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Selling Revolution Newspaper on Public Transportation

May 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


I want to share some of my experience taking newspaper out on public transportation by myself. I have been doing it as part of a team at times since the times of the Revolutionary Worker (former name of Revolution), but during the California prison hunger strike, I just felt compelled to get it out to my fellow travelers any chance I have, circumstances allowing (i.e., not too crowded). There were times when I felt more comfortable when the front page was about the issues that hit home with people right away, like calling out police murder and genocidal mass incarceration or reporting on resistance to outrages like murder of Trayvon Martin—the "Fight the Power" element, which is much needed.

But somewhere along the way I started really looking forward to the issues where taking out revolution straight up was front and center, like featuring quotes from BAsics that I could read to the people, from the paper or committed to memory. Like "No more generations of our youth…" or "You cannot break all the chains but one…" or "There is a very advanced theory…" (truncated version of the last one actually became a semi-permanent part of my rap for a period of time). This is largely due to my overall development, but there were also hints from people—in form of feedback when I run too much exposure of the crimes of the system—"I am already aware…" or "I don’t want to hear any more depressing stuff…" Well, here comes the uplifting part—we are building the movement for revolution to turn this whole thing right side up, for which we have leadership, organization, plan and a strategy—and you are invited to throw in. Again, I started noticing that this connected with people more readily in the past year and a half or so—this may be due to my becoming more grounded in what we are about and sounding more convincing because of that, or it may be something is changing in the objective situation, making people more responsive to the message of revolution. (Occupy? Deepening economic crisis? Outrage after outrage?)

I want to share some memorable occurrences, and hopefully some summation along the way. There was an episode, during preparation for the BAsics summer tour, when I was actually not doing work, trying to save strength; but this older Caribbean dude started agitating along the lines: "I support Romney; because Obama supports abortion...”—that in a space full of women of all ages. I had to tell him that Obama does nothing of the sort, actually enabling attacks on abortion by demobilizing people, and why would you want to enslave women into forced motherhood anyway? Then I remembered one of the issues of the paper had "all the chains but one" quote from BA, which I read, eliciting actual OVATION from like half of 20 people present. Five papers got torn out of my hands fast—I had to get off, unfortunately.

Much more recently I encountered a group of bible thumpers of all nationalities, genders and ages and got them to check out a couple of papers, and they got an understanding of women's liberation stance, and possibly atheism, and started agitatedly agitating—exposing themselves in the process quite a bit—like blaming women for being raped. I learned to apply a technique of not speaking directly to solid reactionaries when there is no chance for them; but rather weaving some response in addressing other people: "You see, folks, it may sound just like some pre-medieval nonsense fairy tales, but these ideas are causing real harm in the world." And then I did my best to make the "three questions about god" point from the BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS movie, however ineptly, and that got a lot of attention; some folks were brave to get the paper in the face of somewhat menacing counter-agitation.
In general, it is rather difficult to engage people to respond, even when there is interest, or agreement in their eyes. Not for a lack of trying, I tell people to share immediate feedback, criticisms, disagreements, strong agreements, fists in the air (got some of those sometimes)—telling people that is how we will build this movement and how we will run the society if we make revolution—by involving people to contribute and take responsibility, more and more consciously. Frequent form of feedback seems to be passionate reactionary ones (maybe it is just more memorable due to intensity)—"go back to your country," "this is the best possible country," "if Koreans do something, we should bomb the shit out of them again." One Black guy older than me was actually also touting things like—"and yes I was all the way with Malcolm, and I was in prison for five years, and I am an American, and U.S. is number one," blah blah—which gave me an opportunity to speak to what U.S. is number one at, including mass incarceration of genocidal proportions. Since he was somewhat contradictory, I spoke to him directly a bit as well, violating my technique—what would Malcolm say to that "I am proud American" shit? Dude went into: “In Russia they would take your ass out." I said, "They have been doing that in this country as well. Question is, which side will you be on, if they start again?" Much younger dude, all in bling, was checking out the exchange intently. I asked him to read the article on Noche Diaz on page 13 ("Hands Off Noche Diaz! Drop All The Charges Against Him!" April 11, 2013), and he came much later with the dollar for the paper. All the way to another end, when I was already sitting down, a fellow from a museum invited us to come to an exhibit on art and activism in the 1930s, and insisted on interrupting us and stating—it is a very good paper.

Union Square, NYC, May Day 2013

The issue with the conflict in Korea on the front page ("U.S. Threatens North Korea: What's Behind the Conflict?" April 14, 2013) was an exception from the lack of positive engagement and feedback rule, because I applied a very engaging pop quiz technique: "How many nukes does North Korea have? Free paper for the first correct answer!" (Had to actually give away a few.) "What country used them twice?" Got some angry-in-a-good-way "U fucking S" answers, or "How about Iran—they have zero!"—that's a good correct answer, if not to the exact question. One backward answer came from a professor-looking guy—"Yes, but they starve their own people, and minor things like that"—so, the dude actually thinks it is conscious policy of those rulers to starve their people, and it does not have anything to do with imperialist sanctions and blockade. That's why you need to read Revolution, so your mind is not shaped by the imperialist propaganda machine. I did a rap about nature of North Korea, about history of the first war for different reasons, and got a lot of attention.

The issue with gay marriage on the front cover ("Same Sex Marriage: A Basic Right, A Just Demand," April 7, 2013) got a lot of polarization, including breaking up groups of high school students, with one or two going against the backward tide. Even more backward folks got the Loving case analogy (and the judge's Bible reference in ruling), which kind of jolted them, and some actually got the paper.

One memorable scene around the time of the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality was that a group of young people opened the page with photos of victims of police murders and started chanting the names angrily, exciting the whole car, and one woman visual artist gave me her card. She actually met with us later—unfortunately, she developed an aversion to our whole program. At other times a group of youth who knew Noche ran out of the car shouting "Free Noche," running all along the platform.

I also try to develop some good relationship with dancers, candy sellers. For the longest time a dude with a piano was trying to make some Calhoon Brown style ironic three-liners about white dudes with paper on the train, and I was trying to actually make him do some accompaniment to my raps. One older candy seller asks me for the paper all the time, proudly put stop stop-and-frisk button on himself, saying "I put it on the left side, where their badge is, I am gonna stop-and-frisk them!” There was a young woman who knew the paper I saw two days in a row, before and on Noche's court day, and I got a chance to report the victory around his case on the next day.

I will try in the future to be timely with these reports.


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