Revolution #216, November 14, 2010


Mixing It Up at UC Berkeley

"Let's take the October 22 day of protest to stop police brutality and repression onto the campuses, and let's unite some of the people who face that every day to come with us as we do. Let's remember the response of a student from an elite campus who came to a conference on building the movement for revolution, when he met and talked with some people who live in the projects about their lives—"the people on my campus have NO IDEA about this!" What might be the impact if even a couple of people who DO live this hell every day came to campus with signs saying "Ask me what it's like to live in the hellhole called America"? And what might be the impact of some of the students going on guided tours of the ghettos and barrios, led by these same people?"

-From editorial "Take THIS Revolution to the Campuses" in Revolution #212

On October 21, the day before the October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, something new and different came to the UC Berkeley campus. Seven revolutionary-minded proletarians and family members of police murder victims felt inspired to come to Cal, along with a crew of revolutionaries, to help build for O22 and challenge the students to take up this fight.

In preparing, we discussed the fact that students here don't know much about what goes on in places like East Oakland, less than 10 miles away, and we should bring that reality alive for the students and challenge them to come out with us to the protest. And we talked about how October 22 is the first day of "Revolution Week" on campus, a week of radical imagination and important events—about police brutality, the state of Israel, the capitalist oil disaster in the Gulf, and the Message and Call from the RCP about "The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have."

We set up the big "wall of stolen lives" at the main entrance to campus with some displays, including the very powerful photo from the Message and Call of the white pigs kneeling on the neck of young Black guy. Almost immediately students started gathering around, all different types of students, and taking our flyers. One of the revolutionaries started agitating on the bullhorn, talking about the epidemic of police brutality, how systematic it is, in every ghetto and barrio around the country, how the pigs are like an occupying army in neighborhoods like East Oakland. He invited the students to come look at the wall with all the names and pictures of lives stolen by law enforcement, to talk to the family members here whose loved ones were killed by police, and definitely to come out to the protest the next day. He talked about the role the police play in making sure the oppressed stay beaten down and maintaining the status quo overall, that this is why they came beating students down for standing up for their right to a decent education. And the U.S. military and Israel play basically the same role on an international level, brutally enforcing imperialism all over the globe. He challenged students to connect the dots, to get at the root of the problem, and to be part of Revolution Week.

Danny García, brother of Mark García (killed by San Francisco PD), also stepped up to the bullhorn. He pointed at the different faces of people on the wall who he knew, and told their stories. A young Central American proletarian from Oakland spoke in Spanish about the need for revolution and for students to be part of it. At one point a couple of non-student Black youth came up and said they were friends with Gary King Jr. (killed by Oakland PD). We had a big picture of Gary King Jr. which they held up for a little while. Two different students, African-American women, came by and signed a big banner against police brutality that we had, saying their friends had been killed by police. One Black student from Atlanta came by and looked at the picture of the pigs kneeling on the dude and said "that could be me."

This was a VERY different scene from activism as usual at Cal, and not something that could be ignored. At a certain point we took the big O22 banner and marched through Sproul Plaza to a busy area in between two academic buildings. At first a crowd gathered to see what was going on. Students were signing the banner, writing very thoughtful comments on police brutality. At a certain point we stopped doing loud agitation so that students would feel more comfortable coming up to sign the banner or talk to the families. The banner signing was a really good way to involve the students and all different types came up to sign. Someone even signed in Chinese.

We had a harder time getting students to come talk to the families. There were a few interactions, including a young Latino student who talked for a while to one of the family members in Spanish. Another family member said that he felt like he could've done better at breaking the ice with the students, just going up to them and introducing himself. A young woman who was part of our crew, the sister of someone killed by police, was getting frustrated with so many students just walking by (even though for us it was a way better than usual response), so we said to her, "why don't you just go up to the students and talk to them." And she did for the rest of the day.

Overall, the families and others who came from East Oakland seemed invigorated by the day. It seems that a big part of what motivated them to come was some sense that UC Berkeley is an important place to go to if you want to change society. And it's true, universities are centers of ideas—of the ruling ideas and potentially of revolutionary ideas—and in that sense they are where you want to be if you want to challenge the dominant discourse and have a societal impact. Additionally, Bob Avakian has emphasized the strategic importance of the "transfer of allegiance" of a section of intellectuals, from the bourgeois order to the new revolutionary order, and the disproportionate impact they could have. And students have had a crucial role in every revolutionary movement. At the same time, as the revolutionary movement develops on the campuses and among the middle class—and also develops among those most oppressed by this system—there is a decisive role that those on the bottom of society who "catch hell every day" and don't have such a fear of upheaval can play in metaphorically "lighting a fire," politically and ideologically, radicalizing the rest of society.

Some of this kind of back-and-forth synergy really got going on October 21. From what we know, no UC Berkeley students came out to the protest the next day. So there is a challenge to both the students and to the proletarians to step across this huge social divide and all the barriers that exist. And there is a challenge to the revolutionaries as well—to give people a sense of how this kind of thing fits into our strategy for revolution and a vision of the kind of society we are fighting for, and to really lead people with the understanding and confidence that everyone (regardless of where you come from) is capable of thinking and acting in terms of the emancipation of all of humanity. Done in that way, everyone involved will be lifted up to a different place. This was a very good first experience and we need a lot more.

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