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Working on Contradictions & Openings on Campus

October 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |



I thought it might be worthwhile to share some experience and thinking on moving to bring groups of college students to the Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian at Riverside Church in NYC on Nov 15.  I was at the campus of a liberal arts school yesterday. On the surface, the scene was frustrating –too many students I talked with were into “alternative” explorations of creativity fixated on introspection and self. And like many, if not most liberal arts colleges in NYC, the campus is both literally and spiritually walled off from the surrounding ghetto and housing projects. Some students rush between campus and their dorms as if to minimize their exposure to the real world.

But within that, there is both a general openness to new and alternative ideas, and different sections of people on campus intrigued and even excited about the dialogue. About one in five students took palm cards, and some took stacks. Not a fully objective survey, but a not-particularly-friendly security guard told me the cards were “everywhere” on campus. A middle-aged Black woman who seemed like she worked on campus gave me a smile as she walked up me and said in a very quiet voice, “Give me the cards.” I gave her the ones I had in my hand. “No, ALL of them.” I gave her all I had handy. (I was able to replenish my stock). Other campus workers were really interested in the Dialogue, so after being “schooled” by the first woman, I enlisted a few of them to get cards around on campus as well.

Mainly, we’re out at this campus to bring students, in the arts, sciences, drama, theater, literature and more to the Dialogue, from the perspective of the kind of impact this event needs to have. But why not unleash all positive factors and synergies? People who work maintenance, in the cafeterias, and in offices at these colleges might be levers to bringing people from the oppressed communities in which they live in to the Dialogue. In addition, I was thinking about how – besides getting the cards “everywhere” (which is important!) – people like the woman who took a stack of cards might have an impact on students. When I was in college, this interaction was a dynamic factor – we joined unionization struggles of the campus workers and brought them to anti-war protests. But this time around I’m thinking the interaction can be more dynamic since some of the campus workers have been exposed to mass initiatives we’ve been involved in and might be avenues through which students get involved.

I met a professor who was looking for ways to encourage his students to engage social issues including racism and inequality. After we talked, he is seriously considering bringing his class – he wants them to explore big questions. He knew of Cornel West -- hadn’t heard of Bob Avakian but was intrigued to learn about him. And we got contact info for another interested professor. The next day, summing that experience up with my team, we googled the professor I met. One link led to another, and we discovered networks of students, professors, and campus initiatives dealing with global inequality, the Occupy movement, socially conscious fiction, etc. Off this, we set about contacting people we found. We’re getting professors the invitation “Bring Your Students to this Historic Dialogue!” that just went up at, and telling them we’d be dropping by to see them and sell blocks of tickets.

We should continue to get the palm cards out on campus (including relying on students and staff to do that), but we identified that we have to really focus on fighting through to sell blocs of tickets through these professors and campus groups. If we sell a bunch of blocks of ten tickets to groups and classes on campus, first of all, we’ll get a lot of tickets sold! And even if we were able to sell as many individual tickets, it is more likely students will come if they are with a group. In addition, the impact of groups people getting ready to go – and that spilling over into other channels – and the impact of the event itself, will be more amplified if groups have gone together to be part if the event … it’ll be a bigger deal in the student newspaper, students will be blogging and spreading the word on groups’ Facebook pages, etc.

I called Revolution Books in NYC and got the details for discounted group tickets so we’re ready to sell them on the spot if the opportunity arises. Tonite, we’re hitting every email address we can find for interested campus groups with materials for the Dialogue. Tomorrow we’re going to follow up tracking down these forces and people on a couple campuses.

We’ll keep posted on how this all goes.

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