Revolution Online Edition, August 17, 2009
Revolution at Rock the Bells
Thousands of twenty-something proletarians, college students, older hip-hop heads, and a smattering of high school youth came to the day-long hip-hop festival Rock the Bells last weekend to hear artists like Nas with Damian Marley, Busta Rhymes, The Roots, and Ice Cube, and less mainstream people like Sage Francis. Rock the Bells is a festival that aims to have a rebellious edge—featuring many artists who challenge the status quo in different ways, who instead of only rapping about bitches and ho's and making money, include lyrics that rail against some of the outrages of this system. Every once in a while, you hear lyrics that encourage resistance to these outrages, or even inspire people to dream of a better world, but most of even the rebellious edge of this culture is unfortunately locked within itself, trapped in not being able to see any means of actually changing the world, and consigned to the idea that bringing out some of the truth through the music is as far as we can go to having any kind of effect on society. In fact, over and over again this is what we heard from many of the youth at this concert who hate the injustices they see around them, who think we needed revolution yesterday, but up until now have not seen any real possibility of that.
We've gone to Rock the Bells several years in a row, so our paper and the Bob Avakian DVD [Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About] are already known by some people. Some people expect to see us there and some of those have been watching carefully, checking us out. This year, we had a real presence with "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." The Revolution DVD banner was visible as people entered the parking lot, flyers of the message and call from the RCP, USA got into people's hands as they walked in, and then inside, the words of this statement emanated out into the walkways from the loudspeaker in the Revolution booth, alternating with the voice and words of Bob Avakian, as his historic Revolution talk played on a laptop screen in the booth. A five-foot enlargement of the statement with color pictures flanked the booth. Many people passing by the booth stopped to read parts of the statement and find out about this leader.
One youth in his twenties who'd met us last year and signed up to be on the e-mail list has been getting the e-mails from the bookstore. He came into the booth asking, "Do you have the Bob Avakian DVD?" He said he had listened to the Cornel West and Carl Dix dialogue on KPFK and wants to watch the DVD. He wasn't ready to get involved, didn't want to talk more or give his number, but said he just really wants to learn more and when he's ready he'll come to the bookstore. A guy from Arizona said he got the special offer from us last year, has watched the DVD and has been reading the paper. He loves the newspaper and shows it to all his friends. One of his friends who was there with him said he'd been reading the newspaper and thinks it's great. We asked what he likes about it and he said sometimes people are in this really small world of what's going on around them and the newspaper opens up what's going on in the whole world.
People had all different kinds of ideas of what revolution meant. Some people were into Che and said that's what it means to be a revolutionary—to fight for real and to give your life for the people. We told people who said this that Che had good intentions but he didn't have a strategy that could lead to liberation—in particular he didn't think the masses themselves could understand and change the world and actually uproot the relations of oppression and exploitation and thoroughly transform society. We told people this highlights even more the significance of THIS leader, Bob Avakian, who has tremendous confidence in the ability of the masses to change the world and change themselves in the process, and has developed revolutionary theory which can lead them to do this. Mainly the people we talked to who were more into Che weren't into pursuing this discussion when it came down to genuine revolutionary leadership that exists today and what's involved in actually making revolution.
Some people made comments that were clearly not at all serious about making revolution, best described as "infantile posturing and distortions of revolution" which is addressed in an article from revcom.us called "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution." We used the orientation in that article to address these comments, but we should have also directed people to read it themselves (it's located as an appendix in the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation).
Other people said revolution was about people changing themselves as individuals, or that the way to make revolution—and really they meant a general idea of change—is through music that makes people more conscious. With many people who said these kinds of things, we went right to the need to get rid of this whole system, that this is the revolution we're talking about, and that right now we need to be fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. For some of the advanced, when they realized we were talking about a real revolution to get rid of the whole capitalist system, they said yes we need it, but it's not possible, they are too strong, we would be crushed. We used the statement itself, reading from the enlargement we had where it speaks directly to this question. When we got to the part that "now IS the time to be WORKING FOR REVOLUTION—to be stepping up resistance while building a movement for revolution—to prepare for the time when it WILL be possible to go all out to seize the power," some of these people were looking at us with new eyes, and saying, "yes!"
A small detour: earlier in the week, a teacher at a high school where we've been doing a lot of work with the statement, said his students had come to him with the flyer and asked him if we were for real. He had taught them about the need for resistance, about different revolutionaries in history, and they saw the revolutionaries outside of their school and couldn't believe it was really real. This was how some of the revolutionary-minded people at Rock the Bells were. They spoke with a sense of urgency, almost desperation, for the need to radically change this world, and as they engaged what we were bringing to them, they grabbed onto it thirstily but also somewhat tentatively—like someone in a desert who is going to the pool of water they see, but also thinking it might be a mirage.
One person who was like this was maybe around 20 years old and he was at the concert with his girlfriend. It was the Fuck Capitalism t-shirt hanging from the booth that first caught his eye. He showed it to his girlfriend and they both came over to get a closer look. I showed them the statement and we started to talk about it, getting into some of these questions. I asked them what they think of communism. The boyfriend explained to me that he hates money, he hates what money does to people, what people do to each other to get money. He said he wants to see a world where people work together and share for the benefit of everybody and when he's said this to his friends, they've called him a communist—but he never really knew what communism was. We read the part of the statement about communism, and I began to tell them how the history of socialism has been kept from people, how these societies were turned back by the forces of the old order, but they didn't fail and we can go further the next time around. I showed them the picture in the paper from China, and described what was going on in that picture with everybody writing big character posters. They thought it was great.
I asked them if they wanted to see part of the Bob Avakian DVD where he talks about what a new society would look like. They wanted to know about who Bob Avakian was. I told them about how he developed into a revolutionary and a communist and how he has studied and summed up the experience of the first wave of communist revolutions, developed theory and strategy for how we can make revolution in this period and take it even further, and he is leading a vanguard party to initiate a new stage of revolution in the world. They decided to buy the DVD. I told them that we had a special offer with a subscription to the newspaper and we looked through the articles in the current issue. They definitely wanted the subscription, and they took ten issues of the statement to distribute.
An important component in how seriously people were taking us is how seriously we took ourselves. The more bold and confident we were in putting forward the content of this statement, the more it attracted the serious people to us—like one guy rushing into the amphitheatre heard us say, "we need a real revolution, we need resistance, and we're building a movement for revolution—NOW." He stopped, took the flyer and asked, "How do I sign up?" We told him to take a bundle of papers, to distribute them there at the concert, to donate money for those papers, and to give us a way to get back to him. He said OK, took ten papers, gave $5, and gave his number.
Our boldness also drew a couple backward comments from those who are more seriously against communism and revolution but didn't feel the freedom to do more than yell out something stupid in passing (one guy passed by the booth and said "fuck communists," another threw the flyer and said loudly, "oh I thought this was porn"). The word clearly got out that not only were we the revolutionaries, we were the COMMUNIST revolutionaries. Some people said they've read the communist manifesto and they like it. Some of them said it's a good idea but doesn't work. Others who hadn't engaged it that much and were pretty much just repeating what's commonly out there just passed by and said, "Communism doesn't work" or "It won't work here." At the end of the night we did agitation from on top of a milk crate as waves of people were exiting the concert. Again, some passed by and said, "I don't agree with communism," and kept walking while others stopped to talk about what they understand of communism. But many stopped to get the statement or get a bundle of statements, because they agreed: that the crimes of this system are intolerable and that we need "to be stepping up resistance while building a movement for revolution¼" and they were inspired and challenged by the call to wake up, to shake off the ways they put on us, to rise up as conscious emancipators of humanity.
After watching us throughout the day, one person came up and said he liked what he saw, that he's the organizer of an extreme sports event, and he wants to donate booth space for us to be there. A young Black man walked in to the bookstore the next day, saying he was in town for Rock the Bells, that he'd seen us there, had gotten a subscription to Revolution the year before, and he wanted to renew his subscription, get the DVD, and get a second subscription in Spanish. He told the staff person that he sends his paper to friends in different cities, that he doesn't know if any English-speaking people in his town would be interested in the paper, but there's a meat-packing plant nearby where a lot of Spanish-speaking immigrants work and he thought some of them would be interested. After talking it over with the comrade at the bookstore, he decided to get a bundle of 50 of the statement, half in Spanish to distribute at the meat-packing plant, and half in English to distribute to students at a nearby college.
Altogether, we got out over 2000 copies of the short-version flyer, 500 plugger cards for the Bob Avakian DVD, and more than 800 copies of the full message and call from the RCP, USA. Of the 800 papers, 500 went out in 26 bundles to people from all over the area and from other cities and states to take this back and spread it where they live.
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