Revolution Online Edition, August 17, 2009
Taking "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" to Chicago's Bud Billiken Day Parade
On a very hot Saturday, the 80th Anniversary of the Bud Billiken Day Parade took place on the south-side of Chicago. Drawing together thousands and thousands of Black youth and their families spanning generations, it is the largest single gathering of its kind in the U.S.
The highlights of the parade were the youth in the school marching bands, drill teams, in-line skaters and other performers who wowed and amazed the crowds lining the parade route, cheering with an exuberance that did not wilt in the stifling heat.
Each year, the parade marks the return of the youth to school but no one ever mentions the horrendous conditions these school-age youth confront. In one Chicago school in the Black community, over 10% of the students are homeless. Less than 50% of the students finish high school in the city's public school system. As the Message and the Call ["The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"] from the RCP puts it, "... despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall...."
The t-shirts passed out by the Chicago Public School system were a cruel joke—on the back they had a list of what these children can supposedly become: lawyer, doctor, teacher... a list that ended with president. They forgot to list prisoner or dead. Last summer, the police in Chicago shot and killed over 12 minority youth in a 2 week period! In July 2009 over 240 people were shot (40+ killed) in Chicago in waves of what the press dismisses as "gang violence."
There is a dark ominous cloud that increasingly hangs over the parade...the contingents not just from the military, but from military-run PUBLIC schools...under Arne Duncan, now the Obama-appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, Chicago became home to the largest number of public charter schools literally run by branches of the military. We're not just talking ROTC, and not just talking military recruiters who are now a fixture, but WHOLE schools run by the Army or Navy to create a pipeline of youth into the military.
At the end of the parade route when one military academy contingent was disbanding, revolutionaries were there handing out a free back copy of the newspaper with the front cover "Don't Be a Buffalo Soldier." The students' commander—a special ops type guy—got into a yelling match with the distributor... "you are harassing these students"... "you can't give this stuff to them"... "I'll have you arrested" to which there was a feisty back and forth for all to hear. "You are training them to be killers for the empire"... "You are lying to these students, you can't keep the truth from people." As students continued to take the newspaper, the commanders started grabbing them back out of the students' hands and whisked them onto buses. The revolutionaries vowed to be outside the opening day of school.
As the statement says: "A system which offers million and millions of youth no greater purpose, no better fate, than crime and punishment, or to become a mindless killing machine for the system itself—that alone is reason enough to sweep this system from the face of the earth!"
The revolutionaries needed to bring the message and the call from the Revolutionary Communist Party into the whole parade scene. Thousands of leaflets with the call on one side and Bob Avakian's statement on Willie Mobile Shaw on the other side were printed up, along with a few thousand neon yellow stickers with big block letters saying "EMANCIPATORS OF HUMANITY" with revcom.us.
The police presence at the parade is massive and meant to be intimidating, especially to the youth. The police have exhibited a particular hatred for anything calling out police violence and previous years have snatched banners, surrounded anti-police brutality marchers, tried to shut down the informal vendors and passed more rules and regulations.
The revolution needed a bold presence. This required getting good places for the tents at the entrance to the park where the parade enters. And forming up teams to go out into the crowd before the parade started, when the streets are lined with people just waiting around. But early in the morning the crowds are thin and it would be relatively easy for the police to try and shut the revolutionaries down without many people even being there to have our backs. So only the Revolution booth skeleton was set up at the crack of dawn to hold its primo spot, but no banners or displays were hung yet. The revolutionaries gathered across the street but wore other shirts over their Revolution t-shirts. The red flags were not unfurled. The truck which would hold the display "NO MORE STOLEN LIVES" of all the people killed by the Chicago police had a good spot on the route but the display lay in the truck bed.
As the crowd began to fill up in the park, the revolutionaries went around and talked to the neighboring vendors and picnicking families. Kitty corner from the park, the police were amassed getting their assignments. When the police dispersed, then the revolution booth was unveiled—everything had been prepared in the days before to put it up in short order—the banners 15 feet in the air. One banner with the Revolution newspaper masthead and the other with the full title of the DVD of a film of a talk by Bob Avakian in large letters [Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About]. There were displays on three 10 x 6 foot sides of the tent. All the literature, stickers etc. came out. The Revolution t-shirts were unveiled and the team going out into the crowd practiced their chants louder and moved out in the parade route. In 20 minutes or so, the Revolution was in the house.
Three sides of the tent were vivid color displays. One side had a 6-foot enlargement of the short version of the statement; the cover and centerfold of the special issue of Revolution #170 and a special section on the leadership we have in Bob Avakian. Turn the corner and there were color enlargements of the covers of the "A Declaration for Women's Liberation and Emancipation of All Humanity" and the "Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System and the Revolution we Need." Each was framed by a quote from Bob Avakian. There were other graphic pieces drawn from Revolution newspaper. The back page poster about the beating of Rihanna still draws a lot of attention and discussion. Woven through all this were scenes of "spreading the word about revolution" to all sections of people. Turn the corner again and this side was a stark depiction of the horrors of imperialism with recent center spreads enlarged from Revolution—the world food crisis; we are being lied to about the real causes of Africa's oppression and suffering; democracy + capitalism = imperialism and the centerfold on the worldwide oppression of women.
It gave a sweeping picture of the world we live in, and why only communist revolution could solve these daunting problems, and how this party and Bob Avakian could lead such a revolution. In the days leading up to the parade, newer people helped lend their creative juices and political thinking about what/how to convey our message through the displays. Something to keep building on and improving.
Another canopy was set up for viewing of the DVD Revolution, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian and a place for people to gather and talk. Playing in the background was the ghetto re-mix, songs by Nina Simone, and the reading of the statement by Joe Veale. Once the parade started, the noise was so overwhelming it drowned out all the other sound including attempts to watch the DVD.
Like flies the police began to hover around the truck that held the display of people murdered by police. In spite of a legal observer challenging them on this, the police wrote bogus tickets on the truck—"license plate too high"; "commercial vehicle in residential area"—when the whole street was filled to the brim with cars and commercial vehicles parked legally and illegally. This blatant harassment will be fought.
The contingents of people, all dressed in their Revolution T-shirts and carrying red flags, had marched out chanting. One chant was a familiar rhythm with startling content:
"Everywhere we go,
People want to know
Who we are, so we tell them
We're for revolution,
We're with Bob Avakian
Fighting for emancipation of all of humanity.
Heads turned and people reached out to get thousands of flyers and the bright yellow stickers Emancipators of Humanity. The police surrounded the group—and tried to stop them from marching, eventually confiscating dowel sticks (less than one-half inch thick) that held up the red flags. As the police tried to say you can't parade—the contingent pressed on as eager hands grabbed the fliers and the police backed off in their efforts to get them to cease and desist.
Some of the people who had gotten the paper from the contingents got some money and came back to the table to pay for them—others took the revolutionary "tour" around the tent. The displays elicited some deep discontent with the way things are or hit home about the oppression of women or the locking up of the youth. A mother talked about her son railroaded to 11 years in prison. Others said enough is enough and wanted to see people come together to make a radical change and then there was a lot of debate over what that means. Some more readily endorsed the concept of a revolution—and were challenged to become part of a movement that is seriously working for revolution. Others who came by spoke to how they had a bad feeling about communism. Or how repression comes down on people when they get too close or too much of a following like the Panthers during the '60s. They wrangled with questions of how to advance in the face of repression. They opened up to the possibility that they have been lied to about the achievements of socialism and what communism really is.
Many stopped at the enlargement of the special supplement—and we read sections aloud so it would have the full impact—this is where we are going, this is communism, this is what the emancipation of all humanity is all about. People from a nearby hospital took bundles of fliers back to work and some to pass out on the bus ride home. One 20-something woman and her kids looked at the displays. She was going back to college. She said you don't hear people talking about the common good of people—most people think about themselves. She was challenged to take that on—the world didn't have to be dog-eat-dog-look out for number one—that a whole other world was possible. She got an organizer kit.
The youth were mainly running in small posses. At the parade to see and be seen. It was harder to engage them more deeply on the spot. When the challenges got sharp, that usually opened things up. One young man boasted "I can't read" when approached with a leaflet. He was challenged—"I think that is bullshit. Everyone I know who is illiterate doesn't brag about it. You need to know about the world, the revolution we need and the leadership for this revolution." At this point his friends were cracking up and all took leaflets.
Another person reported, "In challenging a group of very street young guys around the need to spread revolution and the leadership we have with Bob Avakain, one guy stood up and said seriously, we were just talking about the need for leadership in the world, some of the others guys laughed, but he was serious, he said he would check out the flyer." One young grouping of high school girls came by—when talk turned to Professor Gates—one young woman jumped right in—about how the cops had busted this professor right in his own home! The other girls were a bit taken back—wow—she really knew what was going on—with that they studied the displays on the tent. At the end when asked what struck them another young girl said "people are going hungry—that's not right"—she was looking at the pictures of the women from Haiti feeding her child dirt and grease to keep them alive. This opened up further discussion around what capitalism and imperialism does around the world and why it doesn't have to be that way. There were a few younger people who spent time at the booth going more deeply like a ninth grader who asked a lot of good questions—history of communism, democracy and capitalism, Obama and could he fix things and ended up watching sections of the Revolution DVD. This kid's family is also into Cornel West and he ended up getting an organizer kit and a CD of the Dix/West dialogue in Harlem for his dad and signed up to hook up with the youth.
More than a few older people rolled their eyes when we spoke about the need to bring the youth forward—to get out of the "life" and get into revolution. Others promoted religion, but many with a social justice approach to taking on oppression. They were more open to listening to the CD of the dialogue between Carl Dix and Cornel West, which a number of them got. But their religious beliefs really blinded them to the underlying dynamic of this capitalist/imperialist system and left them look to "getting right with god" and leaving the big decisions up to Obama.
The revolutionaries made an important beginning impact. Much more needs to be done to crack open the space among the youth including by drawing forward those who are willing to step out and go up against the pull of the social scenes and the intimidation of the police. Recognition should be growing of the revolution we need and the leadership as we head towards opening of school and the challenge needs to be deepened these youth that there is no greater purpose and no greater cause to which to dedicate our lives than the emancipation of all of humanity.
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