Revolution Online, May 2, 2011
Cornel West and Carl Dix Dialogue Comes to UCLA:
In the Age of Obama…
Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education:
WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH?
When Cornel West and Carl Dix entered DeNeve Auditorium on the UCLA campus Friday evening, April 29 to begin their dialogue, the anticipation that had been building for days burst into a boisterous standing ovation.
Word of the event had criss-crossed the campus and beyond in a matter of days, carried across many different social networks, through faculty e-mails and student organizations' Facebook pages; through announcements in classes, flyers posted on bulletin boards and passed out on campus at Bruin Walk and other locales; through ads in the Daily Bruin, UCLA's newspaper, and radio announcements on Pacifica's KPFK.
The excitement and anticipation from diverse sections of people was a clue that something unique was happening; that this event was resonating with a wide breadth of people who shared a thirst and hunger for answers to the question posed in the title of the dialogue—"What Future for Our Youth?"—and more fundamentally, why the situation today is the way it is, and how it could be changed.
UCLA students and many others lined up hours before the start of the program, determined not to miss it. By the time the doors opened and people were let in, the atmosphere was electric. The 700 or so seats in the main hall and overflow rooms could not hold all who'd come, and an estimated 400 people had to be turned away. The bulk of the audience was UCLA students, with some faculty, staff and alumni, and people from the community mixed in. More than half of those who heard the program were Black students and Black people from the community, along with many Latino and white students and others.
The Dialogue Begins
There were brief introductions by the Chairwoman of the African Student Union; the Associate Vice Provost Charles Alexander; and by Darnell Hunt, Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. And finally, two UCLA students came forward and each did a spoken word piece. The second one so powerfully and dramatically touched on all of the questions that would be addressed it brought the audience once again to its feet and added to the electricity in the room.
For the next three hours the audience found itself wrestling with the same questions the speakers were grappling with, coming away amazed, angered, challenged, and inspired by what they heard and learned from these two speakers, and by what it meant to have been a part of it. Carl Dix characterized the challenge before the two speakers this way: "…coming from our different perspectives, talk about what actually created this situation; and what needs to be and can be done to transform it."
Message to the Students
This was principally an audience of university students, and both presentations spoke directly to the challenge before their generation to step forward and build resistance to the crimes of this system. Dix explained that "young intellectuals as many of you are here, have always had great influence, and great responsibility, for determining the direction of society. Young people, and young students, can play this role 'cause you grapple with complex ideas, and you can look out and see the gap between the way the world is, and the way it should be. And being young, you ain't yet locked into thinking there's nothing that can be done to bridge that gap." The students responded knowingly as he spoke about the powerful movements of the '60s and the crucial roles played by SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee); SDS (Students for a Democratic Society); and the BPP (Black Panther Party), which was founded by two college students—Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
Dix powerfully exposed the brutality of the system towards millions of Black and Latino youth, from police murder to the way in which the drug laws have been consciously used to criminalize and incarcerate, and essentially write off an entire generation of inner-city youth.
Many people after the program said they had been deeply affected by learning about the blatant racism expressed in the statistics about the relative rates of incarceration for white youth and Blacks and Latinos, and the use of the stop and frisk laws in New York City to intimidate, threaten, and criminalize Black and Latino youth.
Dix said his principal message was that things don't have to be this way; that revolution is both urgently necessary, and possible. During the rest of his talk he spoke to what people need to be doing today to make revolution. He explained how "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" was an important aspect of the Revolutionary Communist Party's strategic approach to building resistance to the crimes of the system, transforming conditions and people. To give concreteness to this, at one point he drew from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), contrasting the educational system today with the way it will be when we have state power.
At crucial points Dix opened up and read quotes from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. This gave people a glimpse of the method and approach of Avakian applied to critical questions, and what it means for revolution and the emancipation of humanity to have this revolutionary leader. And it gave people a sense of the importance of getting their hands on BAsics as a crucial way to get introduced to Avakian and the re-envisioned communist revolution he has brought forward.
For most of the students this was their first experience hearing Carl Dix, or any revolutionary communist. You could tell by the applause, the laughter, the shuddering at the crimes of the system, that the audience "felt" him on it. When he took on the reactionary nature of theocracy, patriarchy, and the attacks on gays and lesbians, a number of African American women students clearly welcomed it. At the same time you could tell that people's low dreams were being challenged, as when he said the crimes against the youth were reason enough to make revolution, though far from the only reason to want to do so.
Woven through West's speech was a powerful and poetic critique of the "lies and mendacity" of this system, and the way in which it has marginalized and written off "poor and working people," and especially the youth. He has become even more critical of the way in which Obama has ignored the worsening conditions of Black and Latino people, while catering to the powerful financial interests. People gasped when he said that Obama's recent State of the Union speech was the first time poverty had been completely left out since 1948!
West's presentation really went after the question of morality—in struggling with the students before him. What kind of morality, what kind of society do you want to live in? While expressing his deep feelings towards them, he challenged them to see that "there's only one way out—the courage to think critically." He said they had to "learn how to be maladjusted to a mainstream that stays at a superficial level." And that they were not going to find the truth beneath the superficial by going to either the Republican or the Democratic parties.
He challenged them to recognize their responsibility to be a part of building resistance to this system's crimes; and to resist being bribed and bought in the pursuit of a career.
There was controversy as well, especially when Carl Dix read the quote in BAsics that "Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved and oppressed" [Chapter 4, #1], and said bluntly, "There is no God," while Cornel West describes himself as a "Jesus loving Black man." West and Dix come from different starting points; and they have clear differences over certain questions, like religion, and Obama. But there is a deep appreciation, and love, they have for each other rooted in the "heavy overlap," as West described it, of their common dedication and determination to challenge the way things are, and to change the world. And that was in full evidence throughout the evening.
The audience came away with a deep appreciation for both speakers. There was no "lobbing volleys" at each other, but instead they were deeply engaged with what the other was saying.
After their presentations the audience had its chance to engage the speakers. People were wrestling with the theme, and the answers provided by the speakers. Dix was asked to elaborate on the idea of "daily resistance" to the system. Another student asked "how do those of us with callings and majors that do not lend themselves to political discourse and revolution, for example engineering, mathematics, etc., contribute to these necessary changes?" Both speakers were asked about their position on the right to marry someone of the same sex, and their responses were welcomed by the crowd. And then the question was posed by someone who is gay—"Do you think it's fair when people in the gay and lesbian community compare our struggle for equal rights with that of Black folks?"
There is something about this dialogue that made it possible to come out of it with something really different; changed. There was a way in which it punctured the toxic atmosphere that is so prevalent on the campuses. One student said afterwards, "Being in a university setting, these are the kinds of things that you hope to be hearing on a regular basis but unfortunately that's not the truth. It's not what you hear and it's not what we're reading."
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A graduate student said afterwards, "It was incredible. It was good to have their different perspectives on it. I really enjoyed it. They were wonderful—both of them."
One of the things you couldn't help noticing as the evening unfolded was a feeling of excitement and growing confidence people were getting at discovering that they were in a room full of like-minded people. Afterwards, a student who'd traveled a long way to get to this dialogue remarked: "I was really excited about the reactions that I was hearing to the dialogue. Because oftentimes it's hard to identify other individuals that might be of like minds. So to be able to attend an event like this, which like I said was maximum capacity and then some, and to know that the majority of the people here share the same hope. Not how hope is regularly perceived, but as defined by Dr. West this evening. I think that's a beautiful thing. It's beautiful for humanity. It's necessary."
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A significant aspect of this event is that it punctured the atmosphere that is strangling students and faculty who refuse to accept the "official narrative" about this country's history, and its dominant place in the world. It gave you the sense that people who have been suffocating were able to come up for air. And it has contributed to changing the discourse, a process which needs to build on what has been accomplished through the work to bring this event to UCLA.
There is still a great deal more to learn about the impact of this event from those who attended, and this needs to be taken up in a systematic way. Many students expressed that this evening had changed them. And some came up to the speakers asking how to get involved, and to learn more about how to actually organize resistance. There is an opportunity now to build on what was brought forward and in a beginning way transformed, and to discover together the forms to "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
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