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Observations from the L.A. Premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!

March 22, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


It wasn't long into the film, BA Speaks: Revolution —Nothing Less, when the audience began responding audibly. Laughter, applause, assent. This is a masterpiece talk and the production of the film is beautiful with crystal clear sound. All this enabled people to get inside and travel with Avakian for 6+ hours, and in the process, many, many in attendance were touched to their very core —dealing with big questions about their lives and fundamental belief systems.

In LA, there were about 165 people in attendance. A very multinational audience. Groups of students came from three different state colleges throughout the city (including in some further away areas). Also, individuals from a community college and a major university. The students were mainly Black and Latino, one or two Asian students and a few white students. Probably 25 total plus handfuls of other young people. They'd heard about it from revolutionaries on campus —many who'd they seen over a number of days, as well as from professors who encouraged them to come. Over a dozen people heard about it from Michael Slate's show on KPFK, some of whom have been listening to BA on his show. A handful of Black people (in their 40s and 50s) came from a proletarian neighborhood. A group of Iranian people and a few people who speak mainly Spanish, with some English ability.

The viewing of the film was a collective experience, with voiced appreciation all the way through. A lot of laughter and applause. And people were audibly moved. Vocal agreement around the questions of the oppression of Black people and the critique of the argument that the youth should pull up their pants and take responsibility. Moved responses to the analogy of pornography today to the history in this country of postcards of lynchings and the analogy of the current deportation of undocumented immigrants to slaves being "sold down the river." The audience was quiet and intense on the discussion of strategy, and then vocal again in response to the discussion of the patriarchy in the culture. This was interesting because at first there seemed to be laughter at the critique of the too-often-used word "bitch." But as these phrases got challenged, people sort of stopped at their own laughter and you heard things like "oh" or "damn."

It was a tight audience —people feeling like they were having a collective experience, learning how each other were responding and a feeling they were in it together —and though we had to start late (people we knew were on the way were stuck in traffic), we were able to keep the intermission to 35 minutes. When the Revolution Club was asked to stand up, there was applause.

People stayed in discussions way past when we were supposed to even have the space —until a little after ten (the film ended at about 8:20 pm). And a few of us did go out to dinner nearby —continuing the discussion into the night.

A lot of people were still processing what they heard and were thinking deeply about a whole range of questions.

Many people commented on Avakian's stamina —both in the talk itself but also in life. That he came out of the movements of the '60s and hasn't given up, including when things have gotten difficult. A couple people drew on his comments about others, that when the movements ebbed, they would just go back to their comfortable lives. Coming into this, some people spoke to feeling like leaders are bound to desert the masses in this kind of way —this is something that weighs on people, and that they are weighing in considering their role in this movement for revolution. That BA spoke to this —with such honesty and outrage —resonated with people. Together with the fact that BA is a long distance runner and that he continues to speak with such honesty, and what several people pointed to as courage, spoke to these deep, if rarely voiced, doubts. Not only this, but BA has gone further —breaking this down so everyone can understand, and challenging them to be part of the process of making revolution. One student said he is "genuinely passionate and intellectually honest" and another person commented that "he draws you in and keeps you there."

People were surprised that they'd never heard of him before. And never had the opportunity to hear what he had to say.

Importantly, a few people commented on the fact that BA is still alive given the history of how this system has gone after revolutionary leaders —killing them in cold blood or locking them in prison for decade after decade. I talked with a couple people about BA's memoir, and the history of repression he's faced. But also that people aren't helpless in the face of this. That we have to now build a movement that is both projecting Avakian's voice throughout society, and building a wall around Avakian with people from different perspectives coming together to demand he not be fucked with. A middle-aged Black woman who was familiar with this history talked about the murder of Malcolm X and how white people in particular refused to stand with him at the time of his assassination. She got BA's memoir, in part because she wanted to understand how he came to know so much about Black people, and I suggested she get into the section further on dealing with repression.

Another person who'd raised this, a young Black college student, was beginning to weigh the potential cost to her if she stepped into this, wondering if she got more active, would she face arrest. We talked about the process through which revolution advances —taking on the repressive measures of the old order, which they will use to crush and intimidate the revolution and those who are drawn to it. There are no guarantees, but we are serious and serious about having people's backs, drawing forward others in the process to stand with those who come under attack, and exposing the illegitimacy of the whole system in the process. But I underscored again the importance of protecting and defending the leadership of BA in particular, while getting his voice out into society.

A few different people who were interviewed and that I spoke with were appreciative of the fact that BA spoke to the question of can you be a white person and lead a revolution. BA has spoken to this before in BAsics 6:10, "Somebody asked the question: did I think that as a white male I could actually lead the revolution. Well, the answer is no, not as a white male —but I think I could play a leading role in it as a communist." He speaks to it again, and very directly, in this talk. Some people came into this quite skeptical themselves, but both learning about BA's history and being moved by the content of what he's arguing for was changing their thinking, including with different questions posed about the fuller goal of this revolution: the emancipation of all humanity vs. ending one kind of oppression. One woman said she was challenged by the fact that BA knew more about the history of slavery than she did, and not only that, understood where the present-day oppression of Black people comes from. One student said he knew his friends already had questions about this but feels like if he can get them to get into the content of this talk, it'll speak to that. Clearly this is, and will be, an ongoing point of controversy and struggle.

Another controversy that came up a lot was in regards to religion. A young Black woman student asked how you keep from going crazy if you don't believe in god and said she felt challenged that we seemed to know more about the bible than she did. Her friend who grew up in a very Christian household introduced herself to someone in the Revolution Club, "I'm Black and I'm Christian. What are you?" She really loved the talk and felt like it was awakening a part of her that she'd kept silent. Growing up, she used to always ask why things were so terrible and her mom would just tell her to pray, tell her she's not supposed to question. She felt like she had to awaken the questioning part of herself that she'd turned off to get into all this further. The woman from the Club she was talking to is Latina, and they were also grouped with a couple other Latino students from a different school. The Black woman said she'd always been taught to hate Latino people, but how she'd never appreciated what it might feel like to be undocumented and the other two Latino students said they were always taught to hate Black people. They talked amongst themselves about where this comes from and were all serious about changing their thinking on this.

I overheard a middle-aged Black woman, an activist against mass incarceration, saying how much she loved the talk but didn't agree communists had to be atheists, "I'll be a communist and a Christian." One comment on a questionnaire was "please remember that 90% of people have a faith." A 38-year-old artist wrote on his questionnaire, "Amazing knowledge that is needed for the future of our youth and ourselves. I love the fact that there is a plan in place with research and many realistic scenarios have been discussed. I myself found the spiritual part the only part that was hard to follow, because of my belief in ancestral spiritual guides that have helped me in current struggles. Thank you for putting out a great movement."

One person I've spoken to since who played a big role in helping to build for the premiere, has had a hard time with the way communists struggle with people over religion, even as he has his own criticisms of the church. When I spoke to him the day after the premiere, he said that in regards to religion, he's questioning and is thinking more about the questions BA poses in the talk for people to think about.

You can see, from these examples, and more, the way people were wrestling with BA's critique of religion and how it blinds people to reality, but at the same time appreciated that religion was not a dividing line in terms of those on the same side fighting oppression.

In different ways, coming out of it, people were weighing what this new understanding meant for their lives. One student I spoke with was very moved but also conflicted. Her family depends on her for financial support so she feels like she can't fully act on what she came to understand. She knows he spoke to that but wasn't sure how to break through. And felt like, for herself, if she only did it part way, it would be kind of lame. We talked about the strategy for revolution and I showed it to her in BAsics, the last couple paragraphs. She appreciated this and said she had to process more.

Another student talked about how the "little shield that everyone has of ignorance is lifted after watching this film." Then went on to talk about how "you make a conscious decision whether you want to go on and act about it or you want to continue hiding under your shield. But if you do, it's kind of on you because someone already told you what's going on and what's the reality." At the same time, they were themselves conflicted about what this would mean for their personal life dreams, including potential repression they might face in the future.

In the lobby space, someone made displays with the testimonials about the film on two Japanese screens so people could walk around and read them. An older Iranian man (who had not been part of the revolution and is newer to BA) came up to me excitedly to show me the testimonial from an Iranian supporter living in the U.S. He said Iranians do need to hear this, and they would be open. But he was especially concerned about reaching the youth, "I'm not hitting my expiration date yet, but we do have to get the youth."

A couple students commented on how hearing this talk broadened out their understanding of revolution. That they'd never heard someone speak to all these different questions, and the interrelations of these different questions. A Black student said this talk was life changing, that previously he'd had a "small idea of revolution" but this has to be a collective effort, fighting for the rights of everyone. Another student spoke to the "cohesiveness" of BA's revolutionary approach —that from the oppression of women, discrimination against LGBTQ people, the oppression of Black people and immigrants… "it's all one and the same… it's all exploitation and oppression in pursuit of profit and capital." Interesting in this light, of the 32 questionnaires filled out from the night, 14 of them have checked off BOTH interested in fighting mass incarceration and interested in fighting to end porn and patriarchy.

There will be much more to report in the coming days about the impact of this film premiere… and the plans and impact of getting this film out into a society in a massive way. One thing I've been thinking about is the significance of new people coming into this revolution with their introduction being the whole thing laid out before people in this talk from BA —a whole different framework and method for understanding the immensity of the suffering on this planet, the source of that, the revolutionary solution and the strategy, vision and leadership. As we can see, even just from the initial response, this touched and even changed people in significant ways, causing them to think deeply about their core beliefs and even the direction of their whole lives.

The revolutionaries at the core of this movement have to learn deeply about all this —and we should do a great deal of listening in the coming days. I think it's important to note that in the packets given to people at the premieres across the country, we gave people both An Invitation from BA, and what we've come to call the "what is missing is YOU" piece. There is a great deal to learn about the method of these pieces —the serious approach to revolution, the wide embrace bound up with that and the challenge for people to be part of this in a myriad of ways. This is something to be applied in the coming days, and weeks —as we work with all those who came to the Premiere, all those who bought tickets and weren't able to come, and all the new people who meet BA through this new film, BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live.

I'll end with a quote from a young woman interviewed in the intermission of the film about what the title meant to her, "There's no more time for destruction, no more time for loss of life… no more fucking time… we already ran out of time, there's nothing left to do but a revolution."

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