March 14, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |



Will Reese

Will Reese (1950-2016)

Will was a revolutionary communist, someone proud to call himself a follower of Bob Avakian (BA), and ready at all times to marshal the science to say why he was and convince you to be a follower too. Will was a Party member who devoted his whole life to communism and went wherever people were in motion and the struggle was sharpest, wherever the Party asked him to go, to spread this revolution. Will fought as best he could within the Party and as hard as he could to grasp and struggle for the understanding brought forward by BA and to apply it to the problems of the revolution, taking initiative to come up with creative ideas and plans, and contribute as best he could to the collective struggle to transform the world toward communism.

Will spent a tremendous amount of time out among the people, particularly (but not only) among the most oppressed, and was known, loved, and respected by thousands in New York City and around the country as an unapologetic revolutionary, a fierce fighter against the many crimes of the capitalist-imperialist system, and a passionate and scientific advocate of Bob Avakian’s leadership and the new synthesis of communism that BA has developed, which Will grasped was the key link in reaching a world free of all the unnecessary cruelty and horror that he saw raining down on the masses of people every day of his life.

Will was on the front lines of many crucial struggles over the last 35 years, in Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and finally in New York. He went to Atlanta in the time of the Child Murders, when at least 20 Black children and youths were abducted and murdered by “forces unknown” in the early 1980s. He went to Miami in the wake of two major rebellions against police murders of unarmed Black men, and to LA after the massive uprising sparked by the acquittal of four of the cops who were caught on video savagely beating Rodney King.

Will’s fierce anger in calling out these crimes against the people, his willingness to give voice to his own deep pain and that of the people, especially at what was being done to the youth, both inspired people and could move them to tears, and to action. (See the video of his talk at the August 2015 gathering of hundreds of people at a Harlem church to build for the Rise Up October protests against police terror and murder.) He led people many times to go up in the face of the oppressors in the streets, and also went widely among teachers, professionals, and intellectuals, including meeting with people like the authors James Baldwin and Tony Cade Bambara to win their support for key struggles. At the same time, Will never stopped focusing on the need to bring forward to the movement for revolution those most in need of revolution, those catching hell every day from this system—especially the youth.

But what was most striking about Will was his determination to bring things back, again and again, to the fact that unless and until people rose up to make revolution, these horrors would keep happening, over and over again, and that for revolution to happen in the future, people had to start stepping forward now and get into Bob Avakian and the revolutionary science he has forged.

Will could—and did—go into a room of hundreds of students who were raging against police brutality, but were completely bogged down in petty and illusory non-solutions, and flip the room by bringing forward the need and basis for revolution, and challenging people to make their lives about that and nothing less. He could and he did lead the Revolution Club in Harlem, who went into huge housing projects with a mission and a plan to talk to every single resident at least once, about why the premiere of the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! was something that they had to be at if they cared about the people and the future. He could and he did go out widely among the people to build for the Dialogue on revolution and religion between BA and the revolutionary Christian Cornel West in 2014. And when people responded that they wanted to go because they liked Cornel (who has well-deserved respect among large numbers of Black people), Will had no hesitation about saying to them, “That’s great, but do you know about Bob Avakian? This is a leader that you really need to get into.” Will saw the importance of, and acted on, the need to draw people forward around these efforts—making it a point to get statements from among the masses about WHY they were going to the premiere of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and why others should go, and challenging and working with people to take responsibility for organizing others to come to the Dialogue on revolution and religion.

Will did not just promote and popularize BA—he greatly appreciated and sought to apply BA’s scientific method and approach, including an unyielding confidence in the ability of the masses to take up revolution and incredible persistence to bring this about in the face of whatever obstacles. Even when plagued with ill health, Will would stay up all night reading, thinking, talking about problems like this, putting them before other comrades and to the masses themselves, going out persistently to engage and challenge the youth and sum up that experience, keeping journals of what people had said, and then developing new plans with specific goals to make advances.

Will Reese from the NYC Revolution Club calls on people to donate funds to send 100 families to Rise Up October, August 27, 2016, New York City at First Corinthian Church

Will understood the importance of, and placed great emphasis on, bringing the basic people forward as communists, into the Revolution Club and into the Party, which often meant overcoming the problem that so many people on the bottom of society have been denied even the rudiments of an education and are illiterate or semi-literate. Drawing from his own experience teaching students who had dropped out or been thrown out of school, Will worked with people by reading aloud from BA’s writings or other works and then deeply discussing the ideas. In this way, in Los Angeles he recruited Willie “Mobile” Shaw, who himself was—until his death in 2005—a powerful force connecting BA and revolution among the people in LA. (See “Statement by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, on the Occasion of the Death of Willie ‘Mobile’ Shaw.”)

Will was also a masterful agitator who mercilessly hounded and ridiculed the enemy—right to their faces! When he was in Atlanta this earned him a bitter nickname from the pigs who called him “the Mouth of the South.” It was a common sight on the streets of Atlanta to see dozens of people gathered around Will listening intently as he called out the crimes of this system. But Will was also “listening intently.” He didn’t talk “at” people—he was always very aware of his audience, watching for signs, in their eyes, a smile, body language, from which he could get a sense of what they were thinking and going through, and he would call out to people, even if they were just walking by—“Come on, sister, you know what I’m saying is true, what do you think about this?”—and he would draw people in, forging an instant community of people resisting oppression, wrangling with why things are the way they are and how they could be different.

As part of all this, Will was an incredibly warm, playful, and loving person who saw, and reached for, the best in everyone he met, urging and welcoming people to play the greatest role they could in the movement for revolution, whether they were lifelong veterans of that movement or were just encountering it at that moment. Consciously learning from BA, Will modeled a communist spirit of loving and cherishing the masses of people but always struggling to lead them. With good humor, with firmness, and sometimes with great courage, Will challenged expressions of male chauvinism, racism, nationalism, of slavishness or submission to the oppressors, and any other idea that kept the people enslaved by the system.

Harlem, NYC. Reaching out to—and drawing in—the youth.
Harlem, NYC. Reaching out to—and drawing in—the youth.
(Special to

Although he was deeply aware of the many barriers to people stepping out against the system, or the pulls to give up that struggle—the difficulty of just surviving, the fear of the power the system could bring down on you, the pull of a “look out for #1” society and of backward “traditional ideas”—he was even more conscious of the need and the potential for people to break through those barriers and be part of the force fighting for the emancipation of all humanity.

All of this had a powerful impact on everyone around him; many people who encountered Will even 20 or 30 years ago never forgot him, and Will held a great many people in his heart as well.

Will Reese’s Early Life

Will himself was one of those who, from very early on in life, was driven forward by a love for the people and a hatred of the oppression they suffered, and searched restlessly for an understanding and a road forward out of this, a way to a world fit for human beings.

Will came up in rural southwest Virginia under the suffocating reign of open white supremacy, where the rules for Black people were plain to all, written in Jim Crow laws, in reactionary customs... and in blood. And all those rules came down to one rule: “know your place” and, most of all, always submit to white authority. Every Black person understood that to violate those rules could mean arrest, a beat-down, or a savage lynching.

But Will was already feeling the beat of a different rhythm, as the Civil Rights Movement spread through the South, giving heart to the rebellious spirits of youths even in the rural backwaters. At an early age, Will was one of the defiant ones who refused to submit. He and his crew boldly tried to integrate an all-white barber shop, but were turned back when the owner pulled a shotgun. They succeeded in integrating a roller rink after his little sister was turned away. They showed up at a country club dressed in their funkiest threads and insisted on playing golf. But even among these defiant ones, Will stood out for his fearlessness—one time when barely more than a child, Will and his friends were confronted by a large group of white youths; Will’s friends took off, but Will stood there, facing down the challengers.

A few years later, Will would see a picture of the Black Panther Party decked out in their berets and black leather jackets, and he recognized the militancy he wanted to emulate. So he set off searching for a beret. But there were no berets in his town! Undeterred, he fashioned one out of an old hat and got a leather jacket to go with it.

After high school Will got a football scholarship to attend Emory and Henry, a small liberal arts college that had only a few years earlier admitted its first Black students since its founding in 1839. College opened up new worlds and new possibilities for Will. He was attracted to the rebellious spirit and largeness of mind he found among the art students and professors, all of whom were white. He had a passion for oil painting, and to this day one of his paintings hangs in a community college in the area. He got into jazz. He studied history.

But with all his interests, talents, and passions, most of all, Will saw the need to radically change things, and that set the terms for his life. The upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s were increasingly influenced by revolutionary ideas, but there was not yet a clear revolutionary leadership or a clear strategy for revolution in the U.S. In these conditions, thousands of students and former students came together in small collectives and initiated different projects, often aimed at connecting the radical ideas that were flourishing on campuses to the oppressed people in different communities.

Will was part of this—after college he formed a collective to publish a magazine based in the Appalachian region near his school. The Plow published essays, creative writing, and art reflecting the unique culture of the deeply oppressed people—predominantly white—of Appalachia. Will saw this as a vehicle to spread radical ideas and initiate resistance, but others in the collective saw it purely as a cultural magazine, and when that line won out, Will moved on looking for something new.

Some friends invited him to Hawai’i in the mid-’70s, where he connected with the struggle of oppressed Native Hawaiian people to reclaim their culture as part of fighting for their liberation. Will loved to go to their encampment on the beach and hang out with them. He got a job in a pineapple processing plant and joined strikes and workplace struggles that were commonplace at the time.

Through all of this, Will continued to widen his view, learning that the problem was more than just white supremacy, his eye drawn more and more to a worldwide system of imperialism that ravaged the lives of billions, though he was still basically rooted in a revolutionary nationalist view of that.

Making the Leap to Communism

But around 1978 he met comrades from the recently formed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who were fighting fiercely against the oppressors, but with a different outlook, that of proletarian internationalism and communism. At that time, Bob Avakian was under heavy attack from the rulers of this system, both for his role as leader of the revolutionary struggle in the U.S., and as a leader in the international communist movement who was calling out the new leadership in China—leadership that came to power in a military coup after the death of the great revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong—as revisionist betrayers of the revolution who were restoring capitalism in China*. BA was facing charges carrying a potential 241 years in jail stemming from a brutal police attack on a demonstration he led against Deng Xiaoping (the leader of the coup) when Deng came to DC, where the U.S. rulers welcomed him as a hero.

Will, still struggling with the need to rupture beyond revolutionary nationalism, decided to join 170 volunteers to go to Washington, DC, for six weeks for an intense political battle to free Bob Avakian and the other 17 people facing heavy charges from the demonstration. This battle involved going out very broadly among the people in DC, from the most down-pressed ghettos to artists, intellectuals and activists, to relatively privileged and professional people, and not only exposing the outrageous frame-up, but getting into the need for revolution and the role of genuine communist leaders like BA.

It was through the course of this that Will himself came to recognize that this communist movement, this science, and the leadership of BA, was what he had been looking for, the road forward for real liberation for all the people. And once he did that his tremendous defiance, love for the people, and hatred of oppression became fused with the science and the leadership that could actually forge a path to a whole different future.

And Will was all in from that point forward—to those who worked with him, he seemed both completely fearless and absolutely inexhaustible both in leading people to resist oppression and in taking revolutionary communism to them and struggling with them to take it up themselves, unleashed as a veritable force of nature, fearless, fierce, focused on bringing about revolution at the earliest possible time.

Will told people that one of his favorite writings by Bob Avakian was the final essay in BAsics, “The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard.” This is very fitting, and the outlook and orientation of this essay very much characterized Will. In essence, Will had a deep sense of the oppression of the masses and an unshakeable confidence in their ability to take up the struggle and the science of revolutionary communism.

One-on-one, Will would really put the whole thing to people, even if they were very new. Before the April 14, 2015, protests against police murder, a couple of college-age youths came around to help make banners for the march, but then started to head home rather than actually go to the protest. Will asked them why, and they basically said that while they supported the protest (which is why they were helping with the banners), they didn’t want to run the risk of fucking up their college education, and also thought doing this would drive a wedge between them and their parents. Will didn’t shine on that possibility, but he spoke at length about what the world needs from them now, and also talked about his own experience—and that of hundreds of thousands of people—in the ’60s, when those youth who were the backbone of the revolutionary upsurge often had to go up against and became alienated from their families. And he said that, really, revolutionary change is not possible if youth are not willing to do this, and that it is important to put the future of humanity and of the people, including people like their parents, ahead of the real pain that this might cause in the short run. This struggle was for real—Will wasn’t just making some points for these kids “to think about,” he was challenging them to make a big change in their lives because that’s what was needed.

Even in the hospital, when he was very ill, whatever energy Will had, he used to spread revolution, getting Revolution newspaper to doctors and hospital staff, starting up conversations with whoever was transporting him, and trying to deepen his own understanding so he could play a greater role. When the Six Resolutions of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, January 2016 came out, he was able to discuss them with comrades several times.

The death of Will Reese is heartbreaking to those who knew and loved him—and a great loss for the whole revolutionary movement. But it also poses a challenge. To all those who knew, admired, and loved Will, and even to those who are just learning about him: There is a great need for you to follow his example—to put the interests of the people, or to more fully put the interests of the people, at the center of your life, and to get into this—or get more fully and deeply into this—as a follower of BA, studying his scientific method and approach, popularizing and spreading his leadership in the way that Will did, in the way that made him such a precious leader and fighter for the future of humanity. This challenge goes out to longtime revolutionaries and brand-new people; it is a challenge to do the most important thing anyone can do with their life, and to do it well, and each and every one of you who responds to this will make a huge difference in the struggle for a world free of all oppression to which Will Reese devoted his entire life, body and soul.


* Today it is much easier to see that the coup in 1976 marked a reversal of the revolution, because China today is a grotesque “model” of capitalist exploitation run amok, destroying the lives of the people and the environment in pursuit of profit. But in 1978, this was not well understood even by most communists, and this confusion was actually disorienting the whole worldwide revolutionary struggle. BA’s role in very thoroughly and scientifically analyzing what had happened and on that basis opposing this and fighting to keep the communist movement internationally on the path of real revolution, was deeply threatening to the worldwide system of imperialism. [back]




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