performances up in Harlem at the National Black Theater—and each time it was basically overflow crowds. The ushers were going around: “If you’ve got a seat next to you, raise your hand”—trying to fill in all the seats. And there were still people standing in the back.
And almost everybody stayed around for the discussions that they had afterward, and there was a lot of questioning of where is this coming from, why does this happen, and what if anything can we do about it? Including some questioning of, is this basically our fault? Do we have to get our young people to pull their pants up, take off the hoodies and start wearing vests or sweaters or something like that? Is that the way to deal with this? Or is this something that is being done to Black people and being done to Black youth? And who or what is behind it? And there was really lively discussion, including with the participation of revolutionary communists who were bringing out there is a system behind this. Because, look, if the youth stop sagging their pants, are the cops going to be less unleashed to brutalize and murder them? Is the court system going to be less operated in a way that targets them? Is the fact that Black people are not... the capitalist system has no way to profitably exploit most of these Black youth (and Latino youth, for that matter) that are growing up in the inner cities of this country—is that going to be changed? No, it’s not.
And in fact there is a positive side to the fact that Black youth, Latino youth, are not disposed toward accepting the bullshit that is being brought down on them. And in relation to that I think back to the 1960s, and so do the people who run this country—that it was very important that a section, particularly of Black youth, were not disposed to take this bullshit, and that there were leaders like Malcolm X, say, who was a nationalist, but one who called out the system and sided with and stood with those youth who did not want to take this bullshit. And that was very important in pulling the covers off of Amerikkka and exposing what this country was about and bringing forward others to join in the struggle, and he spearheaded a broader revolutionary movement to rock the system back on its heels. And frankly it’s a positive thing that there are youth today who don’t want to take the bullshit. Now that’s gotta be led, that’s gotta be given guidance, the youth have gotta be struggled with to get out of shit that they’re in right now, and get with the revolution. But that spirit of not taking this shit is something that they can and must bring into the movement for revolution—so that’s a positive thing.
Revolution: This was something of a watershed event, the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and then Zimmerman’s acquittal, and then coming on top of that, the mistrial of Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis. What does it mean to people and what must it come to mean?
Carl Dix: I made the point about how this is a declaration that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. People themselves are looking at historical analogies in relation to this. Because the “no rights that white people are bound to respect” is drawn from the 1857 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. It was a guy who escaped from slavery and who was brought into court in order to try to bring him back, and the Supreme Court ruled: hey, you got no rights, you’re property, you don’t really exist. And this has been a statement and a social relation that has continued to exist in this country. When Trayvon was murdered, and again when Jordan was murdered—and in each case the killer was not convicted. There were people talking about: I don’t want to be here 50 years from now talking to my children or my grandchildren about another Black youth that’s been murdered and nothing is done. And they’re thinking back to Emmett Till who was lynched in the 1950s by two white men because he supposedly whistled at a white woman. And they got put on trial before an all-white jury that within an hour found them not guilty, and then they sold their story about lynching this Black youth to a national magazine. But that’s how bold they were about it—they sold the story to this national magazine about how they had committed this horrific crime. And people are looking back and saying: Why does this keep happening? And I don’t want to be doing this 50 more years down the road. So it was a moment when a lot does get concentrated. Are they going to continue to be allowed to get away with this?
It is very important and it was very important that in our coverage in Revolution newspaper coming off of the murder of Trayvon and the exoneration of his murderer that we said they must not be allowed to get away with this and they cannot be allowed. This has to actually become a period where people look back and say: boy, a lot of people started along the path to coming to understand that this system is just no damn good, it is illegitimate, and it’s gotta be gotten rid of, and it’s going to take revolution—nothing less to do that. And that’s a message that needs to go out to people. It has to go out in a much broader way, in an escalated way, because this is what people need to be engaging, grappling with, and it’s what they need to be getting with. And this was the message that some of us revolutionaries were bringing out at the talkbacks after those Trayvon plays, and we gotta project this through society. Because that is what needs to happen off of this. We are talking about vicious oppression that’s built into the fabric of this system, and people hate this—a lot of anger—and not only among the people who directly suffer it. Because after the Trayvon verdict there were large numbers of white people who came out to these demonstrations and who were saying: I don’t want to live in a society where this happens, where whether somebody lives or dies is determined by the color of their skin.
And it’s important to tap into that anger and that sentiment and give it forms of expression because there’s another side that comes out in relation to that. There’s a way in which the powers-that-be can’t help but recognize the sentiment that’s developing among people and they take steps to misdirect it, to try to channel it back into the system. Like on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington last year there was a lot of talk about: we need a new Civil Rights movement, we need to get activated in trying to get more reforms of the way the system works and to try to hang onto some of the reforms that were being taken back that we thought had been won in the past. Because voting rights are under assault all across the country—which was an important battle in the 1960s. Not because you can vote your way to freedom, but it is an expression of how people are viewed in society if the color of their skin, whether they’re Black or Latino, or other things can be used as reasons to deny them the right to vote. So there’s a lot of effort being made to channel people back into the system, and it’s very important that the actual reality be brought out. We’re talking about mass incarceration and the criminal injustice system. This is not a system that is basically working and there are a few excesses that need to be reformed or tweaked. It is institutions that have been unleashed to target people—that’s a key part of the program of suppression, targeting Black and Latino people...and that it needs to be fought, it needs to be stopped, and to get rid of it once and for all is going to take revolution—nothing less.
Revolution: It seemed that in the summer, if I remember correctly, at first Obama was not even trying to speak to this, and at a certain point, after people had done the actions at Times Square, after they had seized the I-10 freeway in Los Angeles, after even some people who used to be called Uncle Toms actually spoke out in dismay and anger. Only at that point was Obama compelled to try to step to the head of this and rein things in.
Carl Dix: The Black president has been something that has been deployed as part of trying to bring people back into the killing confines of this system, and even back to his initial election and the way in which it drew people in. That was an important thing because I remember a lot of his supporters were themselves beginning to chafe at his silence in the wake of the verdict around Travyon. And he did come out with a statement trying to situate himself in relation to the growing anger that was developing. I think it was the thing he said about if he had a son he would look like Trayvon, and then he said a little bit later: Trayvon was me a few decades ago, that could have been me. And then he tied that to his overall approach to this question which consistently comes down to blaming the masses of oppressed people for what the system does to oppress them, and proposing some surface reforms and tweaks that aren’t going to get at the heart of the problem.
Revolution: I want to get to that in a minute. But first, I do want to hear a little bit more about the delegation made up of you and Juanita Young, who is the mother of Malcolm Ferguson who was murdered by New York City police in the year 2000 and who herself has been a very important and consistent fighter against all police murder and all police brutality. If you could talk a little bit about why you went to Jacksonville, why you thought it was important to go, what you learned, what people did there, and how you would answer people who would say the problem is with Florida and Florida’s extreme racism.
Carl Dix: We decided to do the delegation down to Jacksonville because Jacksonville was the scene of the crime. It was where Jordan Davis had been murdered and where the mistrial of his murderer occurred, where the system refused to convict the murderer for an open and naked murder. So we felt it was important to help bring national attention and bring some people from the movement of resistance to mass incarceration and all its consequences down to Jacksonville. And people down there really welcomed the fact that we came down. They were like: we gotta delegation coming down from New York! They knew about me because Cornel West and I had done the video calling for February 26th to happen, and it turned out they had played the video for a lot of people. So they welcomed the fact that we were going down and in fact when I spoke at the rally there were people like: “Oh, that’s the guy from the video! I didn’t know he was coming.” And people really warmed to that.
Fifty people came out and pretty much the overwhelming majority of them were people who had directly felt the lash of the criminal injustice system. There were about eight family members of a guy who had been killed by the police in front of the home he had grown up in, while his mother, his two children, two nieces and a nephew watched. They brutally beat him, stopped, went back to their car and put on gloves for some reason, came back, beat him some more, and then shot him. And all this happened while his family and more than a dozen other people watched. These cops have not in any way been punished for this.
Then there were a number of people who had family members who were in prison, and some of them were doing one-family campaigns to try to expose what had happened. And one of the families had gone so far as to look at the procedures and policies of the prosecutor’s office in dealing with juveniles because there are really a lot of juveniles who get sentences that amount to spending the rest of your life in prison. They tried to give a 12-year-old natural life without parole for a crime he committed as a 12-year-old. A 17-year-old has gotten 49 years for a robbery committed with a BB gun that there was very little evidence tying him to, but the cops arrested him in school one morning with no warrant, interrogated him for 24 hours with no legal representation or parent, and forced a confession out of him. This family has documented 89 violations of the prosecutor’s office policies. And the prosecutor’s office response is: we do that all the time. They didn’t deny it, didn’t say you’re wrong, they said we do that all the time. Think of all of the people who have been run through it, and especially all the juveniles—because this man was a juvenile. So all of this goes on. There were people like that, several families like that.
And a number of formerly incarcerated people who are coming out of having been in jail and feeling like... one man told me: I gotta give back because, look, I did what they got me for, I was dealing. I gotta give back because I feel like I was poisoning my community before but now I want to be part of... well, he actually put it like this. He said: “Revolution is like a tsunami, and I want to be a part of bringing that tsunami into being so that it can clean away everything that’s holding people back.” And then as we talked about it, he was like: “I’m not clear about how this happens.” I said, “Well, there’s something to that analogy but you gotta really focus on: it can look like a tsunami, but if there’s not a core of people working to bring it into being, working to contribute to creating the conditions through which that revolutionary upsurge and wave happens and can give it leadership to make sure that it does go in the direction that it can and needs to go in terms of sweeping away the old structure and bringing in a totally different and far better way for people to live.” And he said: “Yeah, that’s the thing I’ve been trying to think about. How do you do that? Is that how it happens?” And then we zeroed in on BA Speaks: REVOLUTION– NOTHING LESS! as something he and others need to get into.
And then people marched to prosecutor Angela Corey’s office and it was very spirited. I mean, people really wanted to get down to that office to display their determination for this to stop. One thing that got raised to me quite a bit was that Florida is different, and some of you don’t know how it is. And, look, Florida is a concentration of the way the criminal injustice system in this country has been unleashed to beat people down, lock them up, and lock them away, including locking them away for horrific periods of time. When they dedicated the new courthouse Angela Corey made a speech along with some other public figures, and she said: “I want to give a million years of jail time in this new courthouse.” This is what she said publicly on the dedication of this building. So it does reflect some of this concentration of it. And there is an old South aspect of it in the way that it targets Black people as well as a new South aspect because there’s also the rounding up of immigrants and the processing of them for deportation. So there is something about Florida. And if Nina Simone redid her song, which she can’t do since she’s passed away, but if Nina Simone’s song “Mississippi, Goddamn!” was redone you’d probably want to add a Florida, Goddamn! stanza or two to it. But it really is a concentration of what happens all across the country. Because I was talking with people about how there’s been exposure of, in Brooklyn, the prosecutor’s office has... this one cop in particular, there’s dozens of cases where he used the same informant to convict people. And this guy gets fed the information: here’s the story. He gets brought into court, testifies to it, people get sent away. And it finally got broken in the case of this guy named Ranta, but then it turns out there are dozens of cases where this same informant is the only evidence that put people away for decades. So now they’ve got dozens of cases that they’re trying to figure out: Do we have to let all of these people out, is there any way we can keep it together and keep them in?
So this kind of stuff happens all across the country, but there is a certain concentration in Florida. Because one thing is the case of Marissa Alexander, the Black woman who fired a warning shot when she was being confronted by her ex who had beaten her previously and was threatening to kill her. At that point she got a gun, fired a warning shot, and chased him off. She ended up being charged with aggravated assault against him and convicted and sent away for 20 years and the court ruled that Stand Your Ground in her case did not apply. And it was Angela Corey’s office that was prosecuting this case too. That conviction ended up being overturned and she now has a new trial coming up in July, but along with overturning the conviction, the appeals court ruled that she has to face three charges of aggravated assault because there were two children in the house and if she gets convicted on all of them they have to be served consecutively, consecutive 20 year sentences. So in other words, she’s now facing 60 years. This is the approach that Angela Corey’s office takes. So there is something about Florida, but it is a concentration of things that happen all across the country.
It is really a horrific miscarriage of justice. I mean, a woman who has been beaten by her ex a number of times, and that’s part of why he’s an ex, defends herself, but doesn’t kill the person, decides it’s just enough to fire the warning shot and that’ll send him off. And it worked. So she didn’t kill the person who was threatening her, but she was being threatened and defending her life and she gets taken into court and there’s no Stand Your Ground that’s applicable there, and not even... because there’s a basic right to self-defense in the legal system in this country. That gets thrown away too. And that’s what’s going down, and it is very important that this case be fought through and that Marissa not be sent back to jail. This would be a tremendous outrage if she got sent back to jail.
Revolution: You’ve also talked about how Obama began to change up a little bit some of the way he was presenting things, and felt he had to, right after the... not after the verdict on George Zimmerman but after the response from masses of people to the verdict on Zimmerman.
Carl Dix: Actually it turned out that February 26 was also the day that Obama held a meeting in the White House and then the next day made a public announcement of an initiative that he’s launching called My Brother’s Keeper. It’s an initiative to bring private foundations and companies into contributing money to set up programs to mentor Black youth and to try to save some of them from the things that await them out in the streets. Look, it was not accidental—the timing of that, that the meeting happened on the 26th, the anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin. And in fact, he had the parents of both Trayvon and Jordan Davis at this meeting and at the public announcement the next day, along with a number of other people that pointed to exactly what this thing was about. And this initiative is pure poison. In a certain sense, it was a really ugly display. Because you got the guy who presides over the system that is criminalizing these young people, that’s warehousing people in prison, that’s treating formerly incarcerated people like less than full citizens, and he starts off his talk about America’s a place where you can make it if you try hard. Bullshit! America is a place where people who work the hardest... who worked harder than the enslaved Africans? And who got less for it? You know, the wealth and power of this country can all be taken back to the dragging of African people here in slave chains and the theft of the land from the native inhabitants. And that is where America came from, that’s what it grew up on, so don’t tell me about America’s a place where if you try hard you can make it. That is exactly not real, that’s exactly not true. Then he goes on to say, well, let’s not talk about what the problem is, let’s just grab a hold of what works and go with that. Well, he actually identifies a problem, but in talking about not talking about what the problem is, he doesn’t want people getting into and looking at the fact that this is something that the system is doing to people. But he brings forward an assessment of the problem, and that is that the problem is people and their lack of personal responsibility. And particularly it’s Black men not playing their role in society: fathering children but not being there in the family for them, not helping to raise their children, not playing the role of a man in society. And, again, turning reality on its head, blaming people being oppressed for what the system is doing to oppress them, and then bringing forward a prescription for change that is not going to address that oppression but actually tighten it up.
And there are a couple of things I gotta get into off of this. One is Obama says: I’m doing this to strengthen America. I think back to the 1960s and one of the sharp questions around which people contended and struggled quite a bit is: Is this a movement... coming from the movement of Black people and then being taken up by others... is ours a movement to get our place in America, get our seats at the table? Or is America not only our problem, but the world’s problem? And what came forth in the 1960s was a very powerful section of the movement that was saying the problem is America. And we see our struggle in alliance with people around the world who are fighting against America. I think about some of the people in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who were down South, dealing with lynch mob terror and all of that, working with Black people down there to register to vote and to do other things, who were also saying hell no, we won’t go to Vietnam and beginning to identify with the Vietnamese people in their struggle against U.S. imperialism. I think of the Black Panther Party putting out a call that Black soldiers should not go to Vietnam and fight for the U.S., that our fight was against U.S. imperialism. And all of that, which I remember very vividly personally because I had to grapple with all of that when I got my orders to go to Vietnam after I got drafted in the 1960s. And sentiment like that was a part of what led me to refuse to go to Vietnam.
So I’m thinking: Obama is doing this to strengthen America. I say to people being ground down by this system: You don’t want to get drawn into strengthening America because America is what’s grinding you and people all around the world like you down. And where you need to be standing is: How do we all get out from under America by making revolution and getting rid of American imperialism and all the imperialisms in the world? You can’t go with: We gotta strengthen our oppressor and that somehow that’s in the interests of people in this country or anywhere else in the world. That was one thing that really struck me about it.
Another thing is you’re supposed to be trying to do something to help Black men who are in bad situations in this country—well, who does Obama bring to this goddamned meeting? He brings and honors Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor, Mr. Stop-and-Frisk. Bloomberg did a lot around the situation of young Black men—he unleashed his police force to stop-and-frisk them in numbers that ended up that they were stopping and frisking more Black men between the ages of 15 and 24 than there were in New York City. Which means some of them would get stopped and frisked numerous times by the cops This is somebody who you’re going to buddy up with and partner up with to do something about the situation of young Black men? It ain’t going to be something good if you’re doing it with Michael Bloomberg.
Obama also brings there Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News fascist commentator. He calls himself the first two, but I had to add that last point to get to the reality of what this man stands for. And this is a guy who had been recently talking about: well, look, the problem with Black people... one of the things he’s saying right now is the problem with Black people is rap music and you gotta do something about those rappers because that’s a disease that is poisoning America. But he also talks about the problem with Black people is that you’ve got all of these women who are having children out of wedlock and that that is what’s devastating Black America and it’s dragging the whole country down—so you gotta do something about that.
This brings me to another thing that hits me about Obama’s initiative, what was missing from what he said: We’re going to do something about what’s happening to Black men and it’s kinda like, Black women, they’re kinda okay. Maybe some problems there, but they’re kinda okay, we just have to do something about the situation that Black men face. And again, that is not the reality. It is not the reality that Black women are doing okay and we just have to do something in relation to the men. Because when you look at what’s happening in this country, you look at waves of evictions of families that are headed by single women—it happened in the wake of the economic meltdown of 2007 and 2008. This is women and their children being set out on the street because of developments in the overall economy that stripped away from them any way that they had to survive and keep the family together. This is going on. You’ve got cuts in the food stamp program, which again is hitting very hard at women and their children and women who have the main responsibility to see to it that the children are fed. That’s leading to spreading hunger in this country. You even have things like breast cancer... you know, like 20 years ago the rate at which women died from breast cancer was relatively even. But the rate that Black women die from breast cancer has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. You have situations where Black women are dying one-and-a-half and two times as often as white women of this disease.
And then there was just an article in Revolution newspaper about the prison in Alabama, I think it’s called Tutwiler. And what it displayed was a report that had come from the federal government about the widespread... it’s a women’s prison... the widespread instances of rape of the prisoners by male guards. The article just provided a snapshot, but that snapshot was horrific. It was that guards just forced themselves on women. Then guards do things like: You want some toilet paper? You want a tampon? Then you gotta have sex with me. And it is becoming a thing where that’s how you operate in the prison. I mean... toilet paper, tampons—we’re not talking about people trying to do outlandish shit, it’s just basic necessities. But the way that you get that basic necessity is that you allow this fucking pig to force himself on you. This is the situation that people are being put in, and it took me back to slavery and the way in which if you were a female who was enslaved on the plantation, any white man with ties to the plantation could rape you because you were not a human being that any transgressions could be committed against. The only problem you might run into is if some white man with higher status on the plantation decided he wanted to be the exclusive one to rape that female slave—that’s the only way you run into any problem. And those conditions are being repeated today, and frankly it is a form of enslavement, and some of the things that are coming down on it. So this is going on.
Well, if you begin to talk about incarceration, you can’t leave women out of that conversation. One, because the fastest growing segment of people in prison is Black women—that’s actually the fastest growing segment. So you gotta have that in there. There are fewer women in prison than men, fewer Black women in prison than Black men—that is true. But the fastest growing segment is Black women. But even more important than that, when you send someone to jail, the whole family is doing time. So you send a man to jail—there are children tied to that, there are partners and spouses tied to that, or people are working together to try to raise children. There are mothers tied to that, and that whole family has their life enmeshed in the criminal justice system. You’re like: Can we go and visit and sometimes it’s a long trip? So, can we make that long trip, do we have the money to make that long trip? The phone call... you get robbed by the phone companies on that. So it does come down to talking about can we relate to the brother who’s in prison or do we pay the electric bill? These kinds of questions get thrown up before people. So you can’t separate that out and say you’re going to deal with it and say I’m going to deal with Black men and what they’re up against but the women have no relation to that.
Now, part of what is posed here [by Obama] is a prescription of: strengthen male right and kind of like the Black man has to much more become the figure who’s in control of the women and children. This is a prescription that’s being put forward in this. And it’s something that’s actually been argued for—you could take this back to the Moynihan report back in the 1960s, I believe, or 1970s—I forget exactly when. But Senator Moynihan said that the single most important factor in the problems in the Black community was the Black family being pulled apart and there no longer being men in the house and that’s the thing that you gotta deal with.
And then you’ve had like... George W. Bush used to like to push this thing of: we’re going to get people married. All of this ignores the larger forces that are at work here—the way in which the process of production has become globalized and there is not a role for increasingly large numbers of Black and Latino people to be profitably exploited in that process of production. And that’s the backdrop against which two-parent families aren’t being formed in large numbers among Black people. That’s what’s going on but the way it’s being addressed is this thing about: we gotta get the men to man up and to play their responsibility, be the father in the house, the head of the household. And it is really calling for a strengthened patriarchy: male domination within Black families. That to me is part of what ties into this thing of leaving the women out of it—that it is asserting that that needs to happen and that that’s a development that needs to go down.
Now, in relation to Obama’s initiative, there’s been a lot of criticism of it. But a lot of the criticism misses the point. Because one of the things often said is that it’s too little and it’s too late. People look at the figure of $200 million [for the initiative] and talk about how much goes into the military budget, how five times that amount is going to Ukraine, and all this kinda stuff. Not enough and why didn’t you do this sooner? Well, that doesn’t get to the heart of it because what is actually at issue... and they also raise the thing about why is it private and not the government doing something. That doesn’t actually get to the heart of it because what this is, is an attempt to get in front of some things. It is in part a response to that anger that came out around Trayvon, that was still there around Jordan Davis, and saying: we’re dealing with it, don’t worry. We’ve got a program for it, we’ve got a plan—and trying to suck people in behind that approach and that plan. And that we can bring a few more people through the meatgrinder—because that’s what’s in operation in Black communities and Latino communities across the country, a grinder that is breaking the bodies and crushing the spirits of countless millions of people. And this is an approach that says: Well. maybe we can bring a few more people through that grinder. And that’s the way that this initiative is going to work. And to talk about it as too little and too late misses that it is actually aimed at keeping the operation of that meat grinder going.
Revolution: I want to go back to this point you were making about how Obama’s speech on February 26th actually representing a proposal for strengthening patriarchy. In Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution, Bob Avakian says, look, this is a very complex question. BA does two things: first he draws on that book Rebirth of a Nation, and the point that’s made in there is that Booker T. Washington was bringing forward in the late 1890s and early 1900s this notion of accommodation to the system coupled with a big emphasis on male right within the Black family and it’s very conservative, patriarchal, heavy religious; and that, on the contrary, Ida B. Wells was the first real anti-lynching activist. And that these were two trends. So one point is that if you’ve got 900,000 African-American men in prison, it’s not a mystery where the father is. I’d like to hear a little bit more on Obama’s speech—the problem he was actually implicitly pointing to and the solution he was proposing.
Carl Dix: That’s important to get back to because I talked about how Obama began with: if you work hard you can make it, if you try in America, but he also ended up on what has become for him his kind of signature punch line of “No Excuses”—no excuses for Black people who don’t succeed in America, and pretty explicitly saying: don’t use racism as an excuse. Let’s actually get down to it: there is brutal and vicious oppression coming down on people, and it’s coming down on people because of the system that he’s presiding over. And he’s saying: look, the system will beat you down, will grind you up, but no excuses—if you don’t succeed it is your own fucking fault. That is what objectively is being said in coming down on this. Because he’s talking about these absent dads. Well, I’ll tell you where a whole lot of them are: 900,000 of them are in prison. And hundreds of thousands are in prison for things like simple drug possession—that’s what that comes down to. And your system and the way that it operates has historically, since the 1970s, been using wars on drugs that have targeted Black people, that have led to the criminalization of Black youth, led to a reality where Black people use drugs pretty much in relation to their proportion of the population—not excessively in relation to whites. But then when you look at who gets arrested for drug use—that is disproportionately Black people. And then when you look at who gets convicted—that’s even more disproportionately Black people.
So it is the system and the way in which it works, its very operation, and the conscious policies of the ruling class—that Obama is the main spokesperson for, by the way—that has created a situation where a lot of these dads are absent not by choice. And then he’s going to beat down: well, we gotta do something about these dead-beat dads. No, we gotta do something about the system that is creating this. And in relation to that, it ain’t that we need people to man up, and we don’t need the men to step forward and play their traditional role in society being the head of the household and a role model for their children. What we need are not male role models, but revolutionary role models, female and male—people standing up and saying no more to the brutality and oppression and degradation that this system is bringing down.
And not just on Black people but on people of all nationalities here in this country and around the world. Saying no more to that and connecting with a movement for revolution, a movement that is aiming to end all of the horrors that this system inflicts on people, the violence against women, the attack on their rights, including their rights to abortion and even birth control now. A movement of revolution that will end the horror of the attacks on the very environment of the planet, the massive government spying, the wars for empire, the drone strikes, and all of the rest. That’s what’s actually needed and that actually needs to be brought forward in opposition to this Brother’s Keeper program, and an understanding that what it’s about is actually strengthening and tightening the oppression and exploitation that comes down, not only on Black people—definitely on Black people, but also people around the world of all nationalities.
Revolution: I was talking to some people recently and they were talking about this point in the World Can’t Wait call about “that which you do not resist you will be forced to accept.” They were saying that’s a certain thing that’s going on with these police murders—that there’s a certain way that it becomes the new normalcy, the new terms of things. And that’s part of this question of the month of resistance too—that we actually have to change the terms in society. And then the other point we were talking about is we have to go for what people are thinking: "I gotta get mine and take care of myself"—to "we gotta free the people from this system."
There’s the stark the reality of these two sets of parents of the murdered children (Trayvon and Jordan) being at the Obama speech on February 26th. They played by the rules. There’s also an ideological and even physical enlistment of Black men as enforcers of the status quo. If I remember right, there was a line in the speech like: nothing keeps a kid in line like a father. Ross Douthat actually has this article where he says if you want to do something about inequality you have to restore male right, you have stop the abortions, and stop the birth control and give men an incentive to stay at home where they can be dominant. He literally put that in the New York Times.
Could you say a little more about both the problem and the solution? And also talk about how you see this and its relation to the Stop Mass Incarceration Network? How is that in opposition, in distinction, to Obama?
Carl Dix: That’s a good question and important contrast to make because Obama’s speech is really training people what to think and how to think, how to look at this problem of mass incarceration and all of that. This is not a quote, but here’s the message: “Look, maybe there’s some excesses, but what we’re really dealing with here is people’s behavior problems, that people are not taking responsibility for their lives, and especially Black men are not taking responsibility for their lives.” And Obama says this is the problem that we’re trying to deal with, and our solution is to encourage and give some assistance to these men to step up and play their role in society, which needs to be the traditional male role of head of the family and keeping the women and children in line and in check, and that this is the solution and that if this step is taken it will strengthen America. And I’ve already talked about how you need to look at America and that it is not something that the oppressed need to step up and help strengthen, but in fact they need to be part of a revolution aimed at getting rid of American imperialism. But [what Obama said] is what’s being put forward as a solution.
And the other thing about how people should think about this is that, look, some people have made it through—and Obama had these guys from Chicago as an example of people who have made it through the minefield that the system puts out there in front of them and forces people to go through, and that if more Black men were doing it right, then a few more of them would make it through. And from that the way you’re supposed to look at it is: okay, let’s see if I can get me and mine through, if a few more of us can make it, and in particular can I make it, can those that are close to me and that I care about make it? And, see, this is entirely the upside-down wrong way to look at it. Because you have a system that is grinding people up, it’s breaking bodies and crushing spirits, and it is no solution if you can maneuver a few bodies through that crushing and grinding that’s being inflicted on people. In fact, what’s needed is people saying: no more of this, people standing up and resisting what’s being brought down.
And that is exactly what the Stop Mass Incarceration Network is aiming to do through this call for a Month of Resistance in October. Because more people are recognizing mass incarceration as a problem, they’re seeing it: this is not good. People who are having it done to them, who are caught up in the criminal injustice system, but also people who don’t directly suffer that but who are seeing what’s going on and saying: I don’t want to stand aside, I need to be involved in trying to do something about it. That’s a good development but it’s got to go much farther. People have to be more clearly exposed to the horrible outrages that are being committed on this front, people need to begin to see that this amounts to a slow genocide that has tens of millions of people enmeshed in its web and they need to be moved to the point of standing up and joining an effort to stop it. Millions of people need to be exposed to this reality and many, many of them, thousands of them, have to be moved to being part of standing up and stopping it.
And that’s what the Network has in mind with this call. And that’s why Cornel West and I issued this call for the Network that there needs to be a month of resistance, a month that will include coordinated national demonstrations nationwide on October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, and something that has thousands of people out on that day. There needs to be a major concert that will have people sitting up and taking notice when they see who’s performing together and that they’re all performing around condemning, calling out, and acting to stop mass incarceration. A statement issued by and signed by well-known and prominent people being published in major publications around the country, panels and symposiums on college campuses, expressions of opposition and resistance to mass incarceration in religious circles—all that and more.
All of it is not worked out yet—we’ve got a basic vision and we’re going to be getting people together and meeting and strategizing over fleshing out that vision and hammering out a plan to build up from now to October. But that’s what it needs to bring forward–it needs to bring forward a sense of standing together and saying No More to these horrors that are being brought down and having a view of not: how do me and mine navigate through all the obstacles that are put in the path of Black people trying to make it in this society, but a view of how do we break through these structures—what do we have to do to get rid of these structures that are holding people back? And, look, what that comes down to is understanding that this stuff is built into the fabric and framework of this system and that it will take revolution–nothing less to end not only it but all of the horrors that this system is bringing down on people here and around the world.
Revolution: So Carl, tell me, you and Cornel West and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network have called a meeting in early April, and I’ve heard you say other meetings, besides, but this meeting in early April—who should be at this meeting?
Carl Dix: Well, here’s the deal. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has looked at the situation and seen a need for a major effort to take the level of resistance to mass incarceration to a new level, a new height, involving thousands of people, as a springboard to ultimately enlist millions in this movement, and that we’re going to work to do that through this month of resistance in October. And we’re taking the responsibility to initiate this and to lead it forward. And Cornel West and I issued the call for this meeting, and we want to bring together people who seriously want to take this movement of resistance to a higher level and be a part of working to do that, fleshing out a vision for it and developing a plan.
And there’s really a lot of people who need to be involved in this process. One, there needs to be young people involved, college students need to be involved in this from the beginning, at the meeting, contributing their understanding, their experience, and then leaving the meeting on a mission to spread the call for October and to build resistance up to October as part of what’s being done in this. High school students should be there with the same thing, bringing their experience into it, and [inaudible] out of it, ready to spread that in all the ways that they would want to do that–armbands days, hoodie days, days when people do stuff on social media, spreading pictures of themselves wearing armbands and hoodies on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and all like that.
Generally people who are catching hell on this front need to be represented, and in addition to the young people there needs to be family members of people in prison, who played an important role during the California prison hunger strike—they need to be in this meeting. Family members of police murder victims, formerly incarcerated people—all of them need to be bringing their understanding, their experience into this meeting and being part of hammering out the vision for this and spreading it throughout society. We need to have religious leaders and lay people in this meeting bringing their own stance on this, their moral opposition to this, helping to hammer out the vision, and then figuring out the ways that this gets expressed powerfully in religious institutions. It’s gotta be nationwide right from the beginning, people from different parts of the country who’ve come into New York for this [meeting] so that we come out of the meeting with a framework that is in position to operate and spread this nationwide. People who are grappling with the problem of the immigration raids that tear families apart and disappear people–they need to be a part of this, because this has everything to do with the incarceration that’s going down in this society. They need to be there, they need to be in position to spread this and spread it nationwide. Legal people need to be involved in this meeting, people whose arena is the arts and culture need to be involved in this meeting.
Everybody’s bringing their experience, their understanding of this and then being in the position to pivot back and out and spread that throughout society and in the arenas that they function in. And in some of these different arenas that I’ve just talked about, prominent people, people whose voices have impact societywide. Some of them need to be in the room for this meeting, people who can reach people throughout society when they speak up and stand up around a question, people who can play an important role in raising the kind of funds that’s going to be needed. Because it’s going to take a lot of money just to hold this meeting to get this process started which will then pale [compared to] the amount of money that will need to be raised to carry it through to the end. And we gotta have from the beginning people who have the connections and the experience in terms of doing that.
And I guess the other thing I want to say about who needs to be in the room is that Cornel West and I were talking in the last couple of days about this, and we issued a letter. And that letter basically says, look, if you’re a young person, Black or Latino, who’s tired of wearing a target on your back—you need to be involved in this effort and you need to think about coming to this meeting. If you’re a parent who is tired of living in fear every time your children leave the house in the morning as to whether they’ll make it back safely, if you’re somebody who doesn’t experience this but you’re aware of it going down and you hate it and want to see something done about it, well, you’re the kind of person who needs to be involved in this effort. You need to think about coming to this meeting. This is a meeting to get together people who are serious about it, want to do something to stop it, and see this vision of a month of resistance in October that takes the movement of resistance to a whole new level and that makes this something that millions of people in this society are seeing as a horrific problem and they’re seeing determined resistance to it that involves thousands. If you want to bring that vision into being and make it real, you need to be at this meeting.
Revolution: A lot of people say to you, though, that you criticize Obama for saying “no excuses,” but you’re just making... you know, look, people make bad choices. And you’re just making excuses for those people. Don’t people have to make better choices? What do you say to that?
Carl Dix: Well, I think there are two things I want to say to that. The first is that Obama and people like him make all kinds of excuses for this goddamned system and the shit that it does to people. And that’s the first thing that people who want to pose this question of excuses and choices need to get to. But then here’s the other thing. On the choices that the masses of people make and how to look at that, for me the best way to express it is to read this quote from Bob Avakian: “On Choices... and Radical Changes”:
First people don’t make choices in a vacuum. They do it in the context of the social relations they’re enmeshed in and the options they have within those relations—which are not of their own choosing. They confront those relations, they don’t choose them.
Two, if people feel for whatever reasons that they want to choose to harm themselves and others, we’re going to struggle with them–but we’re not going to blame them. We’re going to show them the source of all this in the system, and call on them to struggle against that system, and transform themselves in the process. Just because a youth “chooses” to sell drugs, or a woman “chooses” to commodify herself sexually, doesn’t mean that they chose to have those choices. And there is no other way besides fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution that all this will change for the better. Blaming the masses for bad choices just reinforces the conditions that they are oppressed by.
In sum, people do make choices—but they make them enmeshed and confined within social relations that are not of their choosing. We have to bring into being different social relations and conditions so that masses of people can act differently and relate differently to each other. Fundamentally, that takes a revolution which is aiming for communism.
And again, that’s a quote from Bob Avakian.
Revolution: Earlier you mentioned that Obama had said in his speech that when we strengthen young Black men, we strengthen America. Do you feel that there’s any international calculations that are involved in initiatives like this or in a lot of the lip service that’s being paid, for instance, to changing the sentencing laws?
Carl Dix: Look, the U.S. goes around the world lecturing countries on violations of human rights, uses human rights as a justification for intervening, invading, enforcing its will all around the world. And, as it became in the 1960s, it is a question they encounter and run into as they’re doing all of this... that people point to: well, look at what you guys are doing. Look at the fact that your country has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent, proportionally, of people in prison. Look at the racial disparity of who’s in prison, which is the greatest disparity racial-wise when you look at the numbers of Black and Latino people who make up the prison population–it’s the greatest racial disparity around the world, according to recent studies. So this is something that they do run into and this pulls the covers off of any legitimacy they might have in talking about: well, this country is a human rights violator or that country is a human rights violator. Because it gets pointed to: Well, what is the U.S. doing? The United States is torturing 80,000 people in prison, holding them in long-term solitary confinement 23+ hours a day, confined to very small spaces, denying people any human contact while they’re held in solitary confinement, no visits from family members, not even allowing them to have contact, to meet with their lawyers, putting them in solitary confinement arbitrarily with no process through which they could challenge their being placed in that confinement–and doing it for indeterminate periods of time. There are people who have been in solitary confinement for four decades in prisons across the country. And scientific studies have found that confinement in these conditions for more than a few weeks can drive people insane. Yet there are people who have spent decades under these conditions. And the U.S. refuses to recognize these international studies and the designation of long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture. But that’s what’s going on.
In relation to that, you’re getting Obama speaking out about how we have to do something about the incarceration rate, we have to do something about the way in which it targets Black people, other oppressed people. You’ve got the U.S. attorney general talking about it too. And that’s all designed to, again, speak to the international sense of the U.S. as a human rights violator and a country that is carrying out horrific abuses on sections of its own population, and also to lure people back into the folds of the channels of the system here in this country.
But then when you get down to the reality... I think they commuted the sentences of eight people who were in jail for the rest of their lives for possession of banned substances. But then there are thousands of other people in that situation who recently became part of a class-action suit to get their sentences reduced because there was a 100 to 1 ratio for sentencing, which means 5 grams of crack cocaine got you the same penalty as 500 grams of powder cocaine. Well, they reduced that disparity to 18 to 1. Still a disparity that has no scientific, medical, or legal basis—but they reduced it to 18 to 1. And that 18 to 1 reduction means that there are thousands of people in prison who if they were sentenced under that instead of 100 to 1, their sentences would be over and they should be released. And that was the basic premise of this class-action suit that thousands of people in prison were part of, and they did not get out because Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department went into court and blocked it. What they did is they blocked the actual court case and then Obama said there needs to be legislation to address this problem, which means Congress will have to pass a bill to make this happen. And Congress these days does not pass very many bills and is highly unlikely to pass such a bill. So effectively they have blocked these people from being released from prison.
Revolution: One of the ironies that people have commented on in the speech was that Obama is doing this in the wake of the anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin and he’s proposing these solutions to this problem that is an internationally recognized outrage. And yet the very solutions he’s proposing of strengthening fatherhood—in both the cases of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis... this young man who was killed was living with his father and was in high school and “playing by the rules.” And I wonder if you could comment on that and then also what’s going on right now with Black college students. It seems like there’s important beginnings of protest in different arenas but there’s also this... what part of the protest is being driven by is that there seems to be an actual way in which over the last decade Black students, Black college students, are being pushed out of the major schools.
Carl Dix: There is this thing that, well, the problem is that people aren’t acting right, they’re not playing by the rules, they’re not living their lives in ways that would allow them to make it in this society. And then you look at what’s being proposed in this Obama initiative and then you look at the situation of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin. The problem wasn’t that there was no father in their lives. I mean, Trayvon Martin was with his father when he was murdered by George Zimmerman. Jordan Davis’s father was in his life—it wasn’t a thing of there was an absent dad and a wayward youth. Both of them were in high school, on a track to graduate, and Trayvon was an athlete—he played football on the high school football team. So you got people who were playing by the rules, who were doing things right and none of that saved them when they encountered the racists who took their lives.
And that’s something that extends way beyond that because you posed the question about Black college students. And one thing that is happening, well, there’s actually two things that are happening and they kind of come together. One thing that’s happening is that throughout the country policies are being enacted on the state level to end programs that attempted to deal with the numerical disparity between Black students and others on college campuses. Affirmative action programs, recruitment programs—all of those things are being cut away. And students have responded very sharply at some colleges about that: at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Black students at UCLA—at both of those schools students have done videos about how the numbers of Black students are being drastically cut. And I think one of them talked about: we’re an endangered species on this campus. And that’s the part about official policies... while they’re saying you gotta work hard, you gotta go to school in order to make it in this society, official policies are being enacted that are undercutting the ability of Black students to actually do that. So that’s something that’s happening.
And then at the same time, and as part of this, there’s been an unleashing of just naked white supremacy on these campuses. You see things like the University of Mississippi which was actually integrated in my lifetime. James Meredith was the first Black student to go there and there’s a statue in his honor on the campus. Well, a lynching noose and a confederate flag were hung on that statue recently. There’s been all kinds of instances of white fraternities and white sororities having parties and other social gatherings that revel in racist stereotypes of Black people or Latinos. Like a ghetto party where people are encouraged to bring watermelons and dress “street” and do this kind of stuff. And then a Mexican party where they base it on stereotypes of Mexicans and Chicanos. And all of this is really being unleashed. So it’s both cleansing the universities of Black students but also creating an atmosphere. An atmosphere is being unleashed and is flowering that is a pretty hostile scene for people to be in. And at UCLA law school a student who spoke to some of this began to get racist emails, and then a couple of students just posed for a picture and put it up online: “Stop being a sensitive nigger.” This was what one of the students had written on their T-shirt in a social media message that they sent to this Black woman student who had said that Black students on this campus are under attack.
This is what’s happening, and we really have to look at this. I spoke to the thing of the system offering no future and I focused on the fact that large sections of the oppressed cannot be profitably exploited by the system. But here you have people who are working to try to get through that, following the rules, doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And what they’re finding is that for them the future that’s being offered is: You can take that route, but we’re going to put obstacles in your path, we’re going to make it hard for you to get into college, we’re going to obliterate the programs earlier that were trying to deal with the fact that it was hard for Black students to get into college. And a hostile atmosphere is going to be what’s awaiting you. And it really does come down to: You can try to work your way into this system, it’s going to be hard, you’re going to have to go over a lot of obstacles, and if you make it through those obstacles you’re going to get a lot of shit and you just have to take it. And there is a growing mood among the students that they won’t take this and that’s important. It’s gotta spread, it’s gotta be taken up much more. And it’s gotta be linked in with what faces the oppressed overall because Black students have historically played an important role in struggles in this country.
You look back to the 1960s and a lot of the important developments–whether that was the movement in the South with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, students and Black students played an important role in that. Also when you come down to something like the Black Panther Party—Huey [Newton] and Bobby [Seale] got together at a college in Oakland and formed the Black Panther Party. So Black students have an important role to play and can help to bring to the movement of Black people more of an understanding of the history. But also because they’ve been introduced more to grappling with and dealing with ideas, they could be grappling with how do we get out of this and bring to people some of that understanding and help to inject that into the developing movement of resistance. And that’s something that needs to be gone at and worked on and expanded because this question of no future is not just something that people who are dropping out of school are up against; but also people who are fighting their way into college trying to make it, are up against the same kind of thing of what future are they being offered. And it’s one that is horrific and they need to reject and stand with people who are fighting for a different future, a future that really can only be brought into being through revolution.
There’s other very important things that have happened, both in terms of attacks but also responding to them. San Jose State comes to mind. There was a really horrific racial incident there where a Black student had a noose put around his neck, was referred to as “three-fifths.” But then there was a broad outpouring on the campus condemning this, calling it out and one that has continued and is continuing right now as we’re talking about it. Also I need to bring in that there were students at Brown University who, when the university invited Ray Kelly, who was at the time police chief of the New York Police Department to speak–students mobilized and refused to let him speak and said that: no, we’re not going to have this guy who presides over a police department that is intensely criminalizing Black and Latino people... no, we don’t want him to come up here and spread his poison. And they wouldn’t let him speak and they stood firm in that in opposition. People were like, this view is not one that we want to hear expressed here.
And this is real important and it is something... I pointed to the fact that on a number of campuses things were done around February 26th and that’s an important development. And things like that, and these incidents and the response to them that I’ve been talking about, need to be built on and spread. Because one of the things that has to happen is that these campuses have to be an arena where there is condemnation of and resistance to the slow genocide of mass incarceration. And that’s really gotta be widespread come October. It’s gotta be built now, resistance has gotta be manifested beginning now, and by October it’s gotta be very widespread and part of the leap in the level of resistance to the horror of mass incarceration. And that’s something that the Stop Mass Incarceration Network is approaching and I’m approaching as well.
Revolution: The plan for October—what’s this actually going to do and how’s it going to be different from other things that you’ve been part of calling? You are one of the originators of October 22nd. You, along with Cornel West, led the sit-ins against the stop-and-frisk practices in New York which played a very important role in forcing that into the open and de-legitimizing that. What’s going to be different about this and what challenges do you see here? What effect are you aiming for?
Carl Dix: The effect that we’re aiming for is a month that puts the horrors of mass incarceration, but also the determined resistance to it, out front for millions of people in this society. We have to have it that people broadly are seeing exposure and condemnation of some of these horrors and seeing a development, and a leap in the development, of a movement of resistance to that in a way that poses for many more people: Do I need to be a part of this resistance? And on the basis of doing that, thousands enlisting in a movement that has to ultimately involve millions of people when you look at the actual depth of what we’re talking about–the fact that tens of millions of people are living lives enmeshed in the criminal injustice system of this country. So that’s what we have to be aiming for and what makes this effort different and this not just a wish that we’d like to see accomplished. It has got to be taking an approach of enlisting people who seriously want to see this movement developed into becoming the force that initiates and takes up building this effort–starting now. And in relation to that, we’re holding strategizing meetings in the near future where the people who see the need for this can be brought together to hammer out and scrap over: Is this the vision? Does it need to be encompassed? Is it missing some things? Are there some places where it goes off? And what kind of plan can make this happen? Because we’ve worked on a basic vision and we feel like it encompasses some of the things that need to happen in October but we can’t do it all. We gotta bring together people who can both flesh out that vision but also make that vision real, people who can pivot this into various arenas: students who can spread this throughout the campus; people who are in position to spread this in the cultural arena and to bring forward various expressions in October, not just the concert that I talked about, but various expressions in that arena in October; people who can take this among lawyers, among religious forces, among intellectuals; people who can play that role. And we’ve gotta actually enlist those people at the start, being part of the grouping of people, part of the “we” who are gonna make this happen.
Revolution: What if somebody says to you—and I know they do: "But Carl, I don’t agree with your full program of revolution and if I work with you I might get in trouble." You told me somebody said to you, “You’re trying to make me lose my job.” What do you say to those people?
Carl Dix: Well, I say to those people, “Look, revolution is what’s needed to deal with this once and for all, and I’m with the Revolutionary Communist Party that’s building a movement for revolution to make that happen. And as part of that I am fighting against these injustices. Now, how you have to look at it is: I want you to engage what I have to say about revolution, but I also want you to look at these horrific injustices. And can you stand aside and let this continue to go down? Or do you need to step up and be part of doing this–and doing it as you are, where you’re coming from? And we can work together and fight over that, fight against these injustices, while we continue to dig into where do they come from and what’s needed to end them once and for all. And, yeah, you might be putting something on the line.” I’m not sure that the person who was saying it was actually going to get fired if he connected up with me, but people do have to put something on the line. And there’s not a guarantee that stuff like that would not happen to this person or others, as well as there are other ways that they come back at people. They come back at people... I mean, I mentioned earlier that Juanita Young had gone down to Florida with me, and she has been standing up and fighting for justice for her murdered son, Malcolm Ferguson, but also for all of the people who’ve been victimized by brutal murdering police all around the country. And she has come under attack around that. And her stand is actually very important for people to look at because she realized very early that they’re coming at me because I’m standing up and fighting for justice. And we in the Revolutionary Communist Party and other forces involved in October 22nd and other people who stood for justice stood with her in this and had her back in this. But she actually played a very important role in saying: I’m not going to roll over, I’m not going to stop the fight for justice–because this is right, this is what I need to be doing. And more people need to follow that example, to look at what’s right and what’s wrong and take a stand around that and not be backing away from that because of the fact that something’s gotta be put on the line, you could come under attack. And also not back away because: oh, I could run into some trouble because I’m working with revolutionaries. The point is more like you gotta go as far as your principles will carry you, and your principles should carry you to stand against this injustice–that that is a responsibility that people do in fact have.
This process of standing up and fighting injustice and then being attacked for it is actually part of the process you gotta go through, and the approach to it has gotta be that when they come at people for standing up and come at the movement for standing up, we have to come back with more initiative, more resistance, and more determined resistance, and use that to bring other people in—to show people what is actually at issue here and to strip bare the legitimacy of this setup. Because when you look at some of what they have done, a setup like this is illegitimate. And that’s something that needs to be brought out to people and made clear.
An example of that process was the campaign of civil disobedience against stop-and-frisk that the Stop Mass Incarceration Network launched back in 2011. Because we did several civil disobedience actions and dozens of people were arrested. Then we fought through on the trials around that, and they offered an ACD [adjournment in contemplation of dismissal] and we’ll make this go away, but dozens of people refused to accept that, went into court. And actually went into court based upon: We stood up because this policy, this approach of criminalizing the youth was illegitimate and unjust and needed to be fought. And that was the basis on which we went into court—not like: oh, we didn’t do it, cut us some slack. But we were right and the system was wrong on this, and it was correct and right and just—and we did that through a series of trials. And it was very important in terms of carrying forward a fight that the initial civil disobedience actions began. Not just we did our thing, they came at us, now let’s just figure out how to minimize the punishment and go on to something else—but to actually continue the fight around that, and to continue to bring forward the exposure and the opposition to stop-and-frisk that this was begun upon. And also to bring forward, on my part, where this was coming from and how this was a part of the system operating to control and hem in a section of people whose response it fears in the situation, in relation to Black and Latino youth and the conditions that are being enforced on those sections of society, and remembering what Black youth did in the 1960s and wanting to get ahead of the curve on that—in effect a counterinsurgency before the insurgency can be unleashed.
Revolution: Carl, there’s about 2.3 million people in prison in the U.S. and there’s hundreds of thousands more that in the course of a year pass through the concentration camps for undocumented workers. How can they become part of the build-up leading into the month of October?
Carl Dix: There have been the very powerful hunger strikes that were launched by prisoners in California against the torture of long-term solitary confinement. The summer of last year they launched a hunger strike that involved 30,000 people in the California prisons. There are other hunger strikes that have gone on. There’s one right now in Illinois—I believe it’s in Menard Prison that’s going on right now.
So there have been important expressions from inside the prisons that have inspired us, but there also have been people in prison who have added their voices to the exposure of both the conditions in prison and the conditions that lead people to end up in prison and going in and out of prison–and to where understanding where this comes from and what needs to be done about it. And there’ve been important writings from prisoners that have been in the pages of Revolution newspaper and people can actually find some of these writings by going to the website revcom.us. Because that has been a source of inspiration in terms of looking at it—because here you have people who are locked away, people who have been condemned as the worst of the worst, some of them who are not only standing up and asserting their humanity and resisting what’s being done to them but who are also grappling with why this is happening, where it’s coming from, and what needs to be done about it. And they’re engaging the advanced understanding that Bob Avakian has brought forward about where this is coming from and what needs to be done about it, and even reinvigorating and re-synthesizing the understanding of revolution and communism that contributes to the ability of people to go farther and do better the next time revolution is made and power is in the hands of the people.
And you’ve got people in prison who are grappling with this, who are dealing with this, and it reminds me of the time that I spent in prison back in the 1960s when I refused to go to Vietnam. And one of the things that was going on there was it was a place where people were grappling with revolutionary theory, including people who learned to read through that grappling, people who were not literate when they went into prison, but actually became literate through grappling with revolutionary theory.
People from inside prison can speak in a very direct way to what broad sections of people in this society are up against: the criminalization that people encounter, the conditions that get enforced. But also they could speak to their aspirations for a better world, and in that way they are.... this is through the actions of the people in California, now in Illinois, took to reassert their humanity... they’re also doing that and it becomes something that can impact society and begin to be a thing of bringing to people an understanding that that’s who’s in prison–human beings who were facing and are facing horrific conditions, but striving for a different kind of future. And in that way, I think, that can help people who don’t have that direct experience get kind of an understanding of what things in this society are really like and to understand more the outrage of the mass incarceration and everything that leads into it and all of its consequences and be strengthened in their determination to join the fight around this.
So I think that people in prison have a very important role to play. And again, I just want to go back to: you can get some of these writings and some of the developments in different prisons around the country by going to the website revcom.us. And if you do it, you’ll be rewarded because I find it a continuing source of inspiration.
Revolution: Throughout this, you’ve been mentioning culture and there have been some positive developments, both around incarceration itself and then around the oppression of Black and other minority people in this country.
Carl Dix: This is an arena where some very good things have developed. I’ve got movies on my mind because of the Oscars. But you look at some of the movies that have come out—12 Years a Slave gets the best picture Oscar. And it’s historical but you can go from that history to the current day conditions and a lot of people have made that connection. I’ve run into that in discussions with people and things that they want to get into. But this is also the year that Fruitvale Station, the movie about the police murder of Oscar Grant, was in the movies and widely seen, and involved a number of significant people in the film industry, from new and rising people, but then also veterans like Forest Whitaker were involved in the production of that movie. So you have those kinds of expressions. You have the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, which is set in prison. You’ve got the people who are in prison being brought to life and actually seeing what kind of situations lead people to end up in prison, what they’re grappling with while they’re in prison.
All of these are taking people who are often unseen and kind of cast to the margins of society and even demonized when people do get their attention on them–and their humanity is being brought out. Oscar Grant was not just a statistic; he was a young man grappling with what young Black people have to grapple with in society but with hopes and dreams for a future. His life gets snuffed out by a cop who gets off with a slap on the wrist, and that gets dramatized and put on screen and watched by millions of people. Orange Is the New Black is showing women in prison.
So this is actually doing a lot to bring to life these horrors and this injustice that I’ve been talking about. I believe I talked about the plays about Trayvon. Let me just go back to that because one thing about it is they were commissioned by some people in Black theater and done first here in New York City, but they’re traveling across the country. A very significant theater, the Goodman Theater in Chicago, is going to be the site of performances there. It’s going to Los Angeles and to Washington, D.C. and that means that in those areas these questions concentrated in the murder of Trayvon and taken into the arts through these plays–people are going to experience them. And if it’s anything like here in New York, there’s going to be hundreds of people who get to directly experience it. And then that sparks off conversation, discussion about what’s going to be concentrated in these movies about the criminalization of Black youth and where does it come from, and what can and must be done about it.
So this is an important arena where things are happening but it’s gotta go way beyond this. There’s gotta be a leap beyond it, just like the movement of resistance to mass incarceration has to leap beyond it. And that’s gotta be a part of what the month of resistance in October accomplishes. One thing about it is when we saw the Trayvon plays here, the playwrights were all there on the last day and I got to talk with six of the seven of them. They were all very invested in doing this, they really wanted to do these plays around Trayvon, and they felt it was important that their art be involved in addressing it, and they wanted to know what people thought about it, how it was impacting the way people think, what they’re thinking about, how they think. So they wanted to get into discussion with us. And they wanted to stay in touch when they heard we were working on this.
If you happen to be in Chicago, LA, Washington, D.C., you should check these things out. If you’re involved in the movement for revolution you should go to these plays with the message of that movement that things don’t have to be this way, that through revolution we could end these horrors and bring into being a totally different and far better world, and that we’ve got the leadership for this in Bob Avakian and the work that he’s doing, and the Revolutionary Communist Party which is at the core of the movement for revolution that we’re building. We’ve got a strategy and a plan for carrying this out. People need to encounter that. And if you go to these plays you’ll probably find an audience that is grappling with why are we in this mess and how do we get out.
We’re working to see if some of the playwrights, some of the actors, want to come to the strategizing meeting, want to be a part of doing that, and want to think about should there be expressions in their realm of the arts as part of the month of October. Because that’s an important part of what we need to do in relation to this, to reach out to and involve people in all different arenas. We’re trying to figure out like, one, is this what needs need to done? And if it is what needs to be done, how can have societal-wide impact? We need to do a whole lot of that before October for it to be the kind of month that it needs to be, one that changes the way that millions of people look at the reality of mass incarceration and all its consequences.
Revolution: There should be religious people, religious congregations, atheists—everybody’s gotta be expressing themselves on this question—No! This must stop. And then there’s a lot of different arguments about what’s going to stop it, what caused it in the first place. But this whole thing has got to stop because it’s inhumane and illegitimate. Not because it’s a waste of money. Massive things in the schools, armband days, hoodie days, expressions on the Internet. And when you have works of art that are reaching millions of people and they’re learning to empathize with people who have been demonized, that is not only very good, it’s very important for the chances for revolution. This mass incarceration is done very consciously to isolate the people who do catch the hardest hell and are the social base for revolution.
Carl Dix: An important strategic dimension of something, a work of art like Orange Is the New Black—it’s about people in prison. And one thing that this society has done is that it has worked to demonize and dehumanize the people that it locks away in prison, that they deserve to be there, that they are the worst of the worst, and that locking them up is what’s required. And locking them up in huge and horrific numbers is required to keep society safe, and that’s the way that people are trained to think about this and look at it. Then you have something like Orange Is the New Black that takes the people in prison, puts them and their lives on screen as they actually were and are, and you get to meet these people, you get to see people who are trying to do something, trying to better their lives, but get caught up in different things. But they’re human beings that end up in there, including some that you’re kind of like: they really don’t belong there, this is unfair. And even people who, okay, well, they did something, but they’re still human beings. So that’s actually working to recapture and bring to people the humanity of people who’ve been declared non-human and deserving of whatever happens to them. And when you think about the process of making revolution in a country like this, a very important role has gotta be played by people who catch hell every day, people on the bottom of society, beat down by this society, who are among the people who are the most demonized and dehumanized. And this goes back to the criminalization of Black and Latino people, especially the youth, that has gone on.
So works of art that capture and bring to society the humanity of people on the bottom of society, people who catch all the hell in society, play an important role in opening things up for the possibility of alliances, people coming together from different backgrounds in society. It makes a key section of people, from the perspective of making revolution, human beings whose situation is something that people should care about, be concerned about, and want to act around. And it opens it up for people to stand together—not only to resist injustice but as the source of that injustice and the solution that’s brought to people, it opens it up for the kind of unity needed to make revolution in a country like this.
So that means it’s important strategically that there are works of art like this and actually that this flowers more, that things like this develop much more. And that’s an important role that the month of resistance in October can contribute to by bringing forward and flowering expressions in the realm of culture around mass incarceration and its consequences, taking the lives of people who’ve been criminalized and warehoused in prison, people who’ve been subjected to the immigration raids that tear families apart and disappear people, taking those lives and making them something that the humanity of the people who’ve been hit by all of this can be much more broadly seen in society. It can open up the possibility, like I said, for heightened and more determined resistance, and also as people get to the source and solution of these problems, open it up for the kind of unity needed for revolution.
1. Last September, 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell wrecked his car in a one-vehicle accident. He knocked on doors seeking help; a white woman called the police saying that a Black man was trying to break into her house. When Charlotte, North Carolina police arrived they shot him 10 times, dead in the street, as he approached their car with his hands open. [back]
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
Interview with Sunsara Taylor
April 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Going into the April 11-12 Emergency Actions for Abortion Rights, Revolution had the opportunity to interview Sunsara Taylor about the attacks on the right to abortion and the need to fight to turn the situation around. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Revolution: Sunsara, can you describe briefly the situation right now around the right to abortion and the attacks on that right.
Sunsara Taylor: Right now in this country, it is no exaggeration to say that the right to abortion is hanging by a thread. In many places it’s out of the reach of women’s ability to access safely or affordably or at all. And the momentum and the trajectory of the restrictions, of the stigma, of the laws that have been passed are such that the closure of clinics, the closure of access, the terror against abortion providers is escalating. And the future for all women’s ability to access abortion is really being determined right now, it’s really at stake. In the last three years there have been 203 restrictions on abortion, and it’s actually such a big number that I think people hear it and they get a little numb. Because it’s almost every week you hear about a new restriction. But think about it—203 laws have been passed, they’ve been introduced to the state congresses and legislatures, they’ve been voted on, and they’ve been given the official weight of law behind them. This has caused dozens of clinic closures in Arizona, in Texas, in Alabama, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Virginia, and really all across the country. And what this means is that women are not able to... they find out that they’re pregnant...they’re young, or they’re whatever age... they find out that they’re pregnant, if they don’t want to have a child they’re faced with a really, really difficult situation. Many of these women, they can’t afford to travel.
If you’re living in the Rio Grande region of Texas where they just closed down all the last abortion clinics, this is a very impoverished region. About half a million people live in las colonias, right along the border. These are places without running water, without electricity—people cannot afford to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic. And many of them have no legal papers, so they can’t travel anyhow because there are checkpoints. So we’re in a situation where you find out that you’re pregnant down there... a lot of these women are already risking their lives to self-induce abortions. We’ve heard stories of women asking their boyfriends to beat them up, of ingesting drugs they don’t know what they’ll do to their bodies or their health. We’ve seen stories of women using sharp objects to try to self-induce abortions. This was already happening when the clinics were there because of the levels of poverty and stigma. But now those clinics are gone. And frankly it’s the future for women across this country if there is not a massive, massive outpouring of resistance and fighting this in many different ways and stopping this attack and reversing this attack. So I think it would be very, very hard to overstate the level of the emergency right now.
Revolution: What you’re describing is also a state of terror that’s being imposed on women. I don’t know if you want to speak some about that— when people are doing those kinds of things to their bodies so that they don’t have to become a mother against their will.
Sunsara Taylor: You know, I recently spoke with Marge Piercy, who is a great novelist and poet, and she shared in a video message, which we’ll be playing in the upcoming days of action for abortion rights, what it was like to live and grow up as a young woman before Roe v. Wade. And she talked about when she was 18 and got pregnant and didn’t have a way to get a safe abortion and self-induced an abortion and almost bled to death. She told me about her best friend who died when she was 24 from an illegal abortion. And she said—it was very, very chilling and very true—those days were a living hell for women. It was a time when falling in love could kill you. And I think, you know, we look out at the world, and in this country people sometimes they look at a country like Afghanistan where a young girl who falls in love with somebody from the wrong tribe if it’s not approved by her parents will be arrested, will be stoned to death if she’s not a virgin. All of this stuff that goes on, the honor killings— and think: “Oh, how horrific, those young girls, they don’t even have the ability... besides all the enslavement and the shrouding of women and the imprisonment of women, all the different forms of violence, they don’t even have the ability to do something as innocent and beautiful as falling in love.” And it’s no different, what’s happening already right here with young women in these rural areas, and in the inner cities too. We’ve heard these stories from Detroit.
And I think people have to put themselves there. Another thing that Marge Piercy described is she said, you know—and I think she was right—she said that the attacks on abortion and reproductive rights and the forces driving them really are fighting for women to be turned back into slaves. And I think that people have to understand that when women don’t have the ability to decide for themselves when and whether they’re going to have a child, they don’t have the ability to make that decision freely, then they really are... their lives are foreclosed, their lives are enslaved. The idea that becoming pregnant—your whole life could be ended for you—either because you lose your life trying to self-abort or because literally you’re forced and saddled to have a child you don’t want, you’re not able to care for, or you just have other plans in life. The idea that women’s lives and women’s contributions to society, women’s personal preferences of what they do with their lives don’t matter because really what matters is that they are vessels for child-bearing. That’s the future that’s being hammered into place. And that’s, I think, the terror that you’re describing, that you’re asking about. I think that’s very real, the idea that every single month, if your period is late you see your life flash before your eyes. That’s the situation already for far too many women and that’s a situation that, I think, a lot of older women remember and a lot of younger women don’t have any idea about. And that’s gotta change. Because that’s the future if there’s not a major, major fight right now to turn this around.
Revolution: So, what is the state of the fight around this? Can you tell us about that?
Sunsara Taylor: I think most people in this country, including millions and millions of people who actually don’t want to see women forced back into the back alleys or forced to have children against their will—I think most people are profoundly ignorant of how extreme the situation is. I think most people don’t know. And correspondingly, most people are not acting in the way that is commensurate with this situation. There was a clinic that was destroyed in Montana on March 3rd—it was broken into and destroyed from top to bottom, every piece of medical equipment, every piece of plumbing, pictures on the walls, pictures of the family of the clinic owner, the patients’ files— everything was utterly destroyed and the clinic was put out of business indefinitely. And Susan Cahill who’s been running the clinic—she’s been firebombed, she had a law passed to stop her from providing abortions, her life has been in danger, and they bought her out of her last clinic to try to shut her down—she had just opened a new one and then they destroyed it. This is the equivalent of a church, a Black church being bombed in the Civil Rights era or even more recently. It’s an act of hate and terror against... as the clinic owner, Susan Cahill rightly put it, this was an attack on her, but this was an attack on all women. And this really has to be seen, and an atmosphere has been created and it’s been given a green light frankly by the fact that it’s not been covered in the media, that politicians haven’t been denouncing this, that other forces have not been mobilizing massive outpourings of support and outrage against this. It’s giving a green light to this kind of terror and an atmosphere where people are set up to be killed and driven out of business and where women’s lives are then foreclosed for lack of access to abortion. So I just wanted to add that to the situation that we face.
And so this is just one example of how people have been kept ignorant about the situation, how extreme the situation is. And so I think most people have no idea and many, many of those—even if they don’t understand the full extremes of this, they have some sense... even among those who are very, very alarmed, and I think there are tens of thousands... actually I think there are millions of people who are very alarmed, even if they don’t have the full sense of the scope of the attacks. I think there are millions who are deeply alarmed and deeply disturbed and really worried about this. Among them, I think there is a lot of paralysis and a lot of fear and not having a clear sense of how to fight this. That’s something that we in the movement for revolution and people involved with us in Stop Patriarchy are fighting to actually provide a vehicle for people to act. We’ve actually had a situation where most people are ignorant, among those who are aware and are alarmed; they are largely still acting in a way that is not going to stop this direction. And so that’s something that has begun to change in some beginning ways. I mean I have to say that there have been some very important efforts—last summer, Stop Patriarchy did the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Hundreds and hundreds of people across the country supported this, joined in this, held rallies, where people took it upon themselves... and the message that we’ve been sending is that we have to rely on ourselves.
If we want to stop this we actually have to fight this. We have to go out into the streets, we have to tell the truth, we have to talk about women’s right to abortion, we have tell the truth of the stakes of women’s lives. And we have to not just do it because we’re calibrating based on how we think this would help support this or that bill or this or that restriction getting defeated, but actually going and changing the terms throughout society and calling forth millions of people to fight. Because there are very entrenched forces in this country determined to take away this right, very entrenched forces, and the dynamics of capitalism in this country at this time are actually favoring that trajectory at this time. It’s going to take a big fight for people to turn that around. And so it was very important that people stepped out with this Freedom Ride last summer. And there’ve been other ways that people have begun to... there’s been more people seeing the need to tell the stories about abortion and to challenge the stigma that’s sitting on abortion. But still there’s not enough understanding of the need and not enough of people stepping out and acting in mass public resistance that really relies on ourselves and calls forward thousands and millions of other people... and actually goes and fights And this is another thing that’s not been happening: a fight to change people’s minds around abortion and to change their understanding of what this fight is about. Because most people still think that this is a fight about babies. They still think that abortion... they frankly mostly think that it’s easy to access, it’s maybe too easy to access, and that it’s really a bad thing. They don’t have any idea of this point that I’ve made before, but that I was citing from Marge Piercy: that this is actually about the enslavement of women. People don’t know that and that’s something we have to fight to change people’s understanding of.
Revolution #334 March 30, 2014
April 4, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Abortion rights are in a state of emergency, and headed for disaster. Already, women in this country who cannot access safe abortions are attempting to self-abort by inserting sharp objects in their vaginas, taking pills, asking their boyfriends to beat them up, and more. Others are being forced to bear children they do not want. This is the future for women everywhere if this war on women is not massively resisted and defeated.
WE MUST ACT TO STOP THIS NOW!
Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement. Abortion On Demand and Without Apology.
In New York City: Attend live at Advent Lutheran Church, 93rd & Broadway
We will bring alive women's stories—before the Roe v. Wade decision making most abortions legal and today, the struggles of those who risk their lives to provide abortions, and the full anti-woman program driving the war on women.
Dr. Willie Parker, award-winning doctor at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi
Sunsara Taylor, writer for revcom.us/Revolution newspaper, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, and initiator of StopPatriarchy.org
Merle Hoffman, CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center, which has provided abortions and other health services to women since 1971
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, on her own abortion and why we must defend this right
Marge Piercy, poet, novelist, memoirist, via video message: "It was a time when falling in love could get you killed."
Bill Baird, reproductive rights pioneer who was jailed eight times in five states in the 1960s for lecturing on abortion and birth control
David Gunn, Jr., son of first abortion doctor to be assassinated, via video message
Susan Cahill, owner of the Montana abortion clinic that was destroyed and closed on March 3, 2013 about how this is an attack on all women
Dr. Susan Robinson, One of the only four doctors in the U.S. who openly provide late-term abortions; featured in the acclaimed documentary After Tiller
True stories of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade
More to be announced.
Join in protests in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and beyond or PLAN YOUR OWN NOW.
RAISE BLOODY COAT-HANGERS* AND
BREAK THE SHACKLES OF WOMEN'S ENSLAVEMENT
Hold silent protests at institutions behind this war on women: Crisis Pregnancy Centers (anti-abortion fake “clinics”), headquarters of GOP or Democrats who've opposed abortion, churches that mobilize anti-abortion protesters at clinics, etc. Raise bloody coat-hangers (representing the fate of women when abortion is illegal) and shackles (representing female enslavement). After an hour of silent protest, break the shackles and pledge to resist until we defeat and reverse these attacks and win Abortion On Demand and Without Apology and the full liberation of women.
This war on women will not go away on its own and will not be stopped by politicians or the courts. We must take responsibility for defeating these attacks—the lives of women depend on what we do.
* Wire coat hangers were used by many women as an instrument to self-abort when abortion was illegal. 5,000+ women in the U.S. are estimated to have died every year from illegal, unsafe abortions before Roe v. Wade legalized abortions.
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