Chicago: Bringing BA to the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” Tour


July 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Grateful Dead Fare-Thee-Well tour in Chicago
Photos: Special to

It was the July 4 weekend and a crew of revolutionaries donned BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! T-shirts, grabbed bags of new BA quote and Dialogue palm cards and literature and jumped on the train to Soldier Field in Chicago to the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” tour. The band dates from the counter-culture of the 1960s, 50 years ago. They hadn’t played together since the band’s famous leader, Jerry Garcia, died in 1995, and these were their final performances ever. Over 210,000 Deadheads descended for three days and many thousands of them came together for hours in the stadium parking lot each day before the 7 pm performances.

Beforehand, we had struggled over whether this should be a key focus of the big July 4 weekend effort to spread the word about Bob Avakian and raise funds to spread BA Everywhere. One hesitation was that part of the well-known Deadhead culture is getting high―would the people be too stoned to notice or engage? But the band and Deadhead community also had a strong element of a communal ethos of sharing and caring, and many of them still hold onto a hope that a better world is possible. This would be favorable, many people would be coming together one last time to try to re-experience that alternative to the dog-eat-dog culture so prevelant in society today. One man in his 40s told us if not for the Grateful Dead and their community he would be dead or in prison. 20+ years ago he was in reform school, he got invited to Grateful Dead concert and it was so loving and caring, he ran away from the reform school and followed the band everywhere. It changed his life. We realized this would be a unique opportunity to make BA and the need for an actual revolution known to tens of thousands of people from all over the country. We decided we needed to be there.

Never having been to a “tailgate party,” we tried to figure out in advance how could we have a big impact on such a huge party crowd. We wanted to draw the attention of tens of thousands, get palmcards into the hands of thousands, stress the importance of people watching the Dialogue video, get into deeper conversations with those who were attracted and to learn about how they are thinking, while aiming to draw into the movement for revolution on-the-spot those who want to be part of it.

Our eye-catching seven-foot-high foam board display (see photo), had an enlargement of the palmcard quote: “What we need is an actual revolution—and if you agree you need to get to know BA” in the center panel. Next to it was a large posters promoting REVOLUTION AND RELIGION—The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion: A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN, and the “Women Are Not Bitches, Hos, Incubators, Punching Bags, Sex Objects or Breeders! Women Are Full Human Beings” poster, the Stolen Lives photos of dozens murdered by police, the Five Stops poster, and the 4th of July quote from Frederick Douglass with the famous photo of the enslaved Gordon. Our crew of 6-7 was eye-catching too in our bright BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! T-shirts with neon stickers on the front and back. A small table with Revolution newspaper, BAsics, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, the Revolution and Religion Dialogue DVD, and BA Speaks DVD.

A human wave of thousands strolled continuously up and down the aisles of the tailgate lot, socializing, trading stories, buying and selling tie-dye T-shirts, dope, beer, artwork, trinkets. We knew in advance that most of the crowd would be white, but we found that the crowd was literally 99.9 percent white. They came from everywhere—North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Montana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Seattle, California as well as all over the Midwest—many from smaller communities. A key goal was signing up people for e-subscriptions to Revolution newspaper.

We were the only political group there (no Bernie Sanders, no environmentalists or NGOs or community groups of any kind) and yet we became an integral part of the whole scene, welcomed and appreciated by many, eyed curiously by others. However, soon after we arrived on Saturday, four security people (one armed) descended on our table, threatening to kick us out for having donation cans. This was outrageous and clearly an attempt at political suppression since everybody around us was selling things and security hadn’t kicked them out. A number of concerned tailgate “neighbors,” including a lawyer and a law student, came over to show support, videotape the interaction, and tell the security to back off. People told us they thought we were being harassed because we were revolutionaries. Other people came afterwards to tell us they would support us if security came back.

Basically, security did back off, but on the second day a crew came back and said they didn’t want to see any money changing hands. All the security people were African-American and mostly young. A couple of the revolutionaries decided to struggle with them about what this revolution was about and why we needed to raise funds to get BA and this revolution out in society, and why they should support this and not enforce the bullshit “rules.” They listened and got into it and ended up thanking us for telling them.

Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well tour, Chicago

Our “Revolution site” was a center of constant activity. We got out over 4,500 palm cards, many to people who were sharing them with their partner or group. Mainly the people who took cards did so as they walked by; the display caught the eye of a wide range of people and a constant stream stopped to inquire and share their thoughts. 100 people signed up for e-subscriptions to and we got $260 in cash donations. There were several people who approached us with cash in hand who thanked us profusely for being there. There was some serious interest in BAsics and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.

There were several approaches in taking out the two palm cards. We gave out both simultaneously. Some of us led with the Dialogue card first, others with the BA quotes. We found people responded favorably to the words, “What we need is an actual revolution”... with an emphasis on “actual”... and “if you are serious about an actual revolution, you have to get seriously into BA.” There were many people passing by who reached back to get the cards from that introduction. If they stopped, we turned to the Dialogue palm card as well to show them who BA and Cornel are and the significance of their Dialogue. We urged them to be part of the 1,000 showings of the DVD and they could start with the short trailer. We were struck that among those who stopped to actually talk, most did not know who Cornel West is (more than 75 percent), and the ones who knew of him tended to be older. Very few people knew who Bob Avakian is, and it was interesting that those who did know of him tended to know about him through hearing about the Dialogue, from personal connections to Cornel or people who went to the Dialogue or they knew of him from the ’60s. Several of them had watched parts of the Dialogue online.

When the crowds were thickest, it was hard for people to stop and talk as the crowd kept pushing them forward. Still, there were many who heard this was about an “actual revolution” in which there was a leader and a strategy, who reached out for the palm cards. Many people in this crowd were earnest in their interest in the revolution. Questions ranged from “who/what is BA?” “What kind of revolution? Are you talking about a violent revolution? Communist revolution??!!” “Wasn’t being a good person the best way to change the world?” “Can’t capitalism be regulated? Reformed?” “Could you really defeat them?” We encountered a small trend of people whose response to the palm card “Revolution and Religion” was to refuse it because they thought we were promoting a religious revolution: “I’m opposed to religion,” “if this is about Jesus, forget it.” We explained that BA is a revolutionary communist leader about emancipating all of humanity, including from religion, and that Cornel West is a revolutionary Christian. And while BA and CW have a lot of principled struggle over their differences on religion, they have a lot of unity about the need to put an end to the suffering of people and destruction of the planet. We pointed out that this is a huge question in the world today, and in this country any real revolution would need to have a lot of religious people in it. We urged them to watch the video online. People said they hadn’t thought about that because they hadn’t ever really thought about a real revolution happening.

There was an intense response from a smaller number of people to the murder of Black people by police and reactionaries. The Stolen Lives poster was a magnet for them and some (these were all white people) poured out their hearts and their hatred of this genocidal program and the role of the police in it and others expressed shock at the number of people murdered. Some people had been part of the protests nationwide. These were the people who responded most strongly to the quote from BA on what beauty could be brought forth by Black people playing a crucial role in putting an end to this system. One 30ish man from Baltimore said he felt that the uprising of the Black youth there was a beautiful thing. A young man from Milwaukee who has supported the fight for justice for Dontre Hamilton (a mentally ill Black man shot 14 times by a cop), said he was so happy that people rose up in Baltimore and thought it is going to take a revolution and what kind of revolution were we talking about? A ’60s defense lawyer said he’s spent his whole career defending people from the police and it’s intolerable. A law student said the whole reason he’s going to law school and willing to rack up a debt of $150K is so he can go after abusive and murderous cops. Several people told us their own experiences with police brutality, one young guy said his brother’s whole leg is filled with surgical metal reinforcement from a police beating. We opened the pages of the current newspaper to the #RiseUpOctober events.

The poster “Women Are Not Bitches, Hos, Incubators, Punching Bags, Sex Objects or Breeders! Women are Full Human Beings!” brought the most polarized response both days. It stirred up excitement among some women. One woman read it really loud to the crowd and said, “Shit yah!” “I love what you’re doing about women!” exclaimed a woman from a small city in Wisconsin who insisted on buying the poster and waving it around for friends to see. She was thrilled to learn of the whole End Pornography and Patriarchy movement. The poster caused visible struggle among the people themselves walking by, including a number of couples broke into immediate arguments about whether women were oppressed, with some men making derogatory comments or worse and women vehemently disagreeing, some women returned alone later to tell us about the arguments they had been having and their life experiences and how they wanted to learn more. One man pensively stared at the poster for a long time. When asked what was he thinking, he said, “I did all of that to my girlfriend.” “What did she do?” he was asked. “She left me...” He then took two back issues of Revolution newspaper featuring that poster on the back.

The sticker “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology” was controversial. It drew all ages to the table, mostly women but also some men, A 20-year-old woman made a point of hugging people at the table for fighting for the right to abortion, and a 40-year-old woman, whose relative had died from an unsafe abortion, insisted on getting a photo with us and the Abortion On Demand Without Apology stickers to send to her 81-year-old mother in Seattle. One woman read it and asked “are you for or against abortion?” We read it aloud and said “we’re for it, what’s confusing?” She said “I saw that you had ‘religion’ on the poster and so I thought maybe it was a trick—those anti-abortion people try to trick you.” There was also a notable response from people passing by who were startled by it or recoiled from it.

We assessed that beyond those who did take the palm cards or engage us directly, many thousands took note of the basic message. This is part of making BA a household word and getting this revolutionary pole out in the broad debate in society. The fact that our group stood out so much by addressing these big questions for humanity got broad attention, some seriously into it, some who wanted to check it out, some in the form of perplexed or confused looks, some silent or polite rejection, some vocalized disagreement, and a tiny amount of open hostility (a couple people called out “terrorist” in response to “revolution”).

The groups of people who tailgated in our immediate vicinity gave some indication of the broader sentiments. During the afternoon they were watching and trying to figure out what this was about, and by the time the crowd thinned out to get into the stadium most of them had come over to talk, and it was clear they had been paying attention. On Sunday we did get some sense of the impact the day before. A number of people said they had gotten the palm cards on Saturday, and a few said they had already gone online to check it out (noting the video was four hours long) and were going to watch the Dialogue when they could give it the attention it deserves.

One person on the team wrote afterwards, “Spending two days in the midst of a nearly all-white crowd—I had to re-examine my own narrow thinking that middle class white people are too much into their own world to care about larger questions of revolution. The responsibility lies on us to make the connection, fight for a scientific approach and lead them to become fighters for humanity.”



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BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
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WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
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