Correspondence from Harlem Dialogue Team, November 4, 2014

Posted November 8, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The Harlem team doing work to build for the Dialogue is setting out to really amp things up to build for the November 15 Dialogue between Bob Avakian and Cornel West on Revolution and Religion—The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion. We wanted to let readers of Revolution/ know what we are thinking about and doing in relation to building for this historic event.

In the beginning of our meeting, we took some time to have some of the volunteers who have arrived from out of town talk about why they had come.

One young Black man said, "I'm tired of all this shit that they do to people. Having BA and Cornel doing this Dialogue—the youth especially need to see this, the youth in the 'hood need to get there and we need to figure out how to do this. We will either fail or succeed and we got to figure it out. We can't yell at people (I've done this) about why they need to do this. We need to take a scientific approach and come together and figure out how to do this. These are emergency times with this whole genocide of young people. I want to do this, I want to make revolution."

Another volunteer said, "My sister was killed four years ago by the police. Things have escalated to the point where more and more people are being killed every year by the police, this is going on and on, young people killed, police brutality. This needs to be eradicated. I'm concerned for my son, I worry about him going to school and having to deal with the police, hoping that he will get home OK. It's not about reform, it's not about Obama, 'the change we can believe in.' I don't believe it! It's gonna take revolution."

A young Black man, 22 years old said, "I only got involved recently. I see things here but it's not just here, people are being oppressed all over the world and it's time for a change. This system oppresses us and we need to come together as a people. That's why I'm here."

We then talked on the team about how the Dialogue is going to affect those who are in the room that day—but also how this will have a big effect on society overall. We're in a moment to make history for real, and a lot is at stake here, with a real chance to advance toward the whole emancipation of humanity.

We got to get posters everywhere; people in Harlem have to be running into this everywhere. We have to be asking everyone we meet on the street, everyone we talk to: "Do you have your ticket yet?" But then we have to also quickly flip to a situation where many people are saying, "I got my ticket already" and "I'm coming."

One thing that was talked about is how Riverside Church, where the Dialogue is being held, is actually close to Harlem; it's close to the projects in Harlem. But at the same time, the "distance" that exists is more than just a physical thing. There is a chasm that exists between, on the one hand, people on the bottom of society and, on the other hand, people who are trained in academia—which includes a lot of people who do want to see something different in the world, who do want to see inequalities and such barriers broken down. So there is this chasm that we need to bridge in building for this Dialogue and getting people from Harlem to the event.

One of the big things the team talked about is the focus of making big breakthroughs with the youth—those who have the system's targets on their backs. They need to really be represented on the 15th, and we are going to concentrate a lot of work on getting these youth to the Dialogue—from the high schools, basketball courts, churches; they all need to be there. We need to bring into being something that has not happened before—an intersection between these youths and the students from nearby Columbia University—two groups of young people who in this society are kept apart, but on this day will be sitting together engaging together with the historic Dialogue between BA and Cornel West. We are the force that is going to have to figure out how to make this happen—to break through on this contradiction.

In making our plans and carrying them out, NOT ONE DAY can be perfunctory; we can't toll the bell, having no aims. Instead, we have to advance the ball down the court at every point.

Our plans have three key elements:

  • Having a big visual presence in the Harlem—at the projects, at the park where lots of high school students are getting out of school. We have plans for a big decorated van that will go through Harlem and can stop at some locations, have the DVD playing of Bob Avakian and get people to gather around, get information about the Dialogue, tickets; others can speak out about why they're coming, call on others, etc.
  • Involving the masses at every point in making breakthroughs in getting people to buy tickets, to make commitments to come, etc. Getting people to find ways to take this out, talk to others, make their own statements and videos about why they are, finding all kinds of ways to reach different people about this and involve them in this whole process.
  • Focus on the youth: fighting to break through on this.

Some of the team leaders brought their experience in going out to the youth to bear on this question:

One talked about how we sometimes encounter youth who say they don't care, but at the same time there are things like the video from Oakland ("Rise Up") which shows the anger of youth around police murder and how there is a different mood of resistance in the air right now. There is a real need for this to take a leap—for youth to see that they need to be at this Dialogue, that there are going to be these two speakers who have real answers, who are going to be talking about how to radically change the world. The system tells these youths every day that they are nothing, that they can't do anything, don't count for anything. We need to really make the argument that this is for them; that they can count for something, they can be part of being emancipators of humanity. In this it's really good to use the letter from an ex-prisoner about the Dialogue (and the reading of this by Joe Veale).

Another one of the team leaders brought out how without us the people who need to be there on the 15th won't be there and it is up to us to get people there; it is up to us to let them know what they have in BA and why it is so important for them to be at this Dialogue. It is up to us to let them know that there is a leadership and a party about revolution, nothing less, and in this time when many people are fighting back against things like police murder we have to connect all this with the Dialogue.

People shared some interesting stories about taking the Dialogue out in Harlem that held important lessons:

One person who has religious beliefs was initially holding back from talking about this because they thought this would be "a problem." She had seen people out on the street day after day in Harlem passing out cards on the Dialogue and usually just passed by. Finally one day she came over and said, "OK, what is this about?" At first she was very defensive because she thought that in order to come to this event she would have to give up her religion—which she sees as part of the framework of the change she sees is needed. She is actually drawn to Cornel as a revolutionary Christian. We her read some quotes from both BA and Cornel. BA: "Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved and oppressed." And "Revolution is not some kind of change in style, or a change in attitude, nor is it merely a change in certain relations within a society which remains fundamentally the same." Cornel: "Justice is what love looks like in public." And "To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely—to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away." She read those and then also Basics 5:23:

If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it's going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically.

After this she really opened up and talked about how she works with youth, some of whom are ones who the system has slated for Rikers, for going to prison. And she was then very excited about coming to the Dialogue herself but also taking this out to these youths.

Another story was told about this one young high school woman who said that if she came to the Dialogue, she thought people would think she is a hypocrite because she smokes weed and gets bad grades. Her thinking was that the Dialogue is something that is good for the community but maybe not for her because she's a "fuck-up." But she said, "I want to be there." This is the kind of shit the system puts on people, the way people are made to feel. But people told her that this is exactly the kind of thing that IS for her and that she needs to be there.

Another story: When people were building for October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, there was this one young kid, 12 years old, who came by and knocked the cards out of the hand of someone who was passing them out. When they were asked why, the kid said, "Don't you know I'm a savage?" The person telling the story said, "This was heartbreaking and infuriating, how generations are being told this, that they are incapable of understanding and changing the world. But this is another element of how we have to take this Dialogue out—we have to have a message kind of like, 'fuck-ups of the world unite.' This is who and what we're speaking to, this is what we need to unlock. And this will affect the whole thing. When these youths come to the Dialogue, they will come and see others, from all different sections of society, who do not look at them as fuck-ups and savages. This can be a game changing thing at the event itself, but also for the whole thing of building a movement for revolution.

We are making BIG plans to get a big number of people, at least a couple of hundred, from Harlem to the Dialogue on the15th. And we have to do this by having a different kind of math—not getting people one by one, but grasping the importance of people coming in groups, like for example the group of high school kids that we talked to who all work on the school newspaper together, or getting teachers to buy a block of tickets for their students, church groups, etc.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more to come.

Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

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