Revolution Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Distributing the Special High School/Middle School Issue #176
We received the following correspondence:
This week we went to five high schools with the special high school and middle school issue, "Actually We CAN Change the World" (Revolution #176). And we also made an initial foray to some middle school students, and had substantive discussions with three high school teachers.
All together we distributed 95 papers, 2850 of the more concise version of "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have," 910 of the palm cards and 170 of the stickers promoting the Revolution talk on line, and raised about $42.
Bookstore Discussion of Issue #176
We gave a short intro reading from the quote from #170 on how "the system has robbed so many youth of the chance for a decent life..." and then the background to this special issue.
We laid out that crews of youth took out issue #170, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have" and as a part of that, listened to and interviewed all kinds of youth from different backgrounds and experiences, and put it together in this special issue. We talked some on the stakes overall and what if we connect this up with thousands of youth across the country, introduce them to Bob Avakian and bring forward cores of youth to take up and fight for this line and this kind of revolution. One important point made was about what can open up overall in terms of bringing forward a revolutionary movement at the end of this year-long campaign, if cores of youth are taking up this issue and connecting up with this revolution and this leader.
We discussed how fresh and unleashing this issue is in how it poses the reality youth face – but also the possibility of really changing the world, concentrated in the editorial addressed to the "Young Brothers and Sisters," the quote from Avakian on what your life will be about, in the excerpts from the Revolution talk on the centerfold (watch the film of the talk and selected excerpts at revolutiontalk.net; selected clips can also be seen on YouTube at youtube.com/revolutiontalk) and the call for the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on the back cover. And how this issue is very materialist and very lofty.
We also discussed how the editorial begins by walking people through the actual choices youth have or don’t have and why...what is the reality of people’s lives? And we contrasted that to what Obama had said in his speech to the high school and middle school youth. One of the youth felt it was really important to address the question of choices the way the Chairman addresses it in the quote from his memoir:
"If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it’s going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically."
And we finished up by discussing what people can do now – get extra copies of this issue and get it to 5 of their friends, raise money – and the need to resist, to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution, while they are checking out revolution and communism and how the world could be.
There was also some discussion about how this issue can open up a whole new world for these youth – with articles on China and what socialism was like, what has been achieved, on transforming art and culture, and one person talked about someone who had already seen the issue and really responded to the piece on art and culture in socialist society. This is someone who is really sickened by what dominates culture today and inspired by how it could be – and what they need to and can do to bring this into being.
Off of the discussion, we made an initial plan and got volunteers. At first we were going to schedule going to about 10 different high schools and middle schools from Wednesday to Friday. Then we decided that based on the experience at one of the first schools we went to, we should schedule going back to most of these schools the next day. So, we decided to blitz a smaller number of schools in the mornings with the short statement and plugger cards/stickers, and then have teams go back in the afternoon with Revolution newspaper to the same schools. And then on Friday, we went back again to some of the same key schools again.
When we went back in the afternoons, we met students who had read the flyer and really liked it and who bought the newspaper off of that. And some who came ready to argue some points, especially religion seems to be one question that came up at every school. A couple people said at one of the schools, there is a very heavy lockdown atmosphere that is weighing very heavily on the students, and one student said to us: "I think I make the world a worse place."
The number of papers sold and money collected is greater than at other times, but we also summed up that having organizing kits for $3 should be the main way hundreds of newspapers and plugger cards and stickers will get distributed in these schools, and we need to not take a go slow, gradualist or determinist approach, but need to fight through on the approach of "the revolutionaries are here." We need to change this up!
We summed up we need to have much more of a presence, much more boldly out there, with banners, large displays with photos and the front cover, sound playing the short statement, with agitation both in the mornings and in the afternoon, and draw the advanced forward, but also have the kind of atmosphere where students are stopping and posing their questions and getting into it deeply and on the spot.
Going to a Key High School in the Inner City
In the morning, there was a team of 3 people with one agitating on the bullhorn while two others passed out flyers with the Message and Call on them. This is a school where we already saturated with the statement this summer, but half of the school has switched out, so now half the students were there over the summer and the other half is new. The administrators of the school decided to bring out their own loudspeaker and tell kids to get to school, remind them of dress code, etc. At one point when they were chastising some student for wearing a white t-shirt, we worked that into the agitation – ridiculing the regimentation they’re enforcing, along with the indoctrination we’d already been agitating some about. Mainly the agitation was based on the editorial in the issue – and including going after the choices/personal responsibility theme of Obama’s speech, while continually coming back to the theme on the front page: "Actually, We CAN Change The World," and "The Revolution Is Real." One riff that seemed to get people’s attention was along the lines: "I know you’ve stayed up at night thinking about why things are this way and wishing we could change it, wondering why people are going hungry and how to stop it, etc. One of the biggest lies you’ve been told is that you can’t change the world – that socialism and communism doesn’t work and you just have to try to work hard and try to get ahead in this system. Actually, we CAN change the world. We can make revolution to get rid of this system and bring into being a society where people work together for the common good. We’re talking about the communist revolution, and there’s a real revolutionary leader today, Bob Avakian, who has an understanding of how to actually make the revolution we need and is leading this party to initiate a new stage of revolution in the world." We also did agitation about the need to stand up against the crimes of this system, that we need resistance as part of really building a revolutionary movement; and the possibility of having a life with meaning, the choice you do have to be part of fighting for a whole different world for humanity.
There was not a lot of engagement in the morning, as students mainly just took the flyers.
After school things got interesting. A Latina student came over insisting "God Loves You" over and over again and that people can’t change the world – only God can. She rallied a group of young Black women around the fact that we don’t believe in God. The young Black women fell out in different ways. We had displays of the Stolen Lives centerfold (Revolution #174, online at revcom.us/i/174/174ndp-en.pdf) and the statement in Spanish (issue #170) with color pictures. We were challenging them around what’s in those pictures – that this is a system of capitalism-imperialism that we can get rid of through revolution, that a whole different kind of society is possible.
One of them was shouting, "What are we supposed to do about this? We’re high school students?" It was a hectic scene where people were shouting and talking at once and none really standing still to actually talk and engage – but at the same time they were actually listening and kept hanging around and coming back to argue more. In response to "what are we supposed to do about this?" we said we need revolution and a revolutionary movement now. We need a movement of people standing up to this as part of building up the strength to get rid of the whole system that does this. She shouted that standing up to this will just bring the police down on them – and that we’re coming in this neighborhood talking about this and the revolutionaries don’t live there and don’t know shit about it. She also went on to then say the people in those pictures must have done something to get killed by the police – and eventually went as far as to say that what we don’t show in the centerfold pictures is those people pointing guns. (That is, the soldiers are only defending themselves...).
Another young Black woman seemed like she was being pulled in different directions at the same time and trying to sort it out. She was drawn to the displays and what we were saying about the need to change the world and that we ourselves can understand and change the world, but every time the evangelical girl said "God loves you" she would get thrown back to the God thing and ask what does God have to do with this? (i.e. with the horrors of these pictures and what we’re there talking about). We made the point from the statement that these things aren’t happening because of God. There is no God. What happens in the world comes from a system that can be done away with and a new system brought into being: communism. We opened up the centerfold to "Imagine What the Future World Can and Will Be Like" and started to read the part on culture. She called her friend over to see, but when the more backward friend was most vocal, this woman didn’t want to seem like she had any interest in what we were saying.
Then there was a whole thing around the police. Several people – including a guy in a ROTC uniform – were saying we need the police to protect us, and if you’re getting beat up or see somebody getting beat up, aren’t you going to call the police? Then they thought it was outrageous when we said no – and talked about the role of the police in society, and gave examples of people calling the police to solve a problem and the police coming and killing people. All this time the police were driving around and around, including they passed by slowly waving a baton out of the window. Then they pulled up and got out where we were. The young women all looked to see what they were going to do and what we were going to do. I started doing agitation about how criminal these police are, murdering, degrading and brutalizing people day in and day out, that they’re enforcing this whole system, and that we need revolution and fight to stop police murder and brutality. It was very confrontational and the women all stopped talking and looked to see what was going to happen next. The cops backed away and started acting all buddy, buddy with some of the youth hanging around. The women started back in, and the cops were basically acting like it was them and these youth against us.
But then with the cops there, that whole little crowd took off.
We were going to take off too as most of the students were all gone by then. But then we realized there were students who had been hanging around the edges listening to all the back and forth, and some in the little fast-food taco joint behind us. So we started to talk to them and the controversy had stirred a lot of interest. We started selling papers and getting into the questions of these students.
Two young Latina women looked at the display and one of them asked about the picture of the girl with her leg blown off and said her dad is in the military and she didn’t know that’s what was happening. She was going to ask her dad about it. As we told them more what this was about and showed them the high school issue, they were nodding in agreement with many things but not saying much. I asked them what they think is the hardest question about how to change the world, and they immediately said: the people – that is, transforming the thinking of the people. We talked about fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution, and also read some of what’s at the end of the editorial to the "Young Brothers and Sisters" about the choice they have now. I told them that what they do makes a difference in starting to change things. They took stickers to get up and out and gave their phone numbers.
When we called the next day one of the women hadn’t read the paper yet, but said she’d talked to her friends about this at school and her friends were saying that communism is like Cuba and that communism means everything’s equal and everybody gets the same. This student said she doesn’t know anything about communism. I pointed her to the centerfold, "Imagine What the Future World Can and Will Be Like" and the editorial to learn about this, but also talked about it some – that this society is clearly very unequal and struggling for equality is important, but we can do better than that and communism goes much farther than equality. In particular I told her about an example Bob Avakian has given: if she and I are both working the same job doing the same thing and making the same money, that seems equal. But if she has 12 people to feed and I only have two, then really it’s not equal. She firmly agreed with that. I went on to say that communism is about everybody contributing everything they can – their work, talents, skills, ideas for the benefit of the whole society, and getting back what they need to meet their needs and live a good life. That this is what we can do once there is no longer a system in place that’s based on profit and competition and forcing some people to slave while others profit off of it and have the power over society.
She said one of her friends was with her at the house and they would read the paper together. They hadn’t passed out the stickers but would take them to school and do it tomorrow. I told her to come to the Open House at the bookstore to discuss this issue and bring all the hard questions that she and her friends have, or that come up when she’s passing out stickers. I also asked her why they were interested in the paper when they saw us yesterday and she said it was because of the argument that had gone on and they wanted to see what it was all about.
Another person we talked to that day is a college student. He was attracted to the idea of revolution, but when he heard communism, was like – whoa, we don’t need communism. So we talked about what communism is, the history that’s been slandered, and the leadership of Bob Avakian. He went right for the leadership and said we don’t need one leader, we can all be leaders. We talked about the objective contradictions that give rise to the need for leadership and what an advantage it is that we have this leader. He didn’t want to stay and talk for long but was very intrigued and gave a small donation and took a palm card for the Revolution talk on line so he could check it out.
After all that, we finally left. As we were walking down the street, there were some young guys sitting on a step in front of an apartment a little ways down the block. One of them shouted out, "God bless you!" Clearly they’d seen the argument. We went over there to talk to them. The one who’d shouted it out ran into the house and wouldn’t come back out. His two friends stayed to talk. One of the friends was more pushing on the God thing, a bit facetiously, testing us a little to see what we’d say. He was less serious about actually engaging. (At some point he said God is why he’s a mack. I told him, "Oh, so you’ve got two make-believe things going on in your head!" Which scored points with his friends and then he decided he didn’t want to play anymore and went in the house.) The other guy, T, was really listening. We showed him the displays and said the question of actually changing the world is fucking urgent – and he agreed. Then another guy walked up, who we had met before. He pointed to the picture of the police on the guys head and said that was him two years ago in front of that house before he went to prison. We talked for a minute more to both of them and invited them to the showing of the Revolution DVD in that neighborhood. We challenged him to take this up and spread it around the neighborhood, to start making these questions the questions that all kinds of people around there are starting to think about and talk about. He took a stack of flyers with the message and call and said he’d put them on cars, and he took stickers promoting the Revolution talk too.
Later that day, I went with a friend to his house. Another youth came with us. The three of us read the editorial together and talked some about it. It was the first substantive discussion I’d had with this youth and he was very moved by the editorial and asked questions. He read the first half of the editorial out loud. At certain points he would stop and say, "damn!" – like after reading about the murder of Sean Bell and the murder of Amadou Diallo. After reading the statistics of women being raped and battered, he asked of all that he’d read so far: "Is all this true?" When he read the subheading, "You live under an imperialist system" he asked what imperialism was. I told him he should keep reading. We switched off reading when we got to the second page of it and I read the paragraph about capitalism-imperialism and then stopped and said that’s what imperialihsm is. My friend said to him, "Imperialism is basically the movie, ‘Blood Diamond.’"
Then some of his other friends came over and while they were there, they were talking about different things and one thing that came up again was God. My friend doesn’t believe in God and one of the other guys there was kind of agnostic. The student we had been discussing the statement with was a little blown away that we don’t believe in God. He didn’t know how to take it. I told him about the Cornel/Carl discussion and who Cornel is and what his approach was in that discussion (i.e. when it comes to God we’re going to keep arguing over that one, but have agreement on the need for resistance and liberation). He really liked that because it was a position he felt comfortable taking himself. He said OK, we can keep arguing over God, but I agree we need to change the world. Before that we did actually talk about the God thing for a little while there – about the need to have a scientific approach to understanding reality so we can change the world, about communism itself being a science, starting with what actually exists and understanding that things are constantly changing and move through contradiction, and applying the scientific method to learning about reality. I told him that we don’t believe in God because God doesn’t exist, and we have to base ourselves on what actually exists. I talked about how people wrote the Bible before they knew anything about science. And you can see that if you read Genesis. My friend chimed in about stardust in the universe and the formation of planets.
Before I left we did talk about the last part of the editorial, and a vision of what it would look like for these high school students and others like themselves taking this up and starting to change things. The youth who had come to my friend’s home was in prison for two years and has only been out for a little while. He said he can’t get out there like that right now because he doesn’t want to go back to prison. I told him this is a problem we’ve come up against in our work all over the country. Sometimes there’s protests in a neighborhood and it’s mainly all women because the men can’t come out because they all are on parole, probation, warrants, etc. I told him there are other things he can do besides going out in the kind of way that directly pits him against the police. On the other hand, there’s no getting around that we have to stand up against this system and they’re going to hit back and it’s going to be that kind of dynamic, and people are going to have to sacrifice. In terms of things he can do now, I proposed he and my friend go around the neighborhood and put up the posters of the Revolution DVD and the Mobile Shaw posters (Revolution #171, online at revcom.us/i/171/171backcover-en.pdf) and he said that’s something he can do and he would do. So I left them with a stack of posters, and we confirmed the DVD showing on Friday night in the neighborhood.
I talked to the teacher at large high school in the city about the statement and the high school issue. At first he said that he already teaches his students about imperialism so they pretty much know all this already. I talked about Bob Avakian, the verdicts on socialism and communism vs. the actual truth of what socialism and communism are, and the possibility of revolution that Avakian opens up. The teacher then said that what he doesn’t have for his students is solutions, what they can do to change things. He was really attracted to this paper for that reason. We talked some about a vision of youth starting to take up revolution and communism, the emancipation of humanity, and right now beginning to resist the crimes of this system. For example, if October 22nd gets taken up in a big way, or there are walkouts against the war. He was attracted to the stuff around police brutality and we talked about how his students are always coming in with stories about what the police do and how much they hate the police. When it came to him taking up the paper, he said at first he wasn’t sure because some of the students wouldn’t be into it. I said he could get them out to his students and the ones that are attracted to it can take it. I also suggested he could have them read the editorial and write something about it – maybe even do a compare and contrast with Obama’s speech. He didn’t seem like he would do that, but did agree that he’s in a position to get this paper into the hands of students so they can find this and engage it. I also talked to him about the need to pay for this paper to get into the hands of hundreds and thousands of students. He said he would get 50 papers and give a dollar for each.
At another school, I talked to two teachers. One has long been into the "personal responsibility" argument and the "anybody-can-make-it-in-this-country-if-they-work-hard" outlook. On different issues though, he has taken good positions politically and has had us speak to his classes more than once. Right away and emphatically he disagreed with the editorial when I said what it was about. I went through it with him, reading out some particular parts. Like how even if you do "make it" you still can’t do science without the Department of Defense, you can’t challenge the curriculum and teach the truth in school, you can’t provide health care for everyone who needs it, and you don’t have the choice of what kind of world you live in and what this system means for people all over the world. He took issue with some of the examples and said he challenges the curriculum and is able to teach the way he wants to. Later we came back to that when he said he wasn’t sure about getting out the paper to his students because he didn’t want to get in trouble.
I read him the part about the verdicts on socialism and what Bob Avakian has summed up and developed and why this makes revolution real. And I challenged him with what difference it would make for his students to know about this. I also showed him the piece at the end about the kind of choice they do have and what they can do now to actually change things. I talked about a vision of these students beginning to take up revolution, and to be resisting and fighting back, while they are challenging everything and the conversations start changing to debating over the big questions of making revolution and changing the whole world. He looked a little frightened. I asked him what he would think if his students started taking this up in this way and he said he would support them if they are taking it up because it’s what they think is right. He said he wants his students to be critical thinkers, to think for themselves, to look deeply into things. He said he’s doing things like showing them how FOX news covers an issue and then how MSNBC covers the same issue to show them different spins on things. I united with his critical thinkers point, and showed him the letter in the paper about breaking all the way with religion, and talked about the importance of students (and everybody) asking questions and challenging things. I suggested he have his students read or watch Obama’s speech and read the editorial and write what they think. It didn’t seem like he would do that, but I also said if he’s already showing them FOX and MSNBC, why not give them Revolution too and tell them this is a different perspective and let them have access to this and they can make up their own minds. He said he would have to read it first and see if he wants to get it to them. I didn’t point out the obvious contradiction of "I want them to think for themselves," but "I want to censor what ideas they have access to."
I caught the second of the two teachers as he was getting ready to leave and we talked for at most 20 minutes. I showed him the statement and the high school issue and talked to him a little about both. (I did that with all the teachers, including with all of them laying out the objectives of this campaign and talking some about how it’s been going). I didn’t have a chance to go through the issue, so I was telling him about what was in it in a condensed way. He didn’t say much at first, but then at a certain point I said that a big thrust of this issue is about a life with meaning, that students don’t have the choices Obama’s talking about, but they do have the choice of trying to get ahead within this system or being part of fighting for a whole different way society can go and changing the whole world. He really liked that. He said a life with meaning is something education doesn’t provide these youth, and particularly in the inner city ghettos and barrios, it is what they are looking for and what they need. He said this is something he’d like to talk to his students about in class. I also talked to him about the call to resistance and the concrete ways at the end of the statement that students can join the revolutionary movement and begin to change things – distributing the statement, reading the paper, engaging BA, and while still learning about all that, resist and fight back, with particular things they can do to resist. He really liked that as well and thinks it’s really needed. I posed up him getting 50 or 100 papers and paying for them to donate to this issue. He said he would like to do that but he wants to read the issue for himself first and see if it does what we’re trying to do with it.
Middle School Students
The day we went to check out the scene at a nearby middle school the school was starting two hours later than usual. There were groups of students hanging out near the school killing time, including at the Starbucks across the street. We went to the Starbucks and were able to talk to two groups of women students for a bit. We had a display of the Stolen Lives with the first group of students we started the discussion there. They wanted to know why the police killed these people and we talked about how they use terror to enforce a system that keeps Black people down and Latino people, and that profits off of the oppression of people all over the world. We handed them the newspaper and said this is about how we actually can change the world, to get rid of this system and bring into being a new society. We showed them the "Imagine..." centerfold. They weren’t that talkative and I was trying to figure out how to draw them out. I asked them about their experiences with the police and they said their friends get stopped for looking like gangbangers. I opened up the paper and showed them the "Dear Bella" letters and asked if they know about the Twilight books. The main one who was talking more said she knew about it but thought it was annoying because it’s just about a girl being in love. I talked to her about how it goes even deeper than that because it promotes relationships where women are dominated and controlled by men. I started to read her one of the letters and she said, "Twilight’s not real, why do you have letters here?" I said that books and movies even when they’re not real have real ideas that influence people, and these are make-believe letters, but they also have different ideas about what relations between men and women can and should be like. I asked them if they knew women in their family or friends who are in relationships like that, where they’re controlled and dominated by men, and they all nodded. They bought the paper and took palm cards to distribute and all signed up with their phone numbers and e-mails.
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