Comrade Will Reese—A Celebration and Commemoration, May 14, 2016

Carl Dix, representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

May 23, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


I knew Will almost 40 years. He was one of those people if I wanted to talk about something I’d get on the phone with him and call him up. It’s hitting me I can’t call the brother any more.

Will Reese’s life was one lived for the people. He lived and struggled to end the horrors enforced on humanity in the only way possible—through revolution, communist revolution.

Will Reese as a youth.Photo: Special to Revolution/

Will was deeply acquainted with the horrors this system enforces on the people on the bottom of this society. As you’ve heard today, he grew up in the Jim Crow South and he hated every manifestation of the savage oppression that Black people there suffered—from not being able to go to the whites-only barbershops or roller skating rinks to the legacy of lynching, and the message that delivered to every Black person and every Black family: “You might not be the one strung up, but you could be.” He hated all that. Inspired by the images of Black militancy that were sweeping the country in his youth, Will began to mobilize people to resist this oppression. When he went to college, Will discovered the deep oppression suffered by the mostly white people in the Appalachian region of the country. He moved to Hawai’i in the 1970s and he connected with the struggles of the native Hawaiian people to reclaim their culture as part of fighting for liberation.

Will hated all this oppression and exploitation, wherever he encountered it, and he searched for how to end it, and to end it once and for all. In his youth, he took up a fundamentally nationalist approach to this, one that saw the basic problem in society being the inequities enforced on Black people and other oppressed people. But he didn’t stop there. He was like how are we gonna end this, once and for all? How are we gonna get rid of it? And his search led him to the understanding that all of these horrors, all of this oppression and exploitation was built into the fabric of this system, this capitalist-imperialist system. And that it could only be ended through revolution, through a revolution aimed at getting rid of this system, and bringing a totally different and far better world into being—that that was the way to end the oppression and exploitation that humanity was suffering everywhere all around the world. And through finding about and taking up the science of communism and the leadership of Bob Avakian, Will came to understand how such a revolution could actually be made, and what its full aims and objectives needed to be.

And when Will got that, he threw himself fully into it. Will wasn’t into no halfway stuff. He went at it. He went all in, dedicating his life to this cause. And, see, this is important to look at, ’cause Noche made the point: a lot of people gave up on the struggle. They went into the struggles in the ’60s and they gave up. And there were other paths he could’ve taken. The brother was an artist. You can see some of his work over there. He was an athlete. He was also an educator. He could have gotten a comfortable position in the educational system somewhere. And he would have done some good for some people. I mean look at the book over there, there’s a letter from a young girl that Will taught in LA saying, “If I could have a father, I wish he would be someone like you.” He could have done some good for some people, but that wasn’t enough for Will. How were we gonna end all of the oppression and exploitation that people were up against around the world. But Will couldn’t turn away from that suffering once he knew it was happening, and just go about his life and get something for him. Once he discovered that, and discovered the way out of that suffering then he went to work on how are we gonna end this. He committed his life to it, all the way up to the end of his life—to making revolution and, bring into being a new society that was in transition to a world where all the exploitation and oppression of this world was ended once and for all. And at every step along the way of doing this, Will followed the leadership of Bob Avakian. Will became a freedom fighter for humanity and an advocate for revolutionary communism as the way forward to overcome all the horrors humanity faces.

And like somebody had said, Will had his bags packed. He was ready to go anywhere where there were sharp attacks coming down on the masses of people, or uprisings among the masses of people. Or other things that created openings to rally people to join the struggle for the emancipation of humanity. Will was in Atlanta in the early 1980s during the child murders. He was in Miami following two rebellions down there against police murders of Black people. He went to Los Angeles in the wake of the uprising there in 1992 following the acquittal of those cops who brutally beat Rodney King even though the whole world saw the video and the criminal activity that they had carried out because it was caught on video. And he came to New York and spent a lot of time working to bring masses in Harlem and beyond Harlem into a movement for revolution to get rid of this system once and for all.

In doing all of this, Will was persistently working to solve one of the biggest problems of the revolution—bringing forward those who catch hell every day under this system and enlisting them to fight to get free. Not just to get them to fight for themselves, or to fight to exact revenge on those who did them wrong, but to fight to emancipate all of humanity. In doing this, Will was working on people... he was working on what they thought and how they thought. And Will had a big heart for people. He didn’t suffer a lot of foolishness from them. He’d be working on somebody and bringing them forward, and they’d be breaking out and talking down on women, objectifying the sisters, and Will would be, “Nah, nah, you don’t do that. You can’t do that. Nah sister, you don’t accept that. That is not the way it’s gotta go.” Men and women together, equal and proud, fighting to free themselves and all of humanity. Will was onto that. [Applause]

And he was bringing out to people, this isn’t just for us here. It’s not just for Black people. It’s not even just for people in this country. We’re talking about emancipating all of humanity. So when things are happening halfway around the world, that’s not something that’s apart from our struggle. We have to actually be paying attention to that, looking at the development, figuring out what we can learn from that in order to bring forward the struggle to emancipate all of us. Will was on a mission to do that as part of breaking through on this important strategic question of bringing those from the bottom of society into the revolution, and his commitment to this gigantic task, his overall scientific approach to it not only in going out to and struggling with people, which he was tireless in doing, but thinking about it, working with the science of communism as developed by Bob Avakian, applying the Party’s line to it, and struggling in the Party for the right way to solve it. These are things about Will that it is important to know, and they are also things about Will that will be sorely missed.

Now Will had strong opinions. He could be stubborn at times, but he would also listen. You know I learned that, OK, Will don’t agree with me. I gotta make a good case. And if I could make a good case and point out to him that “You looking at this wrong, brother,” he would change up, and he would be like, OK, alright, but it wouldn’t just be “OK, I agree with you now.” It would be OK, now how are we gonna go to work with this? How are we gonna spread this? How are we gonna transform things with this? Because Will wasn’t just in for a talk shop. He was into making revolution and transforming the world.

You could see in the way he went all out with things. Like, when we were doing the premier of the DVD of the talk by Bob Avakian, BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! We were premiering it at the Magic Johnson Theater. And at first, we wasn’t getting it. We wasn’t really taking to people why they needed to be in the house, why they needed to see this, why they needed to connect with this revolutionary leader. And we had to struggle over that, but when we struggled over it, Will was like “yeah, this is why” and he was taking it out to people. And the same when we were doing the Dialogue between Bob Avakian and Cornel West over at Riverside Church. Will was like the force of nature that people have talked about. He was out there spreading the word and he wasn’t just accepting a little bit. ’Cause when talking about the Dialogue, and somebody be like “OK, I think I’ll come. I wanna hear Cornel West.” Will would say, “Yeah, you should be there, you should hear Cornel West, but do you know Bob Avakian? Do you know about this revolutionary leader and the way that he’s forged to get out of this. You need to hear him too. And you need to engage him, and you need to check him out because you strike me as somebody who wants to get free, who needs to get free and knows it.” That’s how Will went at stuff.

We’re going to miss Will and I’m gonna miss Will. Because I talked about some of those hot spots Will was in, well, I was in some of them with him. I was down there in Atlanta at the height of the child murders. Some of you all might not remember this, some of you all might not even know it ’cause I see some of you weren’t even born yet. It was like every week another Black child would disappear and turn up dead. And at first, the authorities were like, “Nah, it ain’t really happening. You must be mistaken.” Then when there was so much of it and it was so widely known that they couldn’t deny it anymore, they be like the problem here is that these Black parents aren’t raising their children very well. Literally they said or maybe implied that maybe these Black parents were killing their own children. They ran that stuff out. And I was there with Will, we were at a meeting, with hundreds of people there, where all this bullshit was being run out, people were being confused. Some of the parents were there. Some of the people in the audience were yelling at the parents. Will stepped into that situation and he cut through the bullshit. He situated those dozens of Black children disappearing and being murdered in the context of the history of savage oppression of Black people. The way in which this system carried out these attacks again and again on Black people. He situated it there for people and brought it to people, it’s the system that’s the problem here, not poor parenting, not a lack of personal responsibility or bad life choices, and galvanized people to their rage against this system. And there happened to be representatives of the system up front at that meeting who had to get up and run out the back door because of the rage that those hundreds of Black people directed in their direction. That’s the way that Will could cut through it.

I was also with him in some situations when we weren’t able to convince people that what we were saying was right at the time. Like the night when Obama got elected in 2008, Will and I were up in Harlem in front of the State Office Building. Hundreds and hundreds of people were up there, celebrating Obama’s victory. We went up in the middle of it and we said, look you’re being deceived and you’re deceiving yourselves if they think something fundamentally different has happened and better has happened with this system. That’s the reality. All that had really happened was that now a Black person was gonna be presiding over the U.S. empire while it continued to carry out attacks on people around the world and in this country. And that this was going to keep going on unless and until there was revolution and this system was gotten rid of.

That was one tough audience that night. [Laughter] People told us, they said, “I hear that you’re for revolution, we have made our revolution by electing Obama and that he’s gonna take care of these problems.” Now, they were wrong. But that night we couldn’t get people to open their eyes to that reality. But Will was relentless in bringing that truth out to people, whether anybody there wanted to hear it or not. He kept bringing this truth to people throughout the Obama years, fighting for people to see that it’s the system that is the problem.

Will’s was good at agitating. I learned a lot from him about that. He would tell me you gotta observe the people you’re agitating to, seeing who was responding and when you see somebody responding, then you take a challenge to them. You say, “Hey brother, you know what I’m saying is right. Come on up here and stand with us,” or “Sister, I know you’re hearing what I’m saying, come on and get with this. You know this is right.” It was important to learn from him. But there’s a basic thing you needed to learn. It’s not just that Will knew the art and skill of agitating. There was something more important than that to it. Will had an unshakable confidence in the ability of the masses to throw off the deception and self deception the system has so many of them mired in. This wasn’t just some religious-like faith in the goodness of people. But an understanding of the actual potential of those who had been locked out and locked down to transform themselves and transform the world through revolution.

Will consistently studied and worked to apply an essay from the end of BAsics, this book of essays and quotations by Bob Avakian, titled “The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses, and the Responsibility of the Vanguard.” I’m gonna share with you the first two paragraphs of this to give you an idea of something that really motivated Will in going about his work.

One of the things that I see, something that I haven’t lost sight of, is this: I see all the strength of the ruling class, but I also see all the way through all this shit, all the contradictions in society—I actually see a force in this society that, if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it, could have a real chance of making a revolution, or being the backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe. I see a force of millions and millions and millions—youth and others—for whom this system is a horror: It isn’t going to take some cataclysmic crisis for this system to be fucking over them. The ruling class, ironically, sees them too. It is those who once had but have lost—or those who never had—a revolutionary is they who can’t see this.

So what I’m working on is all the things that are in between that revolutionary potential and its actual realization. How does this force of masses at the base of society get joined by people from other strata, how does it get allies broadly, how does it get “friendly neutrality” among many in the middle strata—how does all this get developed into a revolutionary people that can become a powerful fighting force when the conditions emerge to fight all out for the seizure of power? How does all that happen not in a passive sense, but how do we work on bringing this revolutionary people into being, even if most of the changes in society and the world are not owing to our initiative but to larger objective factors? I actually believe there is such a revolutionary force in potential—I actually believe this, I see this potential—I believe that there is a force there that, if somehow (and the bourgeoisie knows this too) if somehow the bourgeoisie got into a real, deep crisis....

Will saw that too, and that’s what he lived his life working on, to fulfill our responsibility to realize that potential of the masses, and his relentlessness and his dedication to doing that is something that will be sorely missed.

Will leaves some big shoes to fill, and those of us who knew and loved him and worked with him, as well as people who are only just now learning about Will, and are only just now learning about him and his life, have to take up the challenge to fill those shoes. We need to learn from his life in taking up this challenge. Because there were some things that Will knew. Will knew that we have what we need to enlist masses in the fight to emancipate all of humanity. We have the leadership of Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism that BA has brought forward and is continuing to develop. With this understanding we can work at knowing reality as deeply as possible and on that basis transforming it in the only way it can be transformed in the interests of humanity—through making revolution and bringing into being a totally different and far better society that is in transition to a classless communist world. In this way, we can end all the horrors this system inflicts on people here in this country and around the world. This is the challenge we face, and I urge everyone grieving over Will’s passing and celebrating his life to join in rising to meet this challenge.

Will Reese, Bobby Hill, presente!


A Life Lived for Revolution:
Comrade Will Reese—
A Celebration and Commemoration



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