Great Openness and Lively Engagement at the Martha’s Vineyard Showing of the Film of Cornel West-Bob Avakian Dialogue on Revolution and Religion

August 27, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


We received the following from people involved in organizing the showing. The showing was part of a whole weekend around the country of taking out BA Everywhere: on Saturday, August 22, people stepped out wearing the bold BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! T-shirts to represent for revolution and the emancipation of humanity; the next day, there were showings of the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! in various cities (see “August 22: Putting on the Shirt, Stepping into the Revolution”).


On Friday, August 21, between 130 and 140 people attended a special two-and-a-half hour screening of excerpts from the film REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion; A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST AND BOB AVAKIAN at the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard Island. The showing, sponsored by Revolution Books Cambridge and featuring Andy Zee, the co-director of the film and spokesperson for the Revolution Books flagship store in New York City, was the culmination of taking the Dialogue out broadly on the island in the days and weeks prior to the event.  

Martha's Vineyard showing of REVOLUTION AND RELIGION

Lobby of Strand Theater in Oak Bluff, Martha's Vineyard, August 21.
Photo: special to Revolution.

There was a great deal of curiosity among the folks attending the film—most of whom were not familiar with Bob Avakian (BA) but were intrigued by the idea of a revolutionary communist in dialogue with a revolutionary Christian on the question of revolution and religion. This openness on the part of those who came, combined with their deep concerns—especially, but by no means exclusively, around the ongoing police terror targeting people of color—led to a lively and serious back-and-forth engagement with what they saw in the Dialogue.  

One exchange with a middle-aged Black man went like this:

Question: What did you think of the film?

Answer:Bob Avakian was too “cerebral.” Black people don’t relate to that. The emotional, the spiritual—that’s what Black people relate to.

Question:Why did you stay to the end?

Answer:I like this kind of thing, the big conversation appeals to me. I like the way they communicated with each other.

Another audience member said after the showing, “I really liked it. I am a Christian but I had never thought about it the way that Avakian spoke about it. He made me think about the Bible. There are wars all through the Bible. There are wars in Mark and in Luke. More Christians need to be talking to communists.”

The whole experience—both the day of the film and the run-up to it, pointed to the potential in society for a radically different and more favorable alignment of forces in building the movement for revolution, with the Party at its core and with a real possibility of winning. For those of us involved in building the event, it sharpened up the question of what will be required to realize that potential, especially the critical importance of introducing BA, his work and the new synthesis of communism to millions, like the people who attended the screening (or seriously entertained coming) and many, many more. AND the critical importance of finding the ways in which people can contribute right now to the movement for revolution, to the greatest degree possible and with whatever degree of understanding and agreement they have at any given point.

The audience at the showing was about 85 percent African-American and live from as far away as Tampa, Florida; the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington State, as well as Harlem, NYC, and nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. One couple were recent immigrants from the country of Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.

The majority of the audience was largely representative of the cross-section of the middle-class African-American community who vacation on Martha’s Vineyard or who, in some cases, live there year-round. While not always as directly impacted by the brutality and impoverishment that basic people and especially youth face at the hands of the system of capitalism-imperialism and its armed enforcers, these people are deeply concerned about police terror, mass incarceration, and the disenfranchisement of millions of Black people as well as the oppressive and often horrific conditions facing women, the destruction of the environment, and more. A Black woman told us before the showing, “I am a mother. I have two sons. I have to have a conversation about the police… It is terrifying to have that conversation.”

Some made last-minute changes to already tight schedules to attend the event. Even though many had to leave the showing early—sometimes to catch scheduled ferries leaving the island—they left engaged and wanting more. Eighteen DVDs of the Dialogue film were sold, and many people asked how to get the Dialogue online. A civil rights activist said, “I am going to take the DVD home, watch all of it and write a detailed critique. I don’t agree with Avakian and I don’t think Cornel gives enough attention to the role of the ‘spirit’ in his comments. I hope you can pass my comments along to the participants.” Over 30 people left contact information. One person asked on the way out, “I got the packet on The Bob Avakian Institute coming in. Do you have another for my friend?”

The film showing came at the end of a summer on Martha’s Vineyard packed with book readings, film showings, conferences, symposiums, and panel discussions delving into the questions of the oppression and brutality aimed against Black people and the struggle to understand what it will take to end the horrific conditions of life facing the masses of African-Americans and a world of oppressive social relations and profound planetary crisis. Many of the those coming to the showing had heard about the West-Avakian Dialogue at earlier events: at a program where Ta-Nehisi Coates was being interviewed on his new book Between the World and Me; at the premiere of the film The Race to Extinction—a devastating documentary on the destruction of the environment and looming mass extinction (both the Coates program and the film premiere drew a predominantly white middle class audience); at the screening of the new documentary film The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and elsewhere. A number of people commented they had heard about the Dialogue more than once.

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, based at Harvard University, attached the announcement of the film to its email announcement of its symposium “Black and Blue: Policing the Color Line” and invited Revolution Books Cambridge to have a book table at that program. Throughout the day there, people attending got information on the film and on Rise Up October!/Which Side Are You On? And when anyone expressed more specific interest in the Dialogue, they were challenged: “What will it take to change your ‘interest’ into commitment to come see it?” This often led to deeper exchanges, not only touching on people’s anger at a situation where one year after the police murder of Michael Brown, the response of the powers-that-be has been to continue to murder more people, especially people of color and Black and Latino youths—but also their tempered frustration that the proposals and possible solutions being sincerely discussed in different programs they had attended did not seem to fundamentally address how to end police terror. Some of the people attending the Dialogue film showing came on the basis of that struggle.

The Martha’s Vineyard community TV channel began airing announcements for the showing the week before the event. In addition to carrying a color advertisement for the showing, the Martha’s Vineyard Times highlighted it in their events calendar. Wide sections of Martha’s Vineyard and especially Oak Bluffs became saturated with posters and palm cards announcing the film. Dozens of posters were on display in various shops and restaurants, libraries, and community centers. Some shop owners took palm cards to include with customers’ purchases. People came off of email announcements from Revolution Books and, in one instance, the initial announcement at

Martha’s Vineyard Islanders just introduced to the Dialogue also found other ways to contribute to the screening. In one case, on extremely short notice and with virtually no affordable housing available on the entire island, an Island minister (a white man), who had only recently heard of Bob Avakian, opened up his home to film organizers. He came to the film showing, bought a DVD on the way out, and stopped to make sure that someone from Revolution Books would get back in touch soon, both to go more deeply into the Dialogue and also to discuss plans for Rise Up October! and what that might look like on Martha’s Vineyard.

Partly because of the particular excerpts from the film that were shown, many of the conversations afterwards focused on, or at least started around, questions around the role of religion. But one thing most people seemed to take way from Avakian’s comments was that the world today is a horror—but it doesn’t have to be this way. And that he (and the Party he leads) are very serious about ending this horror through an actual revolution.

There is much more to sum up, to follow up on and to build off of, but one exchange that took place caught some of the spirit of the day. A Black woman left the movie only 20 minutes into the showing, visibly upset and angry. She said, “He is calling us hypocrites for not abiding to the literal words in the Bible. He is disrespecting us who are living our lives in the time of Grace. I can’t listen to this anymore.” A couple of organizers took this up with her, saying that BA was not disrespecting people of faith but forcefully arguing that people needed to act when their faith brought them to the point of hating the horrific conditions confronting the people, and also challenging the limits of a faith-based approach to ending these profound inequalities. They said that she owed it to herself and humanity to watch more of the Dialogue, which she did.

An hour later, the same woman came out of the theater, approached the Revolution Books table and, without saying a word, bought a copy of the Dialogue DVD and wrote down her contact information before leaving.



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