From Sunsara Taylor:

Speaking to a College Class about #ShutDownA14

March 21, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |



The other day I got to speak in a college African American Literature class of about 25 students.  They had previously watched the trailer to the upcoming film of Cornel West and Bob Avakian's historic Dialogue on Revolution and Religion to be premiered on March 28.  My plan was to build upon that, urging students to get tickets to be at Schomburg Center when the film premieres, and to win them to not only take part in – but to become organizers for – #ShutDownA14.

My presentation was straightforward:  Two important things are coming up, both of which are about how we get free.

Stolen Lives
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As I got into the importance of the upcoming film premiere, I unfolded the Revolution newspaper centerfold of the Stolen Lives – people killed by police.  Real people are being gunned down every single day by police, this is what BA and CW are talking about and grappling with how to end when they talk about revolution – this and so much more: the abuse and degradation of women, the destruction of the environment, the imperialist wars and torture, the round ups of immigrants, the putrid me-first culture and so much more.  It's a really big deal that Bob Avakian (BA) has developed a strategy to bring this system down, a vision and plan for a new system and society, and is actively leading a Party to prepare for this revolution.  And it is a profoundly special and historic thing to see him in deep engagement with Cornel West, a revolutionary Christian and courageous freedom fighter, over the most pressing questions of our time, including the role of religion in the fight for emancipation.  And for all this to be filled with love, mutual respect, humor, and an honest airing of real differences.  Students need to be in the house with others for this premiere.

Before speaking directly to April 14, I asked students to raise their hands if they'd been part of the protests last year against police murder.  About five did.  Next, I asked students who thought the protests had been righteous to raise their hands.  Nearly everyone did.  “It's very important that they stood up, isn't it?” I said, indicating the smaller number who had actually taken to the streets, “They were speaking for all of you, weren't they?”  The other students nodded their heads.  “And they were speaking for millions more.  We should really commend them, they did something that really made a huge difference – for those on the bottom who suffer this brutality every day, letting them know they are not alone... for those who didn't know or didn't want to know how bad this is, waking them up... and for people all over the world to see the reality of this country and the fact that people here would dare to stand up against the brutality of this state... this really mattered.”  I led the room in giving a round of applause to those who had protested.

The mood in the room shifted palpably.  People began to feel more together, and those who had protested sat up a little taller.  I asked them how it felt to be in the streets.  A young Black woman started, “It was so emotional.  I didn't know it would be that emotional and I didn't even notice how far I walked; I was just carried along by the energy.  There were so many different kinds of people there, too.  White people, old people, Black people... just a lot of diversity like I've never seen all together.”

A second Black woman chimed, “Remember the big protest of the Christmas tree lighting?  I was at that.  Actually, I had gone to the lighting... but when the protest came up I thought 'that is so much better' so I went with them.  I had never done that before and then I was in the street yelling.”  Not long after that, she took part in a speak-out on her campus, “I didn't even know I had anything to say but I went up and all this passion came out of me,” she put both hands on her heart and expressed surprise, “I didn't even know it was in there.”

In a real way, some of the same dynamic she was describing from the speak-out was taking hold in the room.  People had looked around and seen how many others felt the same way they did, and each person who spoke seemed to draw from and add to the strength and determination of others.  People talked about the deep impact the protests had had on them and, throughout, people kept staring at and referencing the Stolen Lives centerfold (which I held up throughout the entire discussion).

A young Latina said, “My heart breaks when I look at that poster. My brothers, my father look like those people.  My friends do. That could be me.”  Another young Black woman said, referencing some of my remarks, “I never heard anyone call it genocide before, but it's true. Wow. How long before they just line us all up and shoot us?”

After one student talked about having protested the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin, I interjected, “People are always being told that what they do doesn't make a difference, but she protested for Trayvon and I firmly believe that had thousands of people not stood up for Trayvon the way she did, it is very unlikely that the defiance and outpourings in Ferguson and nationwide would have been so powerful and they wouldn't have spread so far.  Now, we have to build on all of that and take things even further!”

The professor was clearly moved by the discussion unfolding and indicated that he would give us substantially more time than we had planned for, so we drew out more questions and got students wrestling with each other over both the tremendous importance of fighting back right now and the importance of getting tickets to and learning from BA and CW so that our fight can actually succeed in putting an end to all this madness and oppression.

Folks raised questions about communism, the strategy for revolution, the culture, and more.  With each question I would give a brief indication of an answer, but mainly appreciate and deepen the question and bring alive the importance of hearing BA and CW get into those questions and more.  As part of responding to apprehension several folks raised about communism, I paraphrased BA from the Dialogue saying that learning about communism in this society – including even in so-called progressive academia – is a lot like learning the history of slavery and the Civil War from Confederate leaders or from something like Gone With the Wind.  Students laughed in recognition of the analogy and we dug into this a bit.

Another big question that emerged powerfully was whether it is really possible to bring about real and lasting liberation.  “This system has been destroying Black people for so long, hundreds of years, it’s hard to believe that if we fight we can do any better than people before us.  It seems like it's going to take hundreds more years to stop it.”

We spent some time getting into the fact that this system is actually facing enormous challenges right now and vulnerability – internationally it is facing major challenges to its global domination and within the country there are major fault lines that could open up even wider around the role of women, the war on immigrants, the destruction of the environment, and most profoundly their very program of genocide, mass incarceration and police murder against Black and Brown people.  The question is a) whether people will stand up and push on these contradictions – in particular the question right now of police murder – and through doing so prepare the ground, prepare the people, and prepare the leadership and organization for an actual revolution, and b) whether we will take advantage of the tremendous advances that have been made by BA and the Revolutionary Communist Party he leads which actually has a strategy so we can win.  This is something that even the best of previous generations of freedom fighters did not yet have and it can make all the difference.  Again, the tremendous importance of both of the big events coming up – and the way they can strengthen each other.

Throughout all of this, and the broader discussion that unfolded, I was very mindful of the clock.  It was essential to save enough time to concretely organize people to act – even as this had been a theme throughout every aspect of the discussion.

I returned us to the current crossroads and raised the Stolen Lives poster up higher: “Even after all the protests... all the arrests... all the investigations that went nowhere... the police are still killing Black and Brown youth in every city and town of America – and getting away with it!  We have to take the resistance to a whole higher level, shutting down all of business as usual and bringing America to a halt.  The day to do that is A14.”  I asked them, “Who here knows that what I am saying is true?”

Most people raised their hands.  I told them to look around, to really take in how many others felt as they did.  Then I made the point that history is not made by general sentiment, there have to be those who are willing to lead.  There have to be some students in this room right now who step forward and say we will make this happen.  “Who is willing to do that?”

Six students kept their hands in the air.  A couple did so boldly, most of them were more timid.  “You are going to have to do better than that,” the students all laughed as I said this.  “Put your hands up like you mean it, like you are proud.  You should be proud for taking this stand.  Lives depend on it!”  They raised their hands more firmly and again I led the room to give them a round of applause.  I also told them to look around, they were going to have to get to know each other and work together.  Then, I asked a young woman who had been most vocal to get everyone else's phone number and to agree to call them all up and organize them.  In this way, they each not only made a personal pledge to take up this organizing, but they did so in front of each other – making a collective commitment and feeling the collective backing.

We got the names and numbers and emails for everyone who was interested in coming to the premiere as well as everyone who was interested in A14 and the revolution more broadly, and concluded with a final challenge.  As Cornel West said in the film trailer, “We are living in a unique historical moment.”  A lot of people in this room know some things about what is right and wrong right now, in this age of genocide and police murder.  But what people in this room decide to do – what they decide to learn about and fight for and what they decide to act on and mobilize others around – will make all the difference.  We have a tremendous resource in the leadership and experience of BA and the RCP and the broader movement for revolution, and we will be there for you.  Our website is an incredible resource you should go to every day and we will be out here fighting alongside you with everything we've got.  But history is hinging right now on whether new people, including especially students and young people, step forward and take responsibility for all of this together with us.  Don't be someone who sits back and just lets all this horror happen, be part of standing up and doing something truly heroic, something that will truly matter.  Be part of these two big things coming up and then, in just a month, let's look out and see the even greater possibilities – the even greater strength and unity and understanding of the people, the even greater illegitimacy of the system in the eyes of millions, the even greater prospects for an actual revolution – that we have carved out together.  And then, let’s go from there. 

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