A Conversation with Two Students about A14: “Oh hell, yeah, let's do this”

April 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us



From a reader:

I talked with two students today who were involved in the protests last fall. We met and they knew I wanted to talk with them about the whole struggle against police murder, what happened last year, and what could happen on A14 nationwide and on their campus. They were both pretty excited to be having this conversation.

I brought an enlargement of the Stolen Lives centerfold and plenty of stickers and palm cards and had them laid out on the lawn when they arrived. The first one who got there saw the materials and said, "Oh hell, yeah, let's do this."

First I asked them what they've been thinking since last year. What they thought about what happened and what difference it made. One of them said it was so important, it made a big difference that people fought back, but now it's too bad that everyone seems to have gone back to their regular lives. She said she herself hasn't been thinking about much else other than school work for the last month or so. The other one said that on her campus, it was as if for a minute all these people fought back and were thinking about things on a really big scale, about society, and since then they have just gotten really mean. I asked her what she meant. She said everyone is so vicious, criticizing everyone else about everything they say, telling them how problematic they are, that a lot of people are scared to speak at all. She said all that means is that nothing is happening. Everyone is expressing their feelings about everyone else, and nothing is getting done. No one is fighting or doing anything that matters.

I said that's important to recognize, and it's also important to back up a little. When people in Ferguson—some seriously oppressed people—tood up and fought back against the murder of Michael Brown, and millions of people across the country had their backs, something broke. All the lies this system tells about the people on the bottom being criminals, and that they are the problem with society... The lies it tells about the police, how they protect people from those nasty criminals who all happen to be Black and brown people... The lies they tell the oppressed, that no one cares about them, that they are the problem, and the isolation that creates... All that shattered. For a few months, people stood firmly on the grounds that the police are getting away with murder, that it's just not justifiable, that Black lives matter, and they fought like hell.

Both students agreed vehemently that this is what happened. I added that the system knows how much it mattered, and came down on people pretty hard, through violence, repression, heavy charges, and a whole media campaign that sought to vilify and criminalize protesters. One of them said, there is a bad idea out there at her campus that if everybody corrects everybody, that will somehow "trickle up" and create a kind of gradual change that will spread throughout society. She reflected: That is not how it works at all. It's just the opposite. What you are saying is true. You can change society, that is actually what will bounce back and change how people think and how they use language and all that. If you "start small" you never get anywhere.

I agreed. I told them what they see happening on their campus in a concentrated way is actually what happens on many campuses. It's part of what happens when people don't think of the system as a common enemy, when they don't know that there is a system at all, or when they think you can't beat the system. Then the best you can do is this fairly petty shit. One of them said, it's just another version of thinking people are the problem, people's ignorance, and in the meantime the system keeps creating all that ignorance on a mass scale. I agreed.

I said police murder is an epidemic, it's outrageous, and it will keep happening or get even worse if people continue to do nothing. And the people who fought back last year are heroes. They smiled. I said really, you and thousands of others put some things on the line and it changed how millions think about what's acceptable.

Now we are looking for leaders to be part of taking all this to a higher level. It's not what everyone is doing every day right now. It's going to take some people to step out, call on others, tell them why it matters what they do or don't do... but the potential is there. A lot of people don't want to go back to "getting used to it," and more important than what people want is the fact that the police are still killing people.

We talked about a few other aspects of this, including one of them raising how important it is to get people who have experienced all this oppression talking to people with a wider influence. I agreed with that too, and we had some disagreement over the need to appeal to the people in power, but agreed that mass resistance is an essential element for any kind of real change, and the outrage of people, people refusing to accept anything less than an end to police murder, was both inspiring and necessary. One of them was more convinced that all this should be part of a process by which at least some people refuse to stop fighting until we bring down the whole system, while the other thought more that resistance was necessary to force concessions and important reforms. OK. So let's do this.

I asked them what they thought A14 could look like on their campus and they started to talk to each other. They excitedly imagined filling the center of campus with students and signs. They talked about professors and student groups they could get on board, and how they could organize a walkout at noon. One of them said they could connect this to the campus demands that one student group has raised about that has to do with providing more resources for Black students on campus, and the other said they should not try to make this about that. I encouraged them to go to that group and make the argument of why they should throw in, support, and take responsibility for a massive demonstration to STOP POLICE MURDER, and encouraged them to make the argument they made before, about how you can actually change society, and that "bounces back" into smaller communities and changes how people think and act. Then if they want to bring their demands into a protest that is mainly about putting an end to all police murder, that's cool too. They liked this.

They took stickers and palm cards and asked me to make a version of a flyer they saw for A14 with the info for their campus, and they would print it and talk to everyone they knew and put the flyer up in dorms and around campus. I left with them the enlargement of the centerfold too, and one of them took it and said she would take it to her classes and use it to start conversations about the walkout.

I told them it really fucking matters that they are going to take responsibility for this, because it's exactly what's needed. They smiled proudly and one said, "Fuck yeah, we will." I said they should talk to each other and feel free to call me anytime. They said they would. I told them with all they were noticing on their campus with the ramped-up criticisms and "problematic" name calling, they might run into some unpleasantness, but they should remember everything we've talked about, why it matters what people do, that there is a system and that is a common enemy, police murder continues and it's on us to stop it, and that a lot of this criticizing results in nothing getting done, the system is off the hook. Make people deal with that, and invite them to be part of something real that can really make a difference. And be in touch with each other. And let's talk about what comes up as you go. I'll check in on Tuesday, but keep talking to each other and call me anytime before then.

They left in high spirits, talking about concrete plans and how they can use tomorrow to talk to this or that person, do centerfold pictures, print the flyers, get this professor to put one on their door, and so on.

We'll see what happens.

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