Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
"We have begun to see the effect this book can have."
In the run up to the April 11 "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World" and in the immediate aftermath, a group of us had a lot of positive experience in taking out BAsics and reading the quotations to people. The following is based on a discussion we had to sum up our efforts.
The quotations from the book were used in several ways: posting the quotations, using them at two read-ins, and reading the quotations in classes. But before getting into how we used the book and quotations, there is something to say that we can sum up about the book itself. There is something about this book. You read a quotation. It's something different. It's refreshing. There's something different when someone is reading from the book. It has a very attractive cover; it has a feel—we can have a culture around this. It's a book that is concentrating some things. There's an appeal, when you put it in someone's hands. There was a student from an elite university doing something about water. So we showed the quotation from BA about caretakers of the planet. It is not highly theoretical but hits hard. We can talk about socialist sustainable principles; but he opens up and he reads this and he gets more. There are three things about the book that make a difference. 1) Just about any question posed to humanity is posed in the book. Any one trying to figure something out, it's in the book. 2) It's all in one place. 3) Then, also, the way BA explains it. It's very accessible. The first quotation—you can have a semester talking about that. That's him. You are talking about revolution and communism, women, immigration, the environment or about anything—it's all there. Through reading these quotations, people are meeting BA, the leader of the revolution.
Posting of the quotations along with the April 11 poster created a buzz and stir at the school of arts of an elite university. This was an important part of not just getting the word out but having a scene where people were taking note and getting interested. A group did posting in the initial phase of saturating the school of arts, before the book was out, going with quotes from the newspaper. People were stopped in the hallway and asked to read the quotations and help decide which ones to post. When someone from the group went back to one area of the school, the woman at the desk had made the whole bulletin board about April 11, with two posters and two back page quotations; and took the palm card and stapled onto the quotes. It had visual flare. We think there is something going on about the book there. There's a stifling atmosphere, normally, but there was a buzz about the event. When someone went back there, a few days ago, a guy at the desk in another department asked how the event went.
People posted Quote #23 from Chapter 5, "If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is…" in the bathrooms. At the end of the day, they read quotations and did classroom announcements. At one class in the school of the arts, the prof let them do the announcement in the class. They went to the cafeteria, read quotations and created a stir.
We did two read-ins in a park on the campus of this same school. The first was done by two or three people. A young film student from China who was dressed like a hippie and walking through the park with her bohemian boyfriend that she had met just two days before, stopped and joined the read-in for about an hour. She read quotes out loud with us and she realized at a certain point that this was the Revolution Books that had organized the talk, "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong," last year, and she said she remembered that and that she had been really interested in this. She had seen the posters for April 11 up in the school of arts and she was really glad to see this. There was also another student we ran into who was really seriously considering coming to the event, she said because "it looks interesting" but she wasn't sure about coming because $15 was a lot for the ticket.
A couple of us went out the Saturday before the 11th to the same park. We started reading from a list of 20 short quotations from BAsics. Groups of people stopped to listen. At one point 6 people were listening together. One middle aged couple listened for 10 minutes. I got down off the bench to talk with the six people. The man from the couple said, "I'm a practicing Buddhist, but I agree with everything you are reading." A young person asked how would the new socialist society be different. I read the quotation about overcoming the "4 Alls" to them. They were looking at the book and other people would stop to pick up the book and look at it though we were not able to sell any. An Asian-American high school student from northern Virginia was there with some other students touring the campus, where they will start in the fall, I overheard him say, half jokingly and half seriously, "I wish I could stand up there and talk against capitalism." I went over and showed him the book. He was totally ignorant of communism but was questioning the world and was open. He said this is something he needs to investigate. Interest was generated by just reading the quotations. People just started coming over to get the cards for April 11. I don't know what people were thinking; but there was this impact from people just hearing something from the book. People's heads would turn and they would stop to listen for a second or in some cases, longer. The very first quotation in the book was a head turner.
There was another experience at a public university. A group of people went to a film festival of student made shorts. As over 100 people were waiting to get into the auditorium, someone called people's attention and read the first quotation from the book. There was an audible response in agreement. Just about everyone then took cards.
The read-in barely started to give us a sense of what's possible and the potential interest, broadly. It took us a bit to get with the read-in, there were some constraints—but it showed the potential and engaging people with the book in a lively way. It attracted certain students who are revolting against the revolting culture in society—some looking to the '60s, some artists, etc. and people who are questioning things. And you have a stage there, not the same as going into the classes, seeing professors, but engaging in putting things out there. We should use amplified sound and do a cultural performance with readings from the book on a weekend day. This could be a big deal. You would get a debate going out there.
We sold a total of ten books in classes by reading from it. Three were sold in each of two classes at the public university mentioned, previously, and four in a class at another public university after April 11. At the latter we could have sold four more but had no more. The ice was broken at the first school by a student who had taken up BAsics and promoting April 11. She did not want to speak in the first wave of classes where we read the three strikes quotation by BA about Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. After we summed up she was asked if she wanted to speak in the next round. She said she wanted to read from the book and have someone else speak about the event. She read the first two quotations in the book and talked about what these meant to her as a Black person and someone who is indigenous. Three students then bought the book.
A comrade sold the other seven books in the classes. He sold a total of 14. He focused on reading from the book as the way to sell it. A whole discussion broke out in the second university. As the comrade reported:
"I read three quotes including the first two in the book. As soon as some of the Black students heard about 'Remember the Alamo' and slave traders and chasers, this got them going, and there was this very good dynamic going on around the immigrant/Black question, where students would struggle with each other on this in a good way. The prof played an exceptional role in all this and she told me this was some of the best engagements she had in her classes. 'There are the catalysts,' she told me, and these are the students who are interested in checking out revolution more. The other quote I used was the 1 percent fighting for the other 1 percent. This too piqued a lot of interest and this Salvadoran student went off. There was a visceral thing going on with him and he backed it up with a lot of substance and told his fellow students what the U.S. did in El Salvador...The book and BA however became the discussion. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? How come I never heard of him before? How would he deal with all these wars? From what you read it seems this is someone who makes a lot of sense and maybe we should get to know him."
Some of the questions discussed in the class were: wars for empire, are socialism and communism possible, how is this different from what the Islamic community thinks. Thirteen students filled out contact cards saying they want to learn more about revolution and communism and be contacted about events at the store.
Reading from the book was key. To quote a proletarian we know, "Let BA speak for himself." We need more ways to simply read from the book, outings to the parks, street corners, in classes.
There is another experience about which we learned while building for the event at the elite university. We ran into a student that had worked on the Sunsara Taylor tour the year before and told her about April 11. Usually, whenever a comrade tells her about an event, she goes straight to how busy she is. This time, she said she has been reading the emails sent out by Revolution Books and said it was really fun everyday getting a new quote. "It gives you something to think about for the day. It provokes you." Her roommate has a book of quotes which she reads everyday, but this is different.
The student that sold three copies of BAsics in one class told us that she began to read the quotations from the book online. She said, "He breaks down very complex things and you can't argue with it. It's true and easy to understand." Initially, the book was speaking to her nationalism and feminism, but through this process, and especially the event she came to see the internationalism and the need to start from the whole world.
We have made a beginning in connecting this incredible book and revolutionary leader with people. We have begun to see the effect this book can have. We have some work to do.
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