At an elite university...

Challenging people to get with BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!

February 24, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Dear Revolution,

Before heading out to an elite campus to build for the nationwide premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! our team read and had a quick discussion of the posting "Stepping To and Really Challenging the Youth." First I want to encourage other readers to get into that deeply, and especially to really dig into and wrestle with the challenges posed in the editorial "What the World Needs Now." And then I want to share some experience based on that. It specifically addresses the challenge and importance of bringing forward youth who are among those who catch hell every day under this system. But I also thought it has relevance beyond that in how we step to people.

The "Stepping To…" correspondence makes the point that "While it would be wrong to ignore those who are attracted to [our] 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.'"

Only by changing our approach—in that way—can we reveal potential for revolution, and for the potential for the premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! which would not be apparent if we didn't persist with people in this way. We have to expose and bring forward potential that is buried beneath the surface.

Challenging people this way drew much sharper lines of demarcation between tolerating this system and its horrors in this or that form—on the one hand, and deciding that you are not going to do that. For example, some frat-boy types were just openly saying—in response to our agitation—that it was OK with them if millions of children around the world die of preventable diseases because of capitalism. When I chased them down the street—insisting they defend that stand if they could—other students stopped, took palm cards for the premiere, and took the whole thing more seriously, including one guy who had apparently just come from a ski trip as he had his ski jacket, lift pass, and equipment with him.

Another person was almost as smug in insisting that she is doing her part by donating to organizations that help alleviate world hunger, and that she was offended that we were saying anything less than revolution was essentially bullshit. I told her that those donations she makes might make her feel better, but they didn't make a dent in global hunger that is created, unnecessarily, by the workings of imperialism. Here too, people who had been walking past turned around to get palm cards for the film premiere.

But then there are those people who just walk by with their headphones on—literally or figuratively. And sometimes there is anger that is just buried beneath scar tissue so to speak, that doesn't really come to the surface until you persist with them. One young African-American woman who I challenged to stop walking, pull out her ear plugs, and get into the revolution did pull out her ear plugs. After we had walked a couple blocks, with me doing most of the talking, she gave me a look as if to say "OK, and, so..." I said, look, come back to where we started out at and listen to the interview Cornel West did with BA. I showed her Cornel West's introduction to BA that is on the palmcard for the premiere. She said she was late for a lunch date (this was, after all, lunch time), but she decided to let her friend wait a bit. She listened to the interview up to where BA explains the difference between communist revolution and what Martin Luther King was about. After that, she pulled out the headphones and said, "OK, how do we stop this?"

At this point, we were in somewhat new territory—and I definitely felt challenged to implement on the spot the approach of deeper engagement combined with immediate and substantial enlisting people in the movement for revolution. In part I put the challenge to her—what can you do now? She took stacks of cards, and we walked through how she and her friends can use the QR codes to jump right to on their smartphones and listen together. I told her she would find ways to connect with others like herself at, and learn more about the revolution. I got a way to get in touch with her. In summing this up with the team afterwards, we felt we need better forms for instant activism, and that we should be enlisting people like her in the Revolution Club right away.

I'll bring up another exchange to give some feel for the complexity of things out there, and the need to actually engage people with BA as deeply as possible as soon as possible. This was another person I followed down the street, who at first had shrugged her shoulders in response to our agitation about the premiere and the role it has to play in building the movement for revolution. After sort of a one-way conversation with her for a while, she stopped to talk. She teaches in an Anthropology Department which she said was "the last holdout of radicalism" on her campus. I said that is important, but it isn't enough, and if that's good enough for you, that's a way of making your peace with a system that you shouldn't and don't need to make peace with. It doesn't stop the president from executing anyone anywhere without a trial, or the environmental emergency, or 2.4 million people in U.S. jails. And how can you be satisfied with anything less.

This led to her raising that communism from its beginning, especially the work of Frederick Engels (who worked closely with Karl Marx who founded communism) was stamped with patriarchy. I did my best to argue that BA's new synthesis of communism does not cover over or shine on weaknesses in the conception and experience of communist revolution, even as it upholds as the main thing, the great contributions—including the radical advances in women's liberation. And that she should zap the QR code on the palm card for the premiere and listen to BA's interview with Michael Slate there.

We also had more deep engagement with another woman who listened to part of the Cornel West interview with BA. She hit the pause button when the issue of women's oppression came up and more or less exploded in an rant of outrage—she had recently been involved in women's empowerment activism in South Africa, and her anger was a combination of outrage at the widespread violence against women there and around the world, but also kept pointing to the disorientation of the masses of people in the townships in South Africa after the fall of apartheid as a reason why revolution can't happen. We got as far as we could on the spot on that but really struggled with her to listen to the BA interview with Michael Slate, especially on the theme of supposedly unchanging human nature and to understand "what happened to the revolution" that so set the terms of things in the sixties. While her engagement with the BA interview that Cornel West did was too short, it did give her a sense that this is someone with some deep thinking, not just some movement with some "idealist" vision of how the world should be. She headed to class with a stack of palm cards, and gave us a way to stay in touch. One thing I tried to emphasize is that it was quite possible that her "leftist" teacher, who she was counting on to be supportive of her inviting people to the premiere, might not be so radical or have a positive response, but the point was, this is really what the world needs and she should insist people seriously engage with what BA is saying in these radio interviews, and not dismiss it because it doesn't fit into their comfort zone or whatever.

One note: We have to do much, much better—get into a whole other track—on raising funds. We collected some small contributions from people for getting BA out there, including with the premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! But we all felt that we weren't really conveying to people the seriousness of raising a LOT of money to do this—which right now is a huge obstacle to making this all happen. And that is something we can and should do with people right on the spot, as part of transforming our work so as to really speak to and overcome all the big challenges we are up against in building this movement for revolution, and turning those big challenges into openings in to the movement for revolution.

Again, while these experiences were exciting and eye-opening, my own feeling is they are still only a crack in opening up a door. We are rupturing people out of the various ways they have found to get through the day under this system. We ain't gonna do that without seriousness and substance. As those of us who have seen a preview version of this film know, everyone will get that at the premieres of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! But even to get people there, on the right basis, we have to engage more sharply and deeply with people, involve them more substantially, on the spot, and then sustain and maintain their connection to the movement for revolution.

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