Lessons from November in NYC: Building for the Dialogue Between BA and Cornel West

March 30, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Society continues to roil with anguish and protest against police murder after police murder. And with less than three weeks to go to bring forward powerful outpourings of students in colleges and high schools, the Black and Latino youth with targets on their backs, and people from all parts of society to STOP BUSINESS AS USUAL ON APRIL 14 and say NO MORE to the system giving a green light to killer cops, we need to marshal all the passion, determination, science and strategic understanding we have to break things wide open, struggle for and enable many thousands of people to step out and act. One very important experience to draw upon which is rich in lessons for this battle is the experience of fighting down to the wire to build for the highly successful Dialogue between Bob Avakian and Cornel West held last November 15 at Riverside Church in New York City. One Revolution Club member who was deeply involved in that work has written up the experience and focused up the lessons in method and orientation that can be taken from this. While many of the particulars are different, these lessons in method and approach are directly relevant––and need to be creatively applied—to meeting the big challenge of drawing forward and organizing many thousands of people in the communities and on the campuses to act on April 14. For this reason, we are reprinting major excerpts from this earlier piece, "Lessons from November in NYC: Building for the Dialogue Between BA and Cornel West."


This work flowed from and was measured by the strategy for revolution. We understood the potential impact of the Dialogue on preparing the ground, preparing the people, and preparing the vanguard to make a real revolution. And this included how it was built for, who came to engage it and on what basis. What I'm writing below doesn't encompass all of it, but part of what was so important is that flowing from the understanding of the kind of breakthrough we were going for and why, we were able to identify and go to work on concrete qualitative and quantitative goals to make that breakthrough. We forged a working, scientific collectivity that was measuring the back-and-forth relationship of "preparing minds" and "organizing forces."

What follows is not a formula, but what I think are some of the key links from that work.

1) Wide outreach and saturation, getting the Dialogue visible, getting it "in the air" in the sense of everybody in a given area or arena knowing it was happening.

We blanketed two housing projects with palm cards and fliers for the Dialogue. Posters were posted up. And we had to keep assessing where we were at on that. We were continually stepping back and assessing all the way through in a way that was concrete and systematic. If we had a plan to get posters in windows [in businesses] and it didn't happen for one reason or another, we understood the difference it would make overall and worked collectively to change the situation the next day.

2) Consistent presence, systematically reaching people and building off what's been done before.

At the high schools, we started by going out to the schools [consistently]. With some students, we began to have an ongoing conversation. And this began to be part of a bigger conversation, where people saw their friends or others talking with us and came around to find out more. When we were out at the schools in the afternoons, we usually didn't have a great big crew. But, because of how we were stepping—in a way that was bold but accessible, we were able to have an impact with just a few people.

3) Engaging the content of the Dialogue and who is Bob Avakian and who is Cornel West.
Every day our collectivity summed up lessons from the day. After a couple days at the high schools, we realized we didn't have a way for students on the spot to engage the content of what the Dialogue was about and though they were familiar with BA's name, and some knew of Cornel West, they didn't know the content of what they were about. We made a poster, writing out by hand some quotes from BA and Cornel West and when we took it out to the schools, students stopped and read the quotes and this sparked deeper thinking and discussion. We used a phone and the students' own headphones or we plugged a speaker into the phone and they were able to watch the video BA: A Long Distance Runner in the Revolution or listen to a reading of a letter from a prisoner about why the Dialogue was for them. People watching/listening on the spot became part of what we were doing all the time, so that was also part of the scene that was being created.

4) Actually organizing people to come to the Dialogue, developing forms for people to organize each other to come.

At a certain point, we started dealing more consciously with questions of organization. There was a breadth of people hearing about and checking out the Dialogue, but how were people going to get organized to actually come to it? We knew that this was mainly an ideological leap in terms of the work to overcome all the obstacles and difficulties that plague people's lives, but that if there wasn't the ability to come—knowing other people who were going, knowing where the neighborhood vans were leaving from, helping to solve contradictions of child care, etc.—then people's genuine commitment wasn't going to be made real.

There were people who had started to engage with what the Dialogue was about and through hearing things like the interview Cornel did with BA and hearing other works of BA, were more unleashed in relation to the Dialogue. These individuals were going to be key in the whole plan. Some of them had a longer relationship to the movement for revolution, some we had only recently met and begun to work with, but where people were stepping forward around the Dialogue, we could see the potential for them to be levers to others. We called on them to become organizers for the Dialogue and we put concrete tasks in their hands, like people they were going to call, or be responsible for others in their building. We identified them as "captains" and talked with them about what this would mean. The captains who agreed to take responsibility for their building went around and introduced themselves to the people from their building who had expressed interest in coming to the Dialogue. They told people where the buses were going to be to pick people up, and let people know that if they ran into problems or had questions, to ask them because they were the captains for the building. This is how we went from disparate individuals interested on their own, people scattered here and there, to groups of people coming together to the Dialogue.

With the high school students we realized the teachers could be a lever. We found the entrance where the teachers go into school and passed out a letter to them about why they should bring their students to the Dialogue. And then with those who expressed interest, we followed up the same day and within a couple days we were giving brief presentations to their classes. Then we worked through problems like how would a teacher who wants to bring their class be able to get tickets for their students if they don't have money, and we worked at this in collective ways where teachers helped each other and helped their students.

5) Leadership, collectivity, asking the right questions, summing up in real time, and getting to the essential questions people are up against.

As I mentioned earlier, every day there was a collectivity that was stepping back to look at where we were in the process of our concrete goals of bringing forward basic people, from among the oppressed, to come hear the Dialogue, especially on the basis of beginning to engage BA's work and thinking about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of people we are going to be. We were able to assess things quickly and get to essential questions of how to advance, how to measure up where we are, what are we learning, what contradictions are we encountering, from the standpoint of making advances day after day, minute by minute, instead of a situation where something interesting happens and we sum it up the next week.

A very important part of how the leadership of this collectivity led it was by helping us to ask the right questions. A key example was about a week before the Dialogue, there was a question posed about the overall terrain in relation to the Dialogue in the areas we were working in. Was there a building momentum for the Dialogue? A growing wave of people deciding to come to it and making plans to come to it and talking about that amongst each other? Or was there a lot of holding back still that could become a wave in the other direction? And if there was this holding back, what was the cause of it and how could we strengthen what WAS coming forward to change the direction of the wave?

We assessed that in fact there were a lot of people on the fence, interested but not actually deciding to come. At the same time, there were people who WERE deciding that they were going to overcome obstacles to be at the Dialogue, because they were deeply concerned about the injustices around them and seeking real answers to how to deal with these, how to get free, how to get to a different future, and many were really drawn to hearing something that was bringing forward a lot of love in a situation where there is so much hate, including among the people themselves.

We decided we needed to address in a MASS way the things that were holding people back. The next day we wrote two short fliers. One was addressed to the people in the housing projects that included quotes from other people in those projects about why they were deciding to go to the Dialogue, and challenged people living in this modern-day slavery to stop being so busy being a slave that they don't have time to get free. In the evening, we wrote a second flier addressed to the high school students, addressing their questions, inviting them in, and challenging them about what kind of people they are going to be. We did work to identify how these questions were posing themselves and aimed to speak to these in a really living way that would reach into the thinking of our audience, and rupture them from the obstacles in their thinking.

These fliers helped things to take a leap, to change the terms of the overall conversation that was beginning to happen in these places, and not just from all the work we were doing, but in relation to other developments citywide and nationwide, including things like the full-page New York Times ad about the Dialogue which had an important impact on the teachers, etc.

Again, my point is not to sum everything up in great detail, nor is this a blueprint or comprehensive, but this was a really rich experience and we should all be able to learn the lessons from it which can be applied to what is in front of us right now.

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