Running with the Revolution Club in Times Square

August 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

The Revolution Club had called people together to "wake up and shake up" the scene at Times Square on Friday night, saying "This System MUST NOT—They WILL NOT—Get Away with This!!"—the outrageous and horrifying acquittal [the previous Saturday] of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin—and they invited people to join them to see the movie Fruitvale Station, opening nationwide, including in Times Square, that night. The film is a searing portrayal of the last days of Oscar Grant's life before he was killed by police the morning of New Year's Day, 2009, at the BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] Fruitvale Avenue station in Oakland, California.

I was really looking forward to joining the Revolution Club on this night—at Times Square, where thousands of youth from the neighborhoods all over NYC hang out and where people come from all over the world. It was the first Friday night since the brutal heat wave had broken and it was busy, electric, with young people of all nationalities and from everywhere out to have a good time. We had an hour before the movie began. As soon as we got to the corner the Revolution Club started leading the chant: "Trayvon did not have to die—we all know the reason why! The whole damn system is guilty!" We held up the Three Strikes poster and Revolution newspaper. Some people began stopping, taking the Three Strikes poster and reading it on the spot, a few people buying Revolution newspaper, listening to agitation over the bullhorn about this system and revolution, and expressing their own upset and anger. A small scene was developing. You could feel immediately that underneath the "norm" of people out for a nice evening, there was a lot going on.

After a few minutes the Revolution Club crew decided they would sharpen up their agitation and start challenging people to confront this situation. They started telling people, "Two sides are shaping up: those who want to see the Trayvons and the Rachels and the Oscar Grants live as full human beings, and those who don't—you need to be on the right side, we cannot let this go away, we have to get into what it's going to take to stop this and what kind of revolution we need and build the movement for this revolution, now."

Immediately and dramatically, knots of people, especially couples and groups of youth of all nationalities and mixed nationalities, and older Black women with children Trayvon's age, stopped and wanted to talk, to know more, to know what do we do about this right now. Very quickly there was a scene of anywhere from 10-15 people and more at a time gathered around and more listening from some distance, people talking intensely to the revolutionary organizers, eagerly sharing around the sign-up clipboard so they could be in touch with the movement for revolution. Some bought Revolution newspaper, some took bunches of the Three Strikes poster to put up in their neighborhoods and buildings or to take to their home cities. Some wanted to come out the next day to Harlem, where a 1 pm speak-out and protest had been called.

People from all over were agonizing. One young couple was a white woman from upstate New York and a young Black man from Florida. She asked, "What should we do now? What should I do when I go home? Can you come talk to us and organize a protest in my city?" The young man wanted to know whether you could really make the kind of revolution we were talking about in a country like this—wouldn't you be crushed? Was it really possible? He, along with more than a few others, was seriously thinking about the biggest and most real questions of how to change all this. They took bunches of Three Strikes posters, got hooked up to follow online, and to be in touch with the Revolution Club. The Revolution Club told them that if they got a group in her upstate city to talk to, they would come talk to them, but she should look into all this, look at for what this revolution is all about, and start organizing this and be in touch. A woman with another group of young people told us that she is close with the family of a police murder victim in Queens, and wants to bring that family into the protests the Revolution Club is organizing.

As we had begun on the corner, a couple of cops had walked by the scene and ignored it; later two uniformed cops pulled up in a taxicab! (One of this city's police programs to monitor everything everywhere) and told the Revolution Club members to put down the bullhorn. People who had been gathering around started watching closely. The bullhorn was put down this time, the agitation and knots of people intently engaging continued for several more minutes before we went to the movie.

Only one of our group in the movie had already seen it. If you haven't seen it, go. GO NOW. I don't need to say more here, but at the end of the movie we, and the rest of the audience, just sat for a minute, stunned and not moving. Then as one of the Revolution Club members stood up and spoke, we all started to stand up with him: "Oscar Grant did not have to die. Trayvon Martin did not have to die. If you hate this, come talk to us about the revolution that will end it. We are the Revolution Club." I couldn't tell right then what the audience thought about this; no one responded out loud in the moment. People seemed unable to speak. But then, as people started leaving the theater, almost everyone took the Three Strikes poster, including the movie staff people. As we moved into the lobby (still inside the multiplex), again knots of people gathered, discussing intently, wanting to know what this revolution was, who were we, how do you stop this, what should we do, can we do anything really? It was a mixed audience, mostly in their 20s and up, mostly middle class. Again, the sign-up clipboard was passed from hand to hand.

It was painful, raw, to talk after this movie. One woman I talked to had been among the people who slowed down on her way out to gather around us, and at first when I asked how she was feeling after seeing the film, she couldn't speak, furious, tearful. Then it was like, the words started pouring out and she couldn't stop. She works with young people, and the movie hit her very hard. The horrible injustice, the horrible loss of Oscar's life, and how he is like so many others. She said, "Ok you can say it's the system, and I know that's true, but do our people (she is Black) really understand that it's not just 'out there'—when you say the system, people think it's 'out there,' but it's IN us, it's in how we treat each other, in how our youth learn from day one that they don't matter. It's so DEEP, it goes back to slavery days." I told her I felt like, in this moment, many people were looking straight down 400 years and seeing things that normally are hidden and not much thought about. That this is not a "normal" moment. She said yes, that's right, and she told about visiting one of the slave-holding centers in Africa where millions of captured people had been held before being taken on the middle passage to North and South America. Then she went on, "But this is like a disease, and we don't even know we have it." She described how her seven-year old daughter, who goes to a progressive all-Black school, is still taught to be ashamed and afraid, and how she has had to confront her daughter's teachers, who are all good and well-meaning, about this. We talked about how and why the system works to shape how people think and feel about themselves and each other—and how this will not change fundamentally as long as we are enslaved under this system but it can change, as people get with this movement for revolution and then we bring about the revolution that can change the whole society and start changing the whole world. I told her about how this revolution was about "fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution." She had, before we even talked, put her name on the sign-up list and wanted to go online and come to Revolution Books, which she didn't know about before.

This was just one of a swirl of deep and emotional conversations going on. Meanwhile one of our crew was furiously pacing the lobby, having trouble himself even talking. Later when we all went to the McDonalds to talk more, he said that he had wanted to jump into the screen during the last half-hour of the film. It is part of how the movie is done that even though you know what is coming, you feel like you are right there, with the others in the BART station watching and screaming out in horror as this is going on. Yes, you feel like you want to jump into this and stop it. Think about thousands of people seeing this movie and how they might feel and act the next time they encounter a young man being harassed, stopped and frisked, brutalized by the police. And this at a moment when killing young Black men for any reason or no reason has just been legalized.

One of the people with our crew, a young woman who hadn't been so active with the movement for revolution for a while, told about being in the Trayvon protests near where she lived, and told how she was very struck by what this verdict has stirred among the people. She said, normally people get so accustomed to what they are forced to endure that they get numb. You just feel that you have to swallow it—but this is a different moment. She was surprised and moved by how open and determined a section of people were to talk with us, to find out about this movement for revolution, wanting to know about BA and this leadership. As we talked, I realized that we never would have seen this or been able to help people find voice for it without really putting to people very basically that this is a moment when you have to take a side, we can't let it go, let's get into why things are this way and how they can be different with this revolution. This is something anyone and everyone can do, in small groups and on their own, just about anywhere in this country right now. Anywhere you go, you can very quickly dig just one thin layer below the picture of "normalcy" to open up profound questioning and anger about what this verdict concentrates, and you can get very quickly into the basics of how to understand this and why we need to act now. You can use the Three Strikes poster and Revolution newspaper, and connect people with, all over the place.

And we talked about how now the system is desperately working double-time to close this back up—to tell everyone that the president cares, that the Justice Department will take care of it, or that god will take care of it.

BUT NO. NOT THIS TIME. This is NOT over and this time it can be different. We talked about how this depends on what the revolutionaries lead people to understand and to do. If we are already thinking "this is just about over" because people aren't on their own figuring out how to demonstrate every day or acting in some other particular way, we are not seeing and working at uncovering just how deep this has gone this time, how much of a serious jolt this is for this system and for everyone who lives in it, and how much is possible if we open up this deep faultline of this system, that is, the oppression of Black people especially, to advance toward when a revolution could be possible.

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