Revolution #238, July 3, 2011

A Day in the Life in the ’Hood

It could be almost anywhere USA! When the people who gather at the corner liquor store see the picture in the Message and Call1 of the pigs kneeing a young Black man in the neck, they recognize it as familiar, even though it’s thousands of miles away.

I think of what Bob Avakian says in 2:27 of BAsics,

At a talk I gave, years ago now, someone asked: 'How would you do better than the Soviet Union or China under Mao?' One of the things I said to him is: 'I don’t believe in tailing people because they’re oppressed—we need emancipators of humanity.' When you are in a qualitatively different situation than what we have now—when the present system has been swept aside and the new, socialist system has been brought into being—there would have to be an army, as the backbone of an actual state, that enforces the new system, and that army would be made up of very basic people in large part. But we have to train them to understand that, as part of that, they are going to have to be out there protecting the rights of people who oppose this new system, and they are going to have to defend the right of these people to raise this opposition, while at the same time they would also have to stop people who really are making attempts to smash the state power we have. I said that this will be a struggle with masses, but we have to bring forward on every level people who have this kind of understanding of what we’re doing. The Constitution of the new, socialist system is going to enumerate the rights of people, and this state apparatus is going to protect people’s rights who don’t agree, so long as they don’t actively and concretely organize to overthrow that state apparatus. That is where the Lenin point comes in: As long as there are classes, one class is going to dictate, and 'better me than you'—that is, better the dictatorship of the proletariat than the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (capitalist class). But what is that dictatorship of the proletariat?

BOTH aspects of this are important—solid core and elasticity.

I think of this quote especially when we have an outing at the corner with BAsics and our latest paper. For the last few months, we have had a crew go out on the weekends among Black people who live in the ’hood, and they mix it up with the people of other nationalities as well since the neighborhood also has a sizable population of Latino families.

Like many oppressed neighborhoods, there are liquor stores mixed in with the churches, small markets, fast food joints, and various “help” agencies like a county-run food bank (providing emergency food assistance to families under the federal poverty line), the welfare office, a health center and a halfway house. There are almost no jobs in the ’hood, in sharp contrast to a few decades ago where there used to be steel factories, an auto plant, sheet metal factories, etc. This was also the era before Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it.”

Whereas the ’60s generation was able to support home ownership (albeit small tract houses), their children’s generation has had to survive on an underground economy. As we’ve often heard, this young generation asks “What’s his hustle?” instead of “What does he do for a living?” Often the hustle is legitimate; even though it’s living day to day. One young Black man, TC,2 who reads and sometimes distributes our paper, makes his living buying, fixing, and reselling things. He can’t make a real living with health benefits and such, but it does allow him to pay a modest rent. In fact, Craigslist has become a way of life for anyone with web access in the neighborhood. In this ’hood, one can walk into apartments which are entirely furnished from the “free” section. Part-time jobs are taken, and so on, courtesy of Craigslist!

Of course, transportation is a main problem overall for people in the ’hood. There are no supermarkets anywhere near; so just hauling groceries for a family of four on the bus is a big chore, not to mention meeting appointments with your welfare case worker, health center, parole officer (many young Black men who’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system, and are on probation, must meet stringent requirements to visit their parole officers who may live many, many miles away... not meeting these appointments results in additional punishment like isolation upon being sent back to prison), the WIC office (Women, Infants, Children is a federal service for nutrition and food needs for women and children up to five years old, when the family falls below the federal poverty guidelines), etc.

So simple lack of transportation has led in part to a certain isolation, a kind of segregation among people in the neighborhood to where they are kept from knowing about anything except what’s in their few square blocks. Also, it sometimes leads to contradictions among the masses when folks venture out of their neighborhoods, and are viewed as “not welcome” if they are not recognized.

We recently had a significant outing where our crew from the ’hood went into a Latino neighborhood on May Day (which coincided with Cinco de Mayo). There was a certain trepidation about venturing into an area only 30 blocks away where people speak another language. A guy from our crew, S, who has never gone into this other area, agonized over this on the way there, saying, “What am I going to say? This is a Mexican thing.” And yet, our crew learned quickly that sticking close to our Spanish-speaking agitators allowed them to readily distribute papers and the Message and Call in Español. This was a learning experience for us all. As T remarked, while struggling with S, “We can’t just stick close to our own corner if we’re talking about making revolution.” During that outing, even the children got into the act, joining a red flag march through a neighborhood they’d never seen!

T is part of this extended family we’ve gotten to know, who form the bulk of this crew. At our usual “revolution” corner in the ’hood, when the family is in full swing, it’s not unusual to distribute 100 newspapers, while collecting money by shaking the can. The kids distribute the palm cards, staple materials, like posters made from the paper’s cover and centerfold, to the poles while their parents take turns at the bullhorn, speaking bitterness about police brutality, reading the poem from Abiodun Oyewole from the centerfold,3 reading from BAsics, and telling people to drop some money in the donation can. This whole arrangement of four or five adults with even more children has created a chemistry I’ve never seen in all my newspaper selling days. This is truly from the people back to the people with revolution; and it stops traffic when people in the cars see their neighbors into this.

T is the main guy who leads this family; and you can tell right away he has amazing organizing skills. He would make sure in every outing everyone involved would have a specific task, including his wife at the table and the roommate with the papers. T’s energy and enthusiasm for spreading revolution is boundless. He has respect for BA, having watched several sections of the Revolution talk DVD4 and engaged in BAsics readings in the park with the whole crew. He has engaged with us repeatedly over the religion question and also the strategy statement5 as well. He worked on getting a set of big speakers to take to the corner so that BA could be heard very loudly along with our agitation.

T’s family has some resources with welfare and WIC; and they also have a relatively large apartment where they sometimes shelter friends in need. The apartment becomes in fact a kind of way station for friends who need a little temporary help. There are roommates who help with the rent and at the same time help with watching the children. And food and laundry are often shared. This is still barely getting by (WAY below the official poverty guideline for the family). And by the last days of any month, everyone in the family, including the children, would be considered “food insecure” by any standard, when it’s not uncommon to hear sighs, “We hungry!” even from adults. Sometimes all the family has to eat all day is a $5 Hot-n-Ready pizza!

There are other people in our crew who are not as “well off” compared to T’s family. S is a Black man in his 30s who often calls me up asking when the next outing is happening. He is sometimes the one speaking bitterness with the bullhorn; and although his literacy is not at a high level, he is digging into BAsics. His personal life is wrought with difficulty. His welfare is out; and because he is an ex-felon ... the strikes against him are numerous. Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow, strikes close to the heart in this neighborhood. S and his wife are currently squatting in an apartment complex of Black and Latino families. The entire complex has already been “evicted,” but the owning bank has let the complex lie fallow. This block in fact is dotted with foreclosures, as Black homeowners are beset upon by predatory lenders and unable to keep up maintenance on their property when medical bills skyrocket. The local shelter houses not only addicts but also homeless!

S and his wife have considered the option of living in the shelter, but there are many reasons not to go. For one, the shelter has a curfew, and guests are restricted from visiting the rooms. But there is also an element of pride involved in S not wanting to get into this spiral, especially when his wife is pregnant and he wants to truly be supportive. Because they have no children yet, they have no ability to get WIC benefits and other social services. And the food bank does not consider them as needy as a family with children... so they get no meat in their bag! And of course another option is to commit petty crime and perhaps land in another kind of “shelter”—the jail, which is an option S would not care for, even though he would be fed. But for now S is determined not to go back on this path, taking his own wife with him, because he thinks it’s more meaningful to stay outside and help the revolution. Sometimes his wife will in fact go back to live with her family in another city just to get taken care of for awhile when the money situation really gets funny. S is into a legit selling hustle at the moment ... hustles can vary from selling cologne to CDs, not enough to pay rent, but maybe to buy a meal when the local chicken shack has a special. (Most of our friends, by the way, are aware of these fast food specials and depend on them, despite the high cholesterol in the meat and empty calories in the drinks. And Michelle Obama has a plan to stop obesity for $2 a day?)

But for all the direness of S’s situation, he puts in for revolution. He feels that “something has to give, the situation just can’t stay the same.” He also has a sense that it is people like him that must be the backbone of the revolution. No “American dream,” flag waving, or Memorial Day for S. When the most recent fundraising campaign (30-30+100) was announced, S agreed to donate $2 a month, despite his desperate situation.

I should mention the jail experience as an important part of the life of the people, impacting both men and women in this ’hood. The New Jim Crow is in living color among our crew. One important outing we had planned recently had to be readjusted when one of the family was sent back to prison for failing to see his parole officer who lived in another county miles away (there you go with a Catch-22). It has become a way of life unfortunately for many. I recently overheard a woman talking about her old man being sent back [because of a bench warrant he didn’t even know about]. “It’s no big deal. He’s been in jail before. We (meaning her and the children) can get through this.”

Desperate economic situations among even people selling weed, parole violators being snitched out by others with a grudge, not to mention new “gang injunctions” in many cities has led to violent confrontations among the masses. The people are beset with police violence, but also with violence among the people. I recently had a talk with T and S about their views on “human nature,” especially when S put out that people are “too fucked up” (in the course of reading the strategy statement in the park with T’s family). So it was really good to read back to him BAsics 3:17 and struggle over it, and to also read it on the bullhorn. And I have seen people change even in the course of these few months. It’s not a straight line; but I do view these new friends not as people to be tailed, felt sorry for, or put on a pedestal but as what they CAN be—part of the third objective to be achieved in the “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have” campaign, part of that “core of new fighters for this revolution and its leadership (BA)” that is mentioned in that Message and Call.



1. “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have,” available at [back]

2. Initials mentioned are not true identities. [back]

3. “Rain of Terror,” Revolution #232, May 15, 2011. [back]

4. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, A Film of a Talk by Bob Avakian, available at [back]

5. “A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: On the Strategy for Revolution,” available at [back]

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