Building for the Premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!

Stepping To and Really Challenging the Youth

February 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Revolution received the following from a reader:

In being part of the work to build for the nationwide premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!, I have been thinking a lot about what Bob Avakian modeled in this talk (I am among those who had the incredible experience of previewing this film) and striving to apply that. In that light, I want to share some experience—particularly some experience of challenging straight up to the youth from among the most oppressed to get with this revolution, including many who at first usually ignore or brush us off.

A lot of the times when we are out in the neighborhoods of the oppressed, we have one person agitating about the revolution and the rest of us will generally approach those who we can see visibly responding to this agitation. While it would be wrong to ignore those who are attracted to this agitation, we haven’t enough made it our practice to step to and challenge the younger people who more often than not just walk on by or say, dismiss us with a phrase like, “I’m good.” So, recently I made it my mission to step to these youth and challenge them in the way that BA modeled in his speech.

Usually I said something like, “Look, if you like the way the police do you—with their stop and frisk and brutality and terror and the mass incarceration... if you like the way this country does people just like you all over the world—with their bombs and wars and torture, then go ahead and keep walking. But if you hate this shit, if you burn with rage over this shit and want to see all this ended, then you need to stop walking and get serious and get into this revolution—get with Bob Avakian and the real revolution to fight our way out of this.” Things varied in how they unfolded, but a lot of times this is how it went with the young people I was addressing and from there I would go straight into the quote on the back of the film premiere palm-card from BA about how those who this system has cast off and counts as less than human can be the backbone and driving force not only in the fight to end their own oppression but all forms of oppression all over the world and the emancipation of humanity.

About 80% of the youth (or groups of youth) that I stepped to in this way ended up with at least one person stopping and getting serious—at least for the brief exchange. Often this meant that they divided up with their friends. One group of four had a guy who seemed to be listening more as I spoke, but the whole group kept walking. One of the friends jumped out in a more backwards way and said they weren’t with what I was saying and that they are all good. This pulled on the first guy I mentioned (who had seemed to be resonating with what I was saying) and so this first guy then made a stupid comment himself about how he likes bombs being dropped and is fine with that. With that, I looked this first guy straight in the eye and said, “That’s bullshit and you know it. Look at you—you could’ve been Ramarley Graham—you are living in a country that could kill you today and you know as well as I do that the cops who did it would get away with ‘justifiable homicide.’ That is fucked up! And those bombs are doing the same thing to people like you over in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere. So, now lets get serious.” At this, this young guy stopped walking and stopped joking. When his friends called to him to catch up (they had kept walking) he told them to go ahead and he stayed. We went into the quote from last week’s centerfold in Revolution newspaper, “On Choices... And Radical Changes” from BA and then got into what the upcoming film, BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! is. He took a stack of palm-cards and gave a way to be reached.

By no means at all do I mean to say that this was sufficient—we need to and can solve the ways to take this even further on the spot and involve people through this kind of struggle as well as actual forms to follow through on this in an ongoing way. But I am sharing this because the response was very powerful—even to this very initial level of going out with this orientation—and we have to do more work on this foundation and develop the ways to take this even further as part of actually building this movement for revolution—including among this very critical social base.

Almost this exact same pattern repeated itself several times as I particularly focused in this way. A group would split up upon being challenged and one or two guys would tell his friends (who would be pressuring him to catch up—but not only to catch up physically) to go ahead without him. In another instance, I called out a guy specifically for glancing at the palm-card and then conspicuously throwing it on the ground. I didn’t just diss him for doing this, though, I challenged him over what this was he was throwing away and he actually came back and got into the BA quotes with me in a similar way. Another guy who stopped and told his friends to go ahead without him especially liked the quote from BA on the palm-card about how those who this system has cast off can become the backbone and driving force in the fight to emancipate all humanity. With him, and with others, I put a lot of emphasis on the word “fight” in reading the quote and he responded emphatically, “I want to be part of that.”

I want to emphasize again that this is very limited experience—by no means am I putting this experience forward as “the model” particularly because I/we were not able to take this any further than turning people around on the spot and getting them to take palm-cards (I don’t have the sense that the seriousness with which this provoked people to engage on the spot will translate into these folks attending the film and being involved in this movement for revolution in an ongoing way unless this gets reinforced through a whole lot of other means and we begin drawing them into the fight to make this film a great success as part of making revolution). But, I do feel that this experience was enough to sum up that the approach BA was fighting for and modeling is one which has tremendous—and yet, vastly untapped—potential.

There were two young guys who seemed to be posted up on one of the corners we marched to who really stayed consolidated against what I put forward in this way. The young Latino guy really was most insistent that this wasn’t what they cared about and the young Black guy seemed a bit interested/conflicted but finally, after his friend made it clear he didn’t want to hear more he also said he wasn’t interested either at which point I told them that was simply fucked up and walked away. This was sharp in a way that is very different than saying, “Okay, never mind,” which is more the feel usually.

Anyway, I don’t get the sense that this type of straight-up challenge to those who most desperately need, and need to become the backbone and driving force of, this revolution is going on enough.

With a lot of young people—this was both young men and young women—I went through the Choices centerfold with them. Mostly I read this out loud to them because there are a lot of big ideas in this quote to take in, because of varying literacy levels, and because I know for myself that it is hard to read and understand something quickly on the street with someone watching you and lots of background distractions. So, I would read it well so that it more came alive to people (worth noting, when I read this with one group of young Black men the guy who seemed to be a leader among them first responded by saying, “I like how you read that, with a lot of conviction. It’s clear you really believe this”).

A LOT of the youth I read this quote, “On Choices... And Radical Changes,” responded by recognizing what it was saying, “That’s saying it’s our environment.” One guy said, “I have been preaching this all the time, it’s our environment.” He seemed more of a brave element and I both united with this but also challenged him that BA was saying that but is also saying more than that, that we have to change these conditions and relations through fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution and that the only way ultimately is through revolution aiming for communism and he has to play a role in this. This led to more struggle and he took a stack of cards to get out about the film.

Many of the youth got in a basic way that this quote was saying that their lives weren’t only determined by their choices but also by their environment and their conditions. But, as we went into this more deeply it was clear they still felt on a big level that really if they just made the right choices they could steer clear of the pitfalls and dangers imposed by these conditions and they certainly did not spontaneously recognize what BA is saying about how all this can be changed and their role and responsibility in that.

One 21-year-old Black man who is currently in community college had met the Revolution Club before and was very interested in talking. We went through that quote and he “agreed” but then later posed that some people need to get into a different mind-set (he described how angry he used to be all the time as well as how destructive he was) and he is trying to help reach individual youth before they end up like he was before he turned himself around. A couple years back he spent a month in jail, after which his mother sent him down South with some relatives so that he wouldn’t get sucked right back into the same gang life he’d been pulled into. He went from self-described thug to first a Christian then a Muslim and now someone who is not very religious but instead is pursuing his education and looking for ways to reach out to and assist the youth caught up in poverty and crime. He deeply agreed that what holds people down is the conditions they are trapped in and spoke passionately about the cruelty of people being forced to grow up in the projects and the pull of gang life in that context. But still he came back to helping individuals change their mind-set.

I listened for a while, learning both from the life experience he was sharing and from the insights and perspective through which he was processing it, but then at a certain point I told him, “You could do all that and still end up the next Trayvon or Sean Bell.” I told him what BA said in the Revolution Talk (Revolution: Why Its Necessary; Why It’s Possible; What It’s All About) about the lynchings in the South and how every Black person lived under an active death sentence that may or may not be carried out but is always there. Then I talked about how BA “updated” that statement to today and I included him in it, “There is an active death sentence over you right now and it will be there no matter how you change your thinking and the same goes for other Black youth and Latinos as well. The only way we get can rid of that is through making revolution.” It was clear that this really shook him and provoked him. He had a co-existing (still does) feeling that the problem is caused by bigger societal forces but that it could be dealt with by reaching people individually. He seemed to get his first firm sense that “reaching individuals and changing their mind-set” as a “solution” is at odds with the larger reality that he lives in and was coming to a sharper understanding of. This spurred the engagement deeper. He had originally said he liked what he was hearing and would, “Look into this when he has time.” We left it that he has to make the time to come out with the Revolution Club and be part of making this film a big deal even as he is learning more and digging in. He took a stack of cards to get to the youth he works with and gave his number and email.

On another tip, I feel that there is still some confusion among people building for this premiere between just getting some controversy and a scene going (on whatever basis) and actually planting a pole around THIS FILM and ITS TITLE (BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!) and then drawing people into active engagement and involvement with the content of this revolution and its leader towards the premiere.

I think the recent editorial puts forward very powerfully the importance of this film and the great need it is filling. Most people have no idea just how vast and deeply entrenched the horrors of the world are or the fact that we do not have to continue to live this way, that a solution to all this exists in the communist revolution that has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian and is being led by BA and the Revolutionary Communist Party. It is very important to put forward revolution as the leading edge of our work and what BA gets into in this talk and why people need to hear that—and from there take on wrong ideas or backwards thinking that comes up as part of and in order to move people forward off all that and to see the need to deeply engage and spread word of this film premiere that is coming soon.

In contrast to this, sometimes we still too much start from people’s wrong ideas (and often we don’t even do a very good job of struggling to transform those backwards ideas). Again, what we really lead with is what this revolution is all about and the importance of BA and this upcoming premiere as a critical part of that. We should not at all shy away from controversies that might arise as we do this, but stirring up a controversy is not an “end in itself.” As with everything else, we have to take on these controversial questions (whether they be over Obama or religion or NGOs or anything else) as part of and in the service of building a movement for revolution, deepening people’s sense of the actual problem and the actual solution, building anticipation and involvement towards this film where BA will get into all this in an even more vivid, concentrated, sweeping, scientific and urgent way.

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