Revolution #233, May 22, 2011

Cornel West and Carl Dix in Dialogue at UCLA:

In the Age of Obama...
Police Terror, Incarceration,
No Jobs, Mis-education:

On Friday, April 29, the campus of UCLA was the site of a remarkable event—a dialogue between Princeton professor and provocative public intellectual Cornel West, and long-time revolutionary and founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), Carl Dix.

The dialogue drew well over a thousand students and others from the campus and the community, requiring 400 to be turned away, after even an overflow room was packed. There was excitement and anticipation among the diverse, multinational audience, a sense that something important and special was about to take place. 

The theme of the dialogue—"In the Age of Obama… Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: WHAT FUTURE FOR OUR YOUTH?"—had struck a deep chord with many who came. It captured a sense of urgency people feel about the future facing today's youth as a whole, and especially millions of poor and oppressed youth; and the search for answers about what to do about it. And people came to hear two perspectives presented by two provocative critical thinkers. The Afrikan Student Union Chairwoman who opened the program captured this well when she said:

Even the title of today's program gives me goose bumps in thinking about how important creating dialogue around these issues is for our community today…. I am honored and definitely thankful to be able to have a dialogue with two important members of our community, Cornel West and Carl Dix.

A Unique, Passionate, Hopeful Exchange

Right from the gate Carl Dix said this is a conversation that is sorely needed and almost completely absent in this society. And he said those conversations that do take place begin with how the youth messed up, and end with "it's their own damn fault." But tonight, "Cornel and I are not going to blame the youth for the situation that they've been put in by this system. [strong applause] We're also not going to just shrug our shoulders and say that's just the way things are—forget about it. We're going to, from our different perspectives, talk about what created this situation, and what needs to be, and can be done to transform it."

Both speakers began by discussing the importance of having this dialogue at UCLA. Dix explained that young intellectuals like those in the audience have always had "great influence and great responsibility" in determining the future direction of society. He pointed to the crucial roles played in the '60s by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the civil rights movement and Students for a Democratic Society in the antiwar movement, and he pointed out that the founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, were both college students.

Dix said students grapple with complex ideas, and "you can look at and see the gap between the way the world is, and the way it should be." He added that being young, they're not locked into thinking there is nothing that could be done to bridge that gap. And then he told them: "I'm here tonight to tell you that this gap can and must be bridged. And I'm also here to challenge you to get with the movement for revolution that the Revolutionary Communist Party is building because we are aiming to bridge that gap through making revolution and getting rid of this system. Now let's get started!"

Dix got started with searing exposure of some of the most wanton police murders across the country of mainly Black and Latino youth. He went on to show how the NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" program allowed them to stop and search over 600,000 people in 2010, in the process establishing their "right" to treat all Black and Latino youth as potential criminals, guilty until proven innocent. And he showed how the massive incarceration of Black people, accounting for the leap in the overall U.S. prison population from less than 500,000 in 1980 to over 2.4 million in 2008, is a product of the systematic targeting of Black people by the criminal injustice system in its enforcement of the drug laws. Statistics show that while Black youth make up 15% of drug users, they are 36% of those arrested for drug possession, and 63% of those who go to jail.

Here and at other crucial points Dix opened up and read from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. He read BAsics 2:16, the quote which references Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African-American woman shot dead by the Riverside, California police in 1998. This gave people a glimpse of the method and approach of Avakian applied to critical questions, and what it means for revolution and the emancipation of humanity to have this revolutionary leader. And it gave people a sense of the importance of getting their hands on BAsics as a crucial way to get introduced to Avakian and the re-envisioned communist revolution he has brought forward.

At a certain point Dix stopped and said he didn't come mainly to tell people how bad things are, or even why they're so bad. "What I mainly came here to tell you tonight is that things do not have to be this way"—which led to much applause. And he explained how through revolution we could bring into being a totally different and far better way that people can live.

Dix went on to break this down, in the course of it addressing many of the good and important questions people raise that get to how could it be possible to make a revolution—this country's too powerful, and people are too messed up? And how do you know that the new society that is brought into being would be better? He directed people to the RCP's "On the Strategy for Revolution" that is in BAsics, and identified a couple of important aspects of that strategy. First, the centrality of the orientation of Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution. And second, bringing to people the leadership we have in this movement for this revolution in Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party he leads.

Dix contrasted the RCP's approach to revolution with others which ultimately leave this system intact. And he argued that one way this gets expressed is in how people see Obama. He said to those who argue that people should have Obama's back, that Obama is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military that is carrying out wars for empire in the Middle East, and presiding over and carrying forward the torture policies of the Bush regime. Why should we have his back?

Dix also criticized Obama for his Father's Day speech where he talked about how "all these Black fathers are missing in action"…without saying where they are. I will tell you where they are. The criminal injustice system has rounded many of them up and warehoused them in prison. That's part of why they're absent."

Near the end of his talk Dix said, "Now, we have to talk about religion," and Dr. West could be heard saying loudly, "absolutely, absolutely, my brother, absolutely!" Dix shot back jokingly, "Well, what did you expect? You got a communist and a Christian up here dialoguing, we've got to talk about religion!" Dix added, "You might like some of what I'm going to say." He first criticized the Christian fascists who are mobilizing people to oppose gay marriage. And also those Black ministers who are doing the same thing, as well as opposing a woman's right to abortion. And then he described some Black ministers in New York and Atlanta who are working with Christian fascists to put up billboards that say "The most dangerous place for a Black youth is in a Black mother's womb."

Dix went on to say, "We know that Cornel doesn't push religion like that, that's not his religion. In fact, his Christian principles move him to stand with the oppressed…, and that's part of why I love this brother so much." He also said, "And we extend a hand of unity to all religious people who approach things like that." But Dix said there was still the need "to get into some things with folks!" He said some people believe the world is the way it is because of the will of god, and that's not true, because there is no god. And he finished by telling people there are two important quotes from Marx on religion: one is that religion is the opiate of the masses; the other is that religion is the heart of a heartless world. And Dix said that the goal of communists is to make revolution, and to end exploitation and oppression, to end the heartlessness of this world.

Before concluding, Dix urged people to connect to this movement for revolution; to get their hands on BAsics and get started on finding out what this revolution is all about, and to subscribe to Revolution, the Party's paper. And he said another very important part is to join in resisting the attacks that this system is bringing down. He talked about the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. And he said there's a need for a movement of resistance to massive and racially biased incarceration. And then he called on people to "bring to us the battles that need to be waged here on campus around education, around education throughout the state and around the country. Bring those battles to us and let's strategize on how to take those battles forward. Get with this movement for revolution; fight together with us; and learn more about revolution as you fight."

Carl Dix brought his talk to an end by answering the question posed in the title: "This system has no future for the youth: the revolution does!"

Cornel West

Dr. West began his talk with a rich, textured and thoughtful statement about the importance he placed on this dialogue:

It's a blessing for me to be here. Any time I get a chance, to not just be in dialogue, but to have my spirit refreshed by my revolutionary communist brother, give him another hand, give him another hand. We've done a number of these events together, two in Harlem, right? And we're just taken it all over the country. Why? Because even though we do have disagreements, the crucial thing that we decided a long time ago [was] that we were going to look at the world through the lens of precious poor and working class people of whatever color, culture or civilization, with bringing a critical consciousness with a social analysis of structures and institutions and at the same time fundamentally committed to the humanity and the dignity of everyday people, and most importantly, the fact that we have been willing to live and we're willing to die for what we believe. And that's crucial. That's why I love this brother. That's why we'll go down together. We may not agree on everything. I will remain a Jesus-loving free Black man (huge cheering), that's just who I am…but we have deep overlap, that's the crucial thing.

In the course of his talk West drew on and explored from different angles some of the themes introduced by Dix, while also focusing on other vital concerns of his own. He too spoke about the importance of having this dialogue at UCLA, emphasizing the need for contestation and critical reflection to not "end up well-adjusted to injustice." He said "The last thing we need is folks walking around wanting to be the smartest one in the room but cowardly when it comes to telling the truth about poor and working people…. highly sophisticated folk obsessed with their achievement and their accomplishments but they're well-adapted to indifference when it comes to poor and working people."

West set the bar high for this new generation, with the confidence that they could meet it. He spoke to them about the courage it can take just to attempt to tell the truth. He talked about so many spokespersons and leaders that have been willing to be bought by the highest bidder, giving young people examples of persons "who are no longer free enough to say what is in their hearts and minds and souls, because they're so preoccupied with their careers, and their professions, and their attempt to fit in, rather than be a misfit." West said, "I don't mind being a misfit. And I'll say exactly the same thing if I'm teaching at City College, Princeton, if I'm in the White House, a crack house, or my momma's house. I got to tell the truth."

West spoke about the "prison-industrial complex," and the "carceral Marshall Plan," "where $312 billion has been spent on jails and prisons in the criminal justice system in the past 25 years, but we're told we don't have enough money for education; we don't have enough money for housing; we don't have enough money for healthcare; … for jobs with a living wage—you can see how warped the priorities are."

He described the fact that 21% of the children in this country are living in poverty, a moral disgrace. And the fact that for Latinos it's 39%, and for Black people 38% is a moral abomination. It's in this context that he was challenging the students to ask themselves what their life is going to be about.

West talked about the impact of what he sees as the "militarization of intelligence," saying: "Under George Bush, 45 drones in 8 years; under Obama, 53 the first year, 110 the second year." Then he asked, what happens when you drop the drones… you get the target, but you also get the family… "But we don't believe in collective punishment!"

West talked about "Brother Obama, in the White House, bombarded with corporate interests, bombarded with Wall Street, didn't say a mumbling word about poverty in the State of the Union Address in January, the first time a president didn't do that since 1948. Do you believe that? Black people give a brother 95% of the votes, and almost 45% of our children wrestling with poverty and you can't say a mumbling word…"

Dr. West ended by telling the young people in the audience "There's only one way out—the courage to think critically." He said they had to "learn how to be maladjusted to a mainstream that stays at a superficial level." He added that "… the truths are beneath the superficial discourse; don't find it in a mean-spirited, cold-hearted Republican party dominated by oligarchic and plutocratic interests, you're not gonna find it in a spineless, milk-toast Democratic party, deeply caked by oligarchic and plutocratic interests." He called on them to "look below" and get beyond the superficial. He said it takes courage to do that and "there's a courage deficit in the country, especially among the younger generation, but the younger generation is hungry and thirsty for more." He said they had to muster the courage to think critically, to gain a vantage point that looks at the world from the view of those who are suffering. "And then you put your body on the line."

The dialogue was followed by a rich question-and-answer session which Revolution will report on in the next issue.

• • •

There were points made throughout the evening which resonated very broadly with the audience as a whole. And there were times where different sections of the audience were gravitating in different directions. But even more there was a sense if you were there that something very special was taking place—a liberating atmosphere that night which the audience could feel.

The appreciation and compassion that each speaker expressed toward the other was a big part of it. There was a very different and inspiring approach to the process that was represented by the dialogue between this Jesus-loving Black man and this revolutionary communist, a process that did not—and should not —come to an end when the night was over. It was a new, radical and refreshing mix of ideas and ways to go at bringing a better world into being. It enabled people in the audience coming from different perspectives to embrace both speakers and consider their points of view while maintaining their own. It gave people a sense of feeling welcome, able to come in and be a part of, and even to contribute to this important dialogue.

For many this exchange represented a different framework and approach for how this kind of discourse can and should be carried out and carried on. It gave people a sense of a new way this kind of dialogue could take place, in an ongoing way. A number of people expressed the desire to do something, to get involved. And more generally, people came away energized, inspired, and wanting more.

On his way out, one man said:

I thought the dialogue was so inspiring and they created a spot, a living example of the type of political spaces that are all too few, where we can make [it] happen between revolutionaries and radicals and everybody, like they were saying, who wants to see a different world… I've come to a lot of political events at UCLA, I've never seen something on this level and of this quality. And I was so proud of how many people [came]… It shows the potential. It shows things don't have to remain the way they are. Things can radically change if we get out there and do this.

A third-year Black UCLA student said afterwards:

Amazing. The second thought is Amazing. And the third thought is Amazing as well. I'm just very deeply inspired by the tenacity of the speakers—Carl Dix and Mr. West. I think Carl did a great job of bringing a new light to the idea of communism. It's often painted as this radical thing and we're taught to be afraid of that type of revolution, but I think he did a good job of painting it not only in a positive light but positive in an objective way as well. So yeah, I loved the program. I'm very inspired. Definitely my first time ever hearing him and I'm very deeply impressed and inspired. We're taught to believe in the idea of the "American Dream" in America but the American Dream is also the capitalist dream, I think. And we don't have as many negative connotations to capitalism as we do I guess, [of] communism.

A grad student in a social welfare program commented:

It was incredible. It was good to have their different perspectives on it. I really enjoyed it… wonderful, both of them.


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond