Taking BA Everywhere and the Whole Ensemble of Revolutionary Work to Martha's Vineyard

September 11, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From readers:

Especially in light of the announcement of the truly historic Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian on November 15 in New York City, a team of revolutionaries who traveled to Martha’s Vineyard this summer want to share some of our experience in taking out BA Everywhere, along with the October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration and the whole ensemble of revolutionary work, to the residents and vacationers on the island —focusing on the significant numbers of African-American intellectuals, artists, and more propertied Black families from around the country who spend time on Martha’s Vineyard over the summer.

Among other things, our experience—especially in the midst of the defiant stand of the people of Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown, revealed both the necessity and basis to make this Dialogue a major societal event and a political and ideological turning point broadly throughout society—part of which involves reaching out to a diverse spectrum of people to take it up in many different ways; contributing financially towards its success; holding meetings and discussions of the speakers’ works in preparation for it; spreading word of it around the country; and attending or developing ways to watch it with others, just to name a few.

Our experience absolutely demonstrates the importance of reaching out to this section of people, many of whom may have never considered revolution and communism as a viable, let alone desirable, pathway towards ending the inequities they are deeply aware of. At the same time, this is challenging many of us—revolutionaries and supporters of the movement for revolution—to dig more deeply into our own understanding of what it is going to take for this revolution to have a shot at winning—both in terms of the forces that need to be involved in this movement and the content of the struggle necessary to engage in.

The first question is: “Why even go to Martha’s Vineyard ?”—an island off the coast of Massachusetts best known as a vacation destination for more privileged sections of society, including presidents and celebrities? We really had to struggle over this. Our starting point was BAsics 3:19: "There will never be a revolutionary movement in this country that doesn’t fully unleash and give expression to the sometimes openly expressed, sometimes expressed in partial ways, sometimes expressed in wrong ways, but deeply, deeply felt desire to be rid of these long centuries of oppression [of Black people]. There’s never gonna be a revolution in this country, and there never should be, that doesn’t make that one key foundation of what it’s all about.”

While there are definite class divisions within the African-American community, the BA quote doesn’t distinguish between poor and better-off Black people. It is making the point that the oppression of Black people is foundational to U.S. imperialism, and its elimination is equally foundational to the movement to end it. Members of our team had to struggle over this point as we prepared to go to the Vineyard—especially because there have been individual experiences with people from this stratum who have seemed to want to distance themselves from the conditions of the basic masses or who have seemed intent on promoting programs for incremental change with no hope of bringing about lasting transformation.

We also talked about the disproportionate influence this community of Black intellectuals and artists have—both within the African-American community as a whole but also more broadly in society, as well as the particular concentration and mix on Martha’s Vineyard. We talked about how so many of these people had put their hopes and dreams in the election of Barack Obama, only to have those hopes left empty and unfulfilled—and where they are often defending the Obama presidency publicly while privately struggling with their own anger and frustrations. Or even those who are relatively satisfied with the Obama presidency and who see the “system” as something that prevented him from acting in the way they thought he wanted to. And while we didn’t entirely resolve our contradictions, we did put ourselves on a much firmer footing to engage people.

This was all very important because taking out BA Everywhere is a form of class struggle in the ideological and political arena, and that class struggle is not one-sided. The rulers of this country have a very clear understanding that one of the key elements to their ability to rule is the allegiance of this section of the middle strata, including among African-Americans. President Obama, who has frequently vacationed on the Vineyard, was there during the same time as our team, doing major fundraising among this very section of people, and it did not go unnoticed that Hillary Clinton was also there at a well-attended book-signing party just prior to our visit. 

So, even before events in Ferguson, the team was grappling with the strategic importance of taking BA Everywhere and the movement for revolution to Martha’s Vineyard.

Over the course of several days on the island, we met hundreds of people, attending concerts, film showings, significant book signings, and other cultural events. Our team spent several hours talking with people at Inkwell Beach, the historic gathering place for vacationing Black families in the town of Oak Bluffs and where people like Spike Lee, Henry Louis Gates, and Stanley Nelson (director of Freedom Summer) currently spend their summers. We distributed several hundred copies of the statement from Revolution newspaper, “We Stand With the Defiant Ones” as well as several dozens of the fundraising brochure, “The World Needs to Be Radically Changed—Here’s Step One,” and many copies of Revolution newspaper.

We found ourselves in conversations with Black families from New Haven; Washington, DC; Boston; Los Angeles; Detroit; New York; San Francisco and all points in between—some who were familiar with or had been to the Revolution Books in their city. We also talked with many year-round residents of the Vineyard, both Black and white, who often revealed a deep disquiet over the state of the planet and interest in the possibilities of fundamental change. 

Some people attempted to dismiss us as trapped in a “conventional wisdom” of radical change. Others thought we were entirely out of our minds to think there could be a revolution in a country as wealthy (and as militarized) as the United States. Still others took us to task for not appreciating the significance of a Black president sending a Black attorney general to Ferguson to investigate the police shooting of a Black youth with the refrain, “This represents a real change!” Sometimes we were able to follow up and get into how little change there really was, but other times people simply threw this at us as they walked away, unwilling to confront the disturbing reality.

But much more often (and sometimes in the same conversation), there were very important and often uncomfortable connections being made. In a conversation after a screening of Freedom Summer that drew several hundred people, one woman commented as to how the images from the movie made her think about the images coming out of Ferguson. And when a team member said they also reminded him of the images of the Israel invasion of Gaza, they ended up talking about the infamous “hippos”—tanks used by the apartheid South African government against black people in that country and what linked all these together was a system of capitalism and imperialism. Many people were profoundly disturbed by the images from Ferguson, and we were repeatedly asked about how it could be, 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, that there were tanks in the streets and snipers on the buildings taking aim at Black people again. Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin were both fresh in people’s minds.

A woman from the West Coast told us one of the main reasons she continues to come back to the Vineyard is that it’s the one place where she can see her teenage son go off at night with his friends and her not staying up all night worrying about what might happen to him. “Even so, I still give him a talking to about how to carry himself and how to make sure to act in a certain way in any situations with the police.”

At the entrance of the predominantly Black Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs, team members took out the posters of BA's “Three Strikes…” quote and with “We Reject Slavery in Any Form,” and one that read, “The People on Inkwell Beach, Martha’s Vineyard Stand With the People of Ferguson.” The posters were a magnet of attraction, and people lined up to get their pictures taken holding the sign declaring solidarity with Ferguson. 

While families were busy hurrying to and from the beach, many stopped and were often amazed at finding themselves in deep discussions with revolutionary communists. One man, with a family from Los Angeles, declared that the revolution was already going on and he was proof, a Black family from California wealthy enough to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, and that it was time for Black people to “money up”—put more money into the Black communities. At the same time, his 10-year-old son interjected that it just wasn’t right that the government had called out the National Guard to put down people protesting against the police killing of a Black man, and his wife commented that she just didn’t see how a revolution could succeed in this country. 

Towards the end of this conversation that often was very intense, the team member involved ended by reflecting that despite everything the man had said, he had to agree that there was just something not right where we live in a society where his 10-year-old son understands and can comment intelligently on the fact that the National Guard is being used to suppress people striving to get justice for another young Black man murdered by the police. It was both serious and lighthearted in the same instant, and as they parted, the man came over to make a contribution to and thank the comrade for her time. 

At one point, another team member commented on the fact that it seemed relatively easy to unite on one level with people around events in Ferguson, so the team walked through what it meant for events in Ferguson to concentrate the whole horrific experience of the oppression of Black people and the importance of giving people an opportunity to stand with the defiant ones of Ferguson, while more deeply engaging with who are “the people” and the necessity of revolution and of engaging with BA. We talked about the role of the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jackson Jr. s, and especially U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in promoting calm while the iron fist of the state was confronting demonstrators.

This became more of a dividing line with many people we met who, for the most part, said they stood with the people of Ferguson. As our discussions deepened, some saw this as standing with the “peace police” calling for calm (as they vilified the defiant youth and revolutionaries who stood with them), while others more firmly united with the actions of the demonstrators who refused to back down. These people generally had a more clear understanding that, without the actions of the “defiant ones,” few people would even had heard of Michael Brown’s death, and often expressed pride in the youth. Again, many we met drew comparisons to the freedom riders of the civil rights era whose sharp, defiant, and necessary stand was often controversial even among progressive forces.

Wherever we went, we found people who wanted to talk. On one bus ride, a middle-aged white woman who lives on the Vineyard asked who the person on one team member’s shirt was. When we replied it was Bob Avakian, leader of the movement for revolution, she replied, “Good, we need some kind of revolution.” When we went on to tell her that he is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, who has been developing a new synthesis of communism, she continued on unabashed—referring to different outrages and horrors around the world that demanded radical change and expressing her happiness at seeing revolutionaries on the island, as she exited the bus.

At another bus stop, we met a Black family from outside Detroit attending part of the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. When we showed them Revolution newspaper, two or three discussions jumped off at once, including one about the immorality of what has happened to the people of Detroit. One older woman almost demanded, “Do you realize that people in Detroit do not have the right to clean water? That thousands of people are being cut off from clean water? And it’s not because there isn’t any water—there’s lots of water. The water companies are selling it to all the towns around Detroit. It’s because there is no profit to getting it to the people. It’s all about the bottom line. If you can’t make a profit, it doesn’t matter what the people need. What do you think the president is doing about that? Nothing! Yes we do need some kind of revolution!” Again, this was a conversation cut short, but the woman left with a copy of Revolution and a BA Everywhere fundraising brochure.

There are too many anecdotes to share in this letter, including an exclusive fundraising reception where, after being told he was talking to a revolutionary communist and follower of BA, a middle-aged Black man launched into a conversation about having studied Marx, and how he considered himself a democratic-socialist, and began talking about how there would have to be a revolution to end the madness all around us but cautioned that the one problem with the communist movement historically was “white chauvinism,” while giving contact information at the end of the conversation to “pursue the discussion.”

Towards the beginning of going to the Vineyard, some team members had expressed a certain frustration that they weren’t going to Ferguson, to stand with the youths in the street in the face of the attacks from the state. As we were summing up our experience, someone suggested we step back for a moment and survey the bigger picture. At the very moment that Carl Dix and activists for the movement for revolution and BA were out in the tear-gas-filled streets and neighborhoods of Ferguson, bringing both their support but also their vision of a whole different world to the defiant youth and others taking on the outrage of Michael Brown’s murder, our team had gone to what is seen as an enclave of privilege and wealth to challenge people to stand with the oppressed but also to start seriously engaging with this movement for revolution and Bob Avakian whose work and leadership is so essential to understanding how to end these outrages. To project this out over the country, we began to get a sense of a pretty important synergy that has great potential going forward.

Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.