Last week the Revolution Club in Chicago held a Zoom meeting to brainstorm about getting Roosevelt’s reading of the poem, “A Revolutionary Rhyme For This Historic Time,” out widely. We initially planned this as a meeting of just the Revolution Club members but then decided to open it up—and we invited people that the Club knew more widely to join us. We spread the poem and word about our Zoom meeting via text blast and some social media outreach. Roosevelt’s version of the poem followed on the first one by Miles Solay, which we also played at the meeting and which people very much appreciate.
In addition to the Revolution Club members in Chicago, the meeting was attended by a rapper from Milwaukee, a DSA person we know from anti-MAGA protests in the Chicago suburbs and a Club member from Cleveland. A Native American and Stolen Lives activist from Minneapolis and a man we met from Milwaukee also hoped to attend but were unable at the last minute. We felt the response indicated that there is a lot of yet untapped potential. Throughout the meeting we wrangled with the content of the poem and a lot of creative ideas were unleashed for its promotion.
Starting it off, Roosevelt testified about how the content of the poem spoke to him and made him want to convey the message in the way he did. He thought it had the potential to reach a section of Black and Latinx youth that we have to break through with. It’s a powerful form for addressing the horrors in this society—the way the poem talks about the killing in the community as well as the abuse of women, the climate emergency and how all these things were coming together and calls on people to get with Bob Avakian (BA) and the revolution.
Another Club member reflected with a lot of feeling on the mood of the youth on the streets. He spoke of people he talks to and how this can reach and challenge them. He recounted a discussion with a young guy who talked about how it is like a jungle on the streets, but if he stopped he'd end up dead. In relation to this, the Club member said, “A lot of people got a wall up… It’s very important to get creative with this.” Many in the meeting talked about ways they felt the message was so important. Some of the Club members were able to bring out its connection to BA’s new talk, “SOMETHING TERRIBLE, OR SOMETHING TRULY EMANCIPATING: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed, A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution” and how the poem can function as a companion piece.
From Roosevelt: The main point to me is to do the poem powerful enough to latch on to the person hearing it. For them to feel the fire. It is not light we need but fire. It is not the gentle shower but the thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind AND the earthquake. When you look at everything the poem accomplishes, these are rare times. BA stated that right now is a rare time. We need to do everything we can to push this thing forward—something terrible OR something truly emancipating is waiting. We have to get this together and get this out to people so they can feel it, not just read it. And hopefully take up a strong stance right beside us.
People really liked Roosevelt’s version of the poem, especially the newest one, where his relative did a remix of the sound. His relative’s involvement is also an important new thing. There was a sentiment that the poem needed to get out widely. One person referenced to the “I Can't Breathe” song that was turned into a “Challenge” on Facebook as something that really took off and how we need this to get out there like that. The rapper talked about wanting to help put this together on a platform where it gets out big and that he could help get it on both Spotify and iTunes.
At first some people thought Roosevelt wrote the poem. Roosevelt explained that it is by an anonymous revolutionary poet and that there is a call for many people to do their own versions. He made a point that, while we “want people to bring their own flavor” to the poem, when performing the poem, people needed to respect and stick to the poem as it is written.
The rapper said he wants to do a version, and a Club member plans to do one with his wife. Another person who plans to do a reading is an old-school R&B performer in his 70s who is well-known on the South Side of Chicago and a longtime friend of the Club. He got interested in doing a version after listening to the poem. And people talked about doing an illustrated version/versions with video clips and maybe animation. (Some people hadn’t seen Miles Solay’s illustrated version. We watched that together at the end of the meeting. People appreciated and really liked the video.)
One Club member had the idea of having people from different walks life directly impacted by things the video mentions (like medical people, climate scientists, etc.) doing readings of different parts on video and then putting them together into one piece. This would be a way of reaching and involving people from different parts of society.
Throughout the planning, people continued to talk about the content. One important subject was the challenge the poem poses—both the challenge to people on how they are thinking and acting currently, and the challenge to make your life matter and think and act as an emancipator of humanity.
There was an impassioned call by a Club member who knows the streets to get this out widely publicly (IRL). There was discussion of really taking this out together with the palm cards advertising BA’s new talk, wherever, in this cold weather, people might be gathering—El platforms, for example—and doing sound cars. There was back and forth over how we might do things like that while paying attention to the Omicron surge and the proper approach in that regard.
The enthusiasm for getting this out widely came through in the many ideas that just kept coming and the exploration that created. Like discussion of open mics as a place to get this out, and learning that many of them are “online” for now. And discussion of trying to reach some prominent progressive rappers from Chicago with this poem.
We want to continue getting it out to everyone we know, like Stolen Lives families—who have strong connections to the youth in the streets, and calling on all to spread it.
We have already been trying to get the poem heard and spread by various OOGs with ties to the youth in the life and plan to step that up. We also plan to reach out to authors who have written about the gang life and drill music scene.
After the meeting, the percolation about other avenues to get this out continued. Local radio programs; the Stop Mass Incarceration followers; a social justice university; the medical community that works with people shot on the street, etc.