Some Lessons on Reaching out to People on the Basis of "Why Go to This Film Premiere?"

by Raymond Lotta | March 10, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


I recently had some discussions with a few professors about the March 16 premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS. I thought it would be helpful to sum up three lessons.

The first and most important has to do with adhering to the basic or "core orientation" that should be guiding us in going out to people. I am speaking of the vital paragraph "Why Go to This Film Premiere?" This really has to set the terms and the tone of our encounters with people. I say this because there is a tendency to get pulled away and, really more a temptation to, get drawn into all kinds of discussion and back-and-forth that actually cut against the whole point of that paragraph.

The paragraph says that going to this film premiere is "by far the most important thing people could be doing that day—it's dealing with the most important thing there could be—because it's about the real possibility of bringing into being a radically different world, where all this madness, all the oppression and injustice, all the abuse and degradation that is so much a part of life now, would be done away with. If anybody can think of anything more important than that—let's hear it!" I would have to ask all of us building for this event: If anybody can think of a better argument to make, or a better approach to interest, provoke, and stir people as to why they should come, well let's hear it. Not really, let's just apply this orientation.

Now's Not the Time to Be "Explaining" Things

I was in a discussion with a professor. I went with the basic orientation and put it before her. Fairly soon she was raising questions, and these were serious ones: what about leadership and the problems of concentrating too much authority in one person? what about this thing about a "white male" leading. And I answered, well you need to come to the film, because Avakian speaks precisely to this and other questions like it. And you're going to be edified and challenged by what you hear.

But, this professor went on, not letting up: "What about leaders losing touch with people, and the whole collective spirit of what you say you're about?" Well, I said, that's important, and you need to find out how Avakian views the question of leadership and people taking responsibility—and I asked, have you read his statement on the Occupy movement? And she said she hadn't. I told her she needs to and I'd get it to them and that will help them get prepared for this.

This professor kept raising questions and putting challenges before me. Some of it was coming from genuine interest in what the title of the film provokes. Some of it was coming from anti-communist influences. Some of it was a kind of testing of me. And here I have to say that I found myself, against the correct orientation (and against my better judgment), beginning to get sucked into argument and argumentation, and getting into that mode of "explaining" things to people. This is just wrong.

The point is that people need to SEE the film, to hear from BA, and join with others in immersing themselves in this. This is the leader of the revolution explaining why the world is the way it is, and how it could be different, breathtakingly and liberatingly different, and how a revolution could really be made in today's world.

You cannot not be at this event. It's just that important. Yes, there's a lot to talk and debate about, but we can get into that AFTER you see the film! I mean, really, how can we have a substantive discussion before you've really engaged this on the level of what BA himself is actually putting forward? And with this opportunity to be at the film showing in Harlem... with a diverse and eager audience of basic people, ex-prisoners, students, professionals and artists there to experience this together... and this itself giving expression to the kind of revolution that BA stands for.

And this bears on another point that needs to be made. You cannot really be serious about fundamental change, and really be true to your intellectual convictions and values, and tell me that you can't make it to this film. Again, is there "anything more important"? A big part of the challenge to intellectuals, but really to everyone, is this:

If what BA is saying is true, then this has enormous implications and consequences in the world and for humanity. Not that this can't be argued or debated, but again if what he is saying is true, then that is a very big deal. And so you need to be at this film on March 16.

I remember, this was in a discussion with another professor, I said that BA is doing what no one else on this planet is doing and taking responsibility for—in terms of actually forging a way out of this madness. He said, "come on, other people are coming up with alternatives." I said this is about an all-the-way transformative revolution—a real revolution.

It was beginning to go in the direction of a discussion of what we mean by revolution. And I caught myself and said, "the truth is there's a framework here for real emancipation, it's a scientific breakthrough, not that everything is answered but that there's a framework for going at this... and you've got to come hear what this is all about and then let's argue if anyone else on this planet has this kind of vision, scientific framework, and strategy...and, more saliently, if Avakian is right or not."

So we have to resist this temptation to "explain." The message is contained in "Why Go to This Premiere?"

Using BA to Prepare People to Experience BA

A second lesson, which I've indirectly touched on, is that BA has actually provided critical materials for people to prepare for this event. And rather than getting into "explanations" with people, we should be getting these critical materials to people.

One professor was posing questions about where we have our differences and where we have our shared interests, and what it means to be working together with definable differences. So I emailed him Bob Avakian's "An Invitation," about "going on this journey together..."

Another professor new to BA just didn't get how BA could speak to different sections of people and bridge different gaps. So I got her the Cornel West interview of BA and the clips of BA over the years. And I also referred her to some of the testimonials that appear on the website. All of this is a tremendous resource we have going for us.

Yet in retrospect I can see how, even as I had done some of these e-mailings, I hadn't fully appreciated the importance and power of these materials. Specifically, I hadn't been seeking every opportunity to use these materials on the spot and in discussions with people in terms of why they need to be at this event. I'm thinking in particular of the rough cut of BA's Fall 2012 talk and the clips of BA over the years.

We should have a computer with us, though if we're visiting professors in their offices most of them have their computers ready to go, and we should let them know that they can get a sense of what this leader is all about if they look at the video clips. And they can get a glimpse of what they are going to experience on the 16th—and why March 16 is such a big deal—if they look at some of this rough cut.

There's the scientific theory that BA is developing and advancing. And there's the way that he communicates this, brings theory to life and urgency, and inspires and challenges people about the actuality of revolution. This says a lot about his leadership. With that professor I mentioned earlier (who had those questions about leadership), it was good to send her the materials, but I should have cued up the rough cut or the clips over the years right then and there. It would have helped cut to the essence of why this is the most important thing to be doing that day.

Working Together to Get the Audience to the Film

A third lesson is the need to be enlisting people to help make this event happen on the scale it must and with the audience that needs to be there. Okay, you've got a ticket but what's next, what can we do to get the word out and the potential audience out?

With one professor, we brainstormed about reaching out to faculty and students. He thought it would be good to get an announcement on campus listservs—so I offered to provide a listserv-friendly announcement (it included the basic film premiere information and the Cornel West quote about BA), and it went immediately on to the listserv. He gave me the names of other professors whom I should get in touch with. And he agreed to talk with one about having me speak in a class.

I heard an account of one organizer for the premiere speaking to a class at one of the city colleges, invited by the professor, and getting people really interested in coming. But it turns out that quite a few of the students work on Saturday and don't feel they can take off without possibly jeopardizing their jobs. This is a problem that some of the supportive professors can actually help solve, if we put it before them. Maybe they could talk with the students and see if a letter from them to an employer about an important "educational event" taking place that students are being encouraged to attend (and maybe for extra credit) on Saturday—maybe this would enable some students to come who feel conflicted about missing work and maybe jeopardizing their job. Apparently, some students have classes on the 16th and expressed similar concerns about missing classes. So we should work with professors in the same way to deal with that.

One professor agreed to be on call if campus security started hassling people handing out palm cards and doing displays; he'd say he approved of this. And he had some students take palm cards and posters and gave us authorization to put up posters in his wing of the campus. The point is not these particular examples as such, although they have wider relevance, as it is the general principle that we need to collectivize with people to the greatest degree possible to solve problems standing in the way of people coming out.

If we truly grasp and apply the core orientation—that this is by far the most important thing that people could be doing on March 16—then we should be able to unleash a lot of collective creativity and determination.

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