Revolution #53, July 16, 2006

Chicago’s South Side

Reading of Bob Avakian’s Memoir:
Different Voices, Shared Yearning for a Radically Different World

We received this correspondence from a reader.

The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me how she was deeply moved, even to tears, by the story in Revolution about the Memoir program in Watts: “In the Heart of Watts: Celebration and Reading of Bob Avakian’s Memoir” (Revolution #52). I thought back to May and a program of readings from the Memoir in the heart of Chicago’s South Side. People came away from the program inspired and resonating with the urgency to take every possible opportunity to spread the word about Bob Avakian. This letter is a belated effort to tell a few things about the Chicago event that will add to the Watts story and will encourage further study and thought about all that is in the Watts article.

The venue for the program here was the large Woodson Regional Library, part of the Chicago Public Library system. The library has a distinguished history as a center for Black culture, and is alive with books and people reading books and programs that discuss and debate them.

The Woodson seemed a particularly appropriate setting for readings from a Memoir that tells of this extraordinary journey from mainstream America to revolutionary Communist. This journey is rooted in and attuned to Black history and culture, and expresses a life shaped by a love of books and an unquenchable thirst to know.

There were ten readers: A reverend from the South Side who is a leader in community and educational circles; a former resident of Cabrini Green and present  “student of the revolution”; a former member of the Illinois Black Panther Party who discovered the science of Marxism more than 30 years ago; a professor from Morocco; an Iranian activist who had participated in the March 2006 European Great March Against Anti-Women Legislation in Iran; an immigrant from El Salvador; a college student; a young political activist; a social science professor; a follower of Bob Avakian who is a long-time supporter of the RCP and an activist from the South Side.

All these different voices, coming from so many different backgrounds and personal histories, all in their own way reading with great feeling and respect, gave a living expression to what Ben Valentin said at Watts: “Avakian is able to interact with so many different kinds of people without getting hung up in their complexion or their gender or what neighborhood they’re from or what junior high school they are from.”

One reader, Jaafar Aksikas, is a young Moroccan professor of Cultural Studies. He  chose to read from the chapter “Building the Party” about the need to continually distinguish different lines and programs, to “draw basic dividing lines, and sharply distinguish what will really lead to revolution from what will lead away from it.” (p. 289) 

Aksikas had participated in a previous program but said this experience meant more to him because he had done further studying in the works of the author. But also because he was inspired and taken by Hank Brown’s reading at the end of the program. That there couldn’t be anything more important that your life could be about than contributing to putting an end to this system and the suffering and oppression it embodies and enforces throughout the world. Contributing to this “is the most important and the most uplifting thing you could possible do.” (p. 445)

Abbie Arbus, the college student who read put the experience together this way: “Each of the readers had their own particular and fascinating approach to the book. At the same time, Avakian drew all of us toward a shared view and a yearning for a radically different world.” 

Avakian’s internationalism particularly touched Tito, the reader from El Salvador. He read from the section where Avakian goes into exile in France and had to leave family and friends and even his dog. Tito said he could identify because he too had to leave his family and friends and even his bicycle because of the repression in El Salvador.

“We are all human beings,” he said reflecting on the event in a later conversation. “Avakian has in his understanding what is in the interests of humanity as a whole. He looks at the world in its totality. His books need to be spread throughout Central America, especially El Salvador and Nicaragua. We know about Lenin. We know about Mao. But they don’t know about Avakian. He must become visible to them.”

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