Revolution #245, September 4, 2011
Some thoughts and experience in shaking up and waking up the campuses
We received the following correspondence:
Before school started, we went out to a major university campus in this area and set up a table. Students were arriving and there was quite a lot of traffic on the campus. One thing we did was to put about 6 quotes on a large piece of butcher paper with "Write your comments" at the top. At first people were a little hesitant to write on it, but a group of Latino students came by. They read all the quotes then chose their favorite quote. One drew a large arrow next to the one on slavery (BAsics 1:1) and wrote, "Hella true." Displaying the quotes in this way is a good way to provoke engagement with what Bob Avakian is saying. Another student wrote on the paper that both communism and capitalism were old, and we needed "something new." I was thinking about this "something new" point, and thinking about some of the experiences and grappling with this campaign. There is a lot in this point about "new"—for the students, most of whom have no idea what is new about BA, or communism, but also from people who have been at this for awhile.
It is important to get how NEW our effort is to get out 100,000 copies of Revolution to key campuses, to broadly sell copies of BAsics, and to introduce many, many people to BA. I have noticed an approach which fails to really fully recognize what we have here in BAsics, in BA, and what is involved in this moment. There are three things I am thinking about off the work I am familiar with, mainly on this one major campus. 1) how new BAsics itself is, and, more fundamentally, how radically new the whole new synthesis is that BA has brought forward. 2) how there are some important new things emerging in the world and on the terrain of the campuses. 3) there are some very important new methods and approaches to carrying out this effort that Revolution newspaper has been arguing for in recent editorials, which deserve a lot of attention and grappling.
To get into this a bit, we do have to get that there has never been anything like BAsics itself—and never an effort to connect students with such a powerful concentration of what BA is about—a whole radically new and different way of understanding the world and changing it. At a time when communism in the world is hanging by a thread, in a world full of howling madness and savage oppression which most people on the planet cannot see beyond, BA has brought forward an entire new synthesis of communism, a new and powerful synthesis, the basics and essentials of which are amazingly concentrated in BAsics. We need to find the ways to fight for and connect with many, many people—and connecting people with BAsics, including through this push with the special issue of Revolution, is really not like anything that has ever been done before.
Also new are some things emerging in the world. I was thinking about what happened in the senior year in high school of the students newly arriving on the college campuses this fall. It is fairly extraordinary—the uprisings across the Arab world (for all the complexity, imperialist intervention, and limits); the uprisings across Europe of different kinds, Spain, Greece, and now England; financial crisis and the battle over the budget in the U.S.; and much more. One thing that is exciting to me is finding out how all of that is percolating in the minds of the students on the campuses, and even more, what can open up and what imagination can fly when BAsics (along with other works by BA and our newspaper) gets into the mix of all of that.
And then finally, there are some really important new approaches to how to do all of this that Revolution has been arguing for—including, of course, BAsics itself and the idea of this special issue of the paper really getting out on the scale of 100,000 copies across the country and setting a kind of tenor and tone for what follows on the campuses. We really do need to break with the old thinking, methods and habits that still have sway that it is a kind of all or nothing thing to be involved in the movement for revolution—as Revolution has been arguing for, we need to find good ways to involve people at many levels and in many ways and we have the ability to do this now. This has everything to do with getting what is in BAsics—and what BA has brought forward.
I think we are just starting to see some glimpses of all three of the things outlined above coming together in this push onto the campuses. I feel that there are some important shoots and some beginnings and you can see important potential—and there is a lot that we still need to do better and transform in our thinking and in what we are doing. There was one day on this campus when some of this came together—which pointed to how things are changing and also revealed ways we can do better.
One part of this was an interesting crew came to the university to be part of taking out the special issue and BAsics. There has not been anything like it on this campus at least in recent years:
- a few Black people from the neighborhoods in the area, who have been coming around BA and Revolution, came to the campus to connect the revolution with students. They had some doubts that the students were ready for this which had to be worked through, but they found out that the students were more interested in revolution, and in what we had to say, than they had expected.
- some new people who have been coming around the work of the bookstore also joined in—part of what was involved in this was calling people right after meeting them, and inviting them to take part in different ways with what the revolution is doing. One who wanted to take the special issue out to students said that he had said he spent many years yelling at cops and being pissed and he wanted to do something—so he came to the campus with us.
- there were also students from the campus who joined in, students we had met in just the few days before.
This all made for an interesting and dynamic crew and many hundreds of copies of the special issue went out, some copies of BAsics were sold to students, and there was a scene on the campus that at least caught the attention of thousands of students. One student said on coming up to our table that the enlarged quotes from BAsics, and the displays from the cover of Revolution, were "mesmerizing…but in a good way," he was referring to the display of cover pages and the quotation of BAsics 3:1 "let's get down to basics: we need a revolution…" and he ended up buying a copy of the book.
One thing we learned through this is that quotes from BAsics which had been posted in some academic buildings had had a real impact. We had put up a range of quotes in academic buildings. Some of them had just had the quote and then said, for example, "BAsics, 1:1" without explaining further what BAsics is, who wrote it, and how to get it. This was perhaps a mistake. But in any case, one effect of it was to pique the curiosity of students, and it seems some professors as well. One student told us of taking a picture of one of the quotes taped up in a bathroom—she said she thought "This is GREAT, someone who thinks!" Another student, in Middle Eastern studies, said he saw a quote and couldn't figure out what it was about. He thought "BAsics 1:1," was announcing a class. Then he saw other quotes with BAsics and other numbers, so he thought this couldn't be a class. He wasn't sure what he thought of the quote about slavery, but he thought it was interesting. He went on his way until he accidentally ran across the bookstore, where he saw Revolution Books' window display showcasing Bob Avakian and a variety of his books. Prominently in the window is a large sign that says, "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics." Once he saw the BAsics books, he connected it to the quotes he had seen earlier. He decided to buy BAsics.
One small look into some of the kind of thinking going on among students came through a story one of the organizers told. He said that he was experimenting with different ways to introduce people to BAsics in one sentence as the students rush by. One he used which got a lot of responses was "have you ever thought of revolution?" He said that quite a few people responded "I think about it all the time." And some said that and didn't even stop to talk, for one reason or another, while others did stop and get into it.
The table was a big center of debate and discussion, with many things in the mix. Those who had come from the neighborhoods reported that they found the students interested in what they had to say, and they also noted that a number were asking "who is Bob Avakian?" They pointed people to how the special issue spoke to this. You could see we were entering into engagement with the influence of a variety of left trends. For example, a few people were surprised BAsics was not just about political economy or the poor and hungry—after reading the "3 strikes" quote from BA, which we had on display, a young woman from Peru (her parents were in the socialist party and were Che supporters) was surprised to hear that people were still getting lynched in the U.S. "just because of a little more melanin in their skin." She said "Maybe this is what real communists are like—not just concerned with the poor and hungry, but with Black people and gays, open-minded to everything."
It was important to just put the book into people's hands. One student asked if she could sit and read through the book, and she sat on the chair that was behind our table and joined in conversation with someone else who was browsing through the BAsics. Later that night when we came back to Revolution Books, the student had dropped by and ending up buying BAsics.
Human nature was a big question. One student from Canada told us he knew nothing about BA—he wanted to know who BA is and what this revolution is about. After hearing some of our views, and looking at some of the quotes, he argued that it comes down to human nature, that people are in two categories: they are either eager to learn or stay dumb. We brought out the quote in the special issue on that, BAsics 4:13, and after a big pause he said "you got a point…"
In thinking about all of this, and where we are at, one point is that we felt that we learned that it was important to focus on one day when we made a bigger effort to get people to come out to the campus and brought people together—it was fun to do, and it amplified our impact. There are some things that Revolution has been writing about that we still need to give a lot more thought and attention to transforming our thinking and what we are doing. There really are so many ways that people can come in and be part of this movement—and we have to find the ways for this to be made known to people much more than we have been doing. We have been inviting people to discussions but we need to have more, more informal, more accessible to the students, and to different kinds of students. We still need to do a lot better in finding out what the students are thinking—certainly about BA, but also about all kinds of other things. We have developed a sign-up sheet with many things people can do and also asking what they want to do. And one thing which we need to give further attention to is fundraising.
And finally, once again, and pivotal to everything else, is getting what we have in BAsics and in BA.
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