Revolution #182, November 8, 2009

‘If Revolution Could Get Into More Prisons’… A Cultural Benefit for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF)

On Sunday, October 18, a group of Bay Area teachers, in conjunction with Revolution Books, presented a cultural benefit for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF). Forty-five people, including people from the community, activists, teachers, youth, an owner of a prominent art gallery, a lawyer, musicians and poets, came together in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, at La Placita Building, a café & network of shops, in a free-flowing afternoon of poetry, spoken word, music, and food from around the world.

Reiko, from Revolution Books in Berkeley, spoke about how important the PRLF is to prisoners around the country, and what a tremendous need there is now to fill requests from prisoners, especially for subscriptions to Revolution newspaper. She introduced Eddie Zheng, one of the MC’s for the event, recently released from prison, who spent 21 years behind bars, including a year in immigration detention. Eddie spoke eloquently about how important it was for him to have a sub to Revolution newspaper in prison and how he passed it around: “When I was inside, they hunger for knowledge and anything that can transform their mindset.” Eddie is also an accomplished poet and created the first poetry slam inside San Quentin. He read a couple of poems from an anthology of Asian prisoners he edited, “Other, an Asian-Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology.” One of the poems, from a Laotian immigrant prisoner about how he was opening his eyes to what America was really all about, had a strong edge to it: “We all fight all that is red, white, and blue.” Eddie and the poems he read had a huge impact as the audience saw and felt the experience of prisoners and how important revolutionary literature could be in changing their lives.

“Rage,” a song written and performed by one of the musicians, was a fiery indictment of how the system treats people, from everyday life to Guantanamo: “Are we, the people, to blame?/When will you stop, Sam, pulling my chain? I got rage!” That got the audience fired up!

A highlight of the program, the reading of letters from prisoners, was accompanied by music specially written and arranged for the letters by the musicians. A Latina high school student, a retired teacher, and Eddie Zheng read letters from prisoners which moved and inspired everyone very deeply. Another powerful event of the day was “Prisons as Universities of Revolution” a DVD of Joe Veale, an RCP supporter who recounted the importance of his experience in prison reading many books as well as revolutionary literature, including the writings of Bob Avakian. The DVD of Joe Veale, which received an enthusiastic response, presents a vivid, living example of how reading revolutionary literature in prison can transform one’s understanding and outlook, and issued a powerful challenge to support the Prisoner’s Revolutionary Literature Fund.

The DVD was followed by a rousing fundraising pitch, delivered by a retired teacher who currently works as mentor for new teachers. In her speech, which is reprinted at the end of this piece, the retired teacher is inspired by the example of a woman prisoner who herself, FROM INSIDE PRISON, was donating $25 a month to the PRLF. The teacher was also very moved by the DVD of Joe Veale: “As a teacher I was thrilled to hear about the 23 year-old Joe Veale and his 19 year-old cell-mate who had a study group. They were critiquing Plato and deciding which of the revolutionary Chinese leaders were really communist and really revolutionary. Joe Veale spoke to the teacher in me. As someone who understands the power of revolutionary literature, he urges us to give generously to the PRLF…join me in my $35 contribution which will reach a woman prisoner and 20 of her colleagues for a year.” An African American community college instructor issued a challenge: He would donate $3500 if his donation could be matched. This inspired people in the audience—two teachers pledged the equivalent of 10 subs each. Several other people donated and pledged after that, including a proletarian woman from the neighborhood who was so moved that she pledged $25 a month. And some youth, new to political activity, made plans to combine resources to raise funds.

Another dynamic part of the program was the performance of PO Poets/ Poetas Pobres, a bilingual group of poets and spoken word artists connected to POOR Magazine/ Prensa POBRE. They performed material with an international dimension, reflecting oppression and resistance along the border, the struggle of the homeless—particularly homeless mothers and families—and the experience of incarcerated mothers. The audience gave them a rousing ovation.

After an announcement about the upcoming October 22nd protest against police brutality, the culmination of the day was a reading of a powerful, defiant poem by a young woman recalling in vivid detail, from the point of view of the victims, the police murders of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Jody Woodfox, Andrew Maupin and Mark Garcia. She has been reading this poem out on the streets and receiving a great response; this was also true of the audience at La Placita, who was filled with righteous anger, an appreciation of the truth and a call to action by her poem and its last line: “I am Oscar Grant, I am Sean Bell…I am all those fallen souls on the street.”

A few days later, the teachers who organized the event got together to sum up the benefit and figure out how to make good on the pledges; we talked about how people could have house meetings using videos like Joe Veale’s, host a party with music, maybe an event at a club, an art show or a poetry reading and other ideas that could all be connected to raising funds for the PRLF. And with the holidays coming up, we felt this was a good time of the year to be planning these kind of activities. We also decided to form an ongoing network to support the PRLF, and to put out a newsletter

For more info/contact in the SF Bay Area:

To Contact the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund directly:



Wow! The power of tools of transformation.

As the woman prisoner said [in the letter I read from earlier], part of the misery of incarceration is the complete control the oppressors have over the type of media and information you are exposed to; she decided to do something about this. She is donating $25 per month to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) for subscriptions for women. Right now only 1% of the PRLF subs are for women. You and I need to do something about that.

As a teacher, I was thrilled to hear about the 23 year-old Joe Veale and his 19 year-old cell mate who had a study group. They were critiquing Plato and deciding which of the revolutionary Chinese leaders were really communist and really revolutionary.

Joe Veale spoke to the teacher in me. As someone who understands the power of revolutionary literature, he urges us to give generously to the PRLF. There is a backlog of over 150 prisoners waiting to receive Revolution newspaper or other revolutionary literature. The woman prisoner said that 50% of her fellow prisoners were Latina—we can send Revolution in Spanish.

$515 will put 15 copies of Revolution in the hands of prisoners. But wait, each newspaper is read by as many as 20 people, so that means you will really possibly reach 300 prisoners—every week. $250 will buy 10 copies of “Away With All Gods,” by Bob Avakian and 10 copies of “The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creation,” by Ardea Skybreak. $175 will potentially reach 5X20 prisoners weekly. Join me in my $35 contribution—I am on a very limited income—which will reach a woman prisoner and possibly 20 of her colleagues for a year.

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