Revolution #263, March 25, 2012
Dinner and a Movie: To Benefit Revolution Books!
From staff members of Revolution Books store in one city:
Our most successful fundraisers have been our “Dinner and a Movie” events, raising about a thousand dollars per dinner, and we held our most successful of these last November. On this night we transformed the bookstore into a dinner theater complete with a big screen, nicely set tables and a buffet. We showed the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop and served delicious Egyptian food donated by a local restaurant, along with desserts made by friends and supporters. We always try to pick a movie that’s both entertaining and politically provocative, and the use of the film projector is donated by a progressive organization called Meaningful Movies. All of this builds political relationships with the donors and allows us to keep the costs of hosting the fundraiser to a minimum.
The dinner tickets are $50 per person. This was based on the need to raise a significant amount of money in a short time and starting from our goal to raise $1000 from the 20 guests we could fit into the space. The price was controversial at first, among both staff and supporters. Some of us thought it would be too difficult, even impossible, to get people to agree to come at that price, certainly not enough people to fill the bookstore. One viewpoint holding us back from inviting everyone we knew was thinking that only people who saw the need for revolution and communism would want to give the bookstore money. Other people thought it wasn't a fair price, since the amount would restrict some people, particularly proletarians, from attending. All of this was shown to be dead wrong. It was by discussing and struggling out these questions along the way as we carried out the preparations for the dinners that people were won to see and then seize on the potential.
As different staff people articulated, there are other organizations that do fundraisers (including the Democratic Party) that charge much more for tickets than we do, and have nothing more to offer people than some tinkering around the edges of a horrific system. Revolution Books is an entryway to a movement for revolution that won’t accept the world as it is, where people can meet BA and learn about a new synthesis of revolution and communism that is both viable and liberating. As far as being "fair" goes, we live in a capitalist society which is inherently and brutally unfair, and we can't let our hopes for a more just and equitable world blind us to the reality that some people have more money to contribute than others. This is about liberating all of humanity, and there are many, many people, including people who have significant financial means, that also deeply desire a far better world. Whether they fully agree with revolution and communism, there are those that see Revolution Books as a very important place to support and sustain, and the dinners are a way for us to invite those people to contribute to keep our doors open to the world, including people who are just learning about this movement for revolution.
For each of these dinners we've packed the house! We put some thought into who to invite, and we've seen over the course of the three dinners we’ve hosted that they attract a different type of crowd than we normally have at bookstore events. About half of those who attend are personal friends and family of the staff and other supporters. This time when we were planning the dinner, there was a lot going on in the world, and in we were going down to the Occupy encampment frequently, and also building for and marching on October 22nd, the National Day of Protest To Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. So there were Occupy activists, as well as people active around O22. And because of our participation in the regular "Art Walk," and the relationships we’ve developed through this work, we invited several artists. The dinners are also a way for us to build and maintain relationships with people who sustain the store on a monthly basis. Some of our sustainers we see only at the dinners, and it’s an important way that we stay in touch with them, and let them know their money is appreciated and being used every month to keep the store open and active.
We start inviting people at least a month in advance, sending out formal invitations, email invitations, and then calling people to follow-up. The follow-up is key; it always looks like almost no one is coming up until the day before the event! Some people who can’t or don’t want to attend but do want to donate, purchase tickets and ask that we invite someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to come.
Another new experience for us this time was approaching the restaurant that donated all of the food for the dinner. We knew about them from statements that they made during the uprising in Egypt, but we had never talked to them before. The owner welcomed the opportunity, and even though we asked him to contribute only one dish, he replied that he would cater the entire dinner. He was quite insistent, and really wouldn't let us turn him down!
To paint a picture of how the evening goes: As people arrive, beverages are available and people talk and mingle until dinner is served buffet style. A host welcomes everyone to Revolution Books and then invites a couple people (who’ve been asked ahead of time) to say a few words about why they support Revolution Books. We’ve learned a lot from this part of the program, mainly about how much elasticity there is in regards to how people view the bookstore and why they support this movement for revolution, how they find their unity in relation to the solid core of what we’re all about. People have a lot of appreciation for us as good organizers who stand with the people through initiatives like October 22nd, or as revolutionary intellectuals who understand the role of art in resistance and revolution, for example. Some people express their love of independent bookstores and critical thinking. Then it is up to us to make clear, through our call for more funds and new sustainers, that while all this is true, it’s not enough and it’s not all that is possible. Revolution Books is more than a bookstore. It’s the place to come when you want to understand and engage what's happening in the world and learn how it can be radically different, to connect with BA’s new synthesis that provides a way out and a way forward. Yes, we’re in the streets but in the midst of that resistance we are fighting to have people understand the reality of the system of capitalism, and building a movement for revolution and communism. It matters a great deal if people donate to keep the doors of this bookstore open to the world.
Throughout the dinner and after the movie, there were many interesting discussions in the room. The book BAsics was at the forefront of many conversations. One woman who decided to buy a copy had questions about how this revolution viewed immigrants and what is so special about BA that makes us promote him and his book in such a central way. A young person who recently read the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) said he loved talking about politics, and how the world could be different, but that most people his age hate talking about those things. He was grappling with why this is the case, and if that could ever change. At the end of the dinner, he decided to become a monthly sustainer of Revolution Books.
Through these dinners, we have done some things we (at least some of us) thought may not be possible. We’ve raised thousands of dollars for the bookstore to continue its mission of being at the center of building a movement for revolution. We have learned—and continue to learn—from people who are deeply involved in other spheres, while remaining clear that it will take a revolution aiming for communism to ultimately and fully change the world. We have celebrated the bookstore and had a lot of fun! Our last dinner was a great night, and there’s enough of a buzz that's been generated that people are looking forward to being invited to the next one.
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