Two Days With the Volunteers: Harriet Tubman, “America’s Top Chef,” and Getting A Whole Lot More ORGANIZED

November 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The last few days I have gone out with the crew working to bring forward people from the most oppressed sections of society, and from the youth to be at the Dialogue on Nov 15 between Cornel West and Bob Avakian: REVOLUTION AND RELIGION.  I have gone to a high school club where two young comrades led a very compelling discussion of the dialogue with a dozen or so students and several teachers; I have met a few of the core people who have bought tickets and are working hard to make the dialogue a success; and I have also met some of the volunteers who have come from other cities.  All this has provoked a lot of thoughts.

Let me start with something that a woman who is working to bring people she knows to the dialogue said last night.  We were talking about how to reach people at a dinner hosted by a few people in the Revolution Club.  I’ll call the woman Ruth.  She had brought her two children to the dinner, and as we went on into the evening, she quoted Harriet Tubman, the great Black woman who led hundreds of slaves out of bondage on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.  Harriet Tubman said that “I freed a thousand slaves, but I could have freed a thousand more if only they had known they were slaves.”  You can just imagine the arguments that other slaves might have put up to her: “We have it better here than they do at the plantation over yonder…. Or we might get killed if we try to run away… or how could we take care of ourselves if we go somewhere new…”  But I imagine that Harriet Tubman argued strongly with people who said stuff like that.  She fought with people to face the reality of their conditions and take action accordingly.

Ruth feels a bit in the middle between the thinking of BA and Cornel on some of the questions of the dialogue—and that’s part of why she is so on fire to go to it.  Ruth feels strongly that people have to be challenged to look at their real situation and to take responsibility for figuring out how to get free.  That’s why she invoked Harriet Tubman—and that stand in fact is something that both BA and CW share.  For people whose lives are pulled in so many different directions, with chaotic needs constantly popping up, it won’t be enough to just buy the ticket.  There has to be a deeper understanding going in of the real conditions we face and our own responsibility—and capability—to understand and radically transform those conditions.

The day before I was talking with another person—someone who had really “come up the hard way”  and who had volunteered to come to NY and help out with dialogue, in the middle of a difficult personal situation.  I’ll call him David.  We were riding the train to the high school club meeting I talked about earlier.  He had had dreams of making it in a career; but David was feeling strongly that he needed to put revolution first.  As their very last question, the high school students had asked Dave and the other comrade who made the presentation to explain what made them decide to dedicate themselves to revolution.  Each of them gave very moving explanations of this, and I could tell that this deeply affected the  students.  Dave talked about the impact that Bob Avakian has had on him, and the potential for BA’s thinking and leadership to affect other people like him, and then he said something like, “Look, I could have tried to be a ‘top chef’—for what?  To get on ‘Chopped’?  When I can dedicate my life to being an emancipator of humanity instead?  It’s not even close.”

During our train ride, before the student club meeting—which went very well, by the way—we had talked about his frustrations in winning people to get with this.  “We’ve got to get more people,” he said.  “I don’t see why they hold back, when this is so true!”  I thought about this again on the way home after the next night’s dinner, and Ruth’s point on Harriet Tubman.  There is actually much to think about in the life of Harriet Tubman.  She didn’t wait for the majority of people, even the majority of slaves to come around to her way of thinking; she started right in to fight uncompromisingly for liberation.  The Abolitionist movement she was part of didn’t start out with anything close to a majority.  But they fought against the powers-that-be and they worked to change minds as they did so.  They had a rough going and they ran into obstacles and defeats… but as the contradictions of the system of capitalism-slavery began to grow sharper, their actions played a big part in the coming of the Civil War, where millions did fight to end slavery and hundreds of thousands died, and open chattel slavery was ended.  This was a great victory—even as the Civil War itself did not go far enough, and different kinds of slavery and oppression of Black people were brought into place. 

There is much to learn from the Civil War.  We can understand and reflect on the patterns of how society goes into major crisis in which you can actually make fundamental change, and we can think about how those lessons apply to our situation today.  We can draw inspiration from the examples of Harriet Tubman, of Frederick Douglass, of John Brown.  Yes, the revolution we’re preparing for will be much deeper and much more thorough—it will wipe out all forms of exploitation and oppression—but these lessons are still important.  These lessons and examples from the past can tell us something about the need to dedicate ourselves to fighting hard today to reach and challenge the thousands who can be won to stand up against modern-day slavery, and preparing them as we do to be the backbone force when all-out revolution does become possible.  Things won’t just build up bit by bit.  They didn’t with the Civil War, and they won’t in future showdowns.  Like a hurricane, the conditions in which you could make revolution will come without much warning—but we have to get as far as we can before the storm comes in order to not only weather it, but to lead people to come out of all that with the tools build a whole new world on liberated foundations.  This dialogue is one huge step in reaching those thousands and getting them ready, transforming their thinking about what is possible and desirable, even as it will also impact millions more and influence them in a positive, revolutionary direction.

In talking late into the night with people who have been working to build this, one thing that became clearer to all of us is that we need to actually do better at organizing the people themselves to take all this up.  Among those who have bought tickets are some who would no doubt take responsibility for different things that have to be done—organizing the transportation hookups that day, making sure that people who do have tickets are able to get there (that we are aware of different personal contradictions that come up and help people find the ways to handle these), raising funds ahead of time, being part of spreading the word and selling more tickets, etc.  This is extremely important and necessary.  We have to RELY on people who come forward to buy tickets and take out promotional materials; we can’t keep all this bottled up in a few hands.  Comrades were working on much more worked-out plans to do this as I left their apartment late last night, systematically going through the list of those who had bought tickets and making plans to contact them—even as many other people in the movement would still be out in the streets of the community this weekend, taking out the word to people very broadly. 

Lenin, the leader of the Revolution in Russia that gave birth to the first great socialist state, the Soviet Union, once said many years ago that the oppressed have one great weapon up against the might of the ruling class and the chaos of people’s lives.  That weapon is organization.  Our Party drew on Lenin and put it this way: “Prepare Minds and Organize Forces for Revolution.”  This, in a nutshell, is what we have to do over these next few days, both bringing all that we have learned and learning many more new things in these last few days, together with comrades old and new.


Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

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