Revolution#110, November 25, 2007

Interview with Dr. Ramona Dvořák, Engage! Statement Signatory

The Engage! Statement and “the Better Possibility of a Different Kind of World”

This week, readers of The New York Review of Books, a premier journal among academics and intellectuals, were greeted with a statement calling on people to engage with the work of Bob Avakian and to protect his ability to carry on that work. This statement—”Dangerous times demand courageous voices. Bob Avakian is such a voice.”—carried over 250 signatures, including many prominent artists, intellectuals and activists. You can download a copy of the statement, with its signatures, here.

To give a sense of the mission of this statement and how different people view this, we are reprinting here an interview by Michael Slate, journalist for Revolution and KPFK Pacifica Radio, with Dr. Ramona Dvořák, who serves on the Engage! Committee’s Steering Committee. This interview aired on Michael Slate’s Beneath the Surface on KPFK on Tuesday, November 13. You can download the interview from (Michael Slate’s website) or (go to “shows,” then “archives”).

Michael Slate: For those of you who read The NY Review of Books, you’ll open it up and prominently placed within the issue of the newspaper is an Engage! statement that reads, “Dangerous times demand courageous voices. Bob Avakian is such a voice.” People have been jolted when they looked at this, saw the content of the statement and saw it’s a statement that promotes, projects and protects the voice of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, signed by a boatload of people that people were shocked to see: Sonia Sanchez, Cindy Sheehan, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Michael Eric Dyson, Chuck D, Rickie Lee Jones, Harry Lennix, Uli Bella from Ozomatli, Sam Hamill, Prof. Peter McLaren. A boatload of people from all walks of life who’ve stepped up to say, “Yes we want to promote this voice, this voice needs to be heard.” And joining us to talk about this is one of the signers of the statement, Dr. Ramona Dvořák.

Dr. Dvořák is a physician. She teaches at Harvard Medical School, holds a Master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, and is an attending psychiatrist in a community hospital that serves a large immigrant and diverse population in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Why don’t you tell us about the Engage! statement, what it is and why you signed it?

Dr. Ramona Dvořák: The Engage! statement is a statement that puts out into a public arena a declaration that we have a revolutionary voice, the voice of Bob Avakian, that needs to be heard. Also we’re putting this out there because we feel that this is a system that does not allow very much discourse outside of the status quo, and Bob Avakian’s ideas need to be out there and debated in the larger public arena. These are very dangerous and critical times where people need to know about and hear voices outside of the mainstream. And the second part of the reason for this statement is to put the government essentially on notice saying, “This is a revolutionary voice who has a following of people that would protect him and challenge you, government, if you harass him or attempt to silence him.”

Michael Slate: When you talk about how he has a following of people, one of the things people have engaged with Bob Avakian’s work on many different levels, and the list includes people who are more familiar with aspects of the work but also people who in general recognize there needed to be a Malcolm X, the Panthers; there needed to be revolutionary voices in the mix of society or the world was going to be a pretty ugly place. There’s an aspect of this that’s really important—a lot of people are standing up and saying marginalizing Avakian or silencing him in any way is putting a lid, both an ideological lid on what’s allowed to be discussed in terms of possibilities for a different future today, and trying to prevent that discussion altogether.

Dr. Ramona Dvořák: Absolutely, and getting back to your original question, let me speak a little bit from the heart about why I, personally, signed it. Because as you said, there are a lot of signers. They signed for many different reasons. I personally signed this statement because I am in agony about the direction the world is headed in. I am in agony about U.S. policies that are causing the devastation and the suffering of millions of people, not only in this country but all around the world. And within the context of that, we need to be able to have a voice where you can challenge the conventional wisdom and challenge the traditional options—and nowhere was I hearing that. So I was introduced to Bob Avakian’s works and his ideas. I’ve watched the DVD [of Bob Avakian’s talk “Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About”], I’ve
read his memoir [From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist], and he has opened my eyes to understanding this capitalist system at the very foundation of what it’s all about. Why does it do what it does? What’s the necessity of its behaviors and why does it operate the way it does? It opened my eyes to understand the complexity and the motivation of this system in a way that I had never done before.

Also, by listening to these ideas and reading the works of Bob Avakian, I have come to be opened up about possibilities, of solutions that you don’t read about or hear about from the mainstream: possibilities about making revolution in a country like this, possibilities of living in a different kind of world that is not predicated on brutality and the oppression of people, but where people are actually treated with dignity and there’s social justice. I mean, my goodness, that kind of possibility is not even in the discourse in this society. So for me, I signed the statement because I feel as many people as possible, even if you don’t agree with all of the ideas, which I do not, and I’m struggling with some of them, and I’m still learning, but even if you don’t agree with these ideas, they are provocative. They are intellectually, in my opinion, brilliant. And they really challenge us in a way to kind of break down a lot of the illusions that many people have about this system, and in my way of thinking that the only way this society is going to be transformed is if people are educated, and if they can imagine that a different world can be brought forward.

One of the things that struck me also about the real distortions that are put out there about communists—they’re brutal, and they’re murderers, and Mao murdered millions of people and whatever—when I first watched that tape from Bob Avakian—and I’m African-American—when I first watched this tape of this white guy standing up there talking about freedoms and oppression, I was very skeptical. I thought, “What is this guy going to tell me about the suffering of Black people?” And boy was I just amazed—the guy blew me away. He started talking about the oppression of Black people from the inception of what this entire system is all about, that go to the core of its foundation, both economically, and how that affects the social relations. He traces that history up to the present from the time we were selling postcards of the hanging. That’s where he starts out and that grabbed my heart immediately. He traces it into the history now. Why do Black people continue to be oppressed and what does that have to do with the immigrants? How do you understand that in terms of the global economy and where this system is headed? And here’s a white guy doing all of this, with the kind of humanity and integrity that really stunned me.

The signatories on the statement are from such a wide diversity, every walk of life: academia, artists, political activists, politicians, etc. The New York Review of Books has a target audience that tends to be academics, intellectuals, people who care about and are thinking about various social issues, scientific issues, environmental issues, political issues. We really want to engage that group very broadly. Rightly or wrongly, academics and intellectuals have a disproportionate influence on the society and the direction that the society is headed. So we really particularly think that those people need to be engaged with Bob Avakian’s ideas. The academics, we would like them to get Bob Avakian’s materials in the classroom. For my colleagues at Harvard Medical School and other universities around, we want to ask them to engage and debate and get these ideas into the discourse. Because Bob Avakian, unfortunately, is not well known among academics or intellectuals and this periodical claims to have that target audience, and the content of the periodical tends to address these issues that need to be debated in society. 

They should sign this because we want to influence the direction of society, and the only way that we’re going to do that is to have ideas that are outside the traditional realm and outside the status quo. Bob Avakian is that kind of voice at this critical time. Signing that statement will engage people with these ideas and that will give us the better possibility of a different kind of world.

Michael Slate: Ramona, thank you very much. I really enjoyed talking to you about this.

Dr. Ramona Dvořák: And I’m happy—if people have any other questions—to get on line, get into that Engage! statement, and we’re happy to engage with people in any way we can.

The website is There are a lot of materials there, with many links to Bob Avakian’s talks, papers, books. There are a lot of materials on there.  

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